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Open Thread 73.25

This is the (late) twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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688 Responses to Open Thread 73.25

  1. bean says:

    This time, I’m going to do something that takes no research at all. Instead of talking about battleships, I’m going to discuss my experience as a tour guide. (Series index)

    I started volunteering because, on my first visit to the ship, all the really interesting bits had ‘authorized access only’ signs on them. I asked how I could get authorized, and was told to volunteer. I picked Tours over Operations because I figured it aligned more with my current skills, and I’m really glad I did. Telling people about the ship is so much fun. That’s also why I’ve been doing the battleship columns here.

    I volunteer about every other Saturday, usually for 4-6 hours. I usually spend an hour or so on the quarterdeck, welcoming guests aboard, telling them about our app (which also works away from the ship and is free), and reminding them that if they get into a fight with the ship, they will lose unless they are made of steel. Some days, I end up getting to do a private tour, taking a group all the way through the tour route. I enjoy those, as it’s a lot of fun to get to construct a narrative across the 90 minutes-2 hours of the tour, and try to tie everything together. But the majority of my time is spent roaming the ship, ambushing visitors and asking if they have any questions.

    And I get all sorts of questions. A lot are basically just logistics, the location of the restrooms (if you come to visit, go before you get aboard) and where the next dog picture is for the kid’s scavenger hunt. Others are the usual stuff, length, width, crew size, and dates for various things. But I do get some really interesting ones. I’ve been asked how the ship floats if she’s made of steel (seriously) and also about riveting vs welding in WW2 shipbuilding (by a high schooler, which made it more impressive). I’ve met people who served aboard the ship, and people who don’t know the difference between a battleship and an aircraft carrier.

    But a lot of people simply say “Not really” or “Not yet” when I ask them if they have questions. A lot seem to do so in a tone that suggests they don’t want to bother me. This is mildly annoying, but it’s part of the job. But my favorite thing is when people say “Not really. Tell me about something.” I love that. It’s the fact that someone gets that I’m here explicitly to tell them more about the ship, and is interested enough to basically give me a blank check to explain something to them. I usually lurk on the 05 level, and tell them about fire control, but I pretty much have a spiel down for anywhere I lurk and ask for questions. (There are some areas I don’t spend much time in, because it’s hard for me to talk intelligently about (say) berthing in a more than superficial way.) So I encourage you, next time you’re at a museum and a wandering guide asks you for questions when you don’t have any, to say ‘tell me about something’ instead of just saying that you don’t have any.

    The other nice thing about tour guiding is that it legitimizes battleships as a hobby even outside of the ship. Before I started, if I’d been in a conversation with someone and just started talking about battleships, I’d have gotten the usual “you’re being weird, please stop” look. Now, instead, they listen and usually find it interesting. I’d highly encourage anyone who’s in a similar situation to find a similar way to legitimize it.

    One question that I also get a lot and won’t be able to work into a column is if the wooden decks on the ship are original. They are, although a lot of them are covered in plywood. There are several reasons for this:
    1. Wood is a good insulator, and the ship was built without air conditioning except for a few electronics spaces. If you go forward on the second deck, it gets probably 10-15 degrees warmer on a sunny day when you come out from under the wood.
    2. This was the era before good synthetic nonskids, and wood is less slippery than steel when wet.
    3. It was traditional at the time, and the US Navy has been described as 240 years of tradition unhampered by progress.
    The deck in question was originally teak, but was repaired in the 80s with fir. I don’t know how much of what’s on the ship now is which.

    • Jordan D. says:

      Thank you for sharing!

      I’m exactly the kind of person who often has questions but holds back because I don’t want to take up too much time when I’m in a tour group. Do you still like being asked questions when you’ve got a larger number of people to show around, or is that more of a single-family-group deal?

      • bean says:

        I’ve given formal tours to groups ranging from two retired Air Force colonels and their wives to 20-25 scouts. The larger groups do somewhat shift the balance towards the administrative side of things, but I still generally welcome questions during them. The answer is often “we’ll get to that later”, though, and I’ve gotten good enough at anticipating questions that I often don’t get many on the formal tour. (Note that such a tour is the equivalent of the ‘tell me about something’, so that’s a stupid question to ask there). Provided your guide is good, he’ll tailor his answer to how much time he has and his audience. It’s a very rare question I can’t answer in a paragraph if I need to.
        On the wandering guide side of things, I also do some tailoring to how busy the ship is and how interested the people look. I’ve talked with guests who were really into it for 30+ minutes. The only annoying bit about this is that I’ll often have nobody around, I start talking to the first people to come by, then have like a dozen more groups sneak by. And then by the time I finish with the first group, the others are all gone, and I’m alone again. I do not know why this happens.

    • keranih says:

      it’s hard for me to talk intelligently about (say) berthing in a more than superficial way.

      ‘Tis a pity, because I have found the actual living spaces and practices of surviving on ship really interesting, and I’d like to hear more. (“hot bunking” and “show a leg!” and “officer tastes the meal” and limies and the half-wevil biscuit dust at the bottom of the barrel and all that.)

      I mean, I know the whole reason for battleships is to throw things at other ships and places, but the details of that are not as interesting to me.

      • bean says:

        I’m not totally clueless down there, and I can usually hold up the end of my tours decently, but the problem is that my time at sea consists of about 9 hours aboard the USS America as she came from San Diego up to LA for LA Fleet Week. A lot of our guides and quite a few guests have been in the Navy. Some of the guides have great stories for down there, but they’re ultimately talking about themselves, which I simply can’t replicate. I’ve occasionally stolen a story, but I usually keep it fairly basic down there. I should probably try to improve that, but it’s never going to be my strength.

    • dndnrsn says:

      …reminding them that if they get into a fight with the ship, they will lose unless they are made of steel.

      Is this a euphemistic way of saying “don’t run around on the battleship or you will fall down some stairs and die”, or is there a story here?

      • bean says:

        It’s a joke about not hurting yourself, which I came up with because quarterdeck duty is boring. Sadly, no story. Sometimes, I finish it off with ‘and if you are made of steel, we would still like you to be careful so you don’t dent the ship’. And we have ladders, not normal stairs, so it’s not an idle warning. (We also have knee-knockers and head-knockers. And uneven decks. I often start the safety spiel by pointing out that the ship is not built to ADA standards.)

    • Evan Þ says:

      How did you start being a tour guide after you decided to volunteer? What training was involved?

      Also, you mention downthread that you’ve got a day job in addition to being a guide – how does that work? How many hours do you spend on the battleship?

      • bean says:

        How did you start being a tour guide after you decided to volunteer? What training was involved?

        When I filled out the volunteer application, I put down that I was interested in ops or tours. I think I talked with the volunteer coordinator, and we decided I’d fit better in tours. I showed up at the ship, the tour lead interviewed me, liked me and I was given a date for orientation. That was fairly similar to orientation at any job. “Here’s a brief history of the Pacific Battleship Center. Don’t lick the bulkheads, because they might have lead paint, asbestos, or PCBs. Here’s what to do in a fire/earthquake/terrorist attack.”
        In terms of tours-specific training, I’m a bit of an oddball. I was a fairly serious battleship geek before I started with the ship, so I was on my own after about two days. I actually found a couple of errors in the information book they gave me. Usual procedure is to assign a new guide to work with an experienced guide for a few days until they learn at least one section of the ship. If you stay in one place, you only need to know basic questions and that one section. The rest of the ship is learned by tagging along on private tours with a more experienced guide.

        Also, you mention downthread that you’ve got a day job in addition to being a guide – how does that work? How many hours do you spend on the battleship?

        I volunteer about every other weekend for 4-6 hours. It’s a major hobby.

  2. onyomi says:

    The whole United Airlines debacle came up a bit in a recent thread, but I’d like to explore a slightly different aspect of it.

    In particular, it feels to me like a perfect example of the many cases where the exact same event can fit very neatly into two opposing worldview narratives.

    If you already hated capitalism and are suspicious of private corporations, well then this just proves that America thinks corporations are more important than people and deregulation is evil and there ought to be more laws and agencies holding these people accountable.

    If you are sympathetic to capitalism like me, you’ll point out that the companies people hate most are characteristically the most regulated, like banks, insurance companies, cable companies, and airlines, and that what we really need is less regulation to spur more competition; in short, that those companies which behave most like governments are the ones we are most likely to hate, etc. etc.

    I am obviously more sympathetic to the latter view, but not so much interested in arguing that point here; rather, I’m interested in thinking about how to reduce the sense of antagonism between private companies and consumers.

    Charles Murray, whom I’ve been paying more attention to recently for obvious reasons (yay, backfiring), argues that America used to have a more egalitarian culture in the sense of the corporate executives not standing too aloof from the people they managed–living in the same neighborhoods, being careful not to put on too many airs, etc. Of course, one could argue this point either way, as well: right wing: less regulation made startups easier, larger number of smaller, less global businesses competing at a local level. Left wing: global capitalism is a rapacious force we used to keep in check with unions, but since we destroyed the unions, etc. etc.

    Regardless of whether we want to put a left or right-wing spin on it, I think some features of this are not going away: I think we could make some things better by legalizing competition forcing companies to treat consumers better, but the fact that CEOs of multinational corporations are not going to live in the same town as all their customers isn’t likely to change.

    Given this, what, if anything, can we do to encourage better business ethics and a less antagonistic relationship between companies and consumers? I don’t think more regulation can do it: even if it results in better treatment, which I’m doubtful it will if the practical result is less competition, it still accepts and reinforces the fundamental premise that consumers and producers are in an adversarial relationship. That may be inevitable to some degree, but it seems like it doesn’t have to be this bad, which is I am especially sympathetic to people like the Whole Foods CEO, who seems to try to preach the virtues of “conscious capitalism,” etc.

    Though this might come as a surprise to some, I am not inclined, as a libertarian, to always defend profit maximization on the part of private corporations. While I understand that profit is the raison d’etre of corporations and don’t entertain fantasies that corporations exist for the betterment of humanity, etc. (they are fundamentally different from charities), I also view corporations which push the boundaries of ethical behavior to their legal limits as a case of harming the commons–that is, the common fund of good will between consumer and producer.

    I have my own, libertarian views about what sorts of legal regime is more likely to produce the desired outcome (which I think involves a larger number of smaller companies–not without reason do consumers groan each time the next big merger is announced), but am more interested discussing what, if anything, non-legislative can be done to ameliorate the sense of consumer-producer antagonism (also maybe employer-employee antagonism, while we’re at it) which seems to be growing lately even as the number of options available to most consumers grows rapidly?

    The first thing that comes to mind is online rating and review systems, though that can be something of a double-edged sword. Goodwill toward United would probably be a lot higher now if not for Twitter and cell phone cameras, for example.

    • onyomi says:

      Tip number one to increase customer good-will: avoid dropping scorpions on their head.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I believe that your comment about multinationals being multinationals, instead of national or subnational, is spot on. It means that the leadership of the multinationals is … I don’t really know what to say about them, that particular segment of the human population is totally alien to me … but just by virtue of being multinational companies, their leadership are not going to have much ties to the local communities where their local subsidiaries operate because that’s impossible for global company.

      About the solutions: I don’t really know. If you are discounting the possibility of government regulations out of hand, i.e. use of force is out of the picture, then isn’t the only option left that the companies modify their practices voluntarily? Promote local community values / patriotism / sense of duty amongst the business executive class? But how do you promote successfully something amongst if that something is against their perceived personal self-interest?

      On the question of promoting sense of community: I’ve always liked the idea of universal conscription / community service / similar for all citizens, with stringent measures to limit citizens’ ability to pay their way out of it or get special perks because of social status or money. (That is, with easy exit rights out of the country if you don’t like explicit duties as part of the “citizenship deal”.)

      • onyomi says:

        I definitely don’t rule out that legislative changes, be they adding new regulations and trade deals or repealing or modifying old ones could be effective; I’m just personally more interested in thinking about more non-legislative cultural/normative/conventional solutions because I think they tend to get overlooked.

        For lack of a better term, I have a vague sense that we no longer have much sense of “business ethics.” Sure, there may be some perfunctory requirement in your MBA curriculum, but mostly business ethics are just kind of like “uh, don’t break the law?” or the famous “Don’t be evil.”

        On the other side of the coin, consumers expectations of corporations, especially politically, are often unreasonable in the other direction: statements like “corporations should exist for the benefit of their workers and humanity in general, not the profit of their shareholders” are common, but not actually reasonable or realistic.

        I think we already have a lot of relatively tacit, often unconscious assumptions and expectations about consumer-producer and employer-employee relations which fall well within the bounds of the law (that is, we have a lot of expectations for these interactions beyond that they fall within the letter of the law). In Japan, for example, I’m pretty sure there aren’t laws requiring employees to be super polite and obsequious towards customers, but they just are because customers expect it and will probably sooner take their business elsewhere in reaction to rude service than most Americans would. At the same time, there might be other business behaviors (to take a random guess, unclear pricing structure) which would be dealbreakers for Americans sooner than they would for the average Japanese.

        So I guess what I’m wishing for is more conscious thinking about what kind of norms we want to govern these relationships and how it might be possible to promote them.

      • sierraescape says:

        I really like the idea of compulsory community service in theory, and this definitely deserves more discussion, but I think it would not work well in practice. In many cases churches fill that role better, providing good opportunities for service and an obligation, all within optimally-sized communities of a few hundred people.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I think you have to answer an important question before asking that. Should people be this upset with United? There’s a reasonable argument that they shouldn’t: if a guy resists being thrown off a plane, you kind of have to use force, and you can’t just say “Well the problem is that they were overbooking at all” because all airlines overbook and we’re only mad at United here. Not to say there are no arguments for United being the villain: the whole thing was a mess and it’s hard to imagine that United couldn’t have avoided it by having different policies.

      If you think people shouldn’t be mad at United, a big part of the solution is going to be “Figure out how to make PR more rational and less driven by arbitrary optics”, whereas if you think United is truly the villain here, your solution will have a bit less of that and a bit more “Figure out how to make those evil corporations behave less evilly”.

      • onyomi says:

        On a purely practical level, the best thing for United to have done, even before they realized one of the passengers was going to be recalcitrant, was to calculate how much it was worth to them to get their employees where they needed to go (presumably a lot, since maybe it would have resulted in a cancelled flight, etc.) and simply keep upping the financial incentive for passengers to get off the plane willingly, up until the point where it would potentially exceed the value to be saved by having their employees get where they needed to go. Even if they had to shell out, say, $2000 per person to get four seats (and I bet they could have gotten them cheaper than that), $8000 is still probably a lot cheaper than the cost of a cancelled flight+negative optics of throwing people off a plane (obviously in hindsight they’d have paid maybe millions of dollars to avoid this debacle, but even without knowing the guy would resist, you can still predict, in the age of cell phone cameras and twitter that forcing people off a plane who have already boarded and been seated is going to generate negative publicity).

        That said, I’m not placing all the blame on United. As usual, I have plenty of blame to assign the government. In this case, what I think they were probably running up against was their unwillingness, as a private corporation, to bear too much of the cost imposed upon them by federal regulations. According to this, there are some aviation regulations mandating against unnecessarily cancelled flights due to the cascading effect they tend to have. And then of course there are a lot of labor regulations governing who, among airline employees, is allowed to work when, for how many hours, etc. (yes, arguably that is also about safety). That is, it may not be that United simply stood to lose money by not getting their employees where they needed to go; they may have been legally required to do so.

        Where I think they made a mistake was by attempting to use the law to shield themselves from having to bear this actually pretty small financial responsibility (feels “penny wise, pound foolish,” though obviously a general policy to accept a lot of incidental costs adds up fast): first by deciding to force passengers off the flight rather than just upping the financial incentive to the inevitable point when someone would take the offer, and second, of course, by calling in the police to remove the man, rather than doing it themselves. They were, as corporations are wont to do, trying to cover their asses, which is understandable, yet also kind of, not laudable to me, in terms of business ethics, if not the law?

        That is, I think corporations forced to function within a world of heavy government regulation on one level deserve some sympathy because things are often out of their control and they have to still make a profit while dealing with a lot of compliance costs which they understandably and necessarily try to avoid bearing themselves insofar as is possible. At the same time, I think corporations operating within strict regulation tend to absorb some of the assholishness inherent in government and all monopolies, which is to start treating the customer as more of an incidental nuisance rather than the raison d’etre.

        • phil says:

          I have not really been following this story at all, but apparently this flight was run by a subcontractor (?? is that the right way to describe this?), which might explain why they didn’t have/use the agency to pay enough to make this problem go away

          from Steve Sailer’s blog:


          Commenter Jack D writes:

          The irony here is that this was not a United flight at all. This was a “United Express” flight that is run under contract with Republic Airline. United saves $ by having its shorter /lower capacity “commuter” flights operated under contract by Republic who pays its pilots bubkes. The pilot business is operated like the acting business where pilots hope to land a gig at a major and earn a decent living but few ever do and those that don’t barely make a living. Regional carrier pilots sleep in the airline terminal or their cars because they can’t afford a motel room. But for United, live by the sword, die by the sword – they lent their name out to Republic so now they have to live with the PR blowback from what Republic did with it.

          Republic as a low rent operation refused to offer more than $800 to get a volunteer although they could have gone much higher. $800 is close to what they pay a pilot in a month. Cheaper to call the cops.

          And the people who dragged the guy off the plane were not employees of either, but Chicago cops. So double irony – why is United getting the grief instead of the Chicago PD? I’m sure that the cops were not under instructions from either United or Republic to beat the crap out of the guy – that was their idea and/or lack of training in how to handle people. Chicago PD is used to handling (offensive term for inner city youth) who are in no position to complain most of the time.
          ….

          So there are no heroes here, just a sordid rogue’s gallery of marginal players trying to scratch out a living in the sad twilight of the American empire, but streamed live and in color on your Korean cell phone. ”

          http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-united-flight/

          Anyway, I totally agree with your point

          if your policy is to overbook, which seems fine with me, when these situations arise, either pay to make it go away, or eat the losses

          I’m sure their costs in bad PR alone have far outweighed what it would have taken to have just paid to make it go away at this point

          • onyomi says:

            If it’s correct that it was run by a subcontractor then this is actually highly typical of one of the things big companies do to save money, but which often pisses people off, which is to farm things out to people who are paid peanuts to adhere to a strict protocol and not allowed any discretionary power.

            One that especially annoys me, though not as much as the dreaded phone tree, is the call center (let’s face it, they always seem to be in India). I like Indian people, but people working at such centers usually have no discretionary power to help you with anything non-routine because they are paid peanuts to adhere to a rigid protocol and are thousands of miles away from the corporate office.

            Of course, US labor regulations probably helped this happen–paying an American to do these jobs is too expensive and big companies get a zillion calls a day, I’m sure, but it’s just one of many little symptoms that I think tends to erode customer goodwill and leave us with the impression of dealing not with people who need to make a living themselves (well, other than the third-world labor), but a faceless, ruthless juggernaut.

            If it’s true that it was a subcontractor, then that actually pisses me off at United more because it’s so typical: lend your big name (and, more importantly, all the work you do to ensure FAA compliance) to a little company and force them to adhere to your strict profit-maximizing rules without discretion. This way, of course, the subcontractor can also claim to just be following the rules, so again, no personal responsibility. I think customers resent the (in my opinion often quite justified) sense that corporations intentionally structure themselves not only to cover their legal asses, but to avoid having “the buck” stop at anyone a customer has any chance of interacting with.

          • BBA says:

            Republic (like other subcontractors that operate “Express” and “Connection” flights) is a fully FAA-licensed airline. They could operate flights under their own name if they wanted to, as Independence Air briefly did when its contracts with United and Delta ran out. Its rapid failure shows why they don’t try this more often.

          • onyomi says:

            @BBA

            This is a bit surprising to me; do you think consumers are really that unwilling to try a smaller carrier? Better “the devil you know”?

          • BBA says:

            I’m not an industry expert by any means, but I think it had more to do with Independence starting out with a fleet of small planes. If all you have is a CRJ, and you’re competing on price with a 737 that carries three times as many passengers, the labor costs alone put you at a severe disadvantage from the start. Independence did expand to larger planes, but by then it was too late to turn around their finances.

        • Jordan D. says:

          You’re definitely 100% right that this is a complex situation, and probably one in which nobody can ever be perfectly happy. Every airline has passenger bumping, and sometimes (although rarely!) passengers get bumped. While it still might be a good idea to adopt a slightly more lucrative maximum incentive ($800 didn’t work, but maybe $2,000 would have?), eventually situations will arise where airlines need to tell people to get off the plane.

          So-

          I hesitate to comment on this because I don’t do a lot of Federal work and I’m not familiar with FAA regulations, but… I’ve been trying to find the regulation that article references since I read it, and I can’t. If anyone happens to have a cite I’d be grateful, but until then I’m going to ignore it because it’s not clear from her description what is required.

          Assuming there is such a regulation though; I’m always leery of absolving large, well-established corporate entities by citation to regulations. My experience tells me that if there is a required deadheading-for-scheduling rule, they probably helped write it. I don’t know how bad regulatory capture is in the FAA, but I bet it’s significant.

          But all that aside I still think you’re blaming the wrong government here. It’s an accepted truism around these parts that you shouldn’t make a law that you’re not willing to see enforced at gunpoint, but the corollary is that you shouldn’t try to enforce every law at gunpoint immediately. To my untrained eye, it really looked like the law enforcement called in to remove the passenger used way more force than they needed to. The Chicago Aviation Police are a separate entity from the CPD, and I’d be very interested to know what kind of training and direction they receive.

          • bean says:

            The regulations on overbooking are in 14 CFR 250.

            I don’t know how bad regulatory capture is in the FAA, but I bet it’s significant.

            My job is to write technical documentation for a major airline manufacturer. Most of it goes to the FAA for approval, so I’ve worked pretty closely with at least one part of that organization. And the longer I work here, the less sense regulatory capture as commonly portrayed makes.
            I’m currently involved in a project to change how we submit the documentation in question. Right now, we submit the whole thing, and they approve it. We’re looking at only submitting the important parts (with a mutually-agreed definition of important) to cut down on how much work they have to do (approval usually takes like 2 months) and to make it easier for us to revise the parts that aren’t important from a safety perspective. Is this regulatory capture? What about when we tell them during the pilot project that doing things one way doesn’t work very well, so could we do it another way instead?
            It seems that if regulatory capture was so effective, I wouldn’t spend nearly as much time as I do triple-checking my work to make sure they won’t reject it. If you’re writing regulations, you’re going to consult the end user, who is the expert on how things work. Likewise, if you want people who know an industry, you’ll have to recruit from that industry. The curse in this case is likely to be worse than the disease.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Thank you for the cite, but I’m actually referring to the regulations onyomi’s article is referencing in item 3, when they talk about federal requirements requiring the airline to have those staff in place. Is there perhaps a section prohibiting or penalizing missed flights and delays?

            I’m quite on board with your comment, though- regulatory capture, as it is traditionally described, is obviously pervasive through many industries but it’s also unavoidable. I’ve mostly observed the regulatory process in the utilities field, and it’s pretty obvious up-close that the close co-operation of the regulated industry is required for regulation that actually works. It would also be impossible to find experts to staff a regulatory body if you cut out everybody with any private expertise.

            But that’s what I’m saying- I’m not sure how much sense it makes to blame the FAA over United for a regulation when United almost certainly had a lot of input.

          • bean says:

            Thank you for the cite, but I’m actually referring to the regulations onyomi’s article is referencing in item 3, when they talk about federal requirements requiring the airline to have those staff in place. Is there perhaps a section prohibiting or penalizing missed flights and delays?

            I don’t know of those regulations. What I do know is that no airline is going to bump revenue passengers for people who don’t pay for their tickets without a very, very good reason. If United needed to get those people to Louisville enough to bump revenue passengers, then they really needed to get them there. This is a case where capitalism is doing all the work we need.

            But that’s what I’m saying- I’m not sure how much sense it makes to blame the FAA over United for a regulation when United almost certainly had a lot of input.

            But United is, what, the fourth-largest carrier in the US? So why should we single them out over Delta, American, or Southwest? Blame A4A instead.

          • Jordan D. says:

            I wouldn’t blame them specifically- I just don’t see any particular reason to blame the FAA here either.

            As far as I’m concerned, the party that looks closest to a bad actor to my untrained eye is the Chicago Aviation Police.

          • suntzuanime says:

            $800 in United funbux didn’t work, $800 might have. It’s hard to be tempted by these voluntary incentives when they offer them in the form of giftcards for more overbooked flights, with all sorts of restrictions and and fine print and an expiration date. It doesn’t really feel like they’re making a good faith effort to find volunteers when they offer such trash.

          • bean says:

            @suntzuanime
            The Southwest voucher I got the one time I took a voluntary bump was effectively cash on their website, but Southwest has long had better policies on that sort of stuff. I am a bit surprised that they don’t offer more in vouchers than in cash equivalent for bumping, particularly if they have lots of restrictions. Probably some accounting rule, or just not thinking about it.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Cash is effectively cash everywhere. Just sayin’.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t know of those regulations. What I do know is that no airline is going to bump revenue passengers for people who don’t pay for their tickets without a very, very good reason. If United needed to get those people to Louisville enough to bump revenue passengers, then they really needed to get them there. This is a case where capitalism is doing all the work we need.

            No, because what capitalism really needs is an air charter service based in Chicago that can get four wayward airline employees to St. Louis in an hour or two and for less than the $3200 in bump incentives United was trying to offer. A quick google suggests that there are thirty-two capitalist entities which might have competed to provide that service, and while they don’t quote prices my general understanding of the industry is that there should be at least a few quoting rates of less than $3000.

            Capitalism wasn’t doing its job last Sunday, and I suspect the reason was as note earlier: farming critical mission operations out to a cut-rate subcontractor and giving them inadequate discretion.

          • bean says:

            No, because what capitalism really needs is an air charter service based in Chicago that can get four wayward airline employees to St. Louis in an hour or two and for less than the $3200 in bump incentives United was trying to offer. A quick google suggests that there are thirty-two capitalist entities which might have competed to provide that service, and while they don’t quote prices my general understanding of the industry is that there should be at least a few quoting rates of less than $3000.

            I have no experience in air charters, but would you really think that they could get one that would be less than $3000, and that would be able to get in the air fast enough to beat the crew rest regs, which might mean that you need to be in Louisville within an hour or less of the flight’s scheduled arrival? (If you do, I’ll take that as evidence. I genuinely don’t know.)

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @bean: I believe John Schilling is referring to simply putting the employees on the next flight of another company, which would have cost a lot less than $3200 (according to my own quick Googling, this could easily have been done under $1500 for 4 people).

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s a one-hour flight by turboprop, which would normally be about a $1500 charter for up to six people, but if you’re asking for right this minute on a Sunday afternoon you probably have to pay them to fly the empty plane back to Chicago. It’s highly unlikely that every charter operator in Chicago would be fully committed at that (or most any other) time. Most of them do fly out of Chicago Executive rather than Chicago O’Hare, but Google suggests that’s a 20-minute, $30 taxi ride (during which your ops department should be completing the transaction and they should be preparing the aircraft/flight plan).

            ETA @publius: Next flight from a competing airline would be cheaper but is unlikely to meet schedule constraints. And it would count as doing business with the enemy.

        • phil says:

          do you distinguish government bureaucracy from large corporate bureaucracy?

          Is there a difference in type, or merely in scale?

          • Incurian says:

            I imagine it it significantly more difficult to fire a government employee in an organization of any size compared to a corporate one, so the relationship between employees and employer is a little out of whack. Similarly, because there are usually not alternatives to government organizations (“Well, you’ve lost my business! I’m going to go be regulated by the other FAA!”), the relationship between customer/citizen and the organization is out of whack. So the government organization has no incentive to perform well at the individual or group level. Also, government organizations can enforce their rules with force immediately because most of them have their own law enforcement agencies. Corporations have to settle for borrowing the government’s law enforcement.

            So I’d say there are qualitative differences.

        • bean says:

          The CFR mandates a compensation cap of $1350 for involuntary bumping. I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to expect United (or any airline) to pay more than that to get people off in a normal environment. I suspect that the compensation caps for voluntary have been raised across the board recently, but the last week isn’t really normal.

          At the same time, I think corporations operating within strict regulation tend to absorb some of the assholishness inherent in government and all monopolies, which is to start treating the customer as more of an incidental nuisance rather than the raison d’etre.

          That’s not why airlines treat you badly. They do that because you, the traveling public, have shown that you only care about ticket prices, and good customer service costs more. If you want good service, there are airlines that sell it. Southwest and JetBlue spring to mind. You might pay more, though. Or you could go business class. That definitely costs more, but also gets you better service. The air transport industry works very hard to deliver a very cheap, fantastically safe means of moving about the globe at speeds that no human ever reached before 1941. You’re welcome.

          • onyomi says:

            That’s not why airlines treat you badly. They do that because you, the traveling public, have shown that you only care about ticket prices, and good customer service costs more.

            Well, maybe part of the cultural change one might like to see is Americans being willing to pay a little more for quality.

            In my experience, however, there are rarely reasonable choices for paying more for service. My typical airline ticket-buying experience goes something like this.

            “Okay, let’s see who’s flying direct to the place I need to go around the time I need to go… Okay, here’s one flying where I want to go around the time I want to go for $300… not bad, but let’s check out the other options. Oh, there’s a fancier airline flying around the same time for $900. Or I could fly on the first airline and pay $1000 for a ticket that I could get for $300 if I’m just willing to be a little less comfortable. OR I could pay $4000 dollars to take a flight which makes three connections in weird places for some reason… let’s see if I can save by driving to a different airport… okay, so if I fly direct out of this airport it will take me three hours to drive to, it’s $400, but if take a flight from the local airport and then connect to get on that exact same plane it’s $200…” etc. etc.

            In other words, we aren’t given a lot of opportunities to pay a non-insane amount of money for more quality. There’s usually only one airline flying where I want to go when I want to go there and the business class, etc. are not just a little more expensive they are way, way more expensive.

            I should also add that, as much as air travel, perhaps unavoidably, really stresses me out (especially delays and turbulence), I’m not here to say “fuck United.” In fact, I am probably way more sympathetic to giant corporations than most people. My primary intent was to use this as a spring board to discuss how to improve customer-company relations, with the understanding that not all of the burden of that has to fall just on the companies.

          • Incurian says:

            onyomi: perhaps you’re asking the question backwards. What are some companies/industries which are famous for excellent service, and what made them that way?

          • onyomi says:

            Food seems to do a pretty good job, probably because of a lot of competition. Making it in the restaurant industry is, for that reason, notoriously difficult, of course.

          • bean says:

            Well, maybe part of the cultural change one might like to see is Americans being willing to pay a little more for quality.

            Fair enough. But that’s not the world we live in right now.

            In my experience, however, there are rarely reasonable choices for paying more for service. My typical airline ticket-buying experience goes something like this.

            This is heavily confounded by where you live and where you’re going. If you’re flying from one secondary market into another, then yes, your choices are going to be pretty limited. There’s not really a way around that. But on routes where people do have choices, they’ve shown that they generally aren’t willing to pay that much extra for quality. Those routes will obviously determine how much emphasis the airlines put on customer service vs cost.

          • onyomi says:

            Fair enough. But that’s not the world we live in right now.

            Okay: the question I’m asking is how to get to that world.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            I am probably way more sympathetic to giant corporations than most people.

            I do not understand this feeling of sympathy at all. A corporation (large or small) is not a human; how can I feel sympathy for it?

            In my mind, I model them as sometimes-fantastically-powerful non-human entities with the moral understanding of a two-year-old. (Perhaps the Unfriendly AI folks should cut their teeth on Unfriendly Inc?)

            By the same token, of course, I’m in no way envious of a corporation. I don’t care if GM or even United pays 5% in income tax compared to my 30%; I only care whether that’s better or worse for the economy. (My limited understanding of the situation is a lot of the corporate income-tax incidence is on salaries, so workers might be paid significantly more if we chopped 10% off our corporate income-tax rate.)

      • BBA says:

        I for one am much more upset with the Chicago Department of Aviation security guards for being unnecessarily violent. United (and/or Republic Airways, the subcontractor on that flight) just screwed up, but if the guards hadn’t been so rough it’d wouldn’t even be a news story.

        It’s been suggested in the news that the use of CDA security guards in post-TSA parts of the terminal be discontinued, and the Chicago PD (which is the primary police force for the rest of the airport campus) get jurisdiction over those areas. I think given their reputation it’s just likely to make matters worse.

      • Urstoff says:

        All airlines overbook. United seems to be the first to have forcibly removed a passenger from a plane due to overbooking. How do all the other airlines manage to not have to call security to remove randomly chosen passengers that are already on the plane?

        • onyomi says:

          I fly pretty often and have never had an airline try to deal with an overbooking situation after everyone was seated on the plane, much less to do so on a non-volunteer basis. The way it generally works is they offer travel and hotel vouchers to people willing to take a later flight while people are seated in the boarding area. I have never encountered a situation where there were no takers, though they may have had to up the ante once or twice.

          • Urstoff says:

            Right. United made several mistakes and doesn’t seem to have internal procedures that are flexible enough to let the employees on the ground make decisions that would avoid such a mega PR disaster (and if you’re calling security to remove someone a non-disruptive passenger from the plane because of overbooking, you’re heading for a PR disaster). It’s an outlier, yes, but in an airline that has thousands of flights a day, outliers happen, and procedures need to be flexible enough to handle them. Unless you consider the occasional PR disaster just the cost of doing business, I guess.

        • Matt M says:

          How do all the other airlines manage to not have to call security to remove randomly chosen passengers that are already on the plane?

          The same way that United managed to avoid it in the other 100,000 overbooking situations it has experienced throughout the course of its existence?

          Why are people acting as if this is somehow the logical and expected outcome of United booking policy? It isn’t. They made some mistakes, they had some bad luck, and their various systems broke down in a perfect storm of maximally bad outcomes. What happened to them could have just as easily happened to American or Delta (maybe not Southwest, they have a pretty strong pro-customer bias such that they may have figured out a way to diffuse the situation).

          • bean says:

            Why are people acting as if this is somehow the logical and expected outcome of United booking policy? It isn’t. They made some mistakes, they had some bad luck, and their various systems broke down in a perfect storm of maximally bad outcomes. What happened to them could have just as easily happened to American or Delta (maybe not Southwest, they have a pretty strong pro-customer bias such that they may have figured out a way to diffuse the situation).

            Quoted for endorsement. This was a massive outlier. If they’d gotten word to the gate before boarding, if they’d picked a passenger who wasn’t so entitled, or if they’d gotten less terrible cops, this wouldn’t have been a big deal.

          • Minsc says:

            I see that you’re using ‘entitled’ here in a pejorative way, could you expand upon that? The dude is, in a literal sense, entitled to the seat he paid for.

            To me the most interesting part of the story is the bubbling-up of longstanding resentment about air travel and where it’s positioned in our society. I’ve felt for a long time that air travel is overdue for a massive ridesharing-like disruption, if only because it’s widespread enough that capitalism SHOULD have forced it to work much better than it does.

            For example, one of the wrinkles of this story is that the passenger taken off the plane claimed that he was a doctor who had patients to see the next day. I’d argue that there SHOULD exist a mode of travel where if this man pays for a transportation service, he should be guaranteed to not be arbitrarily denied the service that he paid for at the last minute (unless it’s due to weather or some other act of God, rather than a scheduling conflict on the part of the company). But right now, the way airlines work, all of us are routinely subject to arbitrary bullshit like this, which is a situation that people are rightly upset about.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            For example, one of the wrinkles of this story is that the passenger taken off the plane claimed that he was a doctor who had patients to see the next day. I’d argue that there SHOULD exist a mode of travel where if this man pays for a transportation service, he should be guaranteed to not be arbitrarily denied the service that he paid for at the last minute (unless it’s due to weather or some other act of God, rather than a scheduling conflict on the part of the company).

            Well, duh, it’s his own fault for not paying protection money for the Economy Plus upgrade. If he’s so important he should know better. Travel like a prole, get beaten treated like a prole.

            But right now, the way airlines work, all of us are routinely subject to arbitrary bullshit like this, which is a situation that people are rightly upset about.

            Not the people up front who have informed United they’re people who actually matter paid for First Class.

          • CatCube says:

            Remember, that under the terms you buy a plane ticket you’re not buying a seat, you’re buying a (very high) chance at a seat. For any number of reasons, from weather to, yes, overbooking or moving crew, you may not end up flying on that plane. And contra Gobbobobble, yes, if you want to increase your chances you can pay a lot more money. If you want a more comfortable experience, likewise.

            I always pay to check a bag, despite the fact that I could stuff everything I need into a carry-on and a “personal item.” Why? I don’t like having anything at my feet. By paying the $25, having to wait at the baggage carousel, and yes, taking the (small) chance I’ll have to get it delivered the next day or the extremely small chance it won’t show up, I have one “personal item” that goes in the overhead bin and I don’t have anything under the seat in front of me.

            You pay your money if you want something better.

          • Minsc says:

            Yes, CatCube, I think we all understand that. What I’m arguing (and I think is a big reason this story went viral) is that that isn’t the way things should be. I’d like to purchase transportation, not ‘a chance at transportation’. And paying significantly more to slightly up my ‘chance’ at not getting arbitrarily kicked out of my seat is not a good deal for me.

            And contra Gobbobobble, yes, if you want to increase your chances you can pay a lot more money. If you want a more comfortable experience, likewise.

            These are not separate charges. If you want one or the other, you have to purchase both, and they are very different things.

            Honestly, and not to pick on you, but lot of the defenses of United read like they’re written by people with Stockholm Syndrome, or abused spouses. “It’s your own fault! If you don’t want to run the risk of losing your seat or getting dragged off a plane, just pay more money!” You’re not exactly wrong, but why on earth would you argue that this is a reasonable way for corporations to behave? I love that this incident is creating a ton of negative press for United and the air travel industry in general – this is not a good state of affairs for us as consumers.

          • Garrett says:

            Funny. Long before they started charging extra for checked bags I would carry all my stuff on the plane in a duffle bag and backpack (which if checked and scrunched really hard would just *barely* fit in the sizing devices). This is because I’ve seen how airline handlers treat and lose luggage. I’d rather have my stuff be with me at my destination rather than having to spend extra time waiting to find out my luggage was “on another flight”.

          • Matt M says:

            I’d like to purchase transportation, not ‘a chance at transportation’. And paying significantly more to slightly up my ‘chance’ at not getting arbitrarily kicked out of my seat is not a good deal for me.

            Well, if this thing you want (and that you presume many people want) is not offered by the marketplace, there’s probably a very good reason for that.

            If you think there is not such a reason, you should probably start your own airline. You’d surely dominate the market!

          • Minsc says:

            Well, if this thing you want …

            I suspect you didn’t put much thought into this pithy comment, but let me respond to it as if you did!

            (and that you presume many people want)

            Reliable transportation by air? Yes, I will confidently state that most people want this. If you disagree, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the majority of people do not want the option of reliably traveling via airplane.

            If you think there is not such a reason, you should probably start your own airline. You’d surely dominate the market!

            My argument is, as I tried to explain above, that air travel is in a weird position in our society where it’s a private industry that’s regulated like a government-provided service. As such, we end up with a worst-of-both-worlds situation. Stories like this help to point that out, and maybe start spinning the gears of people who might be in positions to change that situation.

          • Spookykou says:

            Matt I assume the problem is way too small for this to normally be an issue worth optimizing for, if it wasn’t for cell phone cameras I don’t think many people would care.

            I personally don’t actually have a problem with flying, or any aspect of flying, in fact I enjoy it(am I the only one here who does?) but if the feelings Minsc describes really are wide spread, it could just be a coordination problem. People value the perception of getting a cheap ticket over the assurance of a seat in all situations, so companies overbook to drive down prices, but humans are comparison shoppers who are horrible at understanding objective value, so if all airlines are required to never overbook/bump people, and charged an extra 30 dollars on every ticket, it is completely possible that everyone would be happier, but this will never happen naturally because of competing desires.

          • bean says:

            I see that you’re using ‘entitled’ here in a pejorative way, could you expand upon that? The dude is, in a literal sense, entitled to the seat he paid for.

            Yes, I’m using it in a pejorative way. His attitude was ‘I’m a doctor, find someone else to kick off’. He ran back onto the plane after they dragged him bodily off. These are not the actions of a reasonable person in that situation. When it becomes clear that you are not going to win, you stop fighting. Sue United later. You’re specifically allowed to do that if you think their compensation is insufficient. But don’t get into a fight with the police.

            To me the most interesting part of the story is the bubbling-up of longstanding resentment about air travel and where it’s positioned in our society. I’ve felt for a long time that air travel is overdue for a massive ridesharing-like disruption, if only because it’s widespread enough that capitalism SHOULD have forced it to work much better than it does.

            The problem with that theory is that cars are nowhere near as dangerous as airliners if they fall out of the sky. As such, air travel is a lot more tightly regulated. And given some of the stuff that airlines in other countries try to pull, that’s probably a good thing. (I work for an airliner manufacturer.)

            For example, one of the wrinkles of this story is that the passenger taken off the plane claimed that he was a doctor who had patients to see the next day. I’d argue that there SHOULD exist a mode of travel where if this man pays for a transportation service, he should be guaranteed to not be arbitrarily denied the service that he paid for at the last minute (unless it’s due to weather or some other act of God, rather than a scheduling conflict on the part of the company). But right now, the way airlines work, all of us are routinely subject to arbitrary bullshit like this, which is a situation that people are rightly upset about.

            And what if the crew needs to be moved out urgently, not because United screwed up, but because the crew that was supposed to take the flight the next morning was delayed due to weather and won’t reach Louisville in time to get their crew rest in? Is that United’s fault, or God’s?

            Yes, CatCube, I think we all understand that. What I’m arguing (and I think is a big reason this story went viral) is that that isn’t the way things should be. I’d like to purchase transportation, not ‘a chance at transportation’.

            You’re in charge of United. You can either take 4 people off of flight A right now, or cancel flight B tomorrow, which has 150 people booked on it. Federal law won’t let you do both. Which will it be?

            And paying significantly more to slightly up my ‘chance’ at not getting arbitrarily kicked out of my seat is not a good deal for me.

            Would you care to take a guess at what that chance is right now? And what steps you can take to minimize it?

            Reliable transportation by air? Yes, I will confidently state that most people want this. If you disagree, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the majority of people do not want the option of reliably traveling via airplane.

            Again, how reliable do you think air travel actually is compared with other means of getting to your destination? Have you looked into what airlines are more or less likely to bump you? How do other means of transport compare, particularly when you factor in the extra time they take?

          • John Schilling says:

            Reliable transportation by air? Yes, I will confidently state that most people want this. If you disagree, the burden of proof is on you to prove that the majority of people do not want the option of reliably traveling via airplane.

            Reliable transportation by air costs more than unreliable transportation by air. Always has, always will. Reliable transportation by air, to the extent logistically feasible, is available at a higher price. If you fly Premium Economy, or whatever it is called on your airline, you’re not going to be bumped for any plausible level of overbooking or the like. Also, you’ll get more legroom and shorter lines and generally some level of relief from the usual complaints about airline travel.

            Most people don’t pay for this, therefore most people don’t want this in any economically significant sense. That which you “demand” but are not willing to pay for, you don’t want enough for anyone who matters to care.

            You could I suppose argue that most people do want to pay the extra $25 that reliable air travel costs but not the extra $50 that a bigger seat costs or the extra $25 that shorter check-in lines cost, etc, but I really doubt that. I believe that the people who complain loudest about the possibility of being bumped are mostly the same people who last week would have complained about all the other indignities of cattle-class, and I believe “Premium Economy” is an economically logical bundling.

            One thing that might help is to concentrate the “unreliable air travel” market by selling explicit “standby” airline tickets at an appropriately reduced price. But I think standby tickets have gone out of favor as logistically infeasible given post-2001 security procedures.

          • CatCube says:

            @Minsc

            I only have a few minutes right now, but IIRC from the last few days, the odds of getting bumped, voluntarily or involuntary, is 46/100,000, or 0.046%. How much are you willing to pay to drive that down further? If it increases ticket prices by $30 as mentioned elsewhere in the thread (assume it’s within 50% for the purposes of discussion) I’m not willing to make that tradeoff. I’d rather have the money to check a bag.

            this is not a good state of affairs for us as consumers.

            I can complain a lot about air travel, but for the most part it actually really is pretty good for “us consumers” assuming you and I are in the same tax bracket. Air travel is really cheap. The term “jet set” to mean “rich people” wasn’t a reference to private jets, it was a reference to regular airline travel because that’s who used to use it when the term was coined. You and I would spend days traveling across the country, or weeks traveling across the ocean. Or, more likely, we wouldn’t travel at all.

          • Minsc says:

            Dang, bean, you got me! Airline travel is all figured out. I now see that the system works 100% perfectly, and any criticism of that system is invalid.

            Ok, ok, I am being sarcastic. But seriously, thanks to your comments I see that I shouldn’t have pointed out any flaws in that system without having solutions in place, and that I shouldn’t have criticized it without first spending multiple decades in the industry understanding why the problems I’m pointing out are difficult to solve, and thereafter disregarding them as problems that need solving.

            Moreover, bean, I’m stoked that you’ve fully investigated the issue, and the next time you and I are on a plane together and our numbers come up, we’ll both happily stand, high-five each other, and shout ‘the free market works flawlessly!’ before calmly leaving the place to spend a quiet evening paying for our own lodging, which hopefully has wifi so we can explain to our loved ones/employers why we won’t be home on the date we said we would be, then go to sleep confident in the knowledge that we’re living in the best of all possible worlds, according to you, bean, who has figured it the heck out.

          • bean says:

            @Minsc
            Seriously, you can stop with the sarcasm.
            I’m not claiming that air travel is perfect. Far from it. I’m small enough and young enough that I really don’t mind economy seats, but I don’t like the TSA any more than you do, and the days when you got an upgrade for working for the manufacturer are long gone.
            But it is incredibly irritating to see someone slander my entire industry without looking at any possible alternatives. Is it really less annoying to be home late because of the weather or a mechanical failure than it is because the airline screwed up its scheduling? (Leaving aside that weather and mechanical failure can screw up an airline’s schedule.) Is it really worth paying 5% more to reduce the 0.006% chance you get involuntarily bumped? How do you feel about Amtrak, which has similar reliability to air travel, but operates vehicles that are much simpler and not nearly as affected by the weather? If you care about reliability so much, take Greyhound, which is late something like half as often. But on the other hand, it takes a lot longer to get there at all, and that should be worth something.
            If reliable air travel is so important to you, then I assume that before you buy a ticket, you spend a bunch of time scrutinizing the various statistics that the government keeps on the airlines. Based on this, what airline do you fly? Or are you like everyone else, who totally ignores the fact that air travel is very cheap and fantastically safe, and just gets annoyed that you didn’t get enough peanuts with the ticket you bought because it was the cheapest on the internet?

          • Matt M says:

            I will say, for all the people who claim that what they want the ability to pay slightly more and get much better service, I wonder if they’ve considered the following options:

            1) Sign up for TSA pre-check
            To me, this is the single easiest thing you can do to make airline travel less stressful. Worth its weight in gold. An absolute must-have. It won’t affect bumping, but it saves you a LOT of time and hassle.
            2) Fly out of small airports whenever possible
            I’m sure there are some exceptions, but as a rule, small airports are less busy than large ones. This affects your experience for the better in almost every way. The staff is less stressed, to include gate agents, pilots, TSA, and the check-out clerk at the Hudson News stand. Parking and pick-up/drop-offs are easier. The only downsides are that it costs more, and that it may require an extra connection/layover.
            3) Sign up for every frequent flier program
            I don’t know this for sure, but I have to imagine people enrolled in the program receive priority for involuntary bumping over people not enrolled, even if you have a very small balance of miles/points. This probably helps you with getting the seat you want as well (I know it does for Southwest).
            4) Try and use the same airline as much as possible
            As a follow-up to three, the airlines know how often you use them (if you’re enrolled in their program). They will treat you better if you’re a frequent customer. So concentrate your efforts in one place, make yourself valuable to them, and they will make themselves valuable to you.

            If you are making no effort to do any of those four things, I’m really not interested in hearing you whine about being treated like cattle.

          • Brad says:

            Under the theory of trivial inconveniences, here’s the link to apply for pre-check:
            https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/workflows?servicecode=11115V&service=pre-enroll

            $85 for five years and totally worth it.

            If you travel internationally at all consider global entry for $15 more:
            https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/goes/jsp/login.jsp

            It includes pre-check as a benefit, plus faster movement through immigration and customs.

          • keranih says:

            I loathe the idea of TSA precheck with the white hot firey passion of a thousand burning suns.

            I really dislike the idea of selling a by-pass of the TSA mess, and I really resent that this is not available to everyone with valid-to-travel IDs at the gate. I think it is discriminatory against a class of US citizen and it really rubs me the wrong way.

            (I have gotten on pre-check through work, and my coworkers think this makes traveling with me much more pleasant, as I am only moderately homicidal now, after the TSA checks.)

            I get it – many people think it’s worth the money to get on yet another government list – but I still hate it.

          • Matt M says:

            Oh, from an ideological perspective, I hate it too. At one point I vowed to never sign up. Like you (it sounds like at least), I now have a job where I frequently travel with co-workers, who basically insisted “just shut up and get pre-check you jerk.”

            I did, and I’ll never go back (or travel with anyone who doesn’t have it)

          • Minsc says:

            Yes, I’m using it in a pejorative way. His attitude was ‘I’m a doctor, find someone else to kick off’.

            How do you know that? Isn’t it equally (if not more) likely that his attitude was “I need to get home, and paid you to get me home, so don’t kick me off because you fucked up your scheduling”?

            Seriously, you can stop with the sarcasm. I’m not claiming that air travel is perfect.

            Then what are you arguing? From my perspective, I’m saying “I’m glad this story went viral, because there are some major flaws with the air travel industry and stories like this help kickstart conversations that will hopefully lead to some much-needed change.”

            I’m not sure what you’re arguing at all.

            Or are you like everyone else, who totally ignores the fact that air travel is very cheap and fantastically safe, and just gets annoyed that you didn’t get enough peanuts with the ticket you bought because it was the cheapest on the internet?

            …and this right here is bullshit. ‘Safe’ is a baseline level of competence when determining whether an industry should even exist, so please don’t use it as a bragging point. And ‘cheap’ is relative, and as I’ve argued above, the cost for air travel is loosely at best tied to the type and quality of service you’d like to receive.

            Brad and Matt, I am a member of the TSA pre-check program, which is technically a convenience, but viewed through another light is also an $85 charge to avoid having my time stolen by an organization which there’s very little evidence is ANY good at its job.

            As for Matt…

            If you are making no effort to do any of those four things, I’m really not interested in hearing you whine about being treated like cattle.

            Man, if you think I’m ‘whining’, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll try to use a simile I guess?

            Imagine you go to a restaurant, and order spaghetti, and it doesn’t come for an hour. And after that hour, the manager comes to you and says “We gave the last of our spaghetti to the chefs to eat, because they were hungry.” And then he kicks you out of the restaurant. And then, as you’re standing hungry on the sidewalk, some dude – let’s call him ‘Matt M’ – comes up to you and says ‘Hey man, listen. If you really want spaghetti from this restaurant, what you should do is, 1) go to one of their other locations, where maybe there’s fewer people who want spaghetti, 2) sign up for their ‘get to eat spaghetti’ program, and 3) come to this restaurant all the time, so that maybe in the future you’ll be at less risk of getting kicked out of it.”

            According to you, this is a right and proper way for an industry to be run?

          • Matt M says:

            According to you, this is a right and proper way for an industry to be run?

            I don’t know what is right and proper. That seems like a value judgment that will differ wildly from person to person, and is best solved by market forces. Market forces have resulted in the airline industry we have.

            Even in your hypothetical designed to make me look bad, I think that IS, in fact, good advice for someone who really does want to eat spaghetti from that particular restaurant, yeah!

            The question is (relevant to a discussion below), do you actually want advice, or are you just looking to vent? Do people, discussing this incident, really want to know what steps they can take to minimize the possibility of it happening to them? Or do they just want to yell “YAAAAR AIRLINES BAD SMASH CAPITALISM GRRRRR”

            If it’s the former, one would think my advice would be appreciated. If the later, then yeah, I’m wasting my time.

            Edit: To address a point you made earlier which I forgot to respond to, I fully acknowledge this is a highly regulated industry, and that as a result, it certainly seems that we end up with a “worst of both worlds” situation where we have the private sector and the public sector working together to fuck over the consumer. I would suggest to you that MOST industries work this way, but yes, airlines have it particularly bad. I’m not sure what minor tweaks you think will solve it. The commies will shout that this proves we need to nationalize airlines, and their allies in the DNC will settle for “a few more regulations.” The libertarians will shout that this proves we need to completely de-regulate air travel, and their allies in the GOP will settle for “a few less regulations.” In the end, you seem to be seeking a magic bullet that likely does not exist short of the commie or the libertarian solution, depending on tribe you belong to.

          • Minsc says:

            I’m not looking for advice, no. I hopped on here to argue with bean’s use of the word ‘entitled’ as an insult.

            You’re always ‘entitled’ to what you pay for. I agree that the airline industry is currently set up so that you cannot pay for guaranteed transport from A to B, only a “chance” to get from A to B if they don’t decide to kick you off. I am saying that that’s a bad situation for consumers to be in.

            My example wasn’t meant to make you look bad, it was meant to put what you’re saying in a different light so that hopefully it looks incongruous to you – we shouldn’t have to put up with that! But it seems like you just really want to argue that actually, we should?

          • Matt M says:

            we shouldn’t have to put up with that! But it seems like you just really want to argue that actually, we should?

            At the risk of repeating myself, you are looking at this the wrong way. It’s not something we “put up with.” It’s something we (we, meaning “the overwhelming majority of customers”, not necessarily every single individual) demand.

            The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of people would rather pay $300 for a 99.5% chance of getting where they want to be than they would pay $400 for a 99.99% chance of getting where they want to be.

            We know this to be true because the $400 for 99.99% option exists, and most people don’t take it.

            You respond by saying well, you don’t really want THAT, either. What you want is, say, $325 for a 99.8% chance. And the fact that the specific configuration you demand is unavailable is supposed to suggest some sort of catastrophic market failure? No. That’s not how it works.

          • Minsc says:

            Hmm. Ok, rad, I see what you’re saying. That’s a good point! Thanks for clarifying.

          • bean says:

            I’m not sure what you’re arguing at all.

            That the air travel industry is doing as good a job as you have any right to expect us to do. If you think otherwise, then start your own airline.

            ‘Safe’ is a baseline level of competence when determining whether an industry should even exist, so please don’t use it as a bragging point.

            No. I will absolutely use our safety record as a bragging point, and I and every other person who has worked to get you in that seat can be justifiably proud of our record on that front.
            The death rate in air travel is 0.05 people per billion kilometers. That’s an order of magnitude safer than taking a bus or train, and almost two orders of magnitude safer than taking a car. So whatever the base rate of safety you need to determine if an industry can exist, we’ve far, far exceeded it. Or you should be out picketing motorcycle manufacturers, because they definitely don’t.

            And ‘cheap’ is relative, and as I’ve argued above, the cost for air travel is loosely at best tied to the type and quality of service you’d like to receive.

            In 1870, it cost the equivalent of $1164 today to take the transcontinental railroad in 3rd class from New York to San Francisco, and the trip took 7 days. If I go out a month to look for flights, I find a dozen options for under $200 (the cheapest is $130, and I picked one random weekday to look at), all of which take about 6 hours in the air. The average airfare in constant dollars has fallen 50% over the past 40 years.
            So you can claim that we’re terrible as much as you’d like, but all you really can claim is that we don’t deliver as much customer service as you think you deserve for the amount of money you’re willing to pay. By any objective measure, anyone in all of history would swap our air travel system for whatever means they used to get around over long distances.
            Except the security bits, I’ll grant. But that’s the fault of the voters, not the industry.

          • bean says:

            You’re always ‘entitled’ to what you pay for. I agree that the airline industry is currently set up so that you cannot pay for guaranteed transport from A to B, only a “chance” to get from A to B if they don’t decide to kick you off. I am saying that that’s a bad situation for consumers to be in.

            But this is applicable to all industries. I’m ‘entitled’ to get my packages from Amazon Prime in 2 days because I paid them to do that. And occasionally, they fail. I don’t know why. Maybe they didn’t have the book on hand. Maybe my box got put in the wrong stack. I’m annoyed, and I send customer service an email, and they extend my subscription a month. But I don’t feel a need to distinguish between Amazon Prime, which is only a “chance” that my book will arrive in two days, and some hypothetical service where I’m actually buying 2-day delivery. You yourself have acknowledged that airlines aren’t responsible for acts of God, and I’ve pointed out several times that those people may have needed to be on that flight because of an act of God creating the scheduling snafu. And I for one would rather buy a ticket with an airline that said that I might be bumped to make way for crew that needed to move than one that promised never to do that, because that just means that they’re going to have to cancel the flights instead.

            Edit:
            Also, I should point out that the airline is legally mandated to compensate you for bumping you. In the restaurant example, it would be like the chef coming and giving you double your money back for giving the food to the kitchen staff. You still haven’t eaten, but it’s not like they took the money and ran.

          • Matt M says:

            And I for one would rather buy a ticket with an airline that said that I might be bumped to make way for crew that needed to move than one that promised never to do that, because that just means that they’re going to have to cancel the flights instead.

            United has apparently promised just this!

            http://www.thewrap.com/united-airlines-david-dao-policy-change/

            “We issued an updated policy to make sure crews traveling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure,” the United spokesperson told TheWrap on Friday. “This ensures situations like flight 3411 never happen again. This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies in order to deliver the best customer experience.”

          • bean says:

            United has apparently promised just this!

            Actually, no, this is exactly the opposite of what I’d prefer they do. I’d rather United was still willing to toss me off after I took my seat. I know they’re not doing it to get some employee home from vacationing in the tropics (unless his parents are dying, in which case he can have my seat with my compliments), and I know that my chances of being stuck because they couldn’t get a crew in to my plane are higher than the chances of being the guy who gets yanked off by at least an order of magnitude.

          • neciampater says:

            Matt M
            “Market forces have resulted in the airline industry we have.”

            I don’t think so.

          • Matt M says:

            To clarify: While the state is definitely heavily involved in the airline industry, I see no particular evidence that they have any significant influence on overbooking policy. I am comfortable assessing that this particular aspect of air travel has mainly come about as a result of market forces.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @bean:

            Sue United later. You’re specifically allowed to do that if you think their compensation is insufficient.

            This is more or less “let them eat cake”. We do not have a system to effectively compensate people for these sorts of relatively small losses (less than tens of thousands of dollars). And furthermore, United has had ample opportunity to rig the system in its favor.

            If he had left voluntarily, and sued (if he could find a lawyer willing to bother), he’d spend far more than he could possibly recover. And most likely he’d get nothing.

            That’s usually the case when dealing with authorities who decide they can screw you. You can either refuse to go along and hope they won’t go so far as to beat the shit out of you for doing so, or you can surrender. “Comply and sue later” is just a sop to the ego. You’re almost certainly not going to sue later. If you do, you’ll almost certainly lose. And even if you don’t lose, the cost of fighting through the courts will swamp any winnings.

          • “Sign up for TSA pre-check”

            I’ve been considering it, but it feels rather like giving in to the enemy. In exchange for not having to go through the hassle most other passengers have to go through you make yourself a little more identifiable to the people creating that hassle.

          • onyomi says:

            I’ve been considering it, but it feels rather like giving in to the enemy. In exchange for not having to go through the hassle most other passengers have to go through you make yourself a little more identifiable to the people creating that hassle.

            It definitely is that. It’s also definitely worth it. What did it for me, especially, was the “naked scanners.” I always opt out of those, which results in a lot of sighing and visible annoyance on the part of the TSA agents who now have to grope me. But I also am not going to take a chance being irradiated for them. The precheck usually lets me avoid that, along with a lot of other hassles.

            But yes, it is totally paying the enemy for the privilege of avoiding the hassles they created.

          • Urstoff says:

            I don’t think you’re disagreeing with me? United’s internal procedures were clearly not flexible enough to avoid a massive PR snafu in this case. We don’t really know if something similar has happened but been reasonably dealt with by other airlines. I would guess so, but that’s just a guess.

          • carvenvisage says:

            A customer acting as 0-notice logistics insurance is of great value to the company, and of great disvalue to themselves.

            With tens to hundreds of people on that flight, the company should have no trouble finding the best deal for themselves. That’s the market forces solution to this problem, and it’s a good one and leaves everyone happy.

             

            The exact opposite of the market forces solution is to forcefully impose the price you had in your head, because fuck markets, why should we align finances with incentives or information or value? -everyone knows planned economies work out so well, and who needs markets when you have leverage?

            So yeah the whole problem here is that the airline has no appreciation for the market value of having someone cancel their flight, either to themselves or to the customer, and that they bought in outside mercenaries to impose their vision of 800 united-fundollars as the maximum reasonable price to not need to cancel a flight elsewhere (or whatever else bought about the need to bump a passenger at 0 notice).

      • Gobbobobble says:

        It wasn’t even overbooking in this case. They were bumping passengers who’d already boarded to make room for employees as a cheap hack to resolve United’s own logistical fuckups. If it were a case of actual overbooking it would have been resolved before anyone was seated since passengers would have conflicting tickets.

      • Mary says:

        United could have raised the offer to get off much higher and made it cash.

        But they are not legally required to do so.

        And assuming they have the right to remove — all the arguments against have all been (in my experience) either colorful indignation without actual argument or the sort of legal hairsplitting that could go either way in court — yes, force is necessary, and whatever is actually necessary is justified.

        And assuming the hairsplitting goes the other way — well, this is the reason why the law frowns on self-help.

        • suntzuanime says:

          They have the legal right to refuse to make reasonable offers to get volunteers to be bumped, rather than throw people off their flights. I have the legal right not to fly United. If that’s “colorful indignation”, well, I’m a colorful person.

          • CatCube says:

            The issue is that most people will rail about it now, but when United is $10 cheaper than their competitor next week they’ll go ahead and buy from United. If you’re one of the people that will maintain the “Never United” policy into eternity, and there are enough of you, then maybe there will be change. History indicates the chances are pretty small.

            United broke a guy’s luggage back in 2008, and he produced a viral video about it that he parlayed into speaking engagements that he does to this day. United’s stock lost something like $150 million dollars after his video went viral. Then it eventually bounced back up, everybody forgot about the whole thing because cheap tickets, and things went on as usual. We’ll see if this time sticks.

          • Skivverus says:

            Devil’s market’s advocate: share price (or ticket counts) will be subject to noise from the more shortsighted participants, but if the underlying problem gets fixed, why shouldn’t they go back to United?
            And if the underlying problem doesn’t get fixed, well, you’d expect to see a slow leak (or maybe not so slow if the problem is obvious and/or large) of customers to other carriers.

          • Matt M says:

            How can we tell whether the problem “gets fixed” or not if the problem occurs at a ratio of something like “once every 10 years”

            If we go five years without another incident like this, did they fix the problem? Or are they just lucky?

          • Incurian says:

            Is it really a problem then?

          • onyomi says:

            The issue is that most people will rail about it now, but when United is $10 cheaper than their competitor next week they’ll go ahead and buy from United.

            See this is where I take issue, in general, with the idea that the American consumer is such an inveterate cheapskate. Rather, I think a bigger problem, as cited above, is that Americans, like non-Americans, don’t understand the economic reasoning whereby when they get a slightly more expensive thing with a bunch of “free” bells and whistles, they are actually paying for those bells and whistles.

            Which is actually precisely why I don’t entirely accept the notion that Americans will always choose the cheaper ticket, no matter what. Rather, it feels to me like airlines have a poor understanding of human psychology.

            The most obvious example to me is the checked bag thing. It used to be you could check bags for “free” on all airlines; usually up to two bags, up to 70 lbs. Then it was 1. Then it was 0. Now, you typically have to pay about $25 for the first checked bag, which must be below 50 lbs and god help you if you’ve got something heavy.

            Of course, in some sense, you were paying for luggage handling back when checked bags were “free” in the form of a ticket price slightly higher than otherwise possible, and the people with little luggage were, in some sense, slightly subsidizing those with luggage.

            But what’s the predictable result of “charging” for what used to seem “free”? 1. Everyone is mildly pissed off. 2. Predictably, everyone tries to cram everything into the overhead bin, so boarding takes a million years and if you actually have items you’d like to access during flight you have to stuff them under your legs because all the overhead space is filled by rollerboards people have no intention of accessing during flight. Now they’re talking about charging for carry-ons to deal with this new problem…

            But the point is, I think they made a mistake “unbundling” this service in the first place. Planes have cargo holds. Large bags that people won’t be using during flight are supposed to go in there. People travel with bags. It’s reasonable to just make a checked bag an unavoidable part of the plane flying experience.

            But the consumer is such a ravenous dealhound! They will buy the cheaper ticket instead of the one with checked bags bundled. Personally, I don’t think so. Consumers do have preferences about airlines. Many, for example, have a more positive impression of e.g. Southwest as a company, deserved or not, than of many of the other major carriers (guess who includes a free checked bag) and will, if given the choice between a flight on say, United, and a flight to the same place with Southwest for $25 more, choose Southwest. After all, on Southwest you get a free bag and peanuts and they wear those cute khaki shorts, and are “nice.” Thing is, Southwest mostly only flies to… well, the Southwest, so most times you don’t get the choice between “one of those crummy airlines that are all about the same” and “slightly more expensive ticket on ‘nice’ airline.”

            People do care about “nice” and about bundled perks, just not as much as airlines seem to think we should care, because one is almost never, in my experience faced with this choice between two different airlines going to the same place with ticket prices $25 apart. They are usually way, way different. The other problem being there are now so few carriers, with most of them being pretty similar in the level of service offered, that it just doesn’t make sense to discriminate on values other than price because a. discriminating on price almost always means paying hundreds, not tens of dollars more and b. most of them offer about the same level of service anyway. Given the choice between say, paying $50 more for a flight on an airline I have a good impression of, and which I know bundles a lot of perks like checked luggage, and paying $50 less for some other airline going to the same place around the same time, I’ll pay the $50. But I’m almost never given that option.

            It’s like going to the store to buy toothpaste and there are three brands on all the shelves: one costs $2, one costs $12 and is filled with gold leaf, and one is $34.50 and requires a trip to Akron, OH, for some reason. If everyone chooses the $2 toothpaste, it doesn’t feel fair for the toothpaste industry to complain that the consumer doesn’t care about quality.

            Anyway, there are times, I think when making everything a la carte backfires in terms of the psychology of the customer: imagine going into a restaurant and hearing “oh you wanted that on a plate? That’ll be 50 cents extra.”

          • Matt M says:

            People do care about “nice” and about bundled perks, just not as much as airlines seem to think we should care, because one is almost never, in my experience faced with this choice between two different airlines going to the same place with ticket prices $25 apart. They are usually way, way different. The other problem being there are now so few carriers, with most of them being pretty similar in the level of service offered, that it just doesn’t make sense to discriminate on values other than price because a. discriminating on price almost always means paying hundreds, not tens of dollars more and b. most of them offer about the same level of service anyway.

            See, I don’t disagree with this, but I think you have to ask the question – how did we get here?

            Why are there so few airlines? Among the ones that still exist, why are they all about the same in terms of level of service? Why is it that on all but the busiest routes, you only have 1-2 similarly priced choices?

            I think the answer to *those* questions is “Because customers are crazily price sensitive, have driven prices down, and have made it so that it’s not efficient for multiple airlines to try and compete with each other directly on most routes”

          • onyomi says:

            @Matt M

            Re. “how did we get here,” I think it’s more complicated than customers just being price-sensitive.

            I think the biggest culprit is 9/11+TSA and accompanying regulatory crackdowns. Around the same time people became temporarily a lot more afraid to fly the government greatly increased the regulatory burden of operating an airline, all the while continuing to inflate the money so that the price of e.g. fuel was mostly going up in nominal dollars.

            Customers don’t really understand inflation and regulatory burden; they just know they don’t like paying a lot more for “the same” thing. So instead of just raising prices, the airlines largely took the route of making the service crummier and more a la carte. Let’s say the price of offering the same service they offered for a pre-9/11 ticket of $300 now went up to $375. Instead of raising the price, they decreased the leg room, charged you for checked bags, replaced employees with auto-checkin and tag-it-yourself, etc. etc.

            This avoided the sticker shock of scaring off already leery customers with higher prices but at the cost of creating a diffuse sense that the airlines were out to nickel-and-dime you to death and were treating passengers like cargo-sardines. In the final analysis, I don’t think it was worth it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Airline service has been getting cruddier (and cheaper) for far longer than you are acknowledging. Most of this is traced backed to when the airlines were de-regulated, in the sense that starting new airlines was made feasible.

            Your comments about inflation don’t make any sense. Fuel has always been volatile and airlines have always had to manage that. The increase in monetary supply you are criticizing would seem to be a reference not to something that happened post 9/11 but post-2008, but has left inflation generally quite low.

            I think you haven’t successfully avoided your own biases when performing this analysis.

          • onyomi says:

            @HBC

            My comments about inflation make sense within the context of a premise you probably don’t share, which is that price inflation throughout the economy has been a lot higher than acknowledged by official numbers, especially since the financial crisis, but going back to Greenspan, in part because of price stickiness–businesses preferring to make things cruddier rather than raise the prices.

            As for whether airlines have gotten cruddier since deregulation, I was born after that happened and can’t claim to be very familiar with the specifics, so I’ll withhold judgment, but concede it may be possible that a more regulated airline industry was more pleasant, but much more expensive in the same way, say a government-mandated health plan requires you to be insured for many things you might not choose to be insured for if the choice were left up to you.

            Amtrak, however, seems to be still basically a government monopoly and has gotten a lot less classy while remaining expensive, so I am skeptical that airlines would now be more classy if they were more like Amtrak.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Do you have some sort of source for Amtrak actually being a monopoly? It’s more that passenger rail died a slow death to (subsidized) air-travel and road-travel and was then rescued via more government intervention. If someone thought there was profit in competing on passenger rail travel, they could do it, AFAIK.

            And I really don’t think your claims about inflation are supportable. At some point your hidden factors have to show up in actual prices. As specifically related to fuel costs, it makes even less sense, as the shale boom has dramatically lowered crude oil costs.

            If you are interested in airline deregulation, the Wikipedia entry seems fair.

          • Matt M says:

            Customers don’t really understand inflation and regulatory burden; they just know they don’t like paying a lot more for “the same” thing.

            Right. I don’t disagree with this. Which is why my original reply to the root question here of “What should be done” was “Teach people economics.” If people understood trade-offs, loss aversion, etc. better – they might react differently towards incentives and we’d get something closer to the “true” customer demand, rather than the current state, which is based entirely on airlines best guesses as to customer demand informed by customer behavior.

            The outrage over bag fees is a great example. As someone who normally travels with just carry-ons, (and normally boards early enough that running out of space isn’t a big issue), I don’t mind extra bag fees at all. I’d certainly prefer it to higher prices. But many people don’t see it that way. Including some people who also would have only traveled with carry-ons even if there were no bag fees.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’d love to travel with only carry-ons, but

            1) The TSA has made that extremely difficult with their liquid rules.

            2) There’s a good chance that I’ll end up having to check it _anyway_, because I end up in boarding group 20 or whatever, even if I have purchased the “plus” ticket (assignment to boarding group seems opaque, outside the declared things like unobtanium-level mileage clubs) This is a win in terms of not paying baggage fees, but I still have to go to the carousel.

            Furthermore, a few years back the airlines, the unions, and the FAA colluded to not compete on carry-on utility, by reducing the number of carry-ons you were allowed. Seems they didn’t think it was only price that matters.

          • keranih says:

            A few thoughts:

            The tipping point for ‘when airtravel became horrible’ – I think that 9/11 and the ensuing security theater was a cataclysmic event that near completely over rode any trends that were in effect at that time. I can not remember air travel prior to the 1978 deregulation, but I can remember the early 90’s when one went to a travel agent to book tickets, and travelled with paper tickets. Now any fool books flights on the interwebs.

            Security – I heard it quipped that the government agency most invested in keeping TSA at the current level of rude incompetence is the IRS, as the TSA replaced them on the “most hated alphabet agency” list. More worrysome to me is the number of people on the right who have switched from “disgruntled cranky tolerance” of the security antics right after 9/11 through openly frustrated seething anger during Obama’s years, and whose irritation has not decreased (to my read) since last November. (but it’s a bit early in the day still.)

            “Great storms announce themselves with a simple breeze, and a single random spark can ignite the fires of rebellion.”

            The Arab spring kicked off over disgruntlement over oppressive police corruption & commerce regulation – but it wasn’t like those conditions were anything new. Likewise, the ongoing airtravel crankiness may or may not ever become anything more than lawsuits and ranting on the internet.

            Checked luggage fees – I actually think this is fairly huge. Firstly, it makes travel harder on everyone, because the number and size of in-cabin bags has greatly increased. This slows loading and off loading and decreases legroom. Secondly, it makes traveling *much* harder for anyone not a physically fit business traveler traveling alone on an overnight. Older people and people with kids are generally visibly struggling, and it is my sense that the number of these people traveling by air has decreased.

            I think the airline industry is ripe for disruption, but I don’t know what tech is in the pipeline to do so. Rail can’t replace it, and won’t, ever, in the USA outside the NE corridor, because of physical barriers. Buses could, but we have such high barriers to graduated levels of bus transport that one struggles to get beyond the sterrotyped horror of Greyhound lines.

            I think driverless cars might do it – certainly to handle smaller and shorter legs. But I don’t know if or when they will.

          • Matt M says:

            1) The TSA has made that extremely difficult with their liquid rules.

            What exactly are you trying to bring?

            I regularly exceed the liquid rules and get away with it (in pre-check, at small airport with friendly staff). Even when they actually detect I have more than allowed, they usually just look in my bag, see that it’s obviously just shampoo or whatever, and let me keep it and go on.

          • keranih says:

            get away with it in pre-check

            …right. This.

            *sighs, exhausted* This is how the republic ends…not with an earth shattering kaboom, but with the gross pop of a 3 oz tube of hair gel.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            I’va had shampoo, suntan lotion, peanut butter, and a few other things confiscated, usually because I wasn’t thinking when I packed it (or in the case of peanut butter, because I didn’t even think of it as a prohibited liquid). They let me get away with a nearly empty bottle of shampoo once. I’ve rarely gotten pre-check (which is basically the pre-9/11 treatment). I’m certainly not going to do the whole interview-and-pay thing to prove I’m a good citizen worthy of a better air travel experience. Probably wouldn’t pass anyway; my fingerprints are on file (expunged, but I know how much that counts for) as the result of an arrest many years ago.

          • As for whether airlines have gotten cruddier since deregulation, I was born after that happened and can’t claim to be very familiar with the specifics, so I’ll withhold judgment, but concede it may be possible that a more regulated airline industry was more pleasant

            There is a reason for this you may not be considering. The government enforced cartel held the price above what the market price would have been. Cartel members couldn’t chisel on price, since that was controlled by the CAB, so they competed on quality instead. A quality improvement that costs the airlines ten dollars and is only worth five to the customer may still be worth making if it means that your airline instead of your competitor gets a customer who pays you substantially more than the additional cost of carrying him.

          • bean says:

            Buses could, but we have such high barriers to graduated levels of bus transport that one struggles to get beyond the sterrotyped horror of Greyhound lines.

            Not really. Even if bus service was fantastic (I’ve done one cross-country bus trip, and I will admit that it wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect), the simple fact is that buses are much slower than airplanes. This isn’t a big deal over short distances, but it really adds up.
            The one cross-country bus trip I took was because I missed my flight home from school (school in Missouri, home in Washington state) and my parents told me I was on my own to get back (I missed the flight due to the worst attack of the stupids I’ve ever had). There wasn’t a direct flight, but the air travel usually only took about 8 hours. The bus was 44. How much extra are you willing to pay to spend 80% less time in transit? Particularly when it’s the difference between a night on a bus (and the seats aren’t really better than those on airplanes), and a night in your own bed?
            (Actually, I’ve done four other long bus journeys, but those were only 15 hours, and it was a charter bus because I was with a group.)

        • nyccine says:

          And I really don’t think your claims about inflation are supportable. At some point your hidden factors have to show up in actual prices.

          They do, but they’re in things that aren’t counted for CPI.

          Also, arguments over inflation tend to miss that prices aren’t going down as they should for goods that ought to be benefiting from economy of scale.

          You are correct, however, in that Onyomi is missing the importance of de-regulation of the airline industry as being a major driver in this behavior.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Also, arguments over inflation tend to miss that prices aren’t going down as they should for goods that ought to be benefiting from economy of scale.

            What’s not in CPI? What prices should have gone down?

    • Matt M says:

      Well, if you won’t be the libertarian corporate shill, I guess I will.

      Honestly, the best answer I have to your question is “educate the public to better understand economics, specifically the concept of trade-offs.”

      I continue to be astounded at how many people I know to be generally intelligent and well educated who keep asking questions like “What can we do to ensure that airlines give better customer service?” which is absolutely the wrong question to ask. Because the answer is obvious: “Be willing to pay more for tickets.”

      The “more expensive, but better service” option already exists. Airlines would LOVE for you to purchase it. It’s far more profitable to them when you do so. Price wars are generally a messy and bloody race to the bottom that everyone would rather not participate in. The reason United overbooks and bumps people is because of customer preferences where price is the most important thing by far. This is the same reason that Wal-Mart floors are sticky and that Comcast customer service representatives barely speak English.

      People have unrealistic expectations of what corporations should do. They want rock-bottom prices AND high-quality service. Generally speaking, this is not a sustainable business model.

      • onyomi says:

        I wouldn’t compare Wal Mart to Comcast. Wal Mart, frankly does an astoundingly good job considering the prices and selection they offer; Comcast, imo, not so much. And that I attribute them to basically having regional monopolies in many areas.

        • Matt M says:

          That’s entirely fair.

          But monopoly aside, the very basic answer to the question of “Why is Comcast tech support so terrible?” is “Because you aren’t willing to pay an extra $5 a month for better support.”

          I seem to recall at one point Comcast actually tried to offer a “Pay $5 more and get better tech support option” and there was huge negative PR backlash of the “WE SHOULD GET GOOD SUPPORT FOR THE HIGH PRICES WE ALREADY PAY!” variety. Fine then. Get what you deserve!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You know what that maps to for me?

            Pay $5 for the privilege of Comcast giving you slightly different but just as crappy service.

          • Matt M says:

            Could very well be true, I don’t know enough either way.

            In any case, I think it’s obvious that in almost every area of life, a “more expensive but higher quality” option exists, but they are generally unpopular and only desired by the fantastically wealthy.

            People want cheap goods. And that cheapness comes from somewhere, namely – sacrifices to quality and service levels.

          • Evan Þ says:

            +1 to HeelBearCub. If I regularly interacted with Comcast customer service, I’d be very willing to pay $5/month for better service if I knew and believed that it would be substantially better. Problem is, I don’t trust Comcast; they’d need to convince me of that before I’d pay.

            (Also, the other factor is that I don’t need Comcast customer service until I really need it. I haven’t called them in months because everything’s fine. When something isn’t, that’s when I’ll be calling.)

          • Matt M says:

            Hence why it’s an area they don’t heavily invest in.

          • Jiro says:

            “Better service” is difficult to measure; price differences are easy to measure. If you pay the airline a higher price for better service, the airline is certainly giving you a higher price, but it is not so certain that they will actually provide better service, since the difficulty of measuring service means they can skimp on it.

            (Service varies on a statistical basis, so you can’t just take one flight and notice that you’ve received poor service. You’d have to take a lot of flights at the higher price and notice that on the average the service for the higher price is as poor as the service for the lower price, which is really hard to do.))

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            I think it’s obvious that in almost every area of life, a “more expensive but higher quality” option exists, but they are generally unpopular and only desired by the fantastically wealthy.

            I think this is far from true. There are numerous examples of popular luxury goods, frequently for no reason. Off the top of my head: organic foods, German cars, women’s handbags.

          • Matt M says:

            What percentage of auto sales do you think are luxury brands?

            And even then we can sort of distinguish. Sure, the middle class can get an entry-level BMW 3-series, but they sure can’t get a Bentley…

          • Garrett says:

            I had Speakeasy for DSL Internet access and kept it for much longer than 1.5Mbps Internet was enjoyable simply because I could phone them up 24/7 and get someone on the 2nd ring who was technically competent and who almost certainly could fix my issue.

            They then got bought out by MegaPath who saw the high prices for the service as a great investment. The next time I had technical problems and asked them about it, they didn’t know if a DNS server was a service they even provided. (Answer: yes for practically any ISP).

            So I dropped them like the sack of shit they’d become. (Probably still better than Comcast, though).

        • kingnothing says:

          From what I can see, lots of people here agree that monopolies or oligopolies are a key problem.
          But what can be changed about this? I predict that even if people care more about service and are willing to pay for it, even if the market is fully deregulated in a way the truest libertarian dreams about, even then will we end up with an oligopoly. A market with a handful of companies, each have their own home-turf and a small border region with “competition”.
          Today’s strategy for companies in huge uniform markets with large initial investments barriers, is typically to become a monopolist. So they are willing to spend several years with zero profit or even burning money, just to force all competition out. We see this pattern in the market of cheap airlines in America, Europe, Asia. In long distant buses in Europe, in telecommunication markets, the “uber, lyft” market,…
          Deregulation might help to have a few more companies in the beginning or that the consolidation process takes a bit longer. Having another customer behavior can influence which product is exactly offered at the lowest price possible during the temporary competition phase. But we will still end up in an oligopoly where the winners will do everything to earn back the money they burned.

          • From what I can see, lots of people here agree that monopolies or oligopolies are a key problem.

            I don’t agree. A well run monopoly still wants to make any improvement that increases the value to the customers by more than it increases the cost to the company, since increased value lets it raise prices without losing customers.

            Lack of competition might contribute to problems because one large firm may do a worse job of figuring out how to maximize its profits than a group of small firms, but it isn’t the central issue.

          • Today’s strategy for companies in huge uniform markets with large initial investments barriers, is typically to become a monopolist. So they are willing to spend several years with zero profit or even burning money, just to force all competition out. We see this pattern in the market of cheap airlines in America, Europe, Asia.

            That isn’t the pattern in the U.S. When I am scheduling flights, there are usually alternatives available from several different companies. My impression is that it isn’t the case for cheap airlines in Europe either, but that’s based on a good deal less experience.

            My impression is that where one does end up with a monopoly, it’s usually the result of economies of scale.

          • Tibor says:

            When I search for cheap airplane tickets in Europe I usually know very few of the names that pop up, there are very many low cost airlines in Europe. I also think the practice of overbooking is not as common here as in the US (although I am not entirely sure). What happens instead is that when an airplane is not full, they sell last minute tickets for very low prices (sometimes you can fly from one country to another for something like 5 US dollars) and move some passengers to the business class for no extra charge in order to make the airplane full. There are websites where you can buy those last minute tickets (or you just go to the airport and wait for what pops up). This is obviously not very useful for when you’re going somewhere with a particular purpose, but when you want to go on a holiday and don’t care as much where to exactly, you can travel very cheap.

            If you contrast that to the high-cost airlines which are still often partly or entirely state-owned, the number of low-costs is much much higher. Actually, I don’t know anybody who flies with any companies other than the low-costs, flying with Lufthansa is many times more expensive and really you can reach anywhere in Europe from anywhere in Europe in 3 hours, so you don’t really usually care for more comfort than you’d expect on a bus anyway.

      • dodrian says:

        The “more expensive, but better service” option – I’m assuming you mean upgrading to business or something – that’s not exactly a small cost.

        A quick look on google flights for a trip I’m taking in June – United does seem to be cheapest – gives me a $100 quote (this is all assuming I fly from the hub a few hours drive away rather than the local regional, which only has one airline servicing it and prices more than double to fly from there). To upgrade to ‘Economy Plus Essentials’ is an extra $100, and ‘Economy Plus Enhanced’ is $259. No amount of customer service is worth that, and I don’t think either. The same flight on AA is $140, or I can upgrade to first which is $300, but at least that actually gives benefits like being able to change what flight I’m on last minute.

        When I used to fly around Europe, I’d often choose BA over Ryan Air or EasyJet because the BA experience was so much more pleasant, but only a little more expensive. I remember having the choice of flying to Switzerland and paying £70 for BA or £50 for a budget flight – for me the extra £20 was worth it (this was my own money, not a company’s). My more limited experience of flying in the US is that the carriers here are much more uniform in quality, and in any case unless you’re flying between huge cities there’s likely to be only one carrier on a given route. There’s less incentive to compete or offer marginal benefits, and no alternatives (Europe has good trains and buses as well, for example).

        TL;DR: unless I’m really misunderstanding what you’re saying, I don’t think there really is a “more expensive, but better service” option, unless you mean paying double the already high price. The US air industry is much more oligarchical in nature.

        • bean says:

          AIUI, the problem is that the carrier isn’t going to offer Economy Plus as a flat-rate upgrade to its existing tickets. It’s going to basically price it at whatever it thinks the market will bear, and then charge people that much. So if your economy ticket is expensive, then it looks like a cheap upgrade.
          And again, I point to Southwest, who deliberately don’t put themselves in the travel search engines. I can take a trip I’m planning for $169 on United, or $170 on Southwest. (And actually, both are at sort of the wrong time. If I want to stay through Sunday afternoon, I can go with Delta for $237 or SWA for $285. If I was checking bags, Southwest would be cheaper.) I haven’t flown United in over a year, and I remember their service being indifferent. (Nothing stood out relative to the last times I flew American or Delta, although those were even longer ago.) I’ve never had a really bad customer experience in a lot of flights with Southwest, although they have misplaced my luggage twice. (A friend who used to work there told me that this is actually policy. They try not to hold planes to get late-arriving luggage aboard.)

        • Matt M says:

          I’m assuming you mean upgrading to business or something – that’s not exactly a small cost.

          Your casual dismissal of the more expensive option because it’s too expensive is sort of my point. I made no promise that the more expensive option would only be a little more expensive. The economics of air travel combined with customer preferences are such that it has to be a lot more, particularly on short flights.

          The point is, business class is there. If you want it, you pay for it. If you don’t, you don’t.

          Hell, if you REALLY want high service, go rent a private jet. Or find an independent pilot willing to shuttle you in a small single-engine plane for a certain amount of money. There are a lot of options. The fact that you dismiss these options as not cheap enough for you says more about your preferences than it does about the availability of options…

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            The thing is, in Western societies we have had this shared cultural assumption that an ordinary citizen can travel from city to another city when their ordinary needs call for it, and this ability to travel is provided by service providers (often organized as a company) that treat you reasonably fairly in process.

            The concept is older than than airlines. When I think about traveling by train, certain images pop in your mind: I will buy a ticket. Depending on the destination, it might even be expensive, but a family with at least one working adult will be able to afford one to the most likely places they might need to go (usually around the country where they live in) [1]. There will be a person who wears an uniform and checks that the ticket is in order, and is able to throw out people without tickets or behaving badly. You will have an opportunity to buy overpriced food.

            The train experience has been more or less the same for over a century. Traveling by bus is not that different. The ship liner experience was given a death blow by airlines.

            Curiously, thinking about it, there have been some changes. I think there used for be three classes? The absurdly expensive first class for the people Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse wrote novels about, the second class for middle class people that had it quite nice, and the 3rd class for the working poor, which was not nice.

            Today there’s only two classes, business and economy. Economy is 3rd class with the pretense that it is the 2nd, but not really. I’d believe that amongst most people traveling in the Economy, the business class is treated like a land unimaginable where mythical creatures called “business persons from corporations” travel. The kind of whose tickets are paid by their employers, or their customers.

            Then there’s private jets, but the people who travel with such arrangements are mythical beasts like unicorns, except you at least can see unicorns in pictures and recognize them as unicorns. Of people traveling in private jets, you can only hear about in the internet.

            [1] It might interesting to have some hard data on these prices. How large percentage of the typical salary they were. I know that for a migrant, the ticket across the Atlantic to the America was a significant investment.

          • Incurian says:

            Another factor is how frequently one uses that mode of transportation.

          • Jiro says:

            “Better service” here means consistency in reaching a base level of service without small random chances of extremely negative events far below that base level. That’s different from “better service” which raises the base level, such as by providing bigger seats.

            Flying business class means mainly paying for better service in the second sense. Better service in the first sense is, if it exists at all, certainly not most of what the business premium is paying for.

            In other words, buying better service of the type we are talking about is expensive because the price isn’t mainly the price of the better service; it’s the price of all the other stuff that the airline likes to call “better service” but which falls into a completely different category, and which may or may not include the better service that we actually want.

            You can’t really buy better service (of the type in question) in any meaningful way.

          • Brad says:

            @nimim.k.m.
            On international flights there are still three genuine classes. It’s only on domestic flights (maybe only in the U.S., not sure) that first is either missing or not much different than business.

          • bean says:

            @nimim.k.m.

            I’d believe that amongst most people traveling in the Economy, the business class is treated like a land unimaginable where mythical creatures called “business persons from corporations” travel. The kind of whose tickets are paid by their employers, or their customers.

            I work for the company that built the airplane, and when we fly domestic, we fly economy.
            (This isn’t true for international travel. I’m going to be doing that for the first time shortly, and will be flying part of the way with United. That should be interesting.)

            @Brad

            On international flights there are still three genuine classes. It’s only on domestic flights (maybe only in the U.S., not sure) that first is either missing or not much different than business.

            This is basically due to the different distances involved. There’s only so much comfort you can benefit from, and that ceiling goes up as you travel farther.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            @bean

            This is basically due to the different distances involved. There’s only so much comfort you can benefit from, and that ceiling goes up as you travel farther.

            A few years ago we took Amtrak across the country. We paid for a sleeper cabin (which is FAR smaller than what you see in movies), what they call first class. The economy passengers had what might be comparable to first class seats on an airliner. For an airline flight they might be great, but I wouldn’t want to have to sit that way for three solid days.

            BTW, this was an excellent experience. I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity.

    • Corey says:

      Something that used to help was long-term thinking, and that was helped by having leaders be long-term employees. If you’re going to work there for 30 years and lead for 10, then retire and draw a pension, you’re invested in not burning commons-es.

      Nowadays top executives are disposable employees like us (albeit with golden parachutes).

    • gbdub says:

      I think you ignore some of the downside of “local CEOs” though. Multi-nationals are going to tend to be rules-driven and impersonal. On the one hand, that can feel cold to the customer/employee. On the other, it makes things like nepotism, discrimination, “old-boys-clubs”, and just general weirdness less likely.

      On the one hand, maybe United is more likely to end up in the type of PR situation they just did, because rules-driven multi-nationals won’t handle edge cases well (or will be reluctant to empower their employees and contractors to do so).

      On the other, maybe it’s better that United takes a PR hit – that makes national news, and might induce some positive change on a large scale. Whereas mom-and-pop airways pissing off a customer just makes the local news and is quickly forgotten.

    • Yosarian2 says:

      Just as a side note, I actually have a third perspective here. I think the big problem is that we’ve turned our airports into basically mini-police states where individuals have no rights or freedoms at all. And that one of the results of that is that authority figures in that position are much more prone to go right to “excessive use of force” far sooner then they would in a different environment, even in situations where there are other options.

    • I agree that strong capitalism priors can result in totally different views.

      I’m sitting here thinking “Hey check it out, market forces as a system punish companies who act improperly.” Others think “We need more lawyers with power in the gov. to keep these guys in check.”

      • Yosarian2 says:

        We’ll see if market forces actually punish them. Disturbingly, right after the video came out, stock prices in United actually went *up*. Maybe it’ll have a more negitive effect in the longer run.

        • The Nybbler says:

          They’re going to save a fortune in overbooking compensation. Now when they overbook, they’ll be able to offer a hotel mint and the promise not to break your nose and they’ll have sufficient volunteers.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s almost like the stock market is a really large and complex thing that can’t simply be explained by the viral outrage of the day.

          • rlms says:

            That doesn’t usually stop it reacting to things.

          • Matt M says:

            Is it reacting to things, or are you finding things to fit the reaction?

            (Note: Not saying United’s subsequent fall wasn’t influenced by this event, it’s just a pet peeve of mine that there’s an entire cottage industry devoted to “Let’s find some arcane news story to explain why the market is down 0.5% today and insist we know it’s because of that exact thing”. Basically, fuck CNBC)

          • rlms says:

            Sorry, my comment was ambiguous. The market as a whole does react to things, but I agree that we can’t know what things (in the short term). Individual stocks also react to things, many of which are knowable (it’s easy to pick out the date of the Deepwater Horizon spill from a graph of BP’s price).

          • Yosarian2 says:

            Sure, sure. I’m just saying that at the moment it is not yet clear if the market is going to “punish” United sufficiently in order to force them to avoid bad behavior in the future.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            in my opinion the worst part was reminding people that they might get kicked off the flight

            like, it’s bad enough that the guy got beat up, personally, but that won’t happen to me because I know how to avoid it

            what I don’t know how to avoid is missing a flight and then having to come back to the damn airport again and going through all the same monotonous bullshit, not to mention a basically wasted day because what am I doing for the rest of that day ?

            and that’s just assuming something innocuous like a summer vacation that I can put off for a day

            my personal opinion and I’ve said it to everyone I know: the voucher is nice, should be cash, but the real prize would be to be expedited through security. Possibly multiple times thereafter, but definitely on that day. I mean, for starters it wouldn’t be that difficult to usher me to the front of the line. And on top of that, if I already got on the plane safely, then I could’ve committed any given terrorist act already, right? Though I’m given to understand that people are usually only stopped from boarding and not outright kicked off the plane.

    • Chalid says:

      One idea is that companies might be treating their customers worse because of increased labor mobility. It was once the case that if you were an executive you were likely to work for the same company for decades. This aligned your interests with the long-term interests of the company and meant that you might see it as worthwhile to make hard-to-quantify investments in customer relationships. On the other hand, if you’re an executive and you plan on leaving the company in a couple years then you might as well torch those long-term relationships in favor of higher immediate profit. Incentive plans try to counteract this tendency but it’s a tough battle. Stock incentives are intended to align executive interests with the long-term interest of the company, but it’s very difficult for investors to measure investments in things like customer relationships (unlike, say, in factories) so they’re the sort of thing that is likely to be inefficiently rewarded by the market.

      So, to the extent that this is the problem, your solution would be some combination of figuring out ways to encourage people, especially executives, to move less, and for long-term stock investors to figure out better ways of measuring branding and the like. (And, perhaps, for there to be more long-term investors in the first place.)

      On the other hand, I think there’s another effect, which is that companies and consumers have become antagonistic because we have actually simply gotten better at recognizing our own interests (and I think this is a lot of the problem with politics as well). Look at this thread on United – you see a ton of people arguing, correctly, that United could have shot that guy in the head and dragged his bleeding corpse off the plane and we’d still buy their tickets if they were $5 cheaper than Delta’s. And all the airlines know that *now*, but ten or twenty years ago, the airline companies did not realize this. It took some combination of the airline industry gaining more experience with the post-1970s competitive landscape and the airlines getting better at analyzing their own data before they figured out that price was all that matters. So before, they were blindly trying to optimize among price, comfort, food quality, customer service, promptness, etc. etc., and now they are simply ruthlessly optimizing for price.

      And this relates to another effect, which is that, I think, the typical consumer has become more price-sensitive. Across many industries, the internet has made it very easy for a consumer to compare prices across a dozen different products. The internet has not made it as easy to compare “quality” and arguably has not made it any easier at all to compare “corporate assholery” – sure I can go find a forum full of horror stories about company A, but I can find the same stories about company B, and how can I tell which is worse?

      (To the extent that increased price-consciousness among consumers is the problem, it would actually be improved by having fewer larger companies – it makes the quality comparisons easier.)

      • Matt M says:

        One idea is that companies might be treating their customers worse because of increased labor mobility. It was once the case that if you were an executive you were likely to work for the same company for decades.

        I think most of your post is generally right. The one thing I would suggest is that increased labor mobility seems, to me, to largely be driven by the employer, not the employee. Particularly at the executive level. I haven’t done research on this, but as far as I can tell, rapid CEO turnover is less the result of “those greedy CEOs keep leaving in search of better jobs” and more the result of “any CEO who doesn’t deliver great results within 1-2 years gets fired by the board (who are, in theory, representing the shareholders).” And then when the CEO gets fired, one of his first jobs is to fire some certain percentage of his direct reports, and then they do the same thing, and so on and so forth.

        So ultimately, this is all being driven by increasingly greedy investors demanding short-term performance improvements.

        Interesting implications for those who believe in the coming of an age where increased automation leads to the elimination of labor as a source of value, and virtually all value is created by capital ownership. It seems that society may already be “solving for” returns to capital, with laborers (and consumers) being something of an afterthought.

        • Chalid says:

          I wonder if it’s fair to say that it’s another case of people (in this case investors) becoming better at recognizing their own interests! Historically investors have overvalued companies’ future growth prospects – we can see this because growth stocks tend to underperform value stocks. So investors’ increasing emphasis on the short term is probably correct.

      • I think everyone here is missing a point about deregulation that I just mentioned in response to someone else.

        Airlines under CAB regulation were a government enforced cartel, where firms were not free to reduce prices. The price a passenger payed was well above the cost to the airline to carry an additional passenger, so airlines had an incentive to engage in non-price competition, rent seeking by shifting the monopoly profit to themselves. That means it was profitable to offer a quality improvement even if it was worth less to the customer than it costs to provide it.

        The biggest example was the load factor, planes flying part empty as a result of running more flights in order to get customers who wanted to fly at a particular time. But it also included other forms of quality competition. Eliminate the regulations, leaving airlines free to compete on price, and any quality characteristic that costs the airline more than it is worth to the customers goes away.

        • Chalid says:

          Since this was a reply to my comment… I didn’t miss deregulation, I referred explicitly to the post 1970s competitive landscape. But airline deregulation was almost 40 years ago – the main reason for differences in quality between 1975 and 1990 was surely deregulation, but I doubt it’s terribly important for talking about the differences between 2000 and today. Also onyomi wasn’t really asking about airlines but about the relationships between consumers and corporations generally.

  3. Bakkot says:

    I’m experimenting with a couple of features for the comment system here.

    The first is a way of choosing which comments are expanded by default. You can opt in by clicking here and opt out by clicking here; when you load a page after opting in you should see some new options at the top of the comments thread under each post. I’m aware the UI is a bit confusing; I’ll iterate on it when I get a chance.

    The second displays the first line of collapsed comments, rather than hiding their contents entirely. You can opt in by clicking here and opt out by clicking here.

    Try them out! Do they work? Do they make sense? Are they valuable? Are there issues?

    For bug reports, please give your browser and OS so I can try to track the issue down. If you’d prefer to give feedback on reddit, there’s a thread for that. (Or IRC works too.)

    • onyomi says:

      I like that I can now see at least the first line or so of the top-level collapsed comment, which gives me some hint of whether I’d like to expand it. Also incentivizes me to get to the point in the first line!

    • keranih says:

      Thanks for putting the work into this. I am glad that (at least for now) it’s all opt in, so that those of us who are largely fine with it can go on as before.

      • Bakkot says:

        The idea is to evaluate this for general use (no one finds opt-in features), so if you’d prefer things the way they are, that’s important feedback.

    • dodrian says:

      For people who may be confused as I was briefly: You must opt-in to both programs for the second one to work.

      Minor issue (Chrome 55.0.2883.87, Linux Mint 17.3): Logging in to make this reply seems to have reset my preferences back to not being in the program. I guess if this becomes a default script that doesn’t matter, if it remains a hidden feature then it’s ever-so-slightly-annoying-but-inconsequential-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things.

      Overall either makes the site much more readable (my preference is the second), great work!

      • Incurian says:

        For people who may be confused as I was briefly: You must opt-in to both programs for the second one to work.

        Aha! Thank you!

      • Bakkot says:

        You must opt-in to both programs for the second one to work.

        Er… that shouldn’t be the case. Comments are still hiding all the way when just the second is enabled, for you?

        Logging in to make this reply seems to have reset my preferences back to not being in the program.

        This is an artifact of the fact that logging in switches you to HTTPS, I expect. Unfortunately nothing I can do about it, although maybe the site should just only be HTTPS.

        • dodrian says:

          Er… that shouldn’t be the case. Comments are still hiding all the way when just the second is enabled, for you?

          Ah, no – when I hide a comment having only opted into the second in incognito mode it still shows the first line, as expected.

          My confusion was that I would assume it would do that as an extension to the first program (IE, both show the first line in a hidden comment and provide me the extra comment options), when actually they’re two separate things entirely.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      Minor peculiarity: With both options opted-into and Expand Active selected, when a new post has been made to the deepest level of a subthread, any previous posts on the deepest level are hidden; posts on the shallower levels are unaffected. Running Chrome 57.0.2987.133 under Win7 Home Premium, SP1.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        Correction: It’s also hiding shallower-level posts which appear further down the page than the new deepest-level post.

        • Bakkot says:

          The idea is that only active subthreads are shown, so old shallower-level comments with no new children being hidden is expected, if that’s what you mean. (Though if you think it should be otherwise, let me know.) I haven’t yet worked out what to do about the issue of comments at the maximum nesting depth.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Bakkot:
            My experience so far (mostly on Chrome on an iPad) is that the “read comment” hiding is working very unreliably. Sometimes things are displayed as I would expect, other times the display seems more or less random as to what is hidden and what is not.

            I haven’t detected a pattern to this as of yet.

            It also doesn’t work at all if you are trying to change the last comment read date, as you might if you are switching devices. Changing the date might cause a hidden comment to be highlighted in green, but that’s it. It seems to only work on load?

            Right now it doesn’t seem functional enough for me to switch to using it.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            OK, that makes sense. I was assuming that all descendants of a top-level comment would be hidden or unhidden as a group, but the way it was actually implemented is arguably better. An old comment at maximum depth, though, could very well be the true parent of a new comment at the same depth, so I think it would be better if these weren’t hidden.

          • Bakkot says:

            @HeelBearCub: do you have an example of what it’s showing/hiding that surprises you?

            And yes, it only works on load. I guess I could make it so that if you haven’t manually hidden or expanded anything since load then it would re-apply when you change the date.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Would it be possible to an add an option to collapse everything but the top posts?

      • Bakkot says:

        Possible, certainly, but I worry about proliferating options. That one is probably worth it, though.

      • loki-zen says:

        I would like that. It would make comment threads much more navigable and make me far more likely to venture into the open threads.

      • tgr says:

        I would also prefer that (or significantly longer previews than a single line).

        Thanks for working on this!

    • Vermillion says:

      I like both options enabled, I’d prefer the 1 line display being the default for child threads too, which would help cut down on the infinite scrolling. So more clicking to expand things, but that’s easier to do than clicking to contract which is what I usually do now.

    • tanuki says:

      I like both features — thanks!

  4. Aapje says:

    Given the success of bean’s information dumps and the comment by one reader that he or she liked hearing about how the Dutch do things, here is a mostly factual post on Dutch schooling (primary and secondary education).

    After a lengthy conflict between various groups, the Dutch constitution was changed in 1917 to equalize the funding of public and charter schools. This was highly desired by the Neo-Calvinists, who opposed both individualism and statism. Instead, they wanted to empower local communities and favored diversity. So they opposed the public schools which were all liberal Christian. At first, this enabled catholic and conservative protestant schools and later on, alternative education concepts, like Montessori and more recently, Steve Jobs schools. Nowadays, 1/3rd of schools are public and 2/3rds are charter.

    If you want to start a charter school in The Netherlands, you merely have to make a good case that a sufficient number of students will attend and after founding the school, you need to actually reach this number in 5 years. The local municipality will provide you with a building. Funding is mostly through a lump-sum that depends on the number of students, their age and the kind of education. There is no tuition. Schools can ask a voluntarily contribution for extra activities, like excursions.

    Primary education is from age 4-12. At the end, the school determines the suitable level of secondary education (called ‘school advice’). Primary schools also administer a final exam. The school is allowed to choose which exam they use. This exam is independent of the school advice, although if the exam result is better than the school advice, the latter may be changed, although this doesn’t seem to happen very often. There is some controversy over this, as children with poorly educated parents tend to get a worse school advice than their exam results suggests they can handle. However, there is also opposition to using the exam to track students, as there is fear of teaching to the test and/or well-off children getting private exam-training. Then the test becomes less representative of the actual ability of the student.

    Secondary education is split up in four categories (from most to least intellectually demanding):
    1. University-preparatory school (VWO), this is a 6 year program (~20% of students)
    2. Higher generic school (HAVO), this is a 5 year program (~20% of students)
    3. preparatory middle-level vocational school (VMBO), this is a 4 year program (~60% of students)
    – Vocational school (~2% of students) <- everyone ignores this and so will I
    The schools must decide which students they take based on the school advice from the primary schools, so they cannot administer their own entry exams. It's customary to have a 'bridge year.' Many secondary schools combine 2 levels like HAVO/VWO or VMBO/HAVO for the bridge year, which allows students to still switch easily if the advice was a bit too high or low. The schools have their own final exams and there is also a central exam created by the government. The combined results makes for the final grades. Each of the three levels tracks into a different level of higher education, normally.

    Value for money seems quite high, with the costs being below average compared to the GDP. PISA scores are fairly high (11th in math, 17th in science and 15th in reading; compared to 40th, 25th and 24th for the US), although this is mainly due to the performance of students of lesser and average ability. Excellent students perform relatively poorly compared to other countries.

    I will take requests to flesh out parts of this, answer questions or such. I also plan to make a post about the consequences of early tracking as practiced in The Netherlands, a solution to some of the problems it creates and how & why The Netherlands has been abandoning this solution, which is bad for social mobility.

    • keranih says:

      1) How is the “school advice” determined? I mean, who makes that choice, how many people are in that group (I’m assuming it’s not one person) and what factors go into their choice?

      2) What’s the education level of your nurses? Of your janitors/housekeepers/maids? Of your police officers?

      3) What is the fraction of non-Dutch and non-Europeans in your schools?

      4) What happens in Dutch schools when a student is disruptive, doesn’t do their school work, and is abusive to the teacher in words or actions?

      5) What is the education process for slow/retarded/mentally handicapped students?

      I would love to hear more about all the things in your last paragraph.

      • Aapje says:

        1) The primary school can decide that themselves. There are no national rules for how they should do it, although there is a guideline by the sector organisations of the primary and secondary schools. The guideline suggest basing the advice mostly on the reading and math ability, as well as social-emotional development, attitude and motivation. Since 2014, having a student tracking system is mandatory.

        2) Nurses tend to have the second highest level of higher education (one step below universities) and janitors/housekeepers/maids one step lower. This level of education is considered by the government the lowest level that gives a decent chance at getting a job (called a ‘start qualification’). The police accept people with even lower level of education, although they have their own schooling, obviously. The police is trying to attract smarter people, especially for cybercrime units.

        3) Non-Western students with an immigration background make up 16% of secondary education. An additional 7% are Western students with an immigration background. It seems that on average the public schools have 20% non-Western students with an immigration background and charter schools have 10% (but not the Islamic charter schools, obviously, although they are rare).

        4) Legally, schools cannot kick out students unless there is a spot elsewhere. In practice this means for secondary education that they end up stuck in VMBO schools or even at home (because the legal requirement is not always followed). For primary education, there are special schools for students with major issues, although the latest fashion is to put these students in regular primary schools, with extra funding (called a ‘backpack’, which means a metaphorical backpack of money)

        5) See 4. It depends on the level of the problems, basically.

      • keranih says:

        Cool, thanks for all these answers.

        1) How often does the school face charges of discrimination in the advice they issue?

        2) That sounds…like crazy over qualifying people for janitors, and not right for cops. What sort of skills are you expected to have at start qualification?

        3) Hmmm. Sounds like half to a third of the non-Caucasian rate in much of the USA. I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes.

        4) So my question here would be similar to #1, above – how often are there charges of discrimination in the averages of students shifted out?

        • Aapje says:

          1) The complaints about this seem to merely be at the aggregate level. In general, white parents seem quite a bit more knowledgeable and anti-authoritarian on average and thus far more capable of understanding that the advice might be too low and willing to complain. IMO, this is one of the reasons why non-white children tend to get tracked at higher levels on average.

          2) Many janitors seem to lack that start qualification, for instance, because they are migrants with a poor education. Also, keep in mind that The Netherlands has one of the highest minimum wages. So I think that we have relatively few jobs that can be done with very little education, because they are just too expensive.

          3) Sure, but black Americans have mostly lived there for quite some time, and otherwise have quite a different history to most Dutch non-whites, so I don’t think that you can equate them.

          4) I’m not aware of any complaints that the students are pushed down by race. In general, the complaint is more that the system is broken on way or another (basically, people tend to blame Moloch, not intentional discrimination). The Dutch love to tinker with the schooling system.

          • keranih says:

            Thank you so much for your interesting replies, I appreciate you taking the time to answer!

            1) Sorry, I’m not quite following – do immigrant kids get tracked into lower levels at a higher rate than Dutch/European kids?

            2) Eggg. That seems…like something someone should do something about, as it doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing that can go on for forever. (Not my country, just an observation.)

            3) The ratios of different ethnic groups in the USA varies WIDELY by region. (Sorry for explaining something you already know.) (See here.. But actually, Hispanic kids make up a larger percentage than African-American. I agree that the situations are not the same, but a non-integrated population is a non-integrated population, and a disruptive kid is disrupting that classroom *right now*, not over the last two hundred years.

            4) I wasn’t intending to limit the range of complaints by race – sorry if my question gave that impression. Are you aware of any issues regarding alleged racial or class discrimination?

            blame Moloch

            Well, Moloch’s generally at the root of it, regardless of what form they appear in at any moment.

          • Aapje says:

            1) I just looked it up and the Inspectorate investigated the issue in 2007 and in 2011. In both studies, they found that the children with a migrant background didn’t get advice that was too low. Instead, they actually found that native Dutch children from lower classes got school advice that was too low and upper class children from migrant background advice that was too high for their capabilities.

            Earlier, my perception was different, so I was incorrect before.

            2) Well, right now we have a fairly recent development where loads more people are only getting hired as freelancers, with no minimum wage (because they are entrepreneurs, legally speaking). These people often have no pension, no disability insurance and often have minimal incomes. Right now, there are 9 million working people in The Netherlands, of which 1 million are freelancers (part of these are well off freelancers, like programmers and part are…not).

            Also, the law merely requires that someone stays in school until they have a start qualification OR they are 18+. So some just run out the clock. Also, 2.5% of students drop out.

            4) At the lowest level, an internship is part of the education. There have been reports that Muslims have a harder time getting an internship. 1/3rd of the Turkish and 1/4 of the Moroccan and Suriname students self-report discrimination during the preceding 12 months. The main complaints are being treated unpleasantly, getting grades that are too low and trouble finding an internship.

            As for class discrimination, I don’t think that there is much/any awareness in The Netherlands that this is even possible. I think that it is a way bigger issue than people realize. Very recently, there seems to be some growing awareness of the societal split between the lower and higher classes, but I can’t easily find any new stories or research into discrimination based on social class.

            Well, Moloch’s generally at the root of it, regardless of what form they appear in at any moment.

            Yes, but there is a difference between people blaming things on Moloch or seeing it as desired outcomes by the Illuminati evil elements. I think that Americans are more likely to do the latter.

          • kingnothing says:

            Just to clarify for point 2)
            @Aapje do you mean that nurses generally need to graduate at least from HAVO (+extra training ) and janitors/housekeepers/maids (are maids common in the netherlands? oO ) require VMBO?

            If that is what you mean, then
            @keranih Why do you think that is an over qualification? VMBO is what you finish at age 16 and is kind of “the school for dumb kids” if you want to be mean.

          • keranih says:

            @ kingofnothing –

            (When I said ‘maids’ I was trying to capture the service industry sector that is mostly made up of ‘housekeeping’ in motels in the USA. I don’t think housemaids of middle class people are a thing anywhere in Western developed nations much any more, although nanny- housekeepers may be.)

            (I would welcome clarification/rebuttals)

            My point is that if you are requiring no less of your *extremely* low skilled, easily replaced workers than you are requiring of 60% of your population…you’re over educating your janitors. Or over-educating the non-janitor [insert non-skilled labor job title of your choice] part of your population. And while it might be very nice to provide that extra education to the janitors, you’re 1) depriving them of job income whilst forcing them through extra schooling and 2) depriving the tax-contributing part of the population of the funds needed to provide that education.

            (This isn’t unique to the Netherlands, I don’t think.)

          • Aapje says:

            @kingnothing

            I looked into it a bit more and nurses can be educated at VMBO + higher education at a similar level, as well as HAVO + higher education at a similar level.

            The higher education at VMBO level is quite diverse, though. It can range between 9 months and 4 years. To become a nurse after getting VMBO, you need the full 4 years.

            VMBO is insufficient for a start qualification. You also need higher education at the VMBO level for that. A 12-24 month training specific for a job is sufficient for that. So one can have a start qualification at age 17-18, at a normal pace.

            PS. It’s actually a bit more complicated, because VMBO has different tracks as well. If you want to become a nurse, you need to do the more difficult ‘theoretical’ track. If you want to be a guard or receptionist, you can take the ‘practical’ track.

          • kingnothing says:

            @keranih Given his clarifications, you can also describe it as: There is ~10 years mandatory school for every citizen. That should be about High school level in the states? Afterwards you undergo a job specific qualification. In the case of the janitor, that might be 9 month mostly working under supervision + some basic job related schooling. For more highly skilled jobs, it will be a longer period and significant more job specific schooling.
            I don’t see how this is over qualifying janitors, they need significantly less formal education as pretty much every more highly skilled job.

          • keranih says:

            @ kingnothing –

            You are right, with the clarifications, the over education is much less apparent. It seems odd to me that a 9 month internship and a four year tech degree get classified the same way, but if they are, the issue I had pretty much goes away.

          • Aapje says:

            ‘Start qualification’ is just a minimum that is significant to when the government starts forcing people to go back to school.

    • bean says:

      Thanks for doing this. That was very interesting.

    • Incurian says:

      …well-off children getting private exam-training. Then the test becomes less representative of the actual ability of the student.

      I’m going to go on a tangent, probably this has been discussed before: why is it any more fair to prioritize latent talent (is it a coincidence those are anagrams?) over the combined impact of latent talent + training? I don’t think the fact that “not everyone can afford” training is a good response, because you could say with just as much truth and importance “not everyone can be born with high ability.” If we try to structure the program in such a way as to mitigate any advantage rich children might get, why don’t we also mitigate the advantage smart children might get? We could identify bright children early and feed them lead. Boom, equality.

      Taking this a little bit further, if an employer has two employees, Latent Larry and Training Terry, and they both have equal output, would he really favor either one? What if Latent Larry was also Lazy and would produce 80% as much work as Training Terry, but he did it without trying too hard. Would the boss favor Larry for earning him 80 cents with ease or Terry for earning him a dollar with sweat? Reverse labor theory of value?

      • Matt M says:

        I think the general wisdom here is that Latent Larry can be trained and conditioned to become Best of Both Worlds Bill, thereas Training Terry has already hit his maximum possible potential of output. You can order a smart person to work longer hours and learn new things, but you can’t make a determined and hard worker suddenly achieve a higher IQ.

        • Incurian says:

          So given that latent ability is the least fair advantage to have, why not hold them back instead of the rich kids?

      • carvenvisage says:

        The theory is that how ‘smart’ you are is important for economic productivity, so resources are best spent going to the naturally smart children. In this framework specialised&expensive training just to do well on a test is seen as not becoming smarter but gaming the system. Having a general tutor like aristotle or someone bring your kids iq (or effective iq) up by 20 points would probably be fair game if I understand aapje correctly.

        >why don’t we also mitigate the advantage smart children might get

        Are you kidding? That’s 50% of what schooling does. Mandatory universal schooling means classes are aimed at the medium student, sometimes even the worst student. Forcing bright students to go along at this pace and with learning styles appropriate for teaching a monkey tic tac toe, is a huge disadvantage for them.

        Imo providing no education at all would be better for the smart kids, especially the weird ones. Optional education definitely would.

        Alright maybe not definitely. But opt out education super-super-definitely would.

        (the non-intellectual kids too, -they’ll never use 95% of it, but at least it’s mostly just wasting their time and effort rather than actively stunting their development.)

      • It’s not about mitigating any advantage rich children might get, it’s about not needlessly making it so poor children are less likely to do as well as rich ones when an alternative set-up that would allow them to compete equally might be available. If you value equality of opportunity, then, as long as the overall pass rate doesn’t decrease, it’s desirable to get the pass rates for poor children and rich children close to parity. This may involve a decrease in the pass rate for rich children, but it can be compensated for by an increase in the pass rate for poor children. Of course if you don’t value equality of opportunity between poor and rich children, you’re going to think this is a waste of effort if the overall pass rate isn’t being changed. But ideally the reformers would be increasing the overall pass rate as well, and thus not having to decrease the pass rate for rich children.

        Personally, though, I’m skeptical of whether there really is a feasible alternative set-up that can do better than standardized tests in this respect.

    • gbdub says:

      I do think early tracking is an interesting question. As you note, it could be bad for social mobility (though how do you determine that? Un-tracked USA has seemingly worse mobility than we used to as well).

      Assuming it is bad for mobility, it seems like it could trade mobility for security. Not tracking probably ends up with more people trying things they aren’t really suited for. Some people might surprise themselves and others with success at an “out of their league” school, but others will bite off more than they can chew and fail completely rather than be successful in a different environment. Not a simple tradeoff.

      • You talk about security against false positives—people trying to succeed in an environment out of their league, and failing, when they would thrive in a lower-league environment. But there’s also a risk under tracking of false negatives—people getting tracked into the lower league when they actually could have succeeded in the higher league. I think I’d prefer to optimize against false negatives. One reason why: I think it’d be easier for a false negative to go unnoticed and uncorrected for longer than a false positive.

    • How much freedom does a charter school have? You mention Montessori as one possibility. Suppose one wanted to start an unschooling school along the lines of the Sudbury Valley School. Would you have to convince the local government that the model worked, or would you be free to try it and see if you got as many students as you had claimed? Similarly for any other non-standard model.

      • Brad says:

        I think it varies by state. My sense is that in most states at least one challenge for such a plan would be the requirement that students of the school take state mandated standardized tests and that charter schools maintain certain averages.

      • Aapje says:

        @DavidFriedman

        The most recent finding by the Inspectorate of Education is that The Netherlands has the largest differences in school quality of all countries that participate in PISA. So it seems that the answer is: ‘a lot of freedom.’

        In practice, it seems that the Inspectorate is fairly laissez faire if the schools perform well based on the metrics that the Inspectorate uses. Many school boards seem to make a lot of rules and it seems that a lot of teachers incorrectly blame the Inspectorate for the resulting burden.

        The Netherlands did have a Sudbury-style school (both primary and secondary education), but in 2009 the Inspectorate concluded that the students were not being prepared for higher education, the school couldn’t prove that the students achieved a sufficient level of education and that the teachers had insufficient education themselves. They then concluded that the school was not legally a school as defined in the Compulsory Education Law of 1969 and as such, the (parents of the) students were violating the law. In 2013, a judge fined a parent for this and in 2014, the school closed.

        So there are limits. But aren’t any real checks in advance, which created some discussion recently when a really crappy Islamic school was closed and the school board immediately started a new school, taking advantage of the Inspectorate only checking the quality of established schools, based on actual results. So technically, you can just keep starting a new school when one is closed and profiting from the time it takes for the Inspectorate to measure the quality.

    • Ralf says:

      Wait: What are Steve Jobs Schools? Steve Jobs like in Apple founder Steve Jobs?

      • Aapje says:

        Yes. It’s a school concept where the kids get an iPad and there are no teachers, but instead: coaches. So it’s about individualized learning, where students of different ages are in the same classroom and can help each other.

  5. Unsure says:

    Can I ask what people here think of Myanmar and the Rohingya Muslims issue?

    • Kevin C. says:

      That it’s not my part of the world and so none of my business? That the only reason people over here do make a show of caring is virtue-signalling and “leapfrogging loyalties”? And that, based on pattern-recognition vis-a-vis history, the Rohingya probably have it coming for the most part?

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I don’t know, but I do know what my questions are – does any state unambiguously claim them as citizens? Many argue that states should only be legally obligated to their own citizens, and humans are only morally obligated to their compatriots. A stateless population of this size is a challenge to those views.

      • Loquat says:

        Basically no. The Burmese claim the Rohingya are Bangladeshis brought in by the British in colonial times, or who immigrated in the mid-20th-century, therefore they have no right to Burmese citizenship, but the government of Bangladesh disagrees and doesn’t want them either, to the point of actually having deported Rohingya refugees back to Burma.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      I don’t know much about it, but we should probably bomb Burma just to be sure.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Calling all Catholics. How’s the fasting going?

    • keranih says:

      …where were you five weeks ago when the encouragement could have done some good?

      • Anonymous says:

        It can still do some good! You’ve still got most of Friday (assuming American), and Saturday. I don’t know what your episcopate has decreed regarding fasts, but over here only Ash Wednesday and Great Friday are required strict fasts (one full meal + two collations). Old timey Catholics used to fast strictly on all of Lent’s Fridays and Saturdays.

    • J Mann says:

      I had a 280 calorie egg and cheese burrito for breakfast, and can’t decide whether that’s half a small meal or a normal size meal. Probably in between. I eat between 2000-2200 calories most days, but 280 calories is an average breakfast.

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, I wasn’t hungry before you asked! 🙂

      Easter Saturday very soon, so not too much longer to go (then Easter Sunday and the Easter eggs).

    • Evan Þ says:

      On our way to a team lunch, my (not so observant) Catholic coworker remembered aloud that he should eat vegetarian today, but that fish counts as vegetarian, to which I remarked about the medieval salted herring trade. So, he had the tuna sandwich, and it looked good enough that I did too.

    • I’m not Catholic nor fasting but, influenced by my younger son’s point that giving up something for Lent is a useful practice, I gave up arguing climate issues on Facebook. Not sure if I’ll go back to it or not–on the whole it isn’t a very enlightening activity, and although I may be able to spread a few good ideas I’m not sure that benefit is adequate to justify the activity.

  7. J Mann says:

    I have an ethics/psych question for the group:

    Background: I am really uncomfortable around women who are super attractive. (Observationally, about 1 in a 1000). It’s not fantasies or desire or anything – when I talk to them, I’m constantly self-monitoring to make sure I’m not staring or giving offense, and it’s like I have an alarm bell constantly going off. It’s like an involuntary subroutine that spends about 30% of my brainpower monitoring and reporting back about my posture, voice tone, word choice, etc. to make sure I’m not giving offense. Again, I don’t have any goals with respect to these women, other than to be civil and to get away without giving offense. One of the women I indirectly report to is in this group, and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t affected our working relationship.

    1) Do I have an ethical obligation to try to address this problem? I don’t think it’s affected anyone’s life – as I said, it’s extremely rare, basically just the woman above and one other person that I vaguely know. (I don’t talk to #2 much because she makes me so uncomfortable, but we’re civil).

    2) Assuming I should or want to address it, what’s the recommended solution? Exposure?

    • Matt M says:

      (Observationally, about 1 in a 1000)

      Meaning this is only a problem for 0.05% of people you meet? Sounds like you’ve already spent way too much time and effort on it than it’s worth.

      • J Mann says:

        Yeah, there are literally 2 people that I encounter that fall into this group.

        • Matt M says:

          Unless these people are disproportionately important to your life (wife, boss, mother-in-law, etc.) I’d probably just shrug it off myself.

    • Incurian says:

      What sort of thing do you think would give offense?

      • J Mann says:

        Mostly staring, including any kind of checking out, not making natural eye contact, looking at them for too long, having the wrong facial expression, etc.

        Sometimes my self-assessment routine starts to spiral, and I wonder if they can tell that I’m internally panicking that they might be able to tell how fascinated I am by how attractive they are.

    • gbdub says:

      I don’t think your reaction is that unusual. I suspect really attractive people are used to it and just assume all people act that way. Then again it seems like confidence and attractiveness are not perfectly correlated, so they might be thinking “oh god oh god what is wrong with me no one looks at me”.

      Only advice is that “deliberately avoiding being awkward” is often itself pretty obvious and awkward.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This is perhaps going to sound wrong, but that is not how I mean it.

      Concentrate on the fact that they are a person. Fallible, normal, unique.

      I think what you are experiencing is sort of the same thing as when encountering a burn victim, especially a facial burn victim. Try to think of the persons attractiveness as in the same category as a facial burn. It is something unique and unusual about them. It does not make them any more or less human.

      • Spookykou says:

        I am not sure if this is exactly the same as your burn victim example, but it seems similar to the advice I would give, don’t lionise people.

      • J Mann says:

        Thanks – that’s helpful!

      • I think what you are experiencing is sort of the same thing as when encountering a burn victim, especially a facial burn victim.

        I had that experience many years ago, while spending some time in Canberra. One of the men in the place I was staying had been badly burned. When I first met him my reaction was to not want to look at him. Then we got into conversation and the effect vanished.

    • cathray says:

      1) from your description I’d say you have no moral obligations whatsoever. However solving this issue might be in your own best interest.

      2) I’d try self hypnosis. Use some readily available script to get yourself into a light trance then give yourself the suggestion: “Whenever I see ___ I will immediately go back into this state of relaxation and will handle our interaction the same as with any other co-worker.”

    • carvenvisage says:

      Assuming I should or want to address it, what’s the recommended solution? Exposure?

      I think that would work. But how would you orchestrate it?

       

      I think it’s also okay to just ‘take it in’ if someone is astonishingly attractive. It’s rare to see something ‘beautiful’. Also, to me a lot of ‘attractiveness’ is just when someone is extremely lifelike, -kind of effervescent, which in itself is imo just extremely good health imo.

      I think you can actually something from observing it: If it’s possible, I want life to flow through me like that, not because it looks good, because it is good. So maybe I can learn something from appreciating that beauty.

      • I think it’s more personality than good health. I knew a law professor at Tulane who had what I thought of as a glow in the dark personality. Later, when I was at Chicago, I noticed an old photograph showing some students giving an award to a professor. The face that stood out was the law student giving the award–and I recognized it.

  8. hlynkacg says:

    Paging FacelessCraven: Care to continue our “What Caliber for Kaiju?” conversation from 72.5?

    Some quick thoughts before I head to work.

    – For narrative purposes you want guns to be the weapon of choice, as such focus on the things that make gun systems practical in the real world and how these advantages could be used against kaiju.

    – You need your guns to be mobile and ideally faster than the kaiju. Unless humans have access to the same square-cube law defying magic the kaiju do this limits the size and weight of your gun carriage to something that can be loaded onto a HET or similar vehicle. Assuming near modern technology we’re looking at 50-60 tons cross country and approx. twice that on prepared roads.

    – Engagement envelopes, the faster your kaiju move the less time our boys have to shoot. if it takes 30 minutes to set up or take down your gun and a kaiju can move at 40 kph your critical engagement zone is a 20 km circle. Anything inside that circle is literal “Danger Close”.

    • Incurian says:

      Are rail guns (the magnetic kind, not the choo choo kind) out of the question?

      • Protagoras says:

        Good thought! Since unreasonable improvement in material strength could be the explanation for the existence of the Kaiju themselves (in defiance of square cube law), this might be an even better application of superior materials than what I suggested before (the production of better barrels for conventional guns). The superior materials could enable construction of railguns that don’t tear themselves apart from the massive forces generated when firing (or at least introduce strain and fatigue that leads to them tearing themselves apart after a few shots), which seems to be the biggest unsolved problem facing railguns at the moment.

        • Incurian says:

          Even if they do tear themselves apart, that does make for some good drama. Now addition to all the other problems you have, you only get one (or some small number) of shots per gun. “We’ve got to make this one count!”

          There might be local ammunition shortages with 105/155, but I’m told that we’re still shooting rounds from Vietnam, so there probably isn’t a global shortage.

        • Civilis says:

          FacelessCraven’s setup involved a number of restrictions that make the types of railguns currently under development impractical as anti-kaiju weapons: the global industrial base is heavily reduced, the number of weapons needed is quite large, and they’re to be deployed via conventional ground vehicle in hostile terrain and environment. (The same problems affect the use of orbital kinetic weapons).

          I think power is the biggest problem: you have no way to charge the railgun’s capacitors in the field. If the kaiju were in, say, to pick a country at random, Japan, you might just need a truck with a mile of heavy duty cable to tap into the powergrid to charge your trucks full of capacitors, but northern Canada lacks that. If you want to specify a technological breakthrough to create a portable nuclear reactor about the size of a shipping container, it might be possible, but that’s still a heavy burden to transport offroad across the Canadian tundra. It’s also very dangerous if it gets destroyed.

          A lot of this comes down to Kaiju’s design. The setup for the monsters requires both armor penetration and structural damage once the armor is pierced. A modern APFSDS projectile from even a tank’s gun can penetrate the armor he’s specified, it just doesn’t do enough damage. On a conventional monster which is essentially a scaled-up animal, you’d think that you’d eventually kill the monster just by internal bleeding from enough penetrating hits, but as he’s specified that the kaiju don’t conform to conventional biology, that’s not an option.

        • 1soru1 says:

          > Since unreasonable improvement in material strength could be the explanation for the existence of the Kaiju themselves

          So, kill your first Kaiju with missiles, then carve gun barrels from their bones?

    • J Mann says:

      I know you specified guns, but if I thought Kaiju were a serious problem, I’d advocate for orbital kinetic weapons. (Also called Project: Thor, drop rods, or my favorite – the Rod of God.”)

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @J Mann – Rods from God are Atomic Robo’s prefered solution as well, and a fantastically effective one. Unfortunately, space is no longer accessible; All artificial satellites were lost in one of the earliest events of the manifestation. The last time a major orbital launch was attempted, the rocket was destroyed at around 128km altitude, and something extremely vast manifested back down via the tenuous mass of the rocket’s contrail and devoured the launch site. The site was eventually neutralized by a 9-megaton nuke after lesser levels of force proved ineffective. (crappy WIP sketch; need to finish this.)

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I’d actually ended up leaving replies to everyone in the last thread, but I replied like two days later and everyone else had left the thread. I thought about linking it in the new thread, but I sorta felt bad for inkecting this sort of geekery into the open threads in the first place, so decided to just leave things be. If anyone was interested in the discussion, here’s my final post in the last thread.

      Also, for those interested, Kaiju Art!

      @Hlynkacg – “For narrative purposes you want guns to be the weapon of choice, as such focus on the things that make gun systems practical in the real world and how these advantages could be used against kaiju.”

      After the discussion in the last thread, I’m leaning heavily toward missile production being erratic/disrupted, whether due to plague outbreak or a kaiju breakthrough or something else; possibly also what missiles they have are going to defending the coasts/the Rockies. Loss of production capacity hits the missiles harder than the guns, as powder and shells are relatively easy to produce and considerably more forgiving of corner-cutting in terms of construction; the guns themselves can’t be replaced, of course, but that just adds to the flavor. Also, sustained bombardment against the ecology is a possibility I haven’t gotten into much yet, but probably should think about. Based on the previous thread, anything that ups the required rounds fired works in the guns’ favor, right?

      On gun weights, transport, Kaiju movement speeds and associated hazards, I left more detailed replies in the linked thread, and would be greatly interested to hear whatcha think!

      I gotta prep for a Pathfinder game this afternoon, but I’ll be back for more replies this evening! Thanks again for the interest!

      • hlynkacg says:

        So I’ve gone back and re-read the original thread along with your reply and I think I’ve got a pretty solid grasp of the “feel” you’re going for. So here are my thoughts on world building, and the day to day operation of your Kaiju Fighting force (KFF)…

        So why guns? In modern terms the main advantages of tube artillery are flexibility, the same gun system can be loaded a variety of specialized ammunition (anti-armor, anti-personnel, illumination, smoke, chemical rounds etc…) without modification and lower cost per shot (500 artillery rounds is generally cheaper to produce, store, and transport than 500 equivalent warheads + the missiles needed to throw them). In order for your guns to be cost effective The cost of your gun + (the cost per round * number of rounds needed to ensure a kill) needs to be less than the cost of your missiles * number of missiles needed to ensure a kill. The more rounds you fire the easier it becomes to make this equation work out in the guns’ favor.

        With that in mind here is how imagine the standard Kaiju intercept going down: Observer teams patrol the northern-most perimeter to locate and shadow southbound Kaiju. Once a Kaiju’s position and track has been established a weapons convoy is dispatched from the closest firebase to intercept it. The convoy deploys multiple batteries to pre-prepared firing positions on the main line. The positions are selected to provide an overlapping field of fire covering both the kaiju’s approach path and each other. On a pre-arranged signal the batteries open fire. Ideally the first salvo would be designed to cripple/immobilize the kaiju (and if possible blind and disorient it) so that follow up shots can be taken at the batteries’ leisure. If the kaiju charges, the battery being charged can retreat while the other batteries provide covering fire. Otherwise with the kaiju down, the batteries begin a systematic bombardment of it and it’s immediate surroundings with thermite or white phosphorous to finish it off and “sanitize” the environment. (Kill it with fire)

        In the interest of spreading the KFF more thinly I’d make the perimeter longer. I imagine the anomalies being centered on the poles, Antarctica has been given over completely to the alien ecology, but being an island has been effectively quarantined. The north pole however is a different story, every winter the sea freezes creating “land bridge” to the human population centers of Asia and North America (and through them the world) and every winter the alien ecology floods south. The North American Defense Line stretches roughly 4200 miles from Fairbanks AK to Quebec Canada. The line is comprised much as you described in your original post. Fighting is fiercest in Alaska and the Rockies as the mountainous terrain makes tracking the Kaiju and establishing good firing positions much more difficult. Let’s be honest, there aren’t many places a kaiju-sized target can hide on the great plains 😉

        Edit: Some additional thoughts…

        Guns wear out, if you can’t replace them don’t bother deploying them. Rather than being irreplaceable commissioning a new gun battery should be an investment on par with commissioning a new warship. This allows you to have each gun or battery be a “named individual” with a storied history while still being able to realistically risk them in battle.

        The kaiju are biological, is there anything in particular that they are allergic or attracted to? if so this could be used to bait or herd them into a kill zone. I always felt like “pepper spraying” monsters was a missed opportunity.

        Edit 2:
        On further thought I like the idea of the alien ecology having an aversion to salt. It explains why they don’t swim around the defense line and there’s a certain pathos to the KFF “salting the earth”, destroying their own land to ward off the monsters.

  9. keranih says:

    Coming sideways of the issue of freedom of speech and more towards what I think Scott was trying to get at with his “don’t reach for your most obnoxious example if you want sympathy” point…

    I think the broader concept is still sound – that if one is trying to change a policy or process or tradition, one starts with the fuzzy edges of that thing, and not the center of it, where people have the most attachment/commitment. Like, say, instead of homosexuality being mentally represented by a gay pride parade with ass-less chaps and body paint, you have two people renting a house down the block who are in every way like the rest of the boring suburban residents – car, dog, mow the lawn, mild displays of Christmas lights – except, you know, same-sex relationship.

    Or instead of being homosexual, it’s an African American family moving into a largely Caucasian neighborhood. Same sort of class of people, same sort of clothes and interests, just, you know, black.

    I think there’s a lot to the notion of downplaying differences, of deliberately looking for common ground rather than divisions, and for playing the mental game of “resorting” people into more acceptable boxes – she’s not “gay”, she’s “the only other Caucasian gal on my shift”; he’s not “white”, he’s “that other kid who also wears glasses”; they’re not “rednecks”, they’re “other parents of kids at Oak Hill Elementary”.

    But I think there’s a couple dangers here – firstly, of ignoring real divisions and differences in values that can lead to conflicts, and secondly, of ignoring camel noses until one is already sharing the tent with the whole damn dromedary.

    If the actual ‘identity’ of ‘being gay’ is assless chaps in public and fifty sex partners a year (and therefore social venues that support that mixing/selection)…that’s not at all easily compatible with suburban/small town social structure. And if multiple homosexual couples mean a shift to change the tone and/or zoning of a down town area, it’s understandable how people would not like the idea of the first couple moving in.

    If the actual identity of ‘being black’ differs from ‘being white’ – being contemptious of authority, for example (as John McWhorter talks of – or playing profanity-laden music at high volumes, or with men being more free to catcall women – then we’re talking not just a “different color skin” but also a different set of priorities, a different way of living.

    If the identity of “being muslim” means (to a large part) not welcoming dogs in your neighborhood…or if the identity of “being Southern” means overeating fried food (and expecting everyone else to do so) – or if it means having a keen sense of separation from non-Caucasians…or if the identity of “being vegan” means being upset when other people eat meat at your table…if the identity of “being tolerant” means shutting down and thought-criming first physical abuse and then verbal taunting and then mild teasing and then mistaken praise…I could go on.

    If the idea or cultural concept that is being introduced is…’nice-ified’ – sanitized – to the point of obscuring basic foundation, core principles, then I don’t think that that concept is being introduced in an honest way.

    I think part of the issue is that we don’t always understand what are the basic principles of our pet causes – and not having a TARDIS to hand, we surely don’t understand all the ramifications and second/third order effects. So we are not (generally) acting in deliberate dishonesty, just being ignorant.

    And sometimes ignorant of our ignorance.

    • gbdub says:

      Total sidebar – the phrase “assless chaps” has always amused me, since chaps are by definition “assless”. Chaps with an ass would just be pants.

      I guess “assless chaps” is just easier to say than “chaps worn with no pants underneath”?

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      Is the best strategy to be surrounded by otherwise-regular folks? Going completely from my guy, I think I’ve been more affected by examples of true brilliance, excellent talent, and the like.

      It seems to me that learning that someone you already had a commitment to great respect for, like Freddie Mercury or Rob Halford; or whose sheer brilliance and contribution to science is undeniable, like Alan Turing, did more to convince me.

    • John Schilling says:

      Coming sideways of the issue of freedom of speech and more towards what I think Scott was trying to get at with his “don’t reach for your most obnoxious example if you want sympathy” point…

      From whom do you want this sympathy, exactly? If the plan is for conservatives to win the sympathy of the sort of people who e.g. beat up Charles Murray and anyone who stands between them and Charles Murray, that’s never going to be a winning strategy. The winning strategy is to win the sympathy of everybody else. Almost none of whom have ever heard of Charles Murray, but probably will sympathize with anyone who looks like a professor and gets beat up by a bunch of rioting students.

      I think the broader concept is still sound – that if one is trying to change a policy or process or tradition, one starts with the fuzzy edges of that thing, and not the center of it, where people have the most attachment/commitment. Like, say, instead of homosexuality being mentally represented by a gay pride parade with ass-less chaps and body paint, you have two people renting a house down the block who are in every way like the rest of the boring suburban residents – car, dog, mow the lawn, mild displays of Christmas lights – except, you know, same-sex relationship.

      The problem with Gay Pride parades, and on the other side with Open Carry, is that it imposes its potentially offensive and even threatening content on the third parties whose sympathy you are hoping to win. The sort of person who is going to be morally outraged over the fact that there is a Gay Pride Fair going on down at the county fairgrounds on an otherwise-idle weekend is a lost cause. It’s the people with a “live and let live” attitude who might have a problem with an street full of near-naked leatherboys as they try to walk their young children home from the barber or whatever. And don’t get me started on taking your AR-15 into the local Starbucks.

      But as for the free-speech equivalent of the gay couple renting the house down the block (and keeping all the kinky sexy fun times behind closed doors), that’s anyone with any vaguely academic credentials giving a talk in an auditorium at the local college. It’s the sort of thing colleges do, and nobody who isn’t interested has to hear the potentially offensive talk. And nobody who isn’t a subscriber to the SPLC’s daily two-minute’s-hate list is going to recognize the name of whichever academic you do invite, but they will recognize the disruption of a bunch of angry protesters filling the streets they were trying to walk on.

  10. Matt M says:

    A somewhat random question with no particular ulterior motive:

    What is your favorite Bob Dylan song?

    (Note: I’d prefer simple answers with no explanations, at least until a lot of people have answered)

    • gbdub says:

      Any of them actually performed by someone else (e.g. Hendrix’s Watchtower).

      • hyperboloid says:

        Dylan may be a brilliant musician and Nobel prize winning lyricist, but we have to face up to the fact that he can’t sing worth a damn.

        • Matt M says:

          Eh, I think it kind of adds to the charm. Would we really be inclined to like someone who was a brilliant lyricist AND a great singer? They’d just be showing off at that point!

        • gbdub says:

          And while were being honest, many of the lyrics are only “brilliant” in that they hit the narrow uncanny valley between “total gibberish” and “can’t understand it, must be deep”. Said valley best explored while on mind-altering substances.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            My favorite deep lyrics by Dylan are those to “Quinn the Eskimo”, which is an anarcho-primitivist response to H.P. Lovecraft’s “Polaris”.

            Everybody’s building the big ships and boats
            Some are building monuments, others jotting down notes
            Everybody’s in despair, every girl and boy
            But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here everybody’s gonna jump for joy

            Lomar was a literate, megalithic civilization with advanced seafaring that fell to proto-Inuit during a glacial period. The narrator of “Polaris” sees this as a catastrophe, refusing to recognize that civilized life made every man and woman despair.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Further to this claim, most of the Bob Dylan songs I know well, I know from the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover versions that I grew up with. Exhaustive listing here, but I would particularly recommend You Angel You and Mighty Quinn. (They also did some magnificently prog-rock’d up versions of Bruce Springsteen songs, but that’s another story).

        Also (as anyone who recognises my screen name could predict), the 16 Horsepower cover of Nobody ‘Cept You. It’s actually about the least creepy song on the album.

    • Odovacer says:

      Like a Rolling Stone

    • Kevin C. says:

      “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

    • Deiseach says:

      I like “The Man In The Long Black Coat” but how much that has to do with Daniel Lanois’ production I have no idea. Reasonable amount of the early stuff, haven’t kept up with the more recent stuff so no opinion.

    • sflicht says:

      Ballad of a Thin Man

    • Montfort says:

      “Queen Jane Approximately,” I guess.

    • Adam says:

      It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

      But since someone else mentioned it, Ballad of a Thin Man is a very close #2.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I love his duet with Johnny Cash of “Girl From the North Country.”

  11. gbdub says:

    So there’s been a lot of negative hullabaloo over the MOAB strike yesterday, and I’m at a loss as to what all the fuss is about. Phrases like “indiscriminate terror weapon” were thrown around. But really, the MOAB is just a really big smart bomb. GPS guided, conventional explosives. Not fundamentally different from dropping a dozen JDAMs, except that one big boom at the doorway is well suited to taking out tunnels apparently, which is exactly what this was used for.

    So we’ve got a precision guided bomb, used against an isolated ISIS camp, with the cooperation of the Afghani government. No reports of civilian casualties. The bomb is unusual, but apparently well suited to this target, as it killed a bunch of ISIS fighters and destroyed a weapons cache in a single surprise strike. What am I missing that makes this uniquely horrifying, other than Trump is the president now?

    Some of the negative coverages has focused on the military’s acknowledgment that the psychological effects of a really big bomb are part of the point, but even that doesn’t strike me as so awful if used on a legitimate target – an enemy too scared to fight is an enemy you don’t have to kill, which seems like a win-win.

    Maybe it needs a friendlier name? Perhaps “Munition of Unusual Size”, or MOUS (pronounced “mouse”).

    • Jordan D. says:

      My theory is that it was kind of a slow news day and that certain groups of people are too willing to make the leap between “biggest conventional bomb ever!” and “Trump is a big baby who wants to use the funnest toys lol.”

      There really doesn’t seem to be much to the story.

      (Although I think it’s kind of funny that if I google ‘MOAB’ right now I get news stories about the number of dead and a line of arguing tweets followed immediately by a happy site welcoming tourists to Moab City, Utah)

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, I think this is only getting attention because Trump. It fits the established narrative (partially created by Trump himself) that he’s an egomaniac who always insists on having irrationally “big” things.

        If Obama drops the same bomb in the same place, it’s a minor footnote on page D9.

        • Protagoras says:

          It’s also a fairly expensive bomb, and in almost all circumstances you can get better results at lower cost with a lot of smaller bombs than with one big bomb. There is thus some reason to suspect that Trumpian egomania encouraged use of a less than optimal approach in this case. Admittedly, the coverage has generally not been that nuanced, and has generally conveyed the impression that the MOAB hasn’t been used previously because it’s too over the top, but it does seem like the actual reason it hasn’t been used previously is that it is inefficient. It would somewhat surprise me if the present circumstance just happened to be a unique situation for which it actually was best suited, rather than a chance for Trump to do something Trumpish.

          • gbdub says:

            A cave system in a mountain too thick for a smaller penetrating bomb is one of those circumstances though where 1 big bomb is better than many small bombs.

            We recently struck an ISIS camp with a B-2 strike with many small bombs, but that made sense because it was more “camp in the desert” than “hole in a mountain”, and the many “small” bomb approach let the B-2 reserve some bombs for an immediate follow-up strike if a drone on the scene determined anything was left after the first pass (nothing was).

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I don’t find the cost argument tremendously persuasive. We bought the MOABs in 2003 for $16 million each and they’ve been sitting in a warehouse since then. In the federal government, $16 million is a rounding error on a rounding error, not to mention it’s money we already spent. Who cares?

            (And for those who do, where is the evidence that they cared about these costs while someone they liked was President?)

          • suntzuanime says:

            The Air Force apparently claims the MOAB costs a couple orders of magnitude less than that. Possibly earlier cited numbers were including cost of development, but development is a sunk cost and shouldn’t impact the decision as to when to use the things.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Ugh, really? So they weren’t off by a factor of 19, they were off by a factor of 1750? No matter how mistrustful of the media I am, I’m not mistrustful enough. 🙁

        • sierraescape says:

          Call me immature, but I like hearing about really big bombs.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      1 – It’s the first time they used it. New is right there in news, so it’s going to be reported on. Plus it’s the largest non-nuclear ordnance we’ve dropped. So not just first time, but also a new record. Double news.

      2 – They fucking named it the “Mother of All Bombs”. If you don’t want coverage that is apocalyptic, don’t name it in a way that evokes apocalyptic thoughts.

      • gbdub says:

        I’m not arguing that it’s not newsworthy, more that this is being treated as a uniquely immoral weapon. If anything, I’d think the negative coverage would skew toward the dick-measuring joke (Russia literally has a “Father Of All Bombs” seemingly created as a direct response to the MOAB rather than for a particular military need).

        If anything it’s way better than the Syria strike because it’s a least a weapon well-suited to the target rather than the TLAMs which are very sub-optimal for hitting an airfield.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          more that this is being treated as a uniquely immoral weapon.

          Largest non-nuclear ordinance named Mother of All Bombs dropped for first time in what might be a dick measuring contest.

          I think you should expect that to get at least some coverage about morality.

          • gbdub says:

            Do you think it’s an immoral dick measuring contest? Do you think the coverage would be the same if it weren’t Trump dropping it? In other words, you’ve explained why it’s understandable that some people would react the way they did – I’m wondering if you think it’s a sensible reaction?

            My suspicion is that this would get coverage in October 2016 (I think that means I disagree with Matt) but it would be more whiz-bang technical infographics and less moral posturing, but that’s an obviously untestable hypothesis.

          • Matt M says:

            Hmmm, I can probably be convinced it would get coverage, but as you say, the coverage would be categorically different.

            Coverage from the left would basically be “Those stupid conservatives say Obama is a secret Muslim who won’t fight the war on terror, but he just dropped the LARGEST BOMB EVER on evil terrorists so don’t they look dumb!”

            And it’d get some coverage from the small non-interventionist crowd, something like “Obama drops largest bomb ever – proves he’s just as much of an evil war criminal as Bush”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @gbdub:
            Generally speaking, war is war. I’m in the camp that the perfect is the enemy of the good when we talk about ending armed conflict. I want to see improvement on lots of parallel tracks that lead to generalized harm reduction. I don’t think blanket vilification of armed conflict is helpful towards this end. Perhaps I can’t imagine world peace, but I can imagine a more peaceful world (and I have faith that if we were in that world, I could imagine one more peaceful still).

            With those caveats out of the way, I think the deployment of new technology or ordnance is one good Schelling point for a re-discussion of the moral aspects of war. I think news organizations generally treat it at as such, so when we see something new like this being used, you are going to see competent news organizations trading over familiar ground. They will give a platform to many voices, with many perspectives. Some of those voices will be anti-war period, some of them will be “”conservative” in the sense that they oppose the technology because new things concern them. Some of them will engage in a legitimate examination of new moral questions raised by a new technology. Some of them will be the first masquerading as the some other viewpoint.

            There will also be plenty of unprincipled partisan takes on the matter as well. ETA: But I don’t think news organizationsthemselves are being partisan in the coverage. There was a great deal of similar coverage about the morality of Obama’s drone policies.

            You original post said ” I’m at a loss as to what all the fuss is about.” But I think what you are really saying is “I have already gone over this ground and reached my own conclusions and this isn’t really novel so why go back over this ground”.

            I think that take misunderstands the relation between news media and the public. Not only are they using this as sort of Schelling point, but the public has not uniformly considered these questions, nor reached conclusions, so they would do a disservice by not presenting the public with the arguments.

            And then there is final (and largest point) which is that disputes are one way of generating interesting content, which they are always in need of.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but how much of the coverage is about morality versus about any chance to beat Trump with a stick?

            I don’t think it’s a great idea to be dropping bombs on Afghanistan but in my very uninformed opinion, the terrain and set-up there means that if Western powers are going to change things (apart from the two centuries* now of ‘go in, take out a few warlords, make alliances with a few others to help fight the first lot, leave, your allied warlords now take over and run things as they were in the first place that made you intervene, rinse and repeat’) then you would literally have to bomb the mountains flat. That’s not a workable solution but Afghanistan is a mess between what the West wants it to be (or alleges it wants), what the tribal societies want it to be, and what groups like ISIS and the Taliban want it to be, and it’s not a mess that is going to get solved anytime soon.

            *It was very goddamn striking in the BBC “Sherlock” that between Conan Doyle’s original story in 1887 and the modern take on the stories in 2010, it was once again topical and current to refer to a British Army doctor having returned from military service in Afghanistan.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you think it’s an immoral dick measuring contest?

            Any dick measuring contest that involves killing people is wrong. If you’re going to kill people, you need a better reason than that.

            If you’re going to kill people and you don’t want the remaining seven billion not-dead people to publicly question your motives, you need to avoid A: newsworthy superlatives and B: cutesy inside jokes like the “Mother of All Bombs” backronym.

          • gbdub says:

            Nobody seems to disagree that the people involved probably needed killing, to at least the degree anyone is ever sure about such things in warfare. At the very least, we probably would have tried to kill these people with something else if we didn’t have the MOAB, and Obama and Hillary probably both would have authorized some sort of attack on this group of fighters.

            Therefore the “dick measuring” in this case, if it exists at all, is entirely limited to the means used to kill them, so in that sense I don’t think it’s particularly immoral.

            Do you not think psychologically spectacular weapons have any place in warfare? Scaring the enemy seems to be valid, effective, even humane, to the extent it causes them to give up rather than fight to the death.

            As for the backronym, I mean, it’s a big-ass bomb. Expecting the soldiers who have to wield it to not have any sort of black humor about such things seems more immoral than the bomb itself.

      • bean says:

        Technically, it’s an acronym for Massive Ordnance Air Burst. I suspect that may be a slight backronym, but if so, it’s well-done.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        2 – They fucking named it the “Mother of All Bombs”. If you don’t want coverage that is apocalyptic, don’t name it in a way that evokes apocalyptic thoughts.

        Actually, the given name is Massive Ordnance Air Blast. Like with virtually any acronym, folks came up with a funnier one and in this case it stuck.

        • gbdub says:

          I’d actually suspect whatever lower level project manager or engineer was actually doing the design work on this thing nicknamed it “mother of all bombs” as a “working title” if you will, but their boss made them change it, so they came up with “massive ordnance air blast” as a more PC backronym.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            I’m not sure. I’d be willing to bet money that MREs were Meals Ready to Eat, before someone came up with the idea of calling them Military Rectal Explosives.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          In furtherance of gbdub’s point, given that it was developed and tested in 2003 in advance? of the “Mother of All Battles” as explicitly stated by Hussein, I really, really, really doubt that the MOAB initialization was an accident.

          • dndnrsn says:

            “Mother of All Battles” was first Gulf War, not second.

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah I don’t think it’s an accident, and the “Mother Of All Bombs” moniker is semi-official, in that the Air Force refers to that as its “nickname” in PR videos. (Oh, and there’s actually a series of these, there’s also the MOP, Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a smaller but hardened bunker buster that fits in a B-2 bomb bay)

            I think this is a pretty level headed mainstream media description of the bomb, and definitely think we’d have seen something like this if it was an OBomb-A (Overpressure Bomb, Air dropped).

            It’s the more hyperbolic statements that bother me and seem Trump-linked. From this article: “The bombing could mark a shocking escalation of America’s war in Afghanistan—one that places more civilians in greater danger than ever before”.

            I see essentially zero justification for that sort of statement.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Ah.

            I just remembered it being trotted out a bunch before that Iraq War.

        • John Schilling says:

          If they weren’t going for the joke, it would have been Massive Air Blast Ordnance; MABO is eminently pronounceable and fits the usual convention that the adjectives come before the noun.

          • gbdub says:

            They seem to be using “Massive Ordnance” as sort of a series designation, with “Air Blast” the particular unit. So it’s more MO-AB, MO-P(enetrator) etc. Whether that’s acronym or backronym, I don’t know.

          • keranih says:

            fits the usual convention that the adjectives come before the noun.

            John, really. You know enough of the military to know that this is a rule observed quite frequently in the breach.

          • Incurian says:

            Tea, Earl Grey, hot.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Incurian

            What a coincidence, you order tea exactly the same way I do!

    • J Mann says:

      In a related note, does it seem to anyone that the press has gotten more skeptical of US assessments of civilian casualty numbers since Obama left?

      It was vaguely comic when Obama’s report on his way out the door said that in 53 drone strikes outside of active combat areas in 2016, Obama killed 431 enemy combatants and 1 civilian. USAToday reported about halfway through that those numbers did not agree with activist numbers, but that Obama should be applauded for a “step in the right direction” by issuing a report at all.

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/19/drone-strikes-killed-just-one-civilian-2016-obama-administration-says/96810780/

    • Brad says:

      The White House clearly wanted to make this the story of the day for whatever reason. Well they get to pick what people talk about, but they don’t get to pick how people talk about it. I’m sure they hoped all the media outlets would just show footage of big explosions and crowds chanting U.S.A. U.S.A but it should have been predictable that there would be a variety of takes, some with a general anti-war slant.

      • Spookykou says:

        The White House clearly wanted to make this the story of the day

        Real question, did The White House/Spicer actually break this story?

        I don’t get a lot of news, but I did hear on NPR this morning that when asked about this incident/the political implication of it, Trump said something like ‘I don’t really know’ ‘it’s not important’ etc. I could see how this would still fit in with what you are saying, basically they thought everyone would be cheering USA and didn’t prep for more probing questions. However the NPR opinion was that Trump(maybe The White House, and Trump are not on the same page?) has taken a more hands off approach/given the military a longer leash, and might not have had much input in this decision at all.

        • Brad says:

          It’s possible that the Pentagon decided this was going to be the story of the day without input from the White House. If so, that doesn’t speak well for the administration’s message control.

          Either way it was government driven. All the statements were teed up and ready to go and everyone had the same stock footage. It wasn’t like some enterprising reporter got a tip from a mid-level officer source in Afghanistan and starting digging.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        The takes were predictable, yes, but that doesn’t make them not dumb.

    • ChetC3 says:

      The media sensationalizing a spectacular act of violence? I’m shocked, shocked, etc. I had always taken for granted that news media was the exclusive province of a secular order of monks who had taken vows of poverty and humility. But now it seems they’re just working stiffs trying to make a buck. Curse you, Cthuloch! Must you suck everything I thought pure into your sinister wake?

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Maybe it needs a friendlier name? Perhaps “Munition of Unusual Size”, or MOUS (pronounced “mouse”).

      What about “Wesley”?

  12. Odovacer says:

    Does anyone else have problems determining when someone wants to have a discussion/debate about a topic and when someone just wants to vent to a sympathetic audience? I’ve had a fair amount of fights/awkward times because of it. I’ve learned over time better how to differentiate the situations, but I still have occasional difficulties.

    • Protagoras says:

      I certainly encounter this, and I don’t know if I have any especially helpful tips. But I did recently have an experience where I was on the other side of this; that rarely happens to me, as I am almost always up for discussion/debate, but on one recent occasion where I was just venting to a sympathetic audience I was kind of surprised at how intensely annoying I found it when someone tried to provide a helpful suggestion. I feel like I was inappropriately annoyed, and would like to be less so in the future, but it gave me more sympathy for those who apparently experience this more often.

    • Incurian says:

      If I’m not sure I just ask.

      • xXxanonxXx says:

        And that goes well for you?

        • Incurian says:

          Well, better than guessing wrong. Anyone who knows me well enough that they might want to debate/vent to me can excuse such a minor peccadillo, or at least be conditioned to…

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            In my experience it goes something like:

            “It drives me insane!”
            “Is this one of the times where I’m supposed to offer sympathy or one of the times where I’m supposed to offer solutions?”
            “Why are you SUCH an asshole?”

            I think the people who know me suspect I’m capable of being more socially skilled if I try (and they’re not completely wrong), so they just get angry with what amounts to an admission of boredom (which, again, they’re not completely wrong about).

          • J Mann says:

            @xXxanonxXx

            A safer response is:

            “Bob is driving me insane”

            “Man, [I’m sorry to hear that things are so stressful | that must be really stressful | whatever]. Do you want suggestions or would it be more helpful just to vent right now?”

          • Spookykou says:

            Is this one of the times where I’m supposed to offer sympathy or one of the times where I’m supposed to offer solutions

            Is probably not going to work out, it feels a little condescending and dismissive.

            I used to open with a probing question, don’t jump straight into solutions or explanations. Offer a mild change of framing in the form of a question, try and say it with as little confidence as possible “maybe it was a [blank]?” which in my experience will be met with a, not angry with me, explanation for why it wasn’t [blank] without spend any time at all to actually consider [blank]. Now you know that they just want to vent, basically anytime anyone talks about anything with emotion, they just want to vent.

            I don’t even bother with the probing questions anymore.

          • Mary says:

            @xXxanonxXx

            What really bugs me about that sort is that they will barge in on you while you’re busy and vomit their troubles all over you, without ever acknowledging that it might be inconvenient or unpleasant for YOU.

        • Incurian says:

          An option I sometimes choose which almost never does go well for me is to explain their feelings are invalid and I’m not interested in any case.

    • keranih says:

      I agree this can be awkward – people like the idea that the folks they go to for advice/a shoulder to cry on can read their minds and know what is needed. It’s pretty cool if this actually happens.

      If they are someone you know, you can usually tell which sort they are having. (Some people only do one with a particular audience.)

      If you are not sure, ask.

      I have found that the stereotype of ‘guys want a solution suggested, gals want a sympathetic ear’ is generally correct, and if I’m wondering, I generally *start* there, but it can very so widely, so figure out what that particular person wants. It’s useful to think through some phrases ahead of time, and fine tune them as you go. For example:

      “Hey, that sounds complex/awful/really frustrating. Do you think you’re going to handle it okay (next time) or do you want to talk about some options?”

    • ChetC3 says:

      People always want a sympathetic audience to vent to, especially the people who claim they want a discussion. The only variation is in their preferred style of social validation.

      • Mary says:

        No. Some of us really do prefer to keep it to ourselves.

        And someone did a study that found allowing them to do so instead of bugging them — even so mildly a form as having someone call them (IIRC once a week) to check up on them — made them feel better.

    • Spookykou says:

      I love to discuss/debate topics, and I have come to the conclusion that nobody I talk to in real life is ever interested in discussing/debating topics. It is a sad state of affairs, and a major reason I spend time in the SSC comment section.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Bob is driving me insane”/”What did he do now?” and let them go on about it. If it’s a rant, it’ll become clear. If they want advice, they may say something like “I have no idea what to do, I’ve tried everything, I wish I knew some new thing to try”. Then you can offer your suggestion.

      If someone says something like, um, I dunno, “I hope Bob burns in Hell”, they’re ranting/venting. (I feel the need to make this clear due to past unfortunate events).

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      There is something in between venting and asking for the solution to a puzzle. Sometimes one knows what is the correct course of action, and talks to other for encouragement to overcome cowardice and akrasia.

      Anyway the tip-off is what sort of problem it is. If it’s a puzzle, offer an answer. If they know what to do but need encouragement, give encouragement[*]. If the problem is unsolvable they are venting.

      [*] Rants are sometimes in this category. I may rant about how shitty someone if I am trying to overcome my aversion to hurting them.

    • carvenvisage says:

      I think this approach is good in most situations:

      1. If you have any ideas which seem good to you, offer them, but really lean towards offering them, lets say offering them up, (andperhaps specifically as a show of goodwill), not speaking like a stone tablet giving commandments from the universe itself. (note that this doesn’t have to involve any empathy, it’s about propriety, not insight.)

      2. If their perception seems off or self serving, try to lead them to a more accurate view without without insulting them or getting angry. Either they’ll expand further and show you misunderstood, or they’ll realise something, or they won’t be interested, or they’ll attack you. -The first 2 are good outcomes and the last 2 don’t matter. (You can also attack them or deliberately leave them to their wrong idea if you think they deserve it but that’s getting away from the “social skills” them I perceive the question as having.)

  13. keranih says:

    One of the flashpoints of the Murray debate has been the alleged hierarchy of people by intelligence. I agree that – as a society – if we assign more worth to some people based on measurement of intelligence, and less to others, that this is a major mistake and will lead only to bad things.

    How else should we be assigning worth? And how can we get society as a whole to shift to the other metric?

    • Incurian says:

      In this scenario, why is having a hierarchy the same thing as assigning worth?

      • keranih says:

        My gut reaction is that no worth should be assigned to one person over another – we are all children of God, sinful and blessed.

        My more practical side says that we *do* assign more worth to some people than others – at a minimum, we care more about people we know than people we don’t, and it spirals up from there. So a hierarchy would result in a difference of assigning worth, in a practical sense.

        Does this make sense?

        • Incurian says:

          I don’t understand how valuing people based on their social distance (how well you know them) is the same as valuing people based on their position in a hierarchy. I may know my boss, my peers, and my subordinates equally well. Anyway, I take your point that people can and do value other people differently, based on their own criteria.

          And I’ll take the point below that “value” might be a similar thing to “social/economic strata.”

          But we’re still not assigning that value. That is to say, we’re not choosing to believe that smart people have more value and therefore should be placed higher in the hierarchy. Smart (or whatever fitness function) people will gravitate to the top of the hierarchy for reasons completely independent from the way we value people. Nature didn’t value the dinosaurs any less than mammals, evolution has no values.

          If you’re saying that we shouldn’t value people based solely upon their position in a hierarchy, regardless of what particular trait got them there… well maybe you’re right if you mean value in the moral sense that we’re all god’s children or whatever. But in an economic sense I don’t think you could fairly state that they don’t have more value, or else they probably wouldn’t be there (or won’t be for long).

          Maybe this is one of those discussions where tabooing some words will make the argument clearer?

          • carvenvisage says:

            Maybe this is one of those discussions where tabooing some words will make the argument clearer?

            Completely incidental point, but I think “taboo” in this sense should go in scare quotes, because it’s being used in a non standard sense.

            The natural reading for someone who didn’t read that less wrong post would be something like “making untouchable”, which is kind of the opposite of to banning the word in order to engage the topic at a more fundamental level. -If something is taboo it isn’t supposed to be engaged with at all.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        In this scenario, why is having a hierarchy the same thing as assigning worth?

        Maybe we are working on different concepts of ‘worth’ but I’ll bite: because this is how human societies tend to operate? Your station in the hierarchy of the society is, for most practical intents and purposes in your daily life, your worth: as perceived by you, as perceived by your superiors and underlings, as perceived by your kids. We are social creatures. The hierarchies matter to us.

        Sure, you can be reminded that within some philosophical and religious frameworks, a beggar and a king as human persons have same value as humans, in an abstract sense of a value, and keeping it in your mind will be very useful and contribute towards a better society, and so on. But that does not change that, in the end, king is a king and a beggar is a beggar. The pope may spend one day washing other people’s feet, but at the end of day, he will continue being the pope, not a feetwasher.

        • Incurian says:

          Is it correct to say that for the purposes of this discussion, “worth” and “social/economic strata” mean the same thing?

    • John Schilling says:

      How else should we be assigning worth? And how can we get society as a whole to shift to the other metric?

      “Worth” is in this context somewhat ambiguous. But pragmatically, if you don’t preferentially assign respect, rewards, and control of resources(*) to people who do stuff you find useful, they will do less useful stuff for you. They may start doing useful stuff for your enemies, if those offer a better deal.

      Intelligence correlates very strongly with the ability to do useful stuff. There is probably some value in tailoring the assigned “worth” to usefully applied intelligence, but that can go wrong if you go too far. Game theory suggests that in a high-trust society you advance a fair bit of respect to your emergent geniuses before demanding results.

      And, of course, you’ll need to assign “worth” to other useful virtues as well. Hard work I think is generally recognized and rewarded in most contexts, as is social aptitude. What useful virtues are we generally undervaluing or leaving unrewarded?

      * Including the labor of other people

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

      • carvenvisage says:

        Game theory suggests that in a high-trust society you advance a fair bit of respect to your emergent geniuses before demanding results.

        That sounds right to me, but any chance you could explain it?

        Thinking about it myself I would say it’s not the high trust aspect that’s important, it’s the fact that geniuses probably have the option to skate by, which is society dependent.

        Which is perhaps an inevitable result of a high trust (rather than e.g. drastically authoritarian) society?

        Factors which perhaps aren’t society dependent:

        1. Can even a genius manage a genius? -Is a genius not a person who develops themselves so far or is naturally so great in some direction, that other people can’t comprehend it? Best not to poke your fingers about in things you can’t comprehend. That class of interventions is generally of low value.

        2. genius takes motivation and the ability to pursue your talents. Having a program to identify geniuses is going to have to avoid putting square geniuses in round holes or vica versa, which it’s probably going to fail to do in our society.

        3. geniuses are probably less likely to be compliant if attempting to force them. They probably know on some level they have something pretty cool in them, which is liable to make them more confident at least in some ways. They also probably just have more options so more actual leverage. (If you could actually convince them to start actively contributing earlier that could be different though?)

        • John Schilling says:

          In a high-trust society, the winning strategy in any iterative game is going to be some variety of tit-for-tat. Society is going to be dealing with each genius iteratively over a lifetime, and the nature of that game is that the early interactions will occur when genius has been recognized but hasn’t had any real opportunity to do great works, e.g. in primary school.

          Society has to make the first move in that iterated game. If society’s first move is any variant on “You’re so smart, but what have you done for us that we should give you a cookie?” or even “You’re smart enough that you can get by on your own; we’re too busy helping the not-smart”, then so much for trust and good luck getting genius to do anything useful without paying in advance.

          And this isn’t unique to genius; it applies to any productive or otherwise desirable virtue that is likely to be recognized at an early age. Though, as you note, genius may be more likely to recognize when it is being offered a raw deal.

    • J Mann says:

      Murray doesn’t say they’re worth more. If I understand his argument, he says intelligent people are likely to (a) accumulate wealth, (b) accumulate power and (c) attract other intelligent people as mates.

      Now those are all problems – all things being equal, a drug researcher’s RESEARCH is probably worth more (in that people would pay more for a year of her work) if she’s more intelligent than her colleagues, but that doesn’t mean she’s personally worth more, just that people will pay more for her to work for me. And all things being equal, we probably want more intelligent people in the Senate, in charge of the Federal Reserve or the Department of Agriculture, etc. And all things being equal, most intelligent people prefer to marry and associate mostly with intelligent people, because they usually find each other more interesting.

      So it depends on “worth what?” If you mean are they worthy of respect, or dignity, or equal treatment under the law, then absolutely. But if we mean worth more money, or wields more power, or is likely to have intelligent kids, well, that’s definitely a problem.

  14. laika-in-space says:

    I had a great time at the Chicago meetup. I think mingyuan’s example of setting up a local google group (“ssc-chicago”) is a good one. I’m worried that it only includes the slice of readers that happened to be able to make it on that particular day and location. Scott, would you consider adding a page at the top (along with ‘top posts’, ‘archive’, etc) called ‘local’ or ‘meetup’ with a directory of local mailing lists? It could have an explanation with a link to the meetup thread and an explanation to the effect of “If you want to attend meetups in your city, check if there’s a mailing list below. If there is and nobody has organized a meetup lately, consider organizing one. If there isn’t, consider creating a mailing list and notify Scott to add it to the directory.”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Some people from Chicago are going to try to take care of this.

      • Deiseach says:

        Some people from Chicago are going to try to take care of this.

        Why did that sentence make me think “St Valentine’s Day Massacre”? 🙂

  15. Tekhno says:

    Are the Marxists the most intelligent group in politics? Anecdotally, they always seem to be smart people. Progressives can be dumb, but I’ve never met an actual by the books Marxist who seemed stupid. They always seem to be above average intelligence.

    In addition, the philosophy itself seems to require more dedication and reading than other philosophies, giving it a high barrier of entry. Libertarianism has its intellectuals, but it has a low barrier to entry; a few simple thought experiments above the nature of when force is justified can make someone into a libertarian. Grasping the nature of surplus value and why production for exchange is exploitative is much more difficult. This is reflected in the books you are asked to read. Libertarians will ask you to read various books on “basic economics” with easy to understand microeconomics extrapolated to the macro, Nazis will ask you to read Mein Kampf, but communists will not ask you to merely read the Manifesto. To truly understand Marxism, you need to read all 3 volumes of Das Kapital (something I am yet to do personally).

    This makes me uneasy (I really need to read Das Kapital), because all my knowledge of Marxism is cribbed from internet conversations, videos, articles, and grainy jpegs. I dismiss communism on empirical grounds of it having failed as a political project repeatedly throughout the 20th Century, but I wonder how all these really smart people with what seems like 30 more IQ points than me can believe otherwise. I wonder how they can believe that this is all lies, and that the Ukrainian famine was caused by the kulaks and so on.

    I wonder whether I understand the labor theory of value properly. The initial naive objection many people have is “what about the means of production?”, but then you learn that the means of production only come into being due to labor, and that this is incorporated into the theory, and is a major part of why the rate of profit is predicted to decline as dead labor forms a greater and greater proportion of the system of production. A higher level objection is to ask why labor would matter for value if no one wanted to buy the product, but then you learn that the law of value already includes that concept in the idea of “socially necessary” (the amount needed to meet the demand for use values I think…) labor time. An even higher level objection is to ask why prices don’t reflect the amount of labor (living and dead) in a product, but then you learn that exchange value (the quantity of another product a product can exchange for) isn’t the same as price, and that price is only expected to fluctuate around exchange value, not be exactly equal to it, and so on…

    Another objection I have is that coordination is not free, and that labor only does work when it’s organized, so capitalists could be being compensated for their ability to arrange capital and workers in a way that catalyzes the production of value. It sound inherently exploitative to say that the boss stole the product of 8 hours labor time and gave you back 4 as pay, but that assumes that coordination is free, and that capitalist production is equal to some sort of individual artisanal production in which the worker possesses all the knowledge needed to create the product, when really in a specialized role he’s only providing a small part of the product or service, and that the business as a whole needs capitalist hierarchy to produce socially necessary value at all. The capitalist should be seen more as a catalyst than a passive leech I would think, but perhaps this is wrong for some reason I don’t understand yet. Empirically, I would expect co-ops to outcompete traditional businesses and take over the economy if the bourgeoisie were only leeches, but since Marxist communists don’t even call for this in the first place, I must be misunderstanding something really critical.

    Does anyone here actually understand what Marx’s law of value means? I’ve read various dumbed down articles and video explanations, and it just seems like a ridiculous tautology to me. I’m not sure I understand it yet. There has to be something missing.

    • Thegnskald says:

      There is a certain intelligence level at which it takes a bizarrely long time for many people to become cognizant that complexity exists beyond their ability to deal with it effectively; combine this with social talents which render local coordination problems easily resolved, and you create a person who thinks the absence of solutions to obvious problems is either stupidity or malice.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I’ve met dumb Marxists.

      But you’re right, there are a lot of smart ones out there. I think it’s correlation and not causation: Marxism is heavily concentrated in academia and thus draws from an intellectual group.

      The uncomfortable truth is that being intelligent does very, very, very little to prevent you from having stupid high-level axioms. We do not choose our axioms based on our intelligence, and intelligence in fact can make you pretty good at creating specious arguments for the things that you emotionally want to believe. I am certain that I believe a bunch of stupid crap, despite thinking that I’m pretty smart. And even more unfortunately, I think it’s really hard to tell, even totally within the confines of your own head, which of the things that you believe are stupid.

      • and intelligence in fact can make you pretty good at creating specious arguments for the things that you emotionally want to believe.

        Dan Kahan actually has data on this. He’s looked at issues that are linked to group identification, such as evolution and global warming. His conclusion is that the more intellectually able someone is, the more likely he is to agree with his group’s position, whether that means believing in evolution or not believing in evolution.

        • sierraescape says:

          Could this not mean more intelligent people are more likely to leave a group they disagree with in favor of one they agree with? I.E. a less intelligent person will stay in the party because their parents voted in that party, while a more intelligent one will be more likely to choose the party closest to their beliefs.

        • Nyx says:

          Intelligent people are more likely to construct a coherent worldview rather than mixing and matching. Unfortunately these coherent worldviews tend to be based more on “who is really running the show and making everything so terrible” rather than “what theories of human behavior and economics are the most accurate”.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “The uncomfortable truth is that being intelligent does very, very, very little to prevent you from having stupid high-level axioms.”

        Indeed, IQ is no defense against detrimental meme-plexes and “mind-viruses” either, and no substitute for memetic hygiene.

    • keranih says:

      that assumes that coordination is free, and that capitalist production is equal to some sort of individual artisanal production in which the worker possesses all the knowledge needed to create the product, when really in a specialized role he’s only providing a small part of the product or service, and that the business as a whole needs capitalist hierarchy to produce socially necessary value at all.

      This.

      Shovels are fairly cheap. Strong dudes who can handle shovels all day every day are also fairly cheap.

      Guys who can coordinate ten guys, twelve shovels, lunch for eleven, a shade cloth for noon, two huge water jugs, and transport for all that out to the end of the canal – those aren’t quite so common on the ground.

      Guys who can manage the crew guy, fund the crew, find the smart guy who knows the ground and how to read the sand out towards the marsh, and who can smooze the local tribal head into giving work permits…

      Well, you need them a hell of a lot more than you need any random shovel guy.

      • hyperboloid says:

        I don’t think Marx assumed coordination was free, I think he believed that capitalists were by in large not the ones doing it, and that the average financier was an absentee landlord who hired technical managers to operate his business concerns.

        This assumption makes a lot more sense when you realize that Marx was writing in the second half of the nineteenth century, at the height of European imperial power, when the capital that financed European industry came from colonial exploitation, and passed through the hands of politically connected aristocrats before being invested in anything useful.

        • Evan Þ says:

          That does make sense (given that realization), but did Marx ever actually count technical management as labor? From what little of him I’ve read, it seems that would blow up his whole labor theory of value.

      • Tekhno says:

        @hyperboloid

        the average financier was an absentee landlord who hired technical managers to operate his business concerns

        But that choice, and all the choices about where to allocate funds and who to hire for management lead to more or less efficient production.

        If you have two companies, making the same product, with the same means of production, and the same workers, but all you change is the shareholders, and say that it has come time to hire a new CEO, then the choice the board of directors comes to in case A Vs case B is going to have a big impact on how the workers and means of production in that company end up coordinating, leading to the utilization of the same amount of labor time being more or less efficient. Given that this choice has implications for the value of the company, there’s a strong pressure on directors to not take hiring decisions on management lightly.

        The value middlemen produce seems invisible, but it has enormous effects, since in its abscence you would have to come up with alternative “nodes”.

        • hyperboloid says:

          Full disclosure: I am not a scholar of Marxism, and I have not read Das Capital cover to cover, so lot of my understanding of Marxist theory is based on secondary sources, both latter day Marxists trying to elucidate dialectical materialist theories, and critiques of Marxism from mainstream sources.

          So take this for what is is.

          I think that implicit in Marx’s thinking is the idea of an enormous opportunity cost associated with the capitalist mode of production. He didn’t think that investors literately contributed nothing to the economy, just that those who held capital had obtained it through plunder, or inherited it from others who had. Therefore who got to be a member of the capitalist class was at best an arbitrary social convention, and there was no particular reason to think they were in any way specially qualified to allocate capital resources.

          Because Marx considered it obvious that there existed some socialistic mode of production that would have a much more efficient scientifically planed means of allocating capital he wrote off the profit extracted by capitalists as needless payments to rent seekers, who could be easily done away with once the workers sized the means of production.

          • Pretty close. Marx acknowledged that, in cases where the “active entrepreneur” and the finance capitalist for a firm are the same person (mom and pop small business), the owner gets to pocket not just the typical surplus value, but also the money that he/she would have had to spend on hiring a technical manager. Marx absolutely did regard technical managerial work as “socially-necessary,” productive labor.

            Marx forecasted that, as capitalism developed, the mom and pop businesses would be outcompeted, capital would concentrate, and it would become more and more apparent that capitalists were just passive dividend-collectors and coupon-clippers doing nothing actually useful aside from graciously allowing others to use their accumulated legal claims to society’s resources.

            What Marx would have found surprising, I think, is that more middle-managers and even CEOs aren’t attracted to communist ideas. After all, they are the ones doing all the actual work. I guess the reason here is, stock options and such. Some of the surplus value is shared with them in addition to their normal wages (and their exorbitant wages probably already include some surplus value by being more than is socially-necessary to train and support someone at the needed level of expertise), so they become “petty-capitalists” who have an interest in the system.

    • Tekhno says:

      @keranih

      So am I right? I’m worried that my objection is just another naive mis-interpretation and there’s a higher level of complexity to the law of value that explains this away.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I would be dubious of this kind of reasoning. There are people smarter and more accomplished than the vast, vast majority of humanity who have been firm religious believers, confident that their religion is correct in its description of reality, morality, etc. Is a failure to agree with them on the truth of Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, or whatever, or a particular flavour of one of those religions, simply due to not having read enough of the scriptures, or subsequent works of theology, or commentaries, or whatever?

        • sierraescape says:

          I think philosophy, and religion to a lesser extent, will map to Tekhno’s reasoning less well than more concrete examples like Marxism and, say, n _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _n

        • LHN says:

          As Craig Neumeier put it back in the heyday of Usenet, “For any belief, no matter how palpably absurd you find it, there is or has been a proponent who is smarter than you.”

      • Tekhno says:

        Marx didn’t appeal to the supernatural though. He was a materialist economist who pretty much wrote non-stop for 30 years on this stuff, so I think it’s a little different. My objection is too simple for him and every other Marxist since to miss, so they must have an answer.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Just because his beliefs weren’t supernatural doesn’t mean his thought process was necessarily more rational. Apologists also spend years and years writing about their beliefs, it doesn’t mean that their fine-tuned “refutations” of any objections are worth anything. People believe what they want to believe and the idea of equality is a really strong motivater.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That someone’s thought process being rational doesn’t mean that they are right, is part of the issue here.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s not about appeal to the supernatural. It’s that “there must be something to this, because the problems are obvious, so the experts must have an answer” is bad reasoning. There are experts for everything, so you can make that argument for everything.

          (the religious studies major in me is now going to point out that the idea of the supernatural versus the natural is a fairly recent one)

      • As a Marxist, I can tell you that you are on the right track. Capital Vol. I begins at the highest level of abstraction with tons of complicating factors put to the side (saying “ceteris paribus,” “all other things being equal,” is an understatement when applied to Capital Vol. I). If someone just reads the first few chapters of Capital Vol. I, one is left with the impression that the labor theory of value is this weird metaphysical assertion about the concrete labor-time of individual workers being embodied in commodities and determining their prices.

        Marx was a smart man who read every classical economist of his day. If you actually read his stuff, you’ll see that he anticipated nearly every objection to this theory—even the criticisms of the later neoclassical marginalists, who hurled plenty of straw-men objections at Marx’s theory out of complete miscompehension of it. “Haha, Marxism is a religion! So, a lazy worker laboring twice as long on a commodity should make it twice as valuable, right? So, why is water more expensive than diamonds in a desert? (Hint: supply and demand. To Marx, this concept was so trivial that he thought it unnecessary to belabor it. He assumed that everyone would already be familiar with the classical economists’ concept of the “natural price,” that fluctuations based on supply and demand tend to quickly become erased by the influence of this “natural price” (or what Marx called the “price of production,” such that water in a desert would not stay expensive for long as capitalists, chasing above-average profits, flooded (no pun intended) into the business of selling water in the desert, driving supply up and prices down until water was back at its “price of production” in that context).

        I see that you are aware of at least some of the nuances already which is good. There are more. In the first few chapters of Capital Vol. I, Marx is putting to the side complicating factors such as:
        1. Different intensities or complexities of individual concrete labor,
        2. Different individual concrete labors being in shortage or excess of what is “socially-necessary,” which becomes reflected in the market prices of the resulting commodities being above or below their “prices of production,” yielding higher than average or lower than average rates of profit on that commodity production, respectively, and causing labor and capital to flow into or out of those sectors to equalize (in a turbulent, tendential manner) the rate of profit across the world economy. This is Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand,” which is fully incorporated into Marx’s full theory of value, albeit not in a way that assumes that there are no higher equilibriating principles in capitalism, as Smith imagined. (Smith failed to explain how average cost prices and the average rate of profit, which constitute the “natural price,” are determined).
        3. Potential problems with disproportionate production of “Department I commodities” (means of production) and “Department II commodities” (consumption goods) being a potential source of breakdown. The Austrian economists love to harp on this as the cause of ALL crises, not even realizing that Marx actually addresses this in Vol. II as a possible cause for SOME (but not necessarily ALL) crises within capitalism.
        4. Potential problems with the “realization of surplus value” (selling commodities for money to prove that the individual, concrete labors were socially-desired abstract social labor), and the effect of disproportions between the production of Department I + II commodities and the production of the special money-commodity, sometimes called the “Department III commodity” (which MUST be a commodity and which can be represented by, but never essentially replaced by, token fiat money and credit money—such that even today, despite superficial appearances, the dollar remains tied to gold—not in a legal sense, but in a practical, economic-law sense. Actually, to be fair, this is a point of current controversy among Marxists).
        5. The effect of different turnover rates of capital (which solves the “aged wine seeming to accrue value over time without labor” paradox).
        6. The effect of different organic compositions of capital, which is related to Marx’s clarification in Vol. III that capitalists don’t actually obtain surplus value on their individual investments, but rather (due to the tendency for rates of profit and interest to equalize across the world market) obtain surplus value from the entire pool of surplus value on the world market according to the aliquot part of the total world capital that their individual capital comprises, regardless of how much surplus value their individual capital actually generates for this world-pool of surplus value.
        7. The effect of competition between commodity capitalists and financial capitalists on interest rates and the proportion of total surplus value that commodity capitalists actually obtain as “net profit of enterprise.”

        I wish Marx had published Capital Vol. I through III in reverse order. Since I believe that Marx had the best descriptive understanding of capitalism written thus far, I myself am writing a book right now on how to use Marx’s Labor Theory of Value to make money on the stock market by beating other market players with their inferior understanding of business cycles. But I’m taking the reverse approach: from the most concrete thing that is influenced by the most complicating factors (spot prices), to the next level of assumed equilibrium that allows us to abstract away some complicating factors (market prices), to the next of level of assumed equilibrium that allows us to abstract away yet more complicating factors (prices of production), to the highest level of assumed equilibrium that abstract away from all but the most essential features of the capitalist economy (labor values). I hope that this manner of presentation will make it more obvious to readers how the more superficial, empirical phenomena of capitalism logically arise from these deeper, more abstract, unseen (yet logically necessary!) equilibria.

        Now, having said all of this, I could just be “spinning my rationality tires” and letting my intellect lead me further down the rabbit hole, but I think not.

        If I had to recommend one work of Marx to demonstrate to skeptical libertarians that he was not an intellectual crank, it would be “Theories of Surplus Value,” in which he applauds (with criticism and qualifications) each step of progress made by the classical economists before him in the understanding of capitalism. If I had to recommend one work for someone actually wanting to learn and apply Marx’s theories in the shortest time possible, it would be Sam Williams’s “Critique of Crisis Theory” blog…or my book, once it is finished.

        • I’m interested in your defense of Marx, in particular the problem that the simple labor theory + surplus value model is inconsistent with equilibrium in the capital market (your point 6), which struck me as a serious problem when reading Capital.

          But you don’t seem to respond to the standard neoclassical defense of returns on capital–the time value of consumption. An individual would rather have money now than a year from now, due either to his internal discount rate being positive (prefers present consumption to future consumption) or because if he has money now he can use it for whatever is the best opportunity from now on, or because producing and waiting sometimes produces more output than producing and harvesting immediately, or some combination of those reasons.

          So an individual who postpones consumption is bearing a real cost, and so entitled to payment for it.

          You also haven’t responded to the fact that Marx made predictions and what happened was very nearly the opposite of what he predicted, across a wide range of capitalist states. Instead of the workers getting poorer they got striking richer from his time to ours, and instead of the middle class vanishing it grew.

          • What you refer to with point 6 is, of course, the infamous “transformation problem.” My favored solution to the problem is Sam Williams’s solution based off Anwar Shaikh’s work. There’s no way I can summarize it here, so I’ll just give you the link.

            As for the idea of the “time value of money,” the consumption of many things can be deferred. And yet, they do not magically create surplus value by virtue of not being consumed. Nor does money, for that matter. “Well, of course, they must be rented, lent, or otherwise invested to earn a return.” Neoclassical economists then stop right there without interrogating why this should make any difference. What magic happens when the money or resources are lent out? Why does it make any difference that those things have gone into someone else’s hands?

            In fact, it just pushes the question back a step. The loans will not be able to be repaid to the miserly, abstaining “finance capitalist” with interest unless the next guy, the “industrial” or “commodity capitalist,” who took the loan can make a profit with it to pay back the loan. But then how does this debtor make a profit with that “capital”? What makes this money, or the resources it can purchase, into “capital” that yields a surplus value? And keep in mind that, whatever the explanation, it must explain not only why any individual commodity capitalist makes a profit, but why there is a positive average profit in the aggregate so that interest, in the average case, may be paid back to the miserly, abstaining finance capitalist. So, any explanation that retreats to mercantilism (buying low, selling high), competition, “giving consumers what they want,” or anything that merely describes competition among capitalists, does not help us understand where this pool of profit over which the capitalists compete originates.

            The physiocrats thought that certain resources were naturally capital because they yielded a physical increase in terms of use-values. For example, corn seeds can yield even more corn. However, this increase in corn kernels as use-values by no means guarantees that there has been an increase in the exchange-value of the aggregate corn kernels. For there to be an average rate of profit *in terms of exchange-value* in the aggregate, the corn (or any other commodity) must be sold for a greater exchange-value than was represented in the purchased inputs.

            The farthest logical extension of the physiocrat mindset would have been to say that it is the production of physical money—gold mining, or fiat money creation—that determines the extent to which capital *on average* (abstracting away from the competition among capitalists) can make a profit *in terms of that money*. In a way, the monetarists, with their fixation on a stable growth rate of the money supply to guarantee a stable, positive average profit rate for capital *in terms of that money*, are the logical heirs to the physiocrats.

            But the problem remains that capitalists don’t really care about making a profit in terms of one particular money material or another (especially when the exchange-values of these monies themselves come into question), but in terms of this weird, abstract thing itself called exchange-value, or as they think of it, “purchasing power.” So, how does capital, on average, make a profit in terms of this “purchasing power”? Aside from the labor theory of value, I have yet to see a plausible solution to this riddle.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            As for the idea of the “time value of money,” the consumption of many things can be deferred. And yet, they do not magically create surplus value by virtue of not being consumed. Nor does money, for that matter. “Well, of course, they must be rented, lent, or otherwise invested to earn a return.” Neoclassical economists then stop right there without interrogating why this should make any difference. What magic happens when the money or resources are lent out? Why does it make any difference that those things have gone into someone else’s hands?

            I’m not sure if I understand your issue exactly, but it seems very obvious to me why money is worth more if you save than if you spend it immediately. Example below:

            Ten guys work for a landscape company, mowing lawns, etc. Nine of those guys live paycheck to paycheck, blowing their money on the proverbial women, wine, and song. One guy saves his money, and buys lawnmowers, ads in local papers, and a reserve for business variations, and starts his own business. He hires some of the guys from the first landscaping company. He is then making double what he was making making before. Obviously his savings were worth more by saving them for the future than they were if blown immediately. And it would come to the same thing if he lent his savings to someone else for them to start their own company, which would be more like the traditional Marxist capitalist.

          • As for the idea of the “time value of money,” the consumption of many things can be deferred. And yet, they do not magically create surplus value by virtue of not being consumed.

            Labor doesn’t magically produce value either–you can spend it digging holes and then filling them in. You are familiar with the idea of socially necessary labor. Why doesn’t it occur to you to apply the same approach to understanding capital?

          • @David Friedman: The reason I wouldn’t apply the same reasoning to capital as to labor is partly because we have historical evidence that capital without labor ceases to be capital (and instead just becomes so much idle machinery or whatnot), whereas labor without capital does not cease to be labor. The relationship is asymmetrical. Labor can be “socially-necessary labor” without capital, but capital cannot be “socially-necessary capital” without labor.

            Neoclassicals forget all the time that capital is a social relation, not a thing. A machine only becomes capital, and only proves its ability to obtain an average rate of profit for its owner, if it should be lucky enough to meet up with its necessary counterpart, the dependent wage-laborer.

            For example, Marx talks about this in Vol. I, ch. 33 of Capital:

            “Political economy confuses on principle two very different kinds of private property, of which one rests on the producers’ own labour, the other on the employment of the labour of others. It forgets that the latter not only is the direct antithesis of the former, but absolutely grows on its tomb only. In Western Europe, the home of Political Economy, the process of primitive accumulation is more of less accomplished…To this ready-made world of capital, the political economist applies the notions of law and of property inherited from a pre-capitalistic world with all the more anxious zeal and all the greater unction, the more loudly the facts cry out in the face of his ideology. It is otherwise in the colonies. There the capitalist regime everywhere comes into collision with the resistance of the producer, who, as owner of his own conditions of labour, employs that labour to enrich himself, instead of the capitalist. The contradiction of these two diametrically opposed economic systems, manifests itself here practically in a struggle between them. Where the capitalist has at his back the power of the mother-country, he tries to clear out of his way by force the modes of production and appropriation based on the independent labour of the producer. The same interest, which compels the sycophant of capital, the political economist, in the mother-country, to proclaim the theoretical identity of the capitalist mode of production with its contrary, that same interest compels him in the colonies to make a clean breast of it, and to proclaim aloud the antagonism of the two modes of production.”

            “First of all, Wakefield discovered that in the Colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if there be wanting the correlative — the wage-worker, the other man who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. He discovered that capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things. Mr. Peel, he moans, took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 300 persons of the working class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, “Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.” Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!

            For the understanding of the following discoveries of Wakefield, two preliminary remarks: We know that the means of production and subsistence, while they remain the property of the immediate producer, are not capital. They become capital only under circumstances in which they serve at the same time as means of exploitation and subjection of the labourer. But this capitalist soul of theirs is so intimately wedded, in the head of the political economist, to their material substance, that he christens them capital under all circumstances, even when they are its exact opposite. Thus is it with Wakefield.”

            “[In the colonies…] the wage-worker of to-day is to-morrow an independent peasant, or artisan, working for himself. He vanishes from the labour-market, but not into the workhouse. This constant transformation of the wage-labourers into independent producers, who work for themselves instead of for capital, and enrich themselves instead of the capitalist gentry, reacts in its turn very perversely on the conditions of the labour-market. Not only does the degree of exploitation of the wage labourer remain indecently low. The wage labourer loses into the bargain, along with the relation of dependence, also the sentiment of dependence on the abstemious capitalist. Hence all the inconveniences that our E. G. Wakefield pictures so doughtily, so eloquently, so pathetically. The supply of wage labour, he complains, is neither constant, nor regular, nor sufficient. “The supply of labour is always not only small but uncertain.” “Though the produce divided between the capitalist and the labourer be large, the labourer takes so great a share that he soon becomes a capitalist…. Few, even those whose lives are unusually long, can accumulate great masses of wealth.” The labourers most distinctly decline to allow the capitalist to abstain from the payment of the greater part of their labour. It avails him nothing, if he is so cunning as to import from Europe, with his own capital, his own wage-workers. They soon “cease… to be labourers for hire; they… become independent landowners, if not competitors with their former masters in the labour-market.” Think of the horror! The excellent capitalist has imported bodily from Europe, with his own good money, his own competitors! The end of the world has come! No wonder Wakefield laments the absence of all dependence and of all sentiment of dependence on the part of the wage-workers in the colonies. On account of the high wages, says his disciple, Merivale, there is in the colonies “the urgent desire for cheaper and more subservient labourers — for a class to whom the capitalist might dictate terms, instead of being dictated to by them…. In ancient civilised countries the labourer, though free, is by a law of Nature dependent on capitalists; in colonies this dependence must be created by artificial means.”

        • Wrong Species says:

          Have you made money on the stock market this way? If you have, then we need to see that you have done so to take you seriously. If you haven’t, then why should we believe it will work? And if you haven’t, then you need to at least make sure it works before spending your time writing that book.

          • Well, I’m up about 20% in about a year on $3,000….which was a decent chunk of my savings account (adjunct instructor here scraping by on 20k/year). But I don’t expect you to consider this legit until you see it in published form. I’m working on it….

          • Montfort says:

            citizencokane, do you think that’s a typical return for your strategy? Assuming you didn’t publish it and no one else figured out what you were doing, what average return would you expect?

          • Wrong Species says:

            (Assuming you’re telling the truth), in any given year, it’s not surprising that someone can beat the market through sheer chance. 6 months in and I’m doing the same. But I’m not going to tell people the magic secret is invest in biotech. You would need to go longer than that before we can officially proclaim you the next Warren Buffet.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            citizencokane,

            Can you give an example of trades you made in that time frame that succeeded because of your method? I ask because in the past year the market has really only gone up, so if your trick is “beating other market players with their inferior understanding of business cycles,” and we haven’t had a downcycle, how exactly could your method have generated outsized returns?

          • Wait for the book. 😉 (Actually, you would laugh if I told you. The truly innovative aspect of my trading strategy is not what I pick, but when I pick it. The only times I count on consistently outpacing the market are when I switch to something recession-proof right before a recession and back into equities when all is despair and people don’t realize we are at the bottom. The rest of the time, I’m just along for the ride. And if this sounds like the world’s greatest hubris (doesn’t everyone think they can time the market?), then remember that I’m armed with an esoteric theory that nobody else understands or wants to use for this purpose. So, if my theory is correct, why should I, contra Scott Sumner and others, be able to beat the Efficient Market Hypothesis on timing recessions?)

          • Wrong Species says:

            It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim the ability to forecast recessions. We have pretty much no reason to believe you until you give us a clear falsifiable prediction and we can evaluate your claim when that happens.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I suspect the strategy will turn out to be profitable according to some unique Marxist redefinition of the word which has nothing to do with whether you end up with more money than you started with.

          • Here’s a prediction: I predict that there will not be another recession in the U.S. until yearly world gold production (as measured in ounces of gold) has declined for more than 3 consecutive years. Furthermore, once that condition is fulfilled (greater than 3-year consecutive decline in world gold production), I predict that there will be a recession within the subsequent 3 years. I predict that one result of this recession will be at least a doubling in the dollar price of gold within 1 year.

            And if this sounds like “goldbuggery,” then keep in mind that I am invested in stocks right now. Gold is simply one of the worst investment during a recovery and boom, and one of the best on the precipice of a crisis. And it has nothing to do with the psychology of investors wanting to flee to gold. Nowadays, they are just as likely to flee to dollars or bonds. And yet, gold almost tripled in its dollar price during the last recession.

            It’s only because gold, being a commodity-money, exposes whether:

            Case 1. Non-money commodity prices have risen unsustainably above their labor-values (in which case the rate of profit of gold mining will be below average and gold mining will not keep pace with apparent world GDP growth–as measured in gold prices)…indicating an unsustainable boom, a lack of means of payment for the produced commodities (which drives interest rates up, regardless of what monetary authorities want to do), and an incipient recession, or…

            Case 2: Whether non-money commodity prices have fallen unsustainably below their labor-values (in which case the rate of profit in gold mining will be above-average, and it will be world GDP growth (as measured in gold-prices) that will lag gold production)…indicating an unsustainable depression and an incipient recovery and boom (in which case you would want to be invested in equities, as I am now).

            Read about it all here.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            That claim does not seem to square very well with past U.S. recessions. Restricting ourselves to the past 50 years, gold production was in an uptrend or flat going into most recessions. Generally gold production has peaked right before the onset of a recession.

            In any case, narrowing the recession down to a 3-year window is not very helpful for generating above-market returns. I imagine there’s more to it than that, but you have a pretty big hurdle to overcome still.

          • If I mis-time the market by 3 years, cash out of stocks and into gold too early, and lose out on 3 years of 10%/year stock index growth, but then still get to ride a doubling of gold, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be beating the market.

            As for gold behaving counter-cyclically to the business cycle, see my videos on it here and here.

            Note that someone would have done very nicely following the theory and getting in with gold in 2000 at $270/oz. when my measure of real GDP in gold ounces (translating everything into gold prices from dollar prices using the gold/dollar exchange rate at the time) indicated the beginning of a depression. Let’s say one got in at $300/oz., assuming imperfect timing, and rode it all the way up to $1900 oz. (let’s say $1500 oz., assuming imperfect timing) 10 years later. That would mean getting a 5x return over 10 years, or 17.5% per year. Compared to riding a stock index over that time (through the 2001 crash and the 2008 crash), that’s a heck of a better play!

            That said, this chart is a crude guide, and I’m working on more precise methods (but still using the same basic philosophy) to calculate the optimal timing more precisely.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            I may be misreading you but you seem to be conflating gold prices with gold production.

            Anyway, the historical relationship between gold prices and recessions also seems pretty weak to me for the period when gold was freely floating. Gold rose ahead of the early 80s recessions, but those were pretty unambiguously engineered by Paul Volker to bring inflation down. It also performed well ahead of the financial crisis but that’s pretty much it.

            Why would you have known to buy gold in 2000 if gold production did not start declining until 2002?

          • Okay, looking at the yearly stats, I see that gold production (cyclically) peaked in 2001 at 2,600 metric tons yearly. So yeah, it might have taken a few quarters into 2002 to see that, at which point gold was up to about $330/oz. Still, going from $330/oz. to $1500/oz. in 8 years would make for a heck of a return. And you’d be able to see the plateau emerging as early as 2000 from gold mining making below-average profits (thus setting up the decline in gold production). That’s already a sign that the prices of all other commodities are unsustainably above their labor values.

            Also, I think you misunderstand. When I’m talking about using gold prices to measure real GDP, I’m not talking about the price of gold. I’m talking about pricing things in terms of weights of gold. So, just as you might say that a pair of jeans costs 0.01 ounces of gold (if jeans cost $10 and a dollar represents 1/1000th an ounce of gold (if the dollar-price of gold is $1000/oz.), World GDP can be measured as so many millions of ounces of gold.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            But wait, I thought you said that the recession indicator was three years of declining gold production followed by a recession within three years, not simply a peak. So waiting three years means waiting until 2004, and thereby predicting a recession in the ’05-’07 window. And that’s to predict the 2002 recession? It had already happened years ago.

            If we’re talking instead about the ’08-’09 recession, gold fell or was flat at various points of that recession. It was only before the recession and after the recovery had begun that gold actually did well.

            While I’m pretty skeptical of all this, I’m also probably not getting the whole picture. Best of luck with the book project.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @wrong species

            I believe the part about it being a sizeable chunk of their savings, which I think moves you at least beyond ‘absolutely no reason’.

          • Well, I’m up about 20% in about a year on $3,000

            I’ve just been doing my taxes, so have the figures for 2016 ready to hand. The equities in my account are up 24% in that period, although the total account, which includes fixed value assets as well, is up a good deal less than that. And that’s with no strategy at all–I simply let everything sit.

            So 20% in one year isn’t particularly impressive, unless you do it year after year.

          • Buying gold in 2004 would still make for a good play. You are right that I have tweaked my strategy somewhat since I made those videos.

            And yes, my 20% increase is just from letting it sit in VT (Vanguard global equity index) for a year. That’s my plan until I see gold production going down and a recession on the horizon.

        • carvenvisage says:

          If anyone is in doubt that this guy is a marxist, observe the following choices of words:

          I can tell you that you are on the right track.

          ‘you’ll see the light’ phrasing. Already setting self up as a general authority.

          If someone just reads the first few chapters of Capital Vol. I, one is left with the impression that the labor theory of value is this weird metaphysical assertion about the concrete labor-time of individual workers being embodied in commodities and determining their prices.

          If someone just [reads superficially] [they’ll think marxism is bad], . Argument has no relevance and is only included to status-pressure people. -Don’t be like this specific dumb guy type, which I highlighted for no reason.

           

          If you actually read his stuff, you’ll see that he anticipated nearly every objection to this theory—even the criticisms of the later neoclassical marginalists.

          If you intend to actually answer the question of how he anticipated it, simply asserting that he did is, at best, superflous.

          This goes times a hundred if done before you before you even begin. -Wt a time when you haven’t established any credibility, and are at least effectively just trying to steal it, by assuming it in the most forward way.

          “Haha, Marxism is a religion! So, a lazy worker laboring twice as long on a commodity should make it twice as valuable, right?

          all movements and ideologies get overconfident snap criticisms, including terrible ones. Raising one up to burn in effigy before even beginning your defence…

          _
          _

          So basically the answer to the OP is that marxism is sophism for smart people.

          It’s not that, of the people, smart people are attracted to marxism, it’s that of the, sophists, smart ones are attracted to marxism. It’s intricate and systematic and obfuscatingly wrong. That’s your demographic.

          (also the issue with recognising complexity beyond their capacity to deal with, when you have little or no prior experience)

          (and also the issue with universities teaching blindly solution focused modes of thinking to smart people. -Writing “I don’t know” doesn’t get you any more marks than a wrong answer. It’s a systematic flaw in our education system. Training people to think that way all the way from early childhood to 18+ years doesn’t have zero effect.)

          • onyomi says:

            It’s not that, of the people, smart people are attracted to marxism, it’s that of the, sophists, smart ones are attracted to marxism. It’s intricate and systematic and obfuscatingly wrong.

            This is the best meta-explanation of Marxism I’ve seen.

            Being an academic in the humanities I have unavoidably read and been exposed to many Marxists, especially cultural Marxists. Though there is the rare, exceptional good writer (Bourdieu) and the rare, exceptional good idea (Habermas’s “public sphere”), they tend to be buried in so much coy sophistry and obfuscation that I’ve always felt that the meta-goal of most such writing is not to communicate abstract ideas, but rather to communicate the meta-signal, “I am smart and a deep thinker.”

            It’s a very “Emperor has no clothes” type situation for academics, whom, we should remember, are very vulnerable on this score, as most of them have some degree of impostor syndrome, their deepest fear being that they’re not really that smart.

          • Writing “I don’t know” doesn’t get you any more marks than a wrong answer.

            On my exams it does. I give 20% credit for leaving the question blank or writing “I don’t know.”

          • Matt M says:

            On my exams it does. I give 20% credit for leaving the question blank or writing “I don’t know.”

            That’s interesting.

            What exactly is the logic here. And how often do you give someone less than 20% for a wrong answer? Is this policy enforced only on essay/show work type questions, or for multiple choice “answer only” style as well?

          • onyomi says:

            It makes good sense to me: it’s better intellectual hygiene to know/admit what you don’t know than to bullshit.

          • Matt M says:

            it’s better intellectual hygiene to know/admit what you don’t know than to bullshit.

            Maybe in rationalist theory sure.

            In most real life jobs, probably not. Lots of high paying jobs exist in entire industries where bullshitting is the core primary function!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            That is far too cynical.

            If you actually believe that, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Even PR and Marketing is in the business of true knowledge. The take they spin on the facts may not be, but they have to know whether the take will be effective in moving the public.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @onyomi

            There is undoubtedly some very opaque writing in the humanities (as there is in other areas of academia) but you rather undermine your argument when you use the terminology of conspiracy theorists.

            Pray tell, what exactly do you mean by “cultural Marxist”? I only know of two uses.

            One is rather uncommon, it refers specifically to the Frankfurt school and their belief that mass consumption is alienating-it was originally used by actual Marxists to criticise the Frankfurt School for not being Marxist enough. I’ve never actually heard it used in this sense before. It would also be extremely odd to include Bourdieu under the term in this case.

            The other usage of the term is to claim that the Frankfurt School marked the beginning of a left-wing conspiracy to take control of Western culture, that Marcuse had updated Lenin’s idea of the vanguard, replacing intellectual Marxists with “blacks, students, feminist women and homosexuals” as the leaders of the revolution. Gay people on TV are proof of the cultural Marxist plot and the progress that it is making, and don’t forget that the Frankfurt School were “to a man, Jewish” as the man who coined the conspiracy theory usage was keen to point out.

          • Aapje says:

            @Art Vandelay

            AFAIK, ‘cultural Marxists’ refers to those who see society as sort of a class struggle, but with identity groups, rather than economic groups.

            So man vs woman, white vs PoC, able vs disabled, etc.

            A key feature is that they believe in an unidirectional model of oppression.

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think “cultural Marxist” is used exclusively by conspiracy theorists. I’m aware that it has become something of a bogeyman on the right wing of late, but I think “the Frankfurt School,” which I associate with a specific group of mostly German Marxist cultural theorists concerned with a specific set of issues–too narrow for what I mean. Maybe some non-Germans like Debord might belong to the “Frankfurt School” by virtue of their concerns, but I don’t think everyone looking at art and culture from a Marxist perspective belongs to “the Frankfurt School.” Unless you consider Bourdieu, Barthes, Deleuze, and Terry Eagleton to be part of the Frankfurt School. I don’t.

            By “cultural Marxist” I simply mean “people who study culture from a Marxist perspective,” as opposed to Marxists who are primarily concerned with politics and economics. Of course, many of the former group might deny there is a true disconnect here, but I think there is a big difference. What then, can I call this former group without being accused of nefarious motives?

            *Edit to add: I think this is further complicated by what Aapje mentions, which is the more recent trend among feminists, critical race theorists, et al. to adapt the Marxist theory of class struggle to issues other than class, e.g. race and gender. I usually just call this “identity politics,” not “cultural Marxism,” but due to “intersectionality,” etc. and the ubiquity of Marxism in the academy, it all becomes a bit difficult to disentangle.

            To my mind, there are at least two developments here: the trend, beginning in the early 20th c., of applying Marxism to the study of culture and art, of which the Frankfurt School was an important, but not solitary example, and the trend, seemingly beginning to gain traction in the 90s with the rise of “intersectionalism,” of adapting Marxist vocab to the study of “class struggles” other than well, class.

            I’m calling this first group “cultural Marxists,” because they’re Marxists who study culture. If there’s a less tendentious term, please tell me. But if, as I suspect, the problem is that the group resists being categorized thus, insisting rather that it’s all part of the same Marxist project, then I can’t feel that bad for them if they ended up named by their enemies, since I think they genuinely are a new/different phenomenon, not limited to the Frankfurt School.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Aapje:
            Wikipedia has more on the topic (and I would guess that Art Vandelay pulled some of his quotes from there).

            Their aren’t any actual cultural Marxists, afaik, nor was the appellation the result of scholarly work. It’s just an assembled boogeyman (Jews, blacks, gays, communists, etc.)

            I’m not sure why onyomi is referring to the term.

            Edit: Onyomi, I think you have perhaps backfilled a meaning for a term you have read. Is that possible?

          • onyomi says:

            @HBC

            It may be that I am using a term in a way which hardly anyone does anymore simply because it neatly encapsulated a meaning I wanted to express: a noticeable phenomenon in academia of Marxists studying culture. I do not associate the term with “intersectionality,” i.e. applying the language of class struggle to e.g. gender and race, though according to Aapje, that’s what it means now, and according to you and Art Vandeley, it’s some kind of dog whistle for “undesirables.”

            It may be, like “neoliberalism” (or, to begin with, capitalism) the kind of term which only enemies of a philosophy use to describe it. But like I said, I also am not inclined to accept the argument that this is all just one grand Marxist project and I shouldn’t try to pigeonhole. I’ll use some other term if “cultural Marxist” seems tendentious. “Marxist cultural theorist”?

            But I think it’s pretty silly if “Marxist cultural theorist” means what I mean and “cultural Marxist” means “blacks, Jews, and gays.” But then, we’re living in a world in which “colored people” is highly insulting, but “people of color” a preferred term.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            You are being silly, and you should know it.

            We accept that word ordering matters in all sorts of ways, linguistically. You were using a term of art coined by conspiracy theorists, whether intentional or not. No need to then lash out at “person of color” to satisfy your own pique.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @onyomi

            If I want to refer to people who consider themselves citizens of the world I’d avoid describing them as rootless cosmopolitans. They might be cosmopolitan and not feel rooted in any particular place but it makes sense to choose words that don’t have a loaded history, if nothing else just so as too avoid confusion.

            But I think your category is an interesting one. How much influence does Marx need to have on someone’s thought before they become a Marxist Cultural Theorist? I wouldn’t have considered Marx’s influence the defining feature of Deleuze, Bourdieu, or Barthes, but perhaps I’m too steeped in the tradition of Marxist Cultural Theory to see it. I’ve always considered French post-structuralism as the main culprit behind the flowery opacity of much of the humanities and social sciences. Would you see post-structuralism as part of Marxist Cultural Theory?

          • Matt M says:

            If you actually believe that, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Even PR and Marketing is in the business of true knowledge.

            I think we may just be using different definitions of “bullshit.”

            What I would say is that the ability to communicate that you lack sufficient knowledge on a topic is pretty vital to success in the professional world. If you’re interviewing for a job that has any amount of case/technical questions, you need to be prepared to answer a question for which you may not know the answer. There might not even be a “right” answer, but a simple “I don’t know” is guaranteed to be the WRONG one.

            Something like “I’m not certain, but my hypothesis is….” or “I’m not sure about that, but I do know this thing about a related topic…” or even “I don’t know now, but here’s how I would find out” are all significantly better. To me, this counts as bullshitting, and it is a necessary and vital skill that Professor Friedman is discouraging his students from practicing!

            Although as someone who once had to grade undergrad papers myself, I can theorize that the logic behind his decision is “it makes them faster to grade” which I fully sympathize with…

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            Being successful in conveying general competence in an area during an interview, even if you are not familiar with the specific topic in question, is indeed a valuable skill. Although the most successful candidates will do that, and not do actual bullshitting where you try and sound competent despite a lack of competence.

            But that is miles away from your original statement:

            Lots of high paying jobs exist in entire industries where bullshitting is the core primary function!

          • I must confess that it feels oh-so refreshing to be psycho-analyzed rather than to have my ideas seriously engaged with. Isn’t this what alt-righters complain about SJWs doing? In other words, SJWs start out with the assumption that alt-righters are either deluded or evil and spend all their analysis trying to decide which. It must be fun to be on the receiving end of that!

            I know that some Marxists emphasize this line of argument, psycho-analyzing their opponents as a “typical bourgeois” who is stuck in “bourgeois thinking” due to their class-interests. Although I think this idea has some merit to it if you want to analyze broad trends of ideological change, it’s hardly productive when applied to individuals. There are plenty of factors, including the power of individual rationality, that can occasionally convince people of new ideas regardless of their economic or political interests. If I didn’t believe that, then arguing on here would be pointless, and the only question would be, “How do we seize power and liquidate everyone who doesn’t agree with us?” But instead, I think a lot of people—maybe not the Koch Brothers, but plenty of the scholars on here—can be convinced.

          • Aapje says:

            @HeelBearCub

            My memory is playing tricks on me, I think. I remember debating the topic, but looking at my regular bubble, the term is not used there. I thought it was used there in the past, but seem to have crossed some neurons.

            I probably learned the term when debating it on some forum, and steel-manned it (or those whom I debated with, did), in hindsight.

            I do think that a good argument can be made that pretty big parts of SJ have a tendency to divide society into groups and then claim that one group is oppressing the other and/or that groups have collective traits which ought to change how the individuals are treated (even if they don’t have those traits). I see that tendency as one of the major flaws of Marxism, so the similarity stood out to me.

            But it’s probably better not to use the term ‘Cultural Marxism’ for that.

          • carvenvisage says:

            I must confess that it feels oh-so refreshing to be psycho-analyzed rather than to have my ideas seriously engaged with.

            If you wanted to win people over with your ideas, you could have left out that entire manipulative introduction, but instead you chose to go with the posing social pressure.

            It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, because you acted like a charlottan.

            I assume that’s because you are one, but anything’s possible in this wild and whacky world of ours. Maybe your day job is sales or advertising related, and you don’t have the two forms of communication compartmentalised properly, for example. It’s irrelevant though, I’m not gonna discuss serious topics with a televangelist, even if he’s a televangelist with good ideas.

            _

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, because you acted like a charlottan.

            Seemed a bit more Asheville or Carrboro to me, but I admit my local knowledge is limited.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Also, you weren’t “psychoanalysed”, your words were. See for example this quote – emphasis added

            >This goes times a hundred if done before you before you even begin. -Wt a time when you haven’t established any credibility, and are at least effectively just trying to steal it,

            If I meant to speak about you rather than about the structure of your words, i obviously wouldn’t have included that disclaimer. I can’t believe I bothered, but in fact I did make sure to avoid imputing any intentions to you directly.

          • carvenvisage says:

            No offence intended to people named charlotte, or to fans of charlotte’s web.

          • What exactly is the logic here. And how often do you give someone less than 20% for a wrong answer?

            Suppose you have answered all the questions you know answers to and have some time left. With the usual grading policy it pays to guess on remaining questions, or write something sufficiently confused so that the grader won’t be sure if you have part of the answer but expressed it poorly. Doing that wastes some of your time writing, some of my time grading, and raises the amount of noise in the signal, since I may be fooled into thinking you know something you don’t or fooled into thinking someone is doing that when he really does understand part of the answer but does a bad job of explaining it.

            With my system it is in your interest to admit you don’t know if you don’t.

            I give zero on a question to someone who tries to answer it and gets it entirely wrong. My exams are mostly short essay exams–if sufficiently curious, you can find links to some of them on the web page for my law and econ class.

            On a multiple choice test, which I generally don’t do, you want to apply a similar policy so that guessing don’t affect the result on average. If it’s just T/F, you subtract the number of wrong answers from the number of right answers.

          • Matt M says:

            I may be fooled into thinking you know something you don’t or fooled into thinking someone is doing that when he really does understand part of the answer but does a bad job of explaining it.

            In all seriousness though, are these not valuable skills to have in the workplace? Being able to trick your boss into thinking you know more things than you actually do seems quite useful to me… At the same time, in real life, you get zero credit for things you know but cannot properly articulate. So people who know the answer but can’t explain it well should be punished!

            I give zero on a question to someone who tries to answer it and gets it entirely wrong.

            Could you estimate how often this happens? More or less often than people leaving blanks and getting a zero? I guess my question is, if I’m reasonably smart, might it still be worth my time to BS you anyway? In theory, if I can display I know at least 20% of the required knowledge for the question, I still come out ahead, right?

          • Brad says:

            In all seriousness though, are these not valuable skills to have in the workplace?

            ? I guess my question is, if I’m reasonably smart, might it still be worth my time to BS you anyway?

            It’s valuable if it works. If you are always spouting bullshit with high confidence someone may eventually catch on and then you have zero credibility.

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            It would depend on if David sees his teaching as merely a vocational finishing school who’s sole purpose is to get you a job, or if his teaching is to actually ensure you actually understand the material and getting a job is on you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            To put a finer point on what Brad said, if I find that you knowingly spout bullshit on areas of knowledge which are important for our current work/project, attempting to pass off things that are made up as if they are true, I will attempt to avoid working with you altogether.

            If I am your boss, I will counsel you to never do this as it is corrosive to the trust needed to make teams work effectively. If you persist, I will work to avoid continuing to be your boss, one way or the other.

          • Matt M says:

            I think we’re talking past each other just a bit.

            When I say bullshit, I don’t (at least not in most cases) mean “literally make up some random thing and loudly insist it’s true.” I mean “offer the best answer you can come up with based on the knowledge/experience/information you have available.”

            Let’s say Prof. Friedman asks a student to explain the concepts of substitute and complementary goods. What sorts of “wrong answers” might he expect to receive? He’s not going to get a few sentences about how Thomas Jefferson exceeded his constitutional authority by completing the Louisiana Purchase. Any non-blank wrong answers will still likely display SOME knowledge of economic concepts. A very common wrong answer would probably simply mix up the categories, assigning the wrong definition to the wrong term, but clearly displaying they “know” the concept. What grade does such a student deserve? Clearly not a zero. Probably at least 50% credit, in my opinion.

            My concern would be that this grading method discourages a student from taking a guess, based on the knowledge and education they do have, something I’ve found to be pretty valuable in the working world. Maybe my industry is different, but I’ve received the exact opposite of HBC’s feedback from my bosses. They NEVER want an “I don’t know.” Period. You are expected to have something to say about any possible topic. You are expected to create and defend a hypothesis. You don’t lie about what you know, but you do the best you can with what you have. Leaving something blank is never acceptable. Saying “I don’t have enough data” is also unacceptable. Tell me what you think, based on the data you do have. If you have literally zero, tell me what your hunch is. Then tell me what data you need and how you’re going to get it.

          • Brad says:

            I’ve been in a meetings more than once where around the table there is one person that absolutely knows what he is talking about and one person is the overconfident guesser and double down type. Often enough we end up going with the loud guy to the ultimate detriment of us all. Keep him far away from me, thanks.

    • Protagoras says:

      Economics is complicated. Everybody oversimplifies their models and glosses over some things that they think probably aren’t the most important. This means that impossible to reconcile disputes are possible; the communists can, correctly, point out that the capitalists are oversimplifying, and then defend their own theories on the basis of their analysis of the phenomena the capitalists are ignoring/misrepresenting. The capitalists can, of course, point to places where the communists are oversimplifying, but that just leaves the debate at an impasse, unless someone comes up with a better theory that covers everything (hasn’t happened due to the complexity). I suppose there’s empirical evidence, which of course seems to favor the capitalists, but it is impossible to exaggerate how many confounders are available for that, so again it is unlikely to settle anything.

    • dndnrsn says:

      @Tekhno

      A side note. Not really relevant, but it jumped out at me.

      …Nazis will ask you to read Mein Kampf…

      This is probably not true. I doubt that most Nazis existing today – be they the number-tattooed neo-Nazi types, or not – have read Mein Kampf. By some accounts, even in Nazi Germany – where it was given out by the state as a gift, very commonly – people who had actually read it were uncommon (by other accounts, after the war people had an incentive to say “oh, yeah, nobody actually read it”).

      EDIT: National Socialism in general was ideologically kind of incoherent. It wasn’t like communism, where there was a significant body of literature before power was reached. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf less than a decade before reaching power, and it was a rambly political memoir rather than a careful manifesto. They were flying by the seat of their pants much of the time, and action often came before contemplation.

    • Deiseach says:

      Marxists (all the varieties) are self-selecting because of the dialectics they have to engage in if they’re to be taken anyway seriously as Marxists. You have to be smart to learn the vocabulary, the technical terms, how they’re used, and to navigate the currents of today’s ideology is tomorrow’s heresy as groups splinter off into ever-smaller more ideologically pure cells.

    • Mary says:

      The initial naive objection many people have is “what about the means of production?”, but then you learn that the means of production only come into being due to labor, and that this is incorporated into the theory

      Generally by reifying “labor.” This ends up with John Doe working his tail off to get the capital, and hiring Richard Roe and James Poe, and then, since Roe and Poe are the “labor” asserting that they are prior to the capital, since it was produced by “labor.”

    • cthor says:

      “Only smart people seem to believe this” is a bad heuristic for deciding if something is true. It just requires non-smart people to be incapable of believing it.

      In this case it might also be plain bad by definition, since you can put all the non-smart people in the “progressive” bucket. Defining “true Marxists” as having read and understood Marx (which is quite dense work) is going to leave you only seeing smart Marxists.

    • cassander says:

      I think you’re giving marx and marxists too much credit. you can boil down marxism to a few simple axioms, class conflict is the engine of history, capitalism is inherently exploitative and internally contradictory, the labor theory of value.

      Rather marxists are smarter, I would argue that you happen to travel in circles where you run into a lot of smart marxists and not dumb marxists. I say this because if I took your your comment and substituted “Jesuit” for marxist, “catholic” for liberals, and “protestant” for libertarians, I think you’d be making the exact same claim if you’d been raised in the right religious atmosphere.

      Like marxists, catholics have a sacred book and have had a long time to develop extremely learned interpretations of it. Some of the brightest people who ever lived devoted themselves to justifying their catholic faith by reason, and done a very good job of it. The catholic church has an answer for any theological question you are likely to ask, and it’s probably a very good answer. That doesn’t mean that catholics are smarter on average than any other group of people, just that they’ve had an official doctrine for a long time and, consequently, a long time for people to come up with good explanations of it.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        I think you’re giving marx and marxists too much credit. you can boil down marxism to a few simple axioms, class conflict is the engine of history, capitalism is inherently exploitative and internally contradictory, the labor theory of value.

        I’m interested to know what your basis is for believing that it can be boiled down to a few simple axioms. It sounds to me like you understand a heavily simplified version of a few Marxist concepts and mistakenly believe that this gives you a pretty much complete picture. To be fair, maybe you have undertaken a long and detailed study of Marx and have come to the view, contra almost every serious scholar who has done the same, that his philosophy can be largely reduced to a few sound bites, but the possibility seems very unlikely.

        If someone claimed that economics boiled down to a few simple concepts (markets are great, people are either completely rational or not rational at all but either way it totally proves markets are great, etc.) then I presume you would, quite reasonably, be suspicious about how well they really grasped economics.

        • Incurian says:

          I think people frequently do claim that economics boils down to a few key concepts. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

        • cassander says:

          I didn’t mean to imply that all of marxism can be summed up in a paragraph, just that you can package the core concepts in a way that’s easy to sell them. And yes I think you can do the same to econ 101, libertarianism, or almost any other ideology.

    • dndnrsn says:

      @Tekhno

      Glancing at your comment again, this jumps out at me

      I dismiss communism on empirical grounds of it having failed as a political project repeatedly throughout the 20th Century, but I wonder how all these really smart people with what seems like 30 more IQ points than me can believe otherwise. I wonder how they can believe that this is all lies, and that the Ukrainian famine was caused by the kulaks and so on.

      Smart people have this issue where they start thinking they can solve problems that people in the past have failed to solve. My experience of speaking with communists is that there are communists who will accept that awful things happened – eg, not pretending Stalin was a nice guy and those kulaks had it coming, admitting that even by the most favourable statistics within shouting range of reality the Great Leap Forward killed eight figures, etc – and think that, through use of brainpower, it will be possible to avoid them next time.

      And, who knows, they could be right. Plenty of times in history something’s been tried more than once and has worked eventually, after failing a few times. Sometimes smart people are right when they think they’ve figured out what the people in the past hadn’t. I, personally, am doubtful, because the problems that befell communist states are problems that seem common to humans in general, rather than uniquely communist problems.

      But “this person is smart”, or “this person is smarter than me”, is not the same as “this person is right.”

      • onyomi says:

        This to me also raises the following issue:

        Suppose for a moment that, Marxism, properly understood, is right.

        But suppose that Marxism is too hard for anyone but French philosophy professors to understand, and every time regular people try to implement it, the result is mountains of skulls.

        What should we do with such a philosophy?

        • 1soru1 says:

          If a theory is right, then there exists an environment in which it organisations following it would be able to out-compete those following wrong theories.

          Which leaves two questions;

          – is western liberal capitalism such an environment?
          – if not, can it be turned into one with incremental liberal reform?

          If so, then you can get to that better system without providing anyone with the ability to make a wrong decision that would lead to any larger mountain of skulls then the one liberal capitalism already has. And on the other hand, if your theory is so powerful that you can prove this would’t work without needing to try it, you should also be able to find and avoid those flaws in a revolutionary approach too.

        • Protagoras says:

          That one seems kind of easy. Using computers to augment our effective intelligence is something we are increasingly becoming good at; postpone your communist revolution until computer assistance has made enough people comparable to French philosophy professors (why French? If you ask me, the last time they were really exceptional at philosophy was when they could claim Descartes as one of their own. But I digress) to make it work. Or until computer technology has provided us with an unlimited supply of French philosophy professor equivalent (really, why FPP?) AIs.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            French philosophy professor equivalent (really, why FPP?) AIs

            People are focused on the problem of Unfriendly AI; why is nobody working to avert Unintelligible AI?

            Also, we should probably look more deeply into mountain-of-skulls-minimization algorithms.

        • Art Vandelay says:

          But suppose that Marxism is too hard for anyone but French philosophy professors to understand, and every time regular people try to implement it, the result is mountains of skulls

          You wouldn’t be able to “implement” Marxism because Marx gives no prescription for how the future society should, concretely, be run. He argues that to plan what the future communist society would be like is to engage in pointless or even harmful utopianism. What Marx was doing was describing the workings of capitalism as a dynamic system and drawing out what he saw as fundamental contradictions within it that would lead to its eventual overthrow, he was not offering a detailed prescription for what should come after, indeed, he believed that to do so would be counterproductive. The most obvious problem with Marx’s thesis is that he believed that capitalism’s collapse would pretty much automatically lead to scientific socialism. It’s practically certain that the current system will not last for ever, but there’s no reason to assume that what comes next will be communism.

          • onyomi says:

            You wouldn’t be able to “implement” Marxism because Marx gives no prescription for how the future society should, concretely, be run. He argues that to plan what the future communist society would be like is to engage in pointless or even harmful utopianism.

            Wish someone had explained that to Lenin and Mao!

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Also, French philosophy professors might not be your best bet as the big names were largely responsible for a move away from Marxism among left-wing academics. Sartre described Foucault as “the last barricade the bourgeoisie can still erect against Marx” (to which, Foucault later quipped “If they needed me as a ‘barricade,’ then they had already lost power!”). French post-structuralism is actually responsible for legitimising the idea of Economic Man in left-wing social theory. A particularly clear case is Pierre Bourdieu who describes the social world as a system in which individuals compete to maximise various forms of capital: economic, social, cultural, etc.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Wish someone had explained that to Lenin and Mao!

            Would certainly have saved everyone a lot of trouble!

            The Bolsheviks were at least aware that there was a problem and tied themselves in knots trying to justify their plans in terms of Marxist doctrine. The main problem for them was that according to Marxism, Russia (and all other countries where “Marxism” has “succeeded”) was nowhere near ready for a communist revolution, which was to take place in the most advanced capitalism states. Trotsky found a way round this by taking a term that Marx used-“permanent revolution”-and redefining it as a theory of how a feudal society could leapfrog capitalism, jumping straight to socialism.

          • nyccine says:

            It’s practically certain that the current system will not last for ever, but there’s no reason to assume that what comes next will be communism.

            But we’re already in the “what comes next?” phase; Managerialism.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Art

            At what point is capitalism supposed to crumble? We’ve been hearing it for a 150 years now. At some point, it’s hard to take it seriously unless you can at least be very specific in your prediction.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @nyccine

            Yeah I think a case could be made that we’ve already entered a different system to the one that existed in Marx’s time. It doesn’t feel to me like there’s been a radical enough break to claim that yet, but I guess that’s something that will be decided by future economic historians. If the era we’re in is classed as a fundamentally different system my bet is that financialisation is the factor that marks it off from earlier capitalism, but who knows.

            @Wrong Species

            The large quantity of beer I’ve drunk meant that your suggestion that it’s hard to take me seriously prompted me to write out a snarky response pretending to think that you’re Francis Fukuyama. I thought better of it as this is supposed to be a place for reasoned discussion. One thing that stopped me was the thought that perhaps I had misunderstood you. Are you genuinely claiming that our economic system will continue in something like its present form until humans go extinct?*

            In answer to your question, I doubt it will last as long as Ancient Egyptian civilisation, i.e < 3000 years.

            *More pedantically you seem to be claiming that it will last beyond the point where humans go extinct because I assume you realised that my time frame of "for ever" was supposed to be "forever".

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Art

            Let’s say that I’m a farmer in the early modern period and I claim that the system we have is on the verge of collapse. When the Industrial Revolution comes along, have I been vindicated? After all, the system we have now is certainly different than it was back then. Of course not, the system didn’t collapse. It evolved. Now you may claim it’s just semantics whether capitalism collapses or evolves. But Marx claimed it would come about as a result of revolution by the proletariat so it’s certainly not the same thing.

            Yes, at some point, the economic system is probably going to change in a way that is not recognizable to us. But that doesn’t mean that Marx is right any more than my farmer. If someone keeps saying something is just about to happen, and then it doesn’t happen, how long can that go on before I stop taking them seriously? My suggestion was that to lower our skepticism, you should be much more specific than “capitalism is about to collapse” so we can know exactly what conditions to look for so we can falsify this prediction. And if it comes to pass and you’re wrong, then we’re back to square one. Can’t you at least admit that Communists have engendered mistrust by claiming that capitalism is on the verge of death so many times in history? Marxism is supposed to scientific, right? Well, if you want to be scientific, you need to follow the scientific method and that means having a specific, falsifiable prediction so we can know it has more validity than the latest rapture cult.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Wrong Species

            My suggestion was that to lower our skepticism, you should be much more specific than “capitalism is about to collapse” so we can know exactly what conditions to look for so we can falsify this prediction.

            So the part of my post you object to is the part I didn’t actually write?

            Can’t you at least admit that Communists have engendered mistrust by claiming that capitalism is on the verge of death so many times in history?

            I don’t know about you, but personally it’s the causing-millions-of-deaths part that makes me wary of Communism (emphasis on the capital “C”).

            Marxism is supposed to scientific, right? Well, if you want to be scientific, you need to follow the scientific method and that means having a specific, falsifiable prediction so we can know it has more validity than the latest rapture cult.

            I know criticising Karl Marx is popular round here but can’t you at least admit it might be unreasonable to expect him to have read Karl Popper?

          • Wrong Species says:

            I do expect Marx’s followers to show why his theories have any relevance as a scientific theory in this day and age.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s the Current Year, after all, right?

            (Man, I never thought I’d use that to defend a Communist.)

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Wrong Species

            You seem to be rather confused. I’m not a Marxist, let alone a “follower” of Marx. This might help explain the rather strange nature of this debate. You disagreed with my claim that capitalism won’t be around for ever, then conceded that I’m probably right about that but wrong to claim that it’s demise is imminent. I pointed out that I’d made no such claim. You now want me to justify the idea that Marxism is a form of science akin to the hard sciences, a position which I do not hold. It seems you are battling an enemy entirely of your own imagination.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Get a bunch of French philosophy professors together to come up with an approximation of Marxism that is wrong in ways which don’t result in mountains of skulls and can be implemented by regular people.

          If you can’t do that, if Marxism is a tall but very narrow peak surrounded by wide and deep troughs, file it under “dangerous curiosities” and give it no practical credence.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The problem is more like, once you’ve got the revolution, how do you keep the Stalins from taking over? I remember I brought this up in an OT a while ago – my view is that, communism could be right, but getting there is the problem: if there’s a vanguard party, either it goes bad, or control is seized by someone bad.

          • It’s a more general problem than Stalin. How do you structure the system so that it is in the interest of each participant to act in the way in which your formula for production requires him to act?

            The beauty of the market is that it solves that problem automatically, since the way in which an actor in a competitive market is supposed to act is also the way in which it is in his interest to act. The problem remains within the firm, which is in a sense a miniature socialist economy, and is one of the reasons for diseconomies of scale.

            During the Calculation controversy, some smart socialists came up with schemes for having the socialist commissars play at being capitalists, mimicking the decentralized control system of the market. But that still leaves you with the problem of getting someone who isn’t the residual claimant to act as if he is.

          • I feel pretty good about the idea of a “facebook”-type grading system, tied to some social recognition and occasional luxury services, to encourage people to respond to the “formulas.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I think that “an economy that is probably less efficient” is far less of a problem than “eight-figure death count”. The USSR still had an above-global-average standard of living. Economics can be debatable, whereas pits full of corpses are alarmingly concrete.

          • Matt M says:

            The USSR still had an above-global-average standard of living.

            I’d bet Russia also had an above-global-average standard of living before communism, too.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Matt M, I don’t believe so. As I understand it, while the communist countries were, of course, substantially outperformed by the major Western powers and a couple of high flyers elsewhere, they in turn substantially outperformed quite a number of third world countries; by ranking, they were mediocre rather than awful. I’ve encountered statistics indicating that between 1917 and 1989 the Soviet Union experienced about twice as much growth as Mexico, for example.

          • Tibor says:

            @Protagoras: You can probably say, that communism outperforms chaos (I am not saying anarchy, since that is not necessarily chaotic).

            But there are two caveats (other than false statistics in the Soviet union):

            – If you start with a very low development (probably below that of Mexico) and your government is capable of keeping order (totalitarian regimes are quite good at that) then you might develop beyond a certain threshold fairly quickly. There are a lot of things you can do to improve things and even if you don’t do them quite in an optimal way, you can do them quickly – especially if you don’t care than a couple of millions people might die in the process. Once you reach a certain level, it is less easy to grow as quickly though and less obvious what to do.
            – some European communist countries were quite or even very wealthy before communism. Czechoslovakia, before WW2, was the 9th richest country in the world, Eastern Germany was also fairly rich. During communism they were sliding down relatively to other countries. Both were around 50th-60th in the world after 40 years of communism in 1989 and now the Czech republic is in high 30s wordwide 27 years after the end of it (East Germany is not a country, but as a region it is doing even a bit better, also due to heavy subsidies from the former Western Germany).

            So it looks like communism might be a fairly good economic model for very backwards countries as long as you don’t value freedoms or potentially lives of your citizens very much…except that it might also end up like in China which was not very developed before the war but which did not experience much growth during the ‘proper communism’ either. At the same time Taiwan flourished.

            So the evidence for the model working at all is very weak.

            I think decoupling the death toll form the form of economic organization is also not entirely trivial. Some deaths in the USSR were by a political decision (including the famines in Ukraine) but some would have been avoided in a better planned economy. And in China a lot of the death toll was due to idiotic central planning (and there is nothing that guarantees you that the central planning of your communist country is not as disasterous as that of China).

          • dndnrsn says:

            My point is not to argue about the economics of communism, theoretical or real. My point is to say that the worst thing about communism, by far, is the piles of corpses. Tibor is right that, to some extent, economics is involved in that – the best case for the Maoists scenario for the GLF is that something like 15 million people died due to things going unexpectedly badly. But stuff like Stalin’s ~10 million (that’s the lowest credible estimate), the Khmer Rouge killing 1/5 of Cambodia’s population, etc, is in a different realm from economic policy.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, the piles of corpses are not just because of the poverty arising from Marxist economic planning not working; they are from the paranoid dictators Marxism tends to select for liquidating class enemies when things aren’t working out as planned.

          • dndnrsn says:

            After Stalin, however, the USSR settled down to almost 40 years without mass killings, though – and didn’t the economic problems become more, rather than less, over time? I think it’s more that Stalin was an evil man, surrounded by other evil men – some systems do a better job of limiting the damage evil people can do better than others.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      “Intelligence is like a 4×4. It lets you get stranded in much more remote locations.”

    • As a Marxist, I’d say that in terms of intelligence the median market monetarist that I’ve read is smarter than the median Marxist I’ve read, even though the smartest Marxists I’ve read beat out the smartest market monetarist (sorry Scott Sumner!) Also, I’ve read some very intelligent Catholics who can calculate exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin…as well as some very intelligent pure-math students who can calculate exactly how many angles can dance on the head of a pin. *Ba-dum*

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      …but I wonder how all these really smart people with what seems like 30 more IQ points than me can believe otherwise.

      Because Hegel is an infohazard?

  16. AnonYEmous says:

    In relation to the earlier discussion on Drupal:

    https://www.drupalconfessions.org/

    Thoughts ?

  17. Longtime lurker / occasional poster here. In some online discussions with some liberal friends, I’ve recently pinpointed exactly where I think leftists have gone wrong—why we have these increasingly shrill SJWs on campuses. And I say all of this as a communist…albeit one who gives some credence to Mencius Moldbug, Steve Sailer, hbd-chick, and other alt-righters (see my article below).

    I think the main problem is that the left has abandoned Marx’s amoral, scientific socialism that appealed to people’s self-interests for some sort of weird, moralistic, puritanical, self-abnegating, po-mo, utopian cultural Marxism. I wrote an article on my blog about this.

    My thesis is that even alt-righters are not a lost cause as long as communists can actually prove that communism will work. That’s the rub. But it’s our responsibility. If we can do that, we can give everyone a selfish, material interest in uniting for the communist cause, which will as a nice side-effect rejuvenate the liberal universalist project. Otherwise, we are destined for more and more “tribalism.”

    I suspect that my article will appeal to, and frustrate, leftists and alt-righters alike. Let me know what y’all think!

    • Incurian says:

      Your post looks interesting, but long. I’m willing to give Scott the benefit of the doubt because he’s a known quantity. Could you elaborate on your point a little, but with a length somewhere between your above comment and the blog post? I know this is a completely unreasonable request but I’m hoping you’ll do it anyway 🙂

      • Here are my main claims:

        1. By default, people tend to have small-scale, “tribal” loyalties. They tend to intrinsically care about family, local community, people they actually know, etc. Their loyalties tend to radiate “concentrically” out from there. I cite hbd-chick and Steve Sailer on this.
        2. Universalist religions used to be a way to get people to broaden their loyalties, but those religions are losing credibility.
        3. Capitalism gives even more additional incentives for people to behave selfishly or tribalistically rather than universally. Trump voters are just responding rationally to these incentives. (Protectionism, “America first,” racism, etc.) They are not evil.
        4. This means liberals, who want people to care about humanity in general or even other sentient animals (the most universalist levels of concern possible), are in trouble. Their “leapfrogging loyalties” will tend to seem crazier and crazier. They can try bullying and shaming tribalistic people, but I doubt they can change their intrinsic loyalties. That’s a problem for liberals when tribalistic people are still in the majority and can show their true colors in the voting booth.
        5. Either liberals will have to resurrect those universalist religions, or give people additional extrinsic (practical, self-interested) reasons to care about strangers at those most abstract, universal levels.
        6. Communism is a promising extrinsic incentive for people to self-interestedly cooperate across tribalistic boundaries.

        I expect that many people will accept claims 1 through 5 but remain not quite ready to jump on board with 6 yet. That’s understandable. But if communism isn’t possible, then I’m curious: what else can we expect to bring self-interested, tribalistically-inclined people together behind the liberal universalist project?

        • Skivverus says:

          Having just read your post, I’d agree that I’m not ready to jump on board with 6; it seems to come out of left field, as it were, and with very little explanation of what you mean by “communism”, which for all I know could be similar to my definition for “capitalism”, namely (if simplistically), “doing good for strangers, in exchange for the ability to have strangers [usually not the same strangers] do good for you”.

        • Kevin C. says:

          Universalist religions used to be a way to get people to broaden their loyalties, but those religions are losing credibility.

          So maybe we need new religions, then? Yes, far easier said than done, and no promising lights on the horizon in that department.

          Their “leapfrogging loyalties” will tend to seem crazier and crazier.

          This shows a level of insight into the political/cultural “other” I rarely see. Definite props to you.

          They can try bullying and shaming tribalistic people, but I doubt they can change their intrinsic loyalties.

          Not on the individual scale, but what about long-term, across generations? To the extent one’s degree of being “tribalistic” is environmental, a product of upbringing, one can adjust education, cultural forces, and so on, to push them toward being less “tribalistic”. And to the extent “tribalism” is hereditary, one can use bullying, shaming, and other social and economic pressure to differentially reduce and suppress coupling and family formation amongst the “tribalistic”, creating evolutionary selection pressure against being “tribalistic”, and thus reducing “tribalism” in each successive generation.

          That’s a problem for liberals when tribalistic people are still in the majority and can show their true colors in the voting booth.

          Only so long as “the voting booth” really matters. First, recall that in a representative democracy, one doesn’t vote for policies or positions, but for people, from a limited, non-representative selection, possessed of traits like “electability”. In the spirit of Boss Tweed’s “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating”, one can always take steps to ensure as much as possible that all nominees by all major parties are sufficiently “non-tribalistic”, so that no matter how tribalistic the voters are, they’re stuck with non-tribalistic politicians no matter how they vote. Second, you can try to place as much power and influence as possible into unelected institutions (the courts, the bureaucracies, academia, mass media), then insure these unrepresentative bodies are packed with and controlled by the non-tribalistic. Third, there’s always the Brechtian solution of “electing a new people”.

          Either liberals will have to resurrect those universalist religions, or give people additional extrinsic (practical, self-interested) reasons to care about strangers at those most abstract, universal levels.

          Or else, as noted above, find ways to marginalize, disempower, ignore, and shrink as a proportion of society, the “tribalistic” folks not on board with those “most abstract, universal levels.”

          6. Communism is a promising extrinsic incentive for people to self-interestedly cooperate across tribalistic boundaries.

          As you suspect, I’m not on board with this, because communism cannot work (I believe it was E.O. Wilson who said of it, “great idea, wrong species”).

          But if communism isn’t possible, then I’m curious: what else can we expect to bring self-interested, tribalistically-inclined people together behind the liberal universalist project?

          First, yet more props for considering the possibility that communism might not prove workable. That was going to be my first question in reply to your first comment, until I read this one. The likely answer, as I see it, is nothing. “self-interested, tribalistically-inclined people” and “the liberal universalist project” are existentially incompatible. Like Harry Potter and Voldemort, “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” Siding with the “liberal universalist project” means that one, whether by the slow selection pressure outlined above, or by means more swift*, must ultimately remove the fundamentallly inimicable obstacle that is the “tribalistic” from the genepool.

          *Such as focusing upon the “wrong species” bit, and embracing something like the flavors of transhumanism whereby one seeks to replace defective humanity with a new, better “right species”.

          • Mary says:

            And to the extent “tribalism” is hereditary, one can use bullying, shaming, and other social and economic pressure to differentially reduce and suppress coupling and family formation amongst the “tribalistic”, creating evolutionary selection pressure against being “tribalistic”, and thus reducing “tribalism” in each successive generation.

            Assuming, of course, they don’t go for pressure against you in response.

            In the spirit of Boss Tweed’s “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating”, one can always take steps to ensure as much as possible that all nominees by all major parties are sufficiently “non-tribalistic”, so that no matter how tribalistic the voters are, they’re stuck with non-tribalistic politicians no matter how they vote. Second, you can try to place as much power and influence as possible into unelected institutions (the courts, the bureaucracies, academia, mass media), then insure these unrepresentative bodies are packed with and controlled by the non-tribalistic.

            Ah, corruption. Unwise to assume that their patience would be infinite with being willfully disenfranchised.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Mary

            Assuming, of course, they don’t go for pressure against you in response.

            It matters which side is capable of exerting the greater pressure. Who controls the Academy? The Media? Hollywood? The permanent bureaucracies? The courts? The “deep state”? Who expels and blacklists whom?

            Unwise to assume that their patience would be infinite with being willfully disenfranchised.

            So we, the disenfranchised “tribalists”, go and “lose our patience”. So what? What are we going to do about it? What can we do?

        • Civilis says:

          I’m going to call in to question claim 3.

          Claim 3: Capitalism gives even more additional incentives for people to behave selfishly or tribalistically rather than universally.

          Capitalism gives people an extrinsic reason to care about the well being of strangers: they’re potential trade partners. I want everyone around me to be producing things that I might want, and wanting things I might produce, and that applies whether they are part of my tribe or not. As a capitalist, I’d much rather take a trade which gives me more value in return, even if the trade partner is outside my tribe, and I want my trade partner to be satisfied with the value he gets in return so that he will want to continue to do business in the future.

          Over the last half century, true global trade has been one of the factors which has led to a decrease in armed conflict, even among antagonistic tribes.

        • cassander says:

          3. Capitalism gives even more additional incentives for people to behave selfishly or tribalistically rather than universally. Trump voters are just responding rationally to these incentives. (Protectionism, “America first,” racism, etc.) They are not evil.

          YOur first two points I agree with, but not this one. Capitalism does not give people incentives to be selfish. people always have incentives to be selfish. what capitalism does is take the urge to be selfish and channel it towards a positive sum game. Without capitalism, generally involves gathering up political and social power, which is always zero sum. In a capitalist world, though, being selfish means providing others with valuable goods and services, which is a positive sum game.

          6. Communism is a promising extrinsic incentive for people to self-interestedly cooperate across tribalistic boundaries.

          Communism promises that incentive, but doesn’t actually create any REASON for people not to act tribally, besides universalistic religion. Capitalism, by contrast, gives people a reason to cooperate across boundaries, money, because everyone’s money spends the same.

        • carvenvisage says:

          so basically we need a religion, and communism is a religion.

          • Basically, yes. I’d argue that it is the best religion, and the only one that actually has a chance of turning out not to be a religion. But as of right now, I can’t blame people if they think it looks a bit like a religion.

            However, I don’t expect anyone to necessarily believe that we need a religion unless they are liberals who are hell-bent on spreading universalist sympathies. If you are not a liberal univeralist, then I don’t expect any religion (including communism as it currently stands) to appeal to you. And that’s OK.

      • Incurian says:

        3. Capitalism gives even more additional incentives for people to behave selfishly or tribalistically rather than universally. Trump voters are just responding rationally to these incentives. (Protectionism, “America first,” racism, etc.) They are not evil.

        You will probably not be surprised that I don’t consider protectionism to be really compatible with capitalism, but then you will also say my objection is a no-true-scotsman. I might reply that government makes protectionism possible and from where I’m standing communism tends to have a lot of government (and then we’ll trade places with the no-true-scotsman).

        6. Communism is a promising extrinsic incentive for people to self-interestedly cooperate across tribalistic boundaries.

        This is the part that needs elaboration because from my point of view it seems to me that in order for communism to work one must find a way to get people to stop acting self-interestedly in general. Why do you think it’s the opposite?

        But if communism isn’t possible, then I’m curious: what else can we expect to bring self-interested, tribalistically-inclined people together behind the liberal universalist project?

        You can probably guess that my answer would be the free market, and that I believe recent history supports that answer and especially to the detriment of communism.

        • I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about communism: that it requires nice people who are all altruistic and cuddly with each other. That’s communism according to the “utopian socialists” and perhaps the Maoists, who envision that people will choose socialism or communism once they become more “moral,” more altruistic…and that communism can’t function without that.

          Marx was acutely contemptuous of such moralizers (and would have rolled his eyes at Chairman Mao). Marx’s philosophy was distinctly amoral. He thought that people would not be convinced by the plea for people to be “moral,” so he had to prove that:
          1. Capitalism would become more and more dysfunctional, anti-freedom, and against most people’s self-interest over time.
          2. Communism was the logical, functional alternative (even assuming there are no “free lunches” and everyone is still self-interested), and thus the historically necessary alternative that would serve everyone’s self-interest in a superior fashion.

          Marx devoted most of his life to argument no. 1 and said relatively little on argument no. 2. The left’s failure is that they still haven’t made a good case for no. 2 (I myself will concede that).

          Nor has the Left done enough to add to the proof of argument no. 1 since Marx’s death. Many people remain convinced that capitalism will continue to function and be conducive to individual freedom for the foreseeable future.

          Instead, the Left has decided that it’s better to regress to “Utopian Socialism” and guilt-trip people into being nice little worker-bees who work for the good of the commune. NO THANKS!

          • I’m looking at this as an economist, not a social theorist. Have you thought about the coordination problem? How, under your version of communism, do you coordinate individual activities such that there is enough iron ore and coal to make enough steel to make the right quantity of cars and chain saws and … .

            Markets, private property, voluntary exchange, prices provide a mechanism for decentralized coordination, and one that scales. What is your substitute?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @citizencokane

            The left’s failure is that they still haven’t made a good case for no. 2 (I myself will concede that).

            I would hold that this is because your #2 is false; communism is not a workable alternative. Nor, as you say, is “utopian socialism”.

            Which leads me to ask you to consider the following scenario: what if your #2 is false and your #1 is true? What if capitalism is indeed full of Molochian traps and long-term incompatibilities with elements of human nature (as I’ve seen it put and have repeated, it’s almost certain that human beings are not the economically-optimum arrangement of their constituent atoms; consider also the demographic transition and the idea of Singapore and the like as “IQ shredders“)? But, at the same time, we have no workable post-capitalist alternatives? Then, is not the choice between either embracing a pre-capitalist alternative (bring back feudalism), or else embracing Landian accelerationism, siding with capitalism over humanity “to convert the human species into auto-intelligenic robotized capital is[sic] fast as possible”, and bring on Charlie Stross’s “Vile Offspring”?

          • My outline of communist economics:
            Part 1 (general principles),
            Part 2 (more general principles),
            Part 3 (complicated spreadsheet time!),
            Part 4 (revised spreadsheet).

            But I know you don’t want to read all of that, so here are the main points:

            1. I assume that, for some basic goods, society can already easily produce them “in superabundance” and eliminate scarcity entirely. I base this on the fact that there are only so many hours in a day to consume things, and at a certain point you run up against a material limit in terms of the amount of food, medical care, pencils, films, etc. that you can, or even want to, consume in a day. For these goods, people use as much of them as they like. However, an artificial sense of scarcity could be created if one person transports, let’s say, all of the local toilet paper into some private warehouse, so there will have to be limits on the amount of personal storage space (bedrooms at the very least) that each person gets for exclusive personal possessions (like dildos). All other spaces will be public (it’s up for society to work out the details of this; it might or might not include people’s yards, living rooms, etc.), and anyone will have the right to use anything in those public spaces that isn’t actively being used or reserved with the permission of some local council. Note that inventory will still be tracked as it moves from place to place just to keep track of who is currently using what. This information will be publicly available to help people locate where unused resources currently are.

            2. Individuals and larger group units will be incentivized to produce things that society wants by receiving grades on their work using some sort of facebook system. Individuals with higher average grades get early access (an early spot in the ration line) to a small sector of luxury services (these must be non-transferable services such as non-tradeable tickets to a cruise with your name on them, and not goods, because if they are goods then they can be traded as scarce commodities on a black market). Groups with higher grades will get first dibs on using scarce capital equipment. All other goods are rationed out equally regardless of one’s contributions to society. There can also be public recognition for good peer evaluations to stroke people’s egos, but there must not be any perks that actually create power imbalances. And yes, I know that the Soviet Union had this kind of stuff, but I think it will be more effective in a society at a higher stage of automation where we won’t have to lean on these incentives QUITE as much. Some individuals will want to spend a few hours here and there doing useful stuff anyways. We just need to fill the gap, and I argue that the gap will be smaller now.

            3. On what basis can people rationally assign grades to individuals and groups? That’s where the spreadsheets come in. As a good or service winds its way through the production process, each contributor has an incentive to truthfully report how much subjective unpleasantness they had to experience in order to contribute to that good or service. By the time the good or service is ready for consumption, it will have accumulated a “price” in terms of labor hours of typical unpleasantness. This “price” does not determine “worth” or facilitate exchange (remember, everything is rationed out, either preferentially for luxury and capital goods or equally for basic goods). Instead, it lets people compare:

            In 2017, Person A used 30,000 hours of typical labor unpleasantness (which doesn’t count his/her own contributions, because that would give an incentive to exaggerate, but instead just the inputs he/she used) to produce X, Y, and Z.

            (If the person is part of a production unit, the production unit can determine what share of the group’s production each member can take credit for).

            Notice that, in this comparison, the X, Y, and Z goods and services must be compared as use-values, not exchange-values representing a certain amount of labor time (as it is under capitalism). It is up to each citizen to judge what utility the X, Y, and Z have for them, and whether that is worth the calculated cost to society—and thus whether Person A is making good use of society’s scarce unpleasant labor. Included in this would also be the ability to compare with what a typical cost from other producers is to make that basket of goods.

            Multiple independent data agencies (to thwart any exclusive concentration of power) would help compile and display these statistics, along with others like “factor utilization” for each good and service, or how much unused inventory there is for each compared to some democratically-decided target level. (Actually, my spreadsheet folds these stats into the “cost calculation” in the first place, so individuals are saved the trouble of factoring these into their comparisons for themselves).

            Needless to say, I would also want a democratic political system overseeing all of this…preferably with immediate recall and a bit more direct democracy.

          • @Kevin C: That is indeed a troubling thought if #1 is true but #2 is false. Perhaps that explains the “Great Filter”? Every collection of autonomous social agents that gets up to a certain level of technology naturally develops a capitalist system, but then due to the internal contradictions of that system and the absence of any way to transcend that system, they always end up nuking each other into oblivion at some point before they can give birth to an expansionary AI singleton (which would presumably not have these problems). I hope not….

          • Incurian says:

            Maybe we can issue little slips of paper in various denominations to indicate how many good grades you’ve received.

          • @Icurian: the big difference is that, under capitalism, the grades circulate and accumulate, and goods and services themselves are produced *as commodities* and must circulate and prove their ability to be exchanged for grades before they can be used. This is very different from something being rationed out as a use-value according to grades. You will never run into the paradoxical dual-problem of unused inventory rotting on shelves and unused labor-power that wants to be put to work due to lack of circulating grades if the grades don’t circulate, but instead just influence decisions for how to ration things as *use-values*.

            You might think this is inconsequential, but the production of goods and services as commodities rather than use-values is precisely where all of the perverse outcomes of capitalism (such as crises of overproduction (compared to an underproduction of those grade slips), exploitation, imperialism, etc.) originate.

          • @Icurian: I should add that communism, similar to a feudal manor, is a system of production of *use-values*, which can still run into problems of *underproduction* of not enough use-values. Maybe a blight kills all the crops and rations of food drop painfully low. Maybe there is an invasion. Maybe the political apparatus becomes dictatorial and corrupt and starts to divert production towards its own desires. Those are all potential problems.

            But thankfully, one problem that communism cannot suffer from is the problem of generalized overproduction—general gluts—with respect to an underproduction of the money-commodity. Communism cannot suffer from a long-term tendency of the rate of (exchange-value) profit to fall. This all probably sounds like gobbledygook, and I don’t blame you if you don’t buy it right now.

          • Incurian says:

            You’re right. It’s the end of the day and I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this system. I’ll re-engage when I’m freshly caffeinated tomorrow. I suspect my answer will boil down to something like “prices are good for reasons,” but I want to completely understand your point of view first.

          • @Icurian: Well, in order to “completely” understand my point of view, I’d recommend about a year’s worth of reading starting with Sam Williams’s “Critique of Crisis Theory” blog, then moving on to Howard Nicholas’s “Marx’s Theory of Price,” Anwar Shaikh’s “Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crisis,” then Marx’s “Theories of Surplus Value,” Capital Vol III, II, and I (yes, it makes more sense if you read them in reverse order)…and so on. 😉 But I appreciate that you are giving my ideas as much consideration as you have.

          • Civilis says:

            Your system seems to have an awful lot of non-productive overhead, and many places where it can catastrophically break down. Capitalism is not perfect. You seem to be comparing imperfectly operating capitalism to your system operating perfectly, without thinking of the consequences when your system, as any human construct, will fail.

            You’ve also given no thought to how the system can be gamed, or the cracks people can fall into.

            To start with, your assumption of post scarcity seems entirely unwarranted. Even if in theory we could produce everything everyone wanted, the combination of goods that best fits peoples needs is ever changing, and you have no feedback mechanism. More importantly, the one good you promised everyone is rivalrous. Somebody’s going to get that prime beach-front apartment, and those who make decisions like that have power.

            You’re going to end up with a power structure, the people that make that kind of decision and the people with enough influence to get the decision made in their favor. That’s the nomenklatura. And, being humans, they’re going to want to stay in power and get what they deserve for their efforts.

          • cassander says:

            >Nor has the Left done enough to add to the proof of argument no. 1 since Marx’s death. Many people remain convinced that capitalism will continue to function and be conducive to individual freedom for the foreseeable future.

            The problem isn’t that they haven’t made a good case for two, it’s that two has demonstrably failed every time it’s been tried, and not just failed as it it wasn’t perfect, failed in that it made the largest mountains of skulls in human history, due in larger part to the problems DavidFriedman mentions.

            Also problematic, though imho, less so, is that marx’s empirical predictions in one have been proven completely wrong.

          • @Civilis: I think you’ll find that I’ve given plenty of thought to how people could game the system. I’ve tried to set up incentives to thwart that.

            As for no feedback mechanisms, the utilization rate is one such mechanism. Cost calculation is set up to increase proportionally according to how much the inputs are overutilized and how much the final output is underutilized, or conversely, decrease according to how much the inputs are underutilized and how much the final output is overutilized. Under capitalism, the “invisible hand” of competition, mobile investment, and profit equalization would serve this function, but in a system of use-value production we account for it explicitly.

            As for some people getting the beachfront property, that could be one of those luxuries rationed out preferentially as an incentive. As for your certainty that this will always end in corruption and dictatorship, I disagree. I think it was Trotsky who once famously said that, “As long as there are ration lines, there is someone in charge of the ration line, and they always make sure to get first dibs.” So yes, it is something to be vigilant about. I’d be a fool if I dismissed this problem entirely.

            As for whether Marx’s empirical predictions have been proven wrong, here’s how I think they stack up:
            *Absolute immiseration of the proletariat: wrong.
            *Relative immiseration of the proletariat: correct.
            *Increase in the relative size of the proletariat: correct.
            *Increase in the concentration of capital: correct.
            *Communism arriving in his own lifetime, or shortly thereafter: wrong.
            *Russian peasants being able to skip straight from peasant communes to communism, bypassing capitalism (something he briefly speculated about in his old age)…wrong.
            *Recurrent global economic crises of increasing intensity stemming from unreformable economic laws of capitalism: correct. (Mainstream economists will always identify some policy mistake or contingent reason for crises, not wanting to admit that any policy response would have been insufficient and, at best, would have changed the qualitative nature of the crisis…for example, recession vs. stagflation. If the Market Monetarists get their way with NGDPLT, the next crisis will initially take the form of progressively worsening stagflation until inflation-targeting is restored, mark my words).
            *Long-term tendency for the average worldwide rate of profit to fall: correct. (Mainstream economists generally don’t try to measure the average worldwide rate of profit, but real long-term interest rates are a close corollary that they do track, and those have trended downwards).

            When it comes to the really important predictions, I think we are on the right track.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            it sure seems like the only predictions he got right were criticisms of capitalism, whereas the important ones would be if his system could actually work

            and even then some of the ones you’ve marked correct are questionable; the great depression was a long time ago and it was certainly worse, not to mention that we can in fact point to why various recessions happen.

            edit:
            Also how the hell did Marx predict both the relative and total immiseration of the proletariat? What? Five bucks says he predicted total and you’re giving him points because it turned out to be relative.

          • onyomi says:

            “As long as there are ration lines, there is someone in charge of the ration line, and they always make sure to get first dibs.” So yes, it is something to be vigilant about. I’d be a fool if I dismissed this problem entirely.

            It’s not just something to be vigilant about. It’s a huge, in my view, insurmountable problem, among many.

            To take the Chinese case, which I know better, though I imagine the USSR was similar, communism greatly exacerbated the need for “guanxi” (“connections”) to get anything you wanted. Ironically, this was one of the biggest complaints about the old, “feudal” system–that it was full of nepotism and low social mobility, with no way for people without the proper backgrounds to get ahead.

            But, unsurprisingly, once rationing of goods was put into the hands of various cadres, it became all about whom you knew to determine who got those things. Factory gets only five color TVs this year to share among 500 workers? Guess who those are going home with? This was true even of the minor items you kind of assume away: “hey, I gotta connection for some nice, imported shampoo. Smells like flowers and stuff. You in?” This is the kind of conversation which would take place all the time under this sort of system.

            To attempt to be vigilant to the degree required to eliminate any such inequities of distribution results in a nightmarish, everybody-inform-on-everybody and nobody-trusts-anybody-type situation. As, of course, it did. In the end, it just means you can only look to your really close friends, whom you can trust not to turn you in, for help moving to the head of the shampoo line (or the line to see the doctor who specializes in your kind of cancer, or the line to get an apartment in the neighborhood with the good school, or the line for permission to study abroad, or…).

          • Re: immiseration, as far as I’m aware, the only thing that Marx predicted was “immiseration of the proletariat” full-stop. I think it’s charitable to imagine two possible readings of this. If he meant it in an absolute way, then he was wrong. If he meant it in a relative way (as in, increasing wealth inequality), then he was right.

            As for “guanxi” and corruption…I’m willing to entertain the idea that communism, like Nordic-style social democracy, might work best (or might only work at all) in high-trust, low-corruption societies. It would make things simpler if communism managed to develop everywhere at once, but the minimum condition is that communism’s geographical reach must have access to:
            1. A sizable enough population and military to defend it,
            2. The cutting-edge of the productive forces,
            3. A diversified array of natural resources, so that the communist society is not forced to trade with the remaining capitalist world, which is one lever by which commodity relations can seep back into communist society and poison the well. (Total isolation from outside cultural influence like North Korea is not needed, but communist society must not be economically dependent on the capitalist world, or else it will find that it must change itself into capitalism’s own image in order to play ball with the capitalists).

            So, for starters, I think we’d need at a minimum something like a “North American Communist Union” or a “Communist European Union.” The Soviet Union would have fit the bill if they had had more advanced productive forces for starters (and I do buy into the “Red Plenty” argument that they might have had a window in the 1960s / 1970s to start moving back in the right direction, now that their productive forces had caught up somewhat, but that the corruption was already too entrenched). Some hard-core Maoists even think that the Chinese Communist Party is still communist and has a secret plan to pretend to be capitalist-minded for a little longer and keep their current uber-NEP going and quietly accumulate productive forces until, one day, they’ll drop the mask and reveal, “We were still communist all along! Now all your productive forces are belong to us!” and lead Chinese society in the formation of communism. I’m mildly intrigued by that idea, but I’m not getting my hopes up….

          • AnonYEmous says:

            the only thing that Marx predicted was “immiseration of the proletariat” full-stop.

            Or in other words, an open-ended prediction which I’m not impressed by, especially since you haven’t provided any serious proof that said immiseration has occurred. Income equality may have dropped – and I say “may” because we no longer have kings and nobles who can bend the law to their will – but overall income has swelled to an enormous degree, as have social programs to support the poor.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            To take the Chinese case, which I know better, though I imagine the USSR was similar, communism greatly exacerbated the need for “guanxi” (“connections”) to get anything you wanted.

            There was actually a humorous curse in Soviet Russia that plays on this fact: “May you live on your salary alone!”

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @onyomi:

            What you describe is indeed exactly how it went in the Soviet Union also.

          • Re: immiseration, as far as I’m aware, the only thing that Marx predicted was “immiseration of the proletariat” full-stop. I think it’s charitable to imagine two possible readings of this. If he meant it in an absolute way, then he was wrong. If he meant it in a relative way (as in, increasing wealth inequality), then he was right.

            1. Can you find any hint in his writing that what he predicted was only that the poor would get rich more slowly than the rich? I’m not aware of any.

            2. What evidence do you have that income inequality is greater now than when Marx was writing? My casual impression from what I have read of mid-19th century England is the opposite, that the difference between the bottom fifty percent and the top five percent was much larger then.

            As a piece of casual evidence, everyone in the (much smaller) middle class then had servants, the upper middle class and above a significant number of servants, almost nobody today does.

          • Regarding immiseration…although I find arguing “on the authority of St. Marx” a bit tedious, here is what I found:

            Capital, Vol. I, ch. 25:

            Section 2 is entitled, “Relative Diminution of the Variable Part of Capital Simultaneously with the Progress of Accumulation and of the Concentration that Accompanies it”

            …and lower down…

            “It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.”

            In other words, workers may be paid “high” wages, and yet be relatively disadvantaged.

            Another thing to keep in mind is that Marx did not analyze society in terms of the “poor” vs. the “rich,” but more specific categories: proletarian, landlord, capitalist. Modern statistics aren’t often compiled on this basis, so we should be wary about inferring a one-to-one correspondence between their income categories and Marx’s social categories. That said, Michael Roberts recently wrote an article on inequality trends since Marx’s time.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Regarding immiseration…although I find arguing “on the authority of St. Marx” a bit tedious, here is what I found:

            I don’t want to be rude here, but you started by making that argument.

            “It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.”

            Sounds like he was dead wrong, because he didn’t mention “inequality” but rather “situation” and the situation of the worker has gotten a lot better, just by the advances of technology alone, not to mention cheap consumer goods which the worker can himself consume. So, sorry to engage you in a tedious argument but…yea, not looking good for ol’ Groucho Marx.

          • Well, to be fair, people asked me about Marx’s predictions, and I responded. I think a more relevant question would be to consider the predictions of influential Marxists in general (because what good is a theory if only one man in history has been able to wield it effectively).

            For example, Austrian Social Democrat Otto Bauer predicted, using Marx’s own reproduction schemes, that workers need not suffer immiseration, and that their absolute and relative living standards might even improve as capitalism developed. Bauer, accordingly, saw no historical limit to capitalism. Polish Marxist Rosa Luxembourg, by contrast, argued that this could continue only so long as there was a pre-capitalist frontier of peasant proprietors in the world to be dispossessed and newly-introduced into the global proletariat, which would soak up excess capital that would otherwise not be able to be profitably invested at home. And German Marxist Henryk Grossman argued that it was a mathematical certainty that workers’ wages would have to be continually cut in order to maintain a high enough mass of profit to prevent ever-larger unemployment from accumulating. The link above discusses some of the debate between these Marxist thinkers.

            “Oh, how convenient for Marxists to hedge their bets with every type of prediction.” Well, yes…I’d prefer that there were more consensus on these basic issues of how to use the theory. It’s a bit embarrassing that Marxists still can’t agree on whether there must be relative and/or absolute immiseration of workers as capitalism progresses further, or whether there is a long-term tendency for the average world rate of profit to fall, or whether all money must be ultimately tied to some commodity-money. It’s a sign that this stuff is complicated, yo, and that Marxists still have a lot of work to do if they want to be taken seriously. So I don’t blame anyone for thinking that all this stuff sounds dubious at this point. That said, I don’t think it should get written off as easily as it does.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Or in other words, an open-ended prediction which I’m not impressed by

            In other words, you owe somebody five bucks.

            (You made a falsibiable prediction that marx made a particularly specific falsifiable prediction, and was getting marks for it despite being overconfident about some details of it. Besides this being a poor criticism (from an empiricist point of view), apparently it’s also wrong.)

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Or in other words, he probably meant “total” but left it slightly open-ended 😉

    • suntzuanime says:

      “The problem is not enough communism. And I say all of this as a communist!”

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I must apologize beforehand, but I could see immediately three ways to parse that sentence.

        The problem is “not enough communism”!

        The problem is not “enough communism”!

        [When] the problem is not enough: Communism!

      • That’s not really the root of the problem. The root issue is that liberals have abandoned any appeals to self-interest, any descriptive analysis, in favor of moral brow-beating. They are so indoctrinated by their moral claims (that “all humans should universally care about each other and sacrifice for each other and minimize the suffering of all sentient beings”) that they can’t see how utterly unconvincing those claims are to people who have yet to be converted.

        The fact that they don’t see the need for communism is just a side-effect of all that.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The root issue is that liberals have abandoned any appeals to self-interest

          This is not true.

          For, when liberals do appeal to self-interest, they are derided for doing so just the same.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I can’t speak to absolutes in this sense. But look at an example like Trump’s campaign. How much of Hillary’s message was “Trump is a racist” versus “Trump will be bad for you, personally”? And I don’t doubt that she said the latter, but it didn’t seem like the focus of her campaign.

            Heck, just look at the alt-right speech – she decided to complain about Pepe the Frog and Milo Yiannopoulos headlines. Why not replace that with “the economy”? Maybe she did and I missed it – obviously what I do and don’t hear about is biased – but from what I know she didn’t put in nearly as much effort on those issues.

          • Spookykou says:

            The absolute doesn’t seem likely, so then the only information to be gleaned here would be from comparing rates, I am not sure what is learned by looking at Hilary in isolation.

          • Mary says:

            Well, if she’s a bad example, what are the good ones?

          • Spookykou says:

            Sorry, I was not trying to say she is a bad example of anything, rather that once we accept that the absolute case is not true, there is nothing meaningful in listing Hilary Clinton behaviors and actions unless we know that it is not how everyone else also acts/speaks. Preferable for this situation, comparing people on the right to people on the left would be the best way to learn if people on the left are significantly different from people on the right in terms of appeals to self-interest.

          • BBA says:

            Liberals have abandoned appeals to white men’s self-interest, what with white men being a narrow and ever-shrinking sliver of the liberal coalition. For the rest of the population it’s self-interest all the way.

          • cassander says:

            @AnonYEmous s

            Have you not seen the many entries in the “why do those idiot yokels keep voting against their economic interest” genre? I’ll grant you Hillary was particularly bad at selling anything positive, but Bernie and Obama weren’t.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Bernie and Obama weren’t.

            Obama won because he did; those appeals were abandoned by the DnC which is why Bernie lost and Hillary was even allowed to run, and then she lost.

        • Mary says:

          “The root issue is that liberals have abandoned any appeals to self-interest, ”

          They have?

          Hmmm. . . while it is true I’ve seen a lot more complaints that conservatives don’t vote for their “self-interest” than appeals to it.

          • Matt M says:

            Who are these complaints directed at and how are they phrased?

            I agree with you that this is the case, but there’s a difference between “Hillary Clinton gives a speech in rural PA explaining how her policies will benefit voters there” and “New Yorker columnist writes 5,000 word essay about how people from Kansas are too stupid to realize that they’d benefit from socialism”

            I would say that liberals do not appeal to self-interest. They assume every intelligent person already knows that liberalism is superior, and therefore any non-liberal person is some combination of stupid, selfish, greedy, etc.

    • herbert herberson says:

      There’s very little that is Marxist about “weird, moralistic, puritanical, self-abnegating, po-mo, utopian cultural Marxism.” Which, considering the class of the people it’s coming from, makes perfect sense–although, unfortunately, it also suggests that the solution can’t be jeremiad’d into place.

    • onyomi says:

      The reason communists gave up on the initial claim that it would result in greater material prosperity is because every time it was tried it resulted in less material prosperity. Thus they switched to the idea that communism, even if it results in less “stuff,” is still morally and aesthetically superior, and have largely been arguing in favor of that ever since.

      If you think you can make the case that communism really does result in greater material prosperity and fulfillment of consumer preferences, then your first job is to explain where every previous attempt went so horribly wrong on that score.

      • It’s common in history for new social forms to go awry the first, or second, or third time that they are tried. Was the English Civil War an immediate success in creating a Commonwealth Republic? Was the French Revolution an immediate success?

        The French Revolution in particular has a lot of parallels with the Bolshevik Revolution: immediate attack from all sides leading to understandable paranoia about internal traitors and an overreaction that led to terror and dictatorship. Little did the French know that it would take another 80 years and a couple more attempts before their ideals would really come to fruition in a secure manner with the Third Republic (1870-1940).

        If it hadn’t been for the American Revolution, someone writing at the time would have seemed justified in arguing that, “Bourgeois revolutions always go awry, don’t even try it.” Actually, it helps explain why the German liberals in 1848 got cold feet and meekly accepted their defeat rather than rally the working class to their cause. They knew that, once you get the sans-culottes involved, it might be 1793 or the June Days of 1848 in Paris all over again. And they’d rather run back to mommy and keep the Prussian aristocrats in power than risk putting the workers in charge.

        And even the much-vaunted American Revolution was an unfinished revolution by its own standards—no voting rights at first for slaves, other blacks, and poor, non-landowning whites in most states, for that matter. If Trotsky had been an American revolutionary, I can easily imagine him writing about “the unfinished revolution,” the need for a “permanent revolution” or a “second revolution” (a la the American Civil War) to clear away the “degenerated Planter’s State.” How inevitable was it that the American Trotskys won and the Soviet Trotsky lost?

        Here are the arguments I can see for why previous communist revolutions failed:
        1. Shit happens. Revolutions often fuck up on the first, second, or even third try. See above.
        2. The Mensheviks were right, in hindsight. Russia was not ready. No predominantly-peasant society that still has acute scarcity of basic goods (encouraging corrupt practices for basic survival) that still has an uneducated, patrimonial, leader-worshipping culture (which will undermine the ability or insistence of the masses to govern themselves rather than allow a strongman into power) is ready for communism. If you try to force the issue before the time is ripe, you’ll just end up with a grotesque caricature that will discredit your vision.
        3. Imperialism is too stronk. Leaders of existing communist states (or, more precisely, socialist states that aspired to communism) rationally chose to devote a huge share of their use-value production to military defense, which they had to if they wanted to keep parity in that sector in the context of starting out with a more backward economy in general. But that retarded their growth and made their economies compare unfavorably with the capitalist economies on metrics like consumer goods, unfairly discrediting their economic system.

        And the reason that workers in the advanced countries were in favor of keeping the military rivalry going, and why they didn’t take the imperialist pressure off by staging their own communist revolutions (as the Bolsheviks were counting on in Germany from 1918 to 1924) is that the capitalist states and businesses set up generous welfare schemes to share some of the surplus value from foreign investment (i.e. exploitation) in the third-world with their workers, giving their workers a material interest in maintaining capitalism and imperialism.

        All of this implies that the way to make future communist revolutions more likely to succeed are:

        1. Learn from the mistakes of previous revolutions so that certain preventable fuckups don’t happen again.

        2. Assist the further development of the productive forces and the political education of workers in order to make it much easier in future communist revolutions to mitigate scarcity, inhibit corruption, and maintain democratic rule. Become a doctor, an engineer, an AI-researcher, a Marxist economist, a political scientist, an historian, or a game-theorist.

        3. Encourage third-world nationalist revolutions, no matter how they describe themselves, even if they don’t have an ounce of communist content in them…so long as they serve to break up the imperialist system, bring the conditions of the working class up to the same level globally, deprive first-world workers of direct and indirect (welfare state) foreign investment income, and give those first-world workers more of an interest in making communist revolution rather than fighting to protect the existing capitalist system. Note that, as you do this, you have to explain your long-term communist vision for why this is actually in the interest of those first-world workers, or else they will just interpret this as an attack on their standards of living. You must, at all costs, avoid justifying this leveling in moral terms.

        • onyomi says:

          A more basic (non-rhetorical) question:

          What is the appeal of communism to you that achieving it is desirable enough to, to put it bluntly, sacrifice millions? Like, I’m sure it has sounded very desirable to many in the past, but just speaking for myself, the system you’re describing doesn’t appeal to me even if it works as well as you hope it will, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that either. I mean, I like Star Trek, but I also like consumerism. And earning money. And having money and stuff of my own which isn’t subject to the decisions of the democratic council of the proletariat.

          Of course, I could imagine the appeal if I were a starving peasant and you came to me and said “communism means plenty of everything for all!” But that would be the plenty I’d be thirsting for, not the particular form of socio-economic organization you promise will bring it about.

          Maybe I just have a congenital case of libertarianism compounded by first world privilege, but I honestly don’t see the appeal. Maybe you can explain it to me?

          • First, have I apologized for everything that Stalin and Mao did? Do I think we necessarily need to sacrifice millions? No.

            Yes, this sounds like “no-true-scotsman,” and in fact I can see how their policies were a logical outgrowth of their context intersecting with their philosophy, at least in Stalin’s case. (In Mao’s case, there was already quite a bit of daylight between his idealism and “classical Marxism”).

            Second, I’d say, let’s see how well capitalism is working out for ya 30 years from now. Even if you are a millionaire under capitalism, there are all sorts of possibilities that could undermine your wealth, and thus your freedom: imperialist wars, revolutions, hyperinflations. America has been an unusually stable capitalist society since its inception, but how long can that last with the public debt and other systemic factors deteriorating like they are? I’d still be researching a contingency plan if I were you in case there’s a crisis that puts all previous ones to shame, and like Rosa Luxembourg I’d prefer communism over “barbarism” (everyone gets their guns, goes full warlord, and plunges the world into a new Dark Age, a “common ruin of the contending classes,” as Marx acknowledged was a possibility).

            Third, it’s about achieving a real, material freedom and peace of mind that I will never achieve under capitalism.

        • And the reason that workers in the advanced countries were in favor of keeping the military rivalry going, and why they didn’t take the imperialist pressure off by staging their own communist revolutions (as the Bolsheviks were counting on in Germany from 1918 to 1924) is that the capitalist states and businesses set up generous welfare schemes to share some of the surplus value from foreign investment (i.e. exploitation) in the third-world with their workers, giving their workers a material interest in maintaining capitalism and imperialism.

          What major capitalist states had generous welfare schemes prior to WWII?

          And what is the evidence that the wealth of capitalist societies, then or now, came mainly from investment in the third world? Most developed country trade is with other developed countries.

          • The relevant question is to ask about both state-run and private welfare to workers. And by “welfare,” we are more precisely talking about the sharing of surplus value. This could take a myriad of superficial forms, although the essential feature would be any payment above what workers need to reproduce themselves at the going level of subsidence (which doesn’t mean “bare survival,” it means what workers worldwide tend to consume at the time on average—the socially-necessary cost for reproducing labor-power in the abstract).

            I find Engels’s letter to Kautsky in 1882 about English workers telling:
            “You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general: the same as what the bourgeois think. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies.” I’d be interested to see any statistics about how much English workers were accumulating at this time, or how much better they were living than a typical wage-worker in the world.

            I know that in Germany, Bismarck began the first state welfare schemes in the 1880s.

            The welfare state in the French 3rd Republic.

            And in the U.S., “welfare capitalism” (generous company benefits) started to become common after WWI.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Thanks for the article– concentric conservative values and leapfrogging liberal values looks like a useful way to frame things. Scott’s ideas about in-groups and out-groups add some flavor to what’s going on with the liberals.

      “What proportion of Americans currently consider African-Americans as part of their in-group, for whom they would prioritize their sacrifices? Based on the lazy and dubious assumption that people who include African-Americans as part of their in-group tend to currently vote for Democrats, my very sloppy estimate is about half. ”

      I’m sufficiently influenced by SJ to get an impression that you aren’t counting African-Americans as Americans. AAs would naturally count AAs (to a large extent, there are complications) as their in-group.

      Part of SJ is giving up on universalism– it may get mentioned that Native Americans are at more risk from the police than African Americans, but Native Americans don’t get prioritized to the same extent.

      Part of the problem with convincing people that communism is a good idea is that the majority of people in communist countries tend to be poorer than the majority in capitalist countries.

      (Change of topic) A parallel(?) libertarian problem is that freedom is a public good. I laughed the first time I head that, but it isn’t really funny.

      (Another change of topic) It would be a different and better world if the automotive unions had pressured American companies to make better cars back when Japanese cars were clearly superior. Instead, they resented Japanese manufacturers and Americans who bought cars from them.

      • random832 says:

        Instead, they resented Japanese manufacturers and Americans who bought cars from them.

        I’m not sure this is tractable. If the reason the Japanese manufacturers could make better cars that could compete on price-for-value included paying less for labor costs (I don’t know if it did in fact or not), then American manufacturers, if they made better cars, would either fail to compete on price or end up cutting labor costs, which leaves union labor in no better a position.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          As I recall, the problems were a combination of quality issues and American companies not making compacts.

      • keranih says:

        Nancy –

        Firstly, total sidebar – I’m looking for a post on “how being a minority means you get exposed to more anti-[you] comments than if you are in the majority” that was posted by someone on haikujaguar’s flist back during one of the SP/Hugo flaps a couple years back. I thought it was very useful and would like to recommend that to the diversity people at my work.

        Back on topic –

        I’m sufficiently influenced by SJ to get an impression that you aren’t counting African-Americans as Americans. AAs would naturally count AAs (to a large extent, there are complications) as their in-group.

        Emmm. I didn’t get that impression at all, although I could kinda see where that could be read in. Me, I think his math is right on – about half of the country votes Democrat, including nearly all AA’s. (85-95%) The AA fraction (12% of the total) can be roughly figured as “all include AA in in-group”. The rest of the D-voters may or may not include AA’s as their ingroup – surely many Jewish, Asian, and Hispanic voters can be expected to exclude themselves. At the same time, while I agree that it’s reasonable to think that most Republican voters don’t put AA’s in their ingroup (*), this doesn’t mean *none* do.

        Given the variety of people I’ve seen on this side of the fence, I think that “about half” is reasonable.

        (A different question – how many AA’s include non-AA’s in their in-group?)

        Part of SJ is giving up on universalism

        Back when I thought/assumed that being on the left was like radical St Francis Christianity – *total* universality – I could clearly see that the left had the moral high ground, and was to be preferred by right-thinking people. That time passed long before the rise of SJWs, but still it hurts.

        freedom is a public good

        Can you unpack this?

        automotive unions had pressured American companies to make better cars back when Japanese cars were clearly superior

        The methods used by the Japanese would have been unacceptable to the auto unions, as they rested on automation and low tolerance for employee error, as well as strong social norms of status and behavior. It would certainly be a different world if American auto unions had gone this route. I am not convinced it would be better.

        (*) excluding times of flag waving USA chanting

        • Jiro says:

          Do enough people define their ingroup primarily by race in the first place? Imagine that, oh, someone’s ingroup is Republicans. His ingroup may be other Republicans. Because blacks are disproportionately Democrats, it will look like he’s rejecting people as ingroup members based on race, when he isn’t really.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with this. You are more likely to count someone of a different race, but similar political ideology and religion in your ingroup, than someone of the same race, but opposed political ideology and religion.

          • keranih says:

            define their ingroup primarily by race

            Eeerrrmmm. Speaking entirely in generalities, I think the idea that most people don’t define their ingroup by ethnicity is…not universally typical.

            I think it’s a great Western ideal to make this Not So, and the success of Britain, the USA and (to a lesser degree, the EU) (*) shows that this can be made to work, with a great deal of effort.

            I would like this to be so. I don’t see this in the world around me.

            (*) Russia tried to make this work with the USSR and pretty much failed. I don’t know enough about China to speak to that, but from reports it appears to (at least) have had some rough spots along the way.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          In re freedom being a public good:

          A good bit of libertarianism has an objectivist background. This makes it hard to get people to take on costs for projects which might be generally helpful.

          Expanding and maintaining freedom has costs.

      • Part of the problem with convincing people that communism is a good idea is that the majority of people in communist countries tend to be poorer than the majority in capitalist countries.

        We also have some as close to controlled experiments as one can hope for in that case, in both space and time. East Germany and West German, North Korea and South Korea, give us comparisons of similar societies under different systems. China under Mao and China now gives us the same society at different times–a more than twenty-fold increase in per capita real income.

        (Change of topic) A parallel(?) libertarian problem is that freedom is a public good. I laughed the first time I head that, but it isn’t really funny.

        It’s the reason that if you want people to promote freedom you need to find some tie-ins, benefits other than increased freedom they can get by promoting it. The obvious candidate, for promoting freedom or lots of similar projects, is the opportunity to socialize, engage in joint projects, with people you are likely to get along with. That’s one reason why I am glad that Students for Liberty, unlike other libertarian groups, includes a large minority of women.

  18. lvlln says:

    Forbes recently published this (originally from Quora, as best as I can tell), which I thought perfectly summed up the sort of feminism that I subscribe to and that I think people who value believing true things could get behind.

    In fact, when I was first introduced to the idea of feminism decades ago, this was more or less what I thought the movement was putting forward. It still somewhat puzzles me that this sort of thinking is very uncommon within and actively suppressed by mainstream feminism (or, at least what the mainstream views as “feminism,” as determined by its loudest and most influential proponents). My hope is that this is a coordination problem, that there are far more people who subscribe to this sort of feminism than who subscribe to the views put forth by the loudest and most influential feminists, but they’re prevented from recognizing each other because expression of their views are severely punished by the loudest and most influential group. And that articles like this one will help to make it easier for such people to come out until eventually the loudest and most influential feminists become one of us.

    But maybe I’m just fooling myself because I’m genuinely scared of the potentially violent results as the feminist movement continues to get more and more hostile to empiricism while also continuing to gain more and more social influence.

    • keranih says:

      I think people who value believing true things could get behind.

      (Is that not all of us?)

      This one had me agreeing up to the point of talking about patriarchal societies, so about half way through the priors. And I didn’t disagree with all the conclusions/further point thoughts.

      So I found this extremely useful – far more than the usual sort of feminist post – and thank you for sharing it.

      • lvlln says:

        I think people who value believing true things could get behind.

        (Is that not all of us?)

        It seems to me that some people care about believing things that are useful or things that lead to just outcomes, rather than believing things that are true.

        Maybe “true things” wasn’t the right term, but rather “empirically verified things.” I tend to conflate “empirically verified” with “true,” but perhaps that’s not a non-controversial definition of “true.” For instance, I listened to Jordan Peterson recently on Sam Harris’s podcast arguing vehemently that something being “true” depends on the eventual survival of the species as a result of people believing in it, independent from its empirical validity. So it should have occurred to me that people can redefine “true” to describe whatever they care to believe, rather than using the meaning that I use.

        • carvenvisage says:

          “verified” implies a high level of certainty, perhaps through scientific isolation of the particular factor, but certainly involving a clear first hand viewing that confirms the fact.

          Your OP seems far more to the speculative side of things.

          Sp maybe you did just mean “true things” after all?

          (which is the far better thing to aim for imo.)

           

          (Or perhaps “empirically based” rather than “empirically verified?”)

      • Spookykou says:

        I think people who value believing true things could get behind.

        I am not sure how to describe it, but this feels a little sneaky, trying to preemptively label those who disagree as people who don’t value believing true things.

        Anyways, in the recent threads there were several discussions about the value of truth telling, which seems more relevant than the question of believing true things, since I can’t read minds.

        So to steal from those discussions, someone could argue that embracing the idea of biological differences between the sexes could cause some kind of broad social harm as ammunition for misogynists. As such it is important to weigh the value of telling the truth* versus the value of the social harm(assuming you think there actually would be social harm).

        *Assuming you are not Kantian

        Edit: I am too slow!

      • Art Vandelay says:

        This one had me agreeing up to the point of talking about patriarchal societies

        What do you object to about the way she used the concept of patriarchal societies? It seemed far better to me than the ways I usually see the idea of patriarchy invoked in feminist arguments.

        • keranih says:

          It seemed far better to me than the ways I usually see the idea of patriarchy invoked in feminist arguments.

          That is a *horrifically* low bar. An argument can be several orders of magnitude better than “typical” feminist discourse and still leave me unimpressed.

          As I said, I was happier with this post than with most. But specifically here:

          I think when we talk about patriarchy, what we’re really getting at is the re-emergence of social hierarchies that resulted from sedentary farming starting around ten thousand years ago.

          Firstly, “re-emergence” implies that those social hierarchies went away and then came back, which they have not. (Not across human history, nor reliably across cultures.) I tend to find a lot of the theories about “natural social patterns of free living hunter-gather savannah apes being corrupted by farming/property/capitalism” being overly saturaturated with leftist pre-conceptions & value assumptions, but even if correct, it’s not like those new (agricultural/village/urban) ideas ever went away.

          Secondly, social hierarchies and polygamy exist in hunter/gather societies. I object to the idea that these structures are a means of controlling women so much as a way to protect/support extra women – an excess that results from a loss of men in high-risk roles. I suspect it’s this loss that drives the tendency to polygamy, not polygamy & patriarchal tendency driving the males into high risk activities.

          (This is part of where I object to so much behavior getting shoved under “constructed” when it’s actually better shelved under “bio-determined” – the author even admits that males are more aggressive. They aren’t shaped into that form, they are *meant* to be that way.)

          “Patriarchal” societies are a function of the ongoing human need to keep women and kids *out* of the high(er) danger spheres that men inhabit. These sorts of societies – particularly the watered-down Western versions – are sub-optimal and constrictive for a fraction of women – but are better for women *on the average*.

          What has most significantly changed, imo, is the ongoing effort to reduce the danger of the men’s sphere. OSHA and the Law of War and the rise of lawsuits have steadily erroded the advantages to a society that keeps its women segregated (*), and in turn reduced the need for men to have the advantages in strength and aggression that they naturally enjoy.

          Which has led to a decrease in the use of those talents, and – more importantly – a decrease in attention to skilled practice of those talents.

          A wolf or a horse can be kept in a small box, and fed from a trough. But their brains and bodies are built to run. Failure to exercise this tendency usefully makes them go a bit crazy – regardless of how disastrous running about on a crowded freeway would be. Likewise, I think that shifting people away from their most basic biologically determined impulses (men to gain and protect women & kids, women to manage a household/tent and raise kids) is…well, I think it causes troubles we don’t know how to manage yet.

          (*) I mean a social segregation vs a real physical one

          • Incurian says:

            I suspect it’s this loss that drives the tendency to polygamy, not polygamy & patriarchal tendency driving the males into high risk activities.

            Possibly it started the first way, and when the society became sufficiently secure it transitioned to the second way.

          • keranih says:

            Could be. At this point, I have no hopes of getting a project to test the hypothesis past a IRB.

          • Do we know what the gender ratio looked like among adults in past societies? Warfare is dangerous and mostly done by men, but childbearing is also dangerous and entirely done by women.

          • keranih says:

            @ David –

            Do we know what the gender ratio looked like

            This is an excellent question, to which I have only a crap answer.

            The short answer is “no, and we won’t until we get a TARDIS.”

            However, there are several examinations of early human populations that suggest the death rate among men was *really freaking high* –

            Economist here and reddit on Pinker here.

            I think there is room for more data to come to light, so I’m willing to be shown to be wrong.

            As for the death rate for women in childbirth – again, need a TARDIS. Lacking that, we can turn to Salon, which suggests that, in the 1700 and 1800s, deaths in child birth were around 4% of all women over a lifetime. (Compared to the 30% of men who died by homicide.) I know Salon isn’t a decent peer reviewed journal, but I also doubt they are going to suggest that women’s risks are ever any *less* than they are in reality.

            (As Salon points out in that article, the deaths increased with poor hygiene associated with doctor visits, vs midwives.)

            So, I don’t know what the population pyramid looked like – but I don’t think it showed an even balance.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Keranih

            That sounds largely fair, I was just thrilled to see a feminist who didn’t define patriarchy as “a system where women are controlled for men’s benefit”. I consider myself left-wing but I think our views aren’t miles apart.

            I too found the re-emergence part weird although it seems to me like it might be a mistake because it seems insane to argue that our current system is more patriarchal than what preceeded.

            I’d also tend to agree that the primary motivation behind patriarchy is protection rather than control. The most offensive insult in patriarchal societies is always to attack a man’s mother or sister rather than the man himself. One study of 50 years of police reports in 19th Century Ionia found that almost every single knife fight was started by insulting someone’s female relatives.

            I’m not entirely convinced by your argument regarding hunter-gatherers though. I agree that some people indulge in Edenic fantasy about living in harmony with each other and mother nature, but I think there is a kernel of truth to this fantasy even if the reality wasn’t nearly as sugar-coated. You are right, some groups of hunter-gatherers have hierarchy, polygamy and violent control of women. Others are very egalitarian with little social hierarchy or differential treatment of the sexes.

            The crucial point though is that these differences map very well onto a distinction between what James Woodburn calls immediate-return and delayed-return hunter-gatherers. Immediate return hunter-gatherers obtain what they need from their environment when they need it, they don’t store food for example, they invest very little in tools or other forms of property, tend to have more simple and egalitarian social organisation.

            Delayed-return hunter-gatherers, as you might have guessed, invest more in the future. Actually many groups engage in farming/gardening and some might better be labelled hunter-gardeners. The key issue though is investing for a future reward. Another example would be societies that obtain food using more complex tools that require a large time investment like certain types of fishing traps.

            Now obviously this isn’t a clear-cut distinction where every hunter-gatherer society could be neatly placed into either group – it probably makes much more sense to view it as a rough continuum. There does seem to be a general pattern that the more immediate-return a group is, the more egalitarian; the more delayed-return, the more hierarchical.

            The ethnographic evidence elsewhere also points to increasing control over the natural world correlating with increasing hierarchy. Studies of groups in North Asia who live by hunting and gathering or pastoralism (again, probably best viewed as a spectrum rather than a clear cut distinction) show a pattern where groups further the North tend to make a living through hunting and gathering to a greater degree, have less hierarchy, and positions of influence (e.g. Shaman) tend to be gained based on merit. The further South you go, the more groups tend to rely on pastoralism, the more hierarchical the are, the more that positions of influence are based on descent rather than individual merit.

          • @Keranih:

            Your link is to Slate, not Salon. Their estimate is 1 to 1.5% per birth. How they get 4% as a lifetime risk I don’t know. Married women had considerably more than three children, but I suppose that might be balanced by women who never had any children.

            Where is your 30% rate for homicide from? The rate of homicide indictments in England in the 17th century was less than one per ten thousand. My memory is that medieval murder rates were something like ten times that, but that still gives you a lifetime rate of only a few percent.

            Of course, that doesn’t include deaths in battle or executions, but I would still be surprised if the total came to anything like your 30%. Is your figure someone’s estimate for hunter gatherers?

          • keranih says:

            @ David –

            Ooops. *facepalm* that was dumb on my part. Thanks for catching that. (And now I feel much better about linking to it.)

            I am not sure how they got to 4% either, but I suspect that – based on experience with other critters – is that “1% of pregnancies result in maternal death” doesn’t equal the same risk for each woman. (The same way as “50% infant mortality = 35 years life expectancy” isn’t correct.) I didn’t follow up to see how they got that number.

            The 30% came from the Economist article, and was disputed (down to about 20%) in the reddit discussion. And yes, it was for h-g communities.

            @ Art –

            I need to look up that researcher. I wonder about how relative population densities were accounted for.

            My own experience is that environment matters A LOT for shaping societies. This was brought home to me in Honduras, watching locals go out every day to cut down trees for fire wood. They had no wood stacked in reserve, in sharp contrast to the habits of rural people I knew in northern USA.

            Why on earth would they not put effort into cutting wood for the season when people would be working harder and have less free time? I didn’t *think* these people were lazy or short sighted…and they weren’t.

            The wood in the tropical regions would rot before it dried. And it would never be the difference between life and death the way it could be in Maine, or Norway, or Berlin. So the habits of individual foreplanning would not pay off in the same way.

            Allegedly, a history of planting rice (a communal effort) has shaped languages and cultures in South China differently than that of the communities that planted wheat (a more individual effort) to the north.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I’m not sure I completely buy everything they are saying, but I would actually describe those beliefs to be fairly mainstream. I think some concepts are being left out, which might be where they are in disagreement.

      For instance, I think it’s the very rare feminist who won’t admit to sexual dimorphism. It’s gender that is viewed as socially constructed. Sure, you get into disagreements about what is sex and what is gender, but I think the basic concept that the roles/attributes which are considered necessary/sufficient for being a “proper” man/woman are extremely malleable is pretty solid.

      Of course, there are any number of opionions on these issues within feminism, so it’s possible to find support or disagreement as one wishes.

      What can I say, Feminism is broad.

      • gbdub says:

        What can I say, Feminism is broad.

        Pun intended?

      • keranih says:

        For instance, I think it’s the very rare feminist who won’t admit to sexual dimorphism. It’s gender that is viewed as socially constructed.

        I agree with the first part – although I think those who disagree get an out of portion loudspeaker.

        I’ll go further with the second, and note that feminism tries to lump just about damn near everything as ‘gender’ and leaving precious little as ‘sex’. So it tends to strongly overstate the constructed part vs the determined part.

        I think the basic concept that the roles/attributes which are considered necessary/sufficient for being a “proper” man/woman are extremely malleable is pretty solid.

        When looking across the whole of the human experience, esp across the whole of history, I agree the range is quite large. I think that it is no where near as large within any given culture – because to the extent that gender roles are constructed, they are constructed in balance with each other and with the overall environment.

        I think it’s even more likely that while the range of necessary/sufficient roles/attributes for both sexes over lap with each other, the tails are extremely thin and there is a a rather tight cluster around the median.

        • gbdub says:

          I’ll go further with the second, and note that feminism tries to lump just about damn near everything as ‘gender’ and leaving precious little as ‘sex’. So it tends to strongly overstate the constructed part vs the determined part.

          Where do TERFs fit in that model?

          • keranih says:

            TERFS

            [snips out comments]

            [snips out comments again]

            (third time’s the charm?)

            As with everything dealing with rare and ambiguous cases, people who fixate uncharitably on gender-disphoric individuals are a difficult set to say anything about that is both general and true.

            However, I don’t see anything in TERF anti ‘biological male’ hostility that is so different from the anti-male hostility that is far more common (but not universal) in mainstream feminism.

            In deference to those here who do embrace feminism, I was attempting to work with the assumption that there is a valid philosophical basis to the movement, and not just anti-male bigotry. Hence I didn’t talk much on anti-male hostility.

          • Tibor says:

            What is a TERF?

          • keranih says:

            Trans-exclusionary radical feminists – feminists who reject the idea that trans people (specifically males who transition to female) should be considered ‘women’ co-equal with people who have been id’ed as female from birth.

      • lvlln says:

        The issue isn’t that the loudest and most influential feminists today reject sexual dimorphism outright – indeed, it’s rare that any of them will claim that the reason the average man can do more pull ups than the average woman is due to sexism, though I’ve seen it claimed. It’s that they carve out arbitrary areas where sexual dimorphism has an effect and where it couldn’t possibly have an effect, without basis in empirical knowledge. This article seems to reject that carving-out, because it’s not compatible with science.

        There’s also stuff in the article about low-status males which seems directly in opposition to the mainstream, or at least what the mainstream thinks of as feminism as determined by its loudest and most influential proponents. Of course, such feminists will readily claim, when pushed, that “patriarchy hurts men too,” but in practice, their rhetoric and policy proposals tend to have baked in the idea that because men as a class have advantages over women as a class, no individual man has troubles in the same way that individual women do.

    • gbdub says:

      But maybe I’m just fooling myself because I’m genuinely scared of the potentially violent results as the feminist movement continues to get more and more hostile to empiricism while also continuing to gain more and more social influence.

      I’m hopeful that the portions of the feminist movement that are hostile to empiricism and potentially violent are actually losing social influence, while the more positive aspects of feminism are just being absorbed into standard-issue American culture.

      Outrage culture more broadly will burn itself out once we get bored of Twitter mobs (or rather, the people to whom Twitter mobbing was novel get old), just as earlier incarnations of PC overexuberance have done.

      • Kevin C. says:

        “I’m hopeful that the portions of the feminist movement that are hostile to empiricism and potentially violent are actually losing social influence”

        Based on what evidence?

        “Outrage culture more broadly will burn itself out once we get bored of Twitter mobs”

        What makes you think this will happen? After all, aren’t witch-hunts, anthropologically speaking, pretty much a human cultural universal? Haven’t people always been policing their neighborhoods, enforcing taboos and casting out the “heretics” who stray too far beyond the limits of acceptability? Why won’t the Internet-enabled “global village” be just as narrowly intolerant of “blasphemy” and taboo violation as any traditional small village?

        • gbdub says:

          If you only pay attention to universities, maybe. But even there you’re starting to see plenty of backlash.

          Honestly I think outrage culture consists of a small minority with voices massively amplified by social media. The only reason we pay attention to them now is because social media is new and we haven’t learned to tune them out. Eventually we’ll ignore them all out like we do with junk mail (or even with standard issue trolls).

          • Kevin C. says:

            “If you only pay attention to universities, maybe.”

            What university was Donald Sterling attending?

            Have you read about former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s prediction “that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.”

            “Eventually we’ll ignore them all out”

            So you say, but I think you’re wrong. I think we’re recreating the small-village-rumor-mill here. It’s a bit like that old “but you screw one goat…” joke, where a single intemperate remark or impulsive act will, via your “internet permanent record”, follow you forever, and affect future life prospects, including but not limited to job applications and the like. We won’t need Big Brother because we’ll have millions of volunteer thought police.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Counterpoint: there’s already been a severe backlash to PC for several years now and that hasn’t stopped it so far. What is the nature of the backlash you picture that will actually have any effect?

            (If you have an answer to that, then naturally the next question is how do we trigger that backlash sooner. One step at a time though.)

      • lvlln says:

        I’m hopeful about that, too. But I could still see a couple ways things could go pear-shaped quickly, and they seem too likely for comfort for me. It’s true the backlash is and has been coming, and the liberal voices like the author of the piece I linked have been getting louder, but also the backlash has often taken the form of right-wing extremism, e.g. the alt-right. And I’d consider those guys winning out to be even worse than the SJWs winning out. The problem is that the SJWs are making it so that supporting the far-right is the rational self-interested choice among more and more regular people. Plus, like ThirteenthLetter said, despite the backlash having been going on, the SJWs seem to be even more emboldened and violent than ever before. Maybe this is the dying gasp, but maybe it’s also the spark that lights the fuse. Predictions are hard, unfortunately, especially about the future.

    • Zorgon says:

      The quora thread is solid. I mean it, it really is. She acknowledges that her sources for statements like “Diversity in decision-making roles leads to better decisions for groups, organizations and societies” are based upon highly controversial and often inconclusive data. She even manages to acknowledge the disadvantages faced by non-elite males!

      Unfortunately, she still blames it on patriarchy theory, and her explanation of her position as a evidence-based feminist includes nothing at all that supports the idea of unilateral and ubiquitous male->female oppression (which is the fundamental premise of patriarchy theory). She acknowledges that anthropology strongly points to the emergence of hierarchical power structures around the beginning of farming. But there is nothing in anthropological information or history that has ever suggested that elite females did not possess much the same advantages over non-elites that elite males did; she brushes it under the carpet, most likely due to the same availability heuristic problems as every other feminist does. After all, elite women were subjected to oppression from elite men; therefore men were in charge and therefore PATRIARCHY!

      And I understand the desire to think that way, I really do. Feminism presents a clean, clear way to look at the world and a political system which promises to benefit comfortable middle-class women such as herself significantly, and she seems deeply empathetic towards non-elite men, which I greatly appreciate. So I suspect she is about as on my side as any non-dissident feminist is ever likely to get.

      But there’s a problem. And it’s summed up in our old friend, “It’s not as if we’re saying…!”

      See, as an somewhat overeducated Western man with an information addiction, I’ve been listening to feminists talk about patriarchy and sex and gender for decades now. All the way along, every grandiose and unsupported statement, claim and demand has been accompanied by a spoken or unspoken, “You can accept this! It’s not as if we’re saying…” followed by some ludicrous statement, claim or demand that was obviously beyond the pale. Except then, it seems to be a ticking clock until that is what they’re saying.

      “We just want women to stop being sent to prison or to mental hospitals for meaningless non-crimes! It’s not as if we’re saying women shouldn’t have to go to prison at all!”

      “We’re just saying rape victims should be treated with more compassion! It’s not as if we’re saying all men are rapists!”

      And of course…

      “We just want the vote for women! It’s not as if we’re saying men shouldn’t have the vote!”
      ( No, really: https://archive.is/lmHPC )

      So at this point, feminism no longer gets the benefit of the doubt from me. Not because I doubt the sincerity of any given feminist; I really do think the majority of feminists are, like Suzanne Sadedin, engaged in what they genuinely believe is an egalitarian and equality-centred movement aimed at positive change. No, instead I no longer give feminism the benefit of the doubt because as a movement it has no singular beliefs, has no median position, accepts no limitations on what is permissible in the pursuit of change and the power to enact that change (and not coincidentally, give lots of middle-class women cushy and comfortable jobs).

      And because Arguments Are Soldiers and because she is human, Dr. Sadedin will continue to support feminist causes and continue to put her shoulder behind the crushing monolith of feminism even though she herself would never think for a second that all men are rapists, or that female criminals shouldn’t have to go to prison, or that men shouldn’t have the vote, etc, etc, etc. She’s likely horrified when she sees such things, and declares them Not Feminist, and then continues supporting the political movement which produces them.

    • J Mann says:

      I think the first half of this would cause a core fault with most people:

      “Males dominate most competitive areas. This is probably due to two factors we can’t readily disentangle: (a) wider variance in ability, which means that even if the average is the same for men and women, the absolute best individual at a given task is more likely to be male [8] and (b) intransigent cultural factors. Females more often choose lower-paid careers. And females tend to compete well (often better than men) until childbearing and then fall behind or drop out.”

    • Tibor says:

      Yes, some time ago, I concluded that I had been unfair to feminists, or rather some feminists and that their is a band of feminism which is quite reasonable, constructive and interested in the truth rather than scoring tribal points. And then there are the loud bigoted harpies is what most people probably picture when you say “feminism”. Based on my knowledge, I’d agree with the majority of her points in the article, while I consider the last two points maybe plausible, they are a bit more vague, so I am not entirely sure.

      -I am not quite sure what stands for “diversity” in decision-making exactly and how it is measured, I do not support quotas on women in managerial or political positions since there seems to be evidence that such quotas actually serve quite the opposite of their goal, but perhaps if you can achieve more “gender diversity” in an actually voluntary way – which is of course inherently harder than centrally ordering something – it might indeed lead to some benefits for what I know.
      -The last point seems to be similar to the previous one – it looks like a defense of quotas for women in politics or something? I’d say that while power indeed corrupts, it is not like male politicians help the men and female politicians help the women, any politician (or any person really) mostly follows his own goals whether he is a woman a man. But again, maybe my interpretation of that point is off.

      But with these two caveats, if you call this feminism then you might call myself a feminist (I think the name “feminist” is a little bit unfortunate though, even if historical). I am not sure whether this kind of feminism is more prevalent (but unfortunately less visible) than the aggressive, narrow-minded and very tribal version, but even if they are a minority, it is good that people see that some feminists are like this and hence one should not automatically discard everything labeled as feminist.

  19. Humbert McHumbert says:

    In the comment thread on the “Sacred Principles” post, someone mentioned this research by Brophy and Peterson on the politically correct personality type: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-personality-of-political-correctness/

    It sounds like the research is still unpublished? Is that correct?

    Some of the discoveries they mention about the “PC Authoritarian” personality type go very strongly contrary to my stereotype of SJWs. For one thing, they’re supposed to be more likely than average to be religious. That doesn’t seem impossible. But what *does* seem completely bizarre is this claim:

    PC-Authoritarians tended to attribute a biological basis for group differences

    I have never met a single SJW who thinks this. The questions they used to test for this were apparently of this form:

    Rate the degree you think each of the following facts is a biological or cultural phenomenon:
    Women are on average more agreeable and nurturing than men.
    Men have better spatial ability than women.
    On average, individuals who identify as “white” score higher than those of African ancestry on IQ tests.

    Again, no SJW I’ve ever heard of would say that these were biological. This leads me to wonder if the study has mis-identified the PC Authoritarian personality type.

    Does anyone know more about this Brophy/Peterson work?

    • herbert herberson says:

      The religious part is possibly/probably an artifact of the relatively high proportion of racial minorities?-

    • Brad says:

      Some of the discoveries they mention about the “PC Authoritarian” personality type go very strongly contrary to my stereotype of SJWs.

      Have you considered the possibility that ‘SJW’ isn’t a useful category?

      • Spookykou says:

        The caricature of SJW that is brought up on SSC seems fairly consistent to me. Ignoring for a moment how it is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘the left’ and the question of how many real people it actually describes. It does seem like a ‘valid category’ in as much as it describes with some accuracy the tumblr blog posts that get linked to here. (although I guess a category that gets over used/broadly misapplied might not be a useful category if that is what you meant)

        I am much more curious about what exactly they mean by PC Authoritarian in the original study. It was my impression that ‘genetic differences by race’ was not a very PC thing to say, I seem to remember sports casters getting in a great deal of trouble over ‘small twitch muscle fibers’ or some such, and my impression at the time was that this was a Political Correctness violation.

      • Humbert McHumbert says:

        I have, yes. In fact, the description of the Brophy/Peterson study in the Scientific American post has reduced my confidence that it’s a useful category. That’s part of why I wanted to hear other thoughts about it.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      PC-Authoritarians tended to attribute a biological basis for group differences

      i’ve often felt that the fear of people who do say that biological differences exist stems from a fear that they are correct

      though I think a more reasonable explanation is that they think other people are stupid enough to think they are correct

      but explanation 1 would fit that

    • onyomi says:

      I don’t have any opinion about this seemingly surprising result, but have a general thought on the idea of “personality types.”

      I think something very surprising to learn/realize (though I know, on some level, it’s completely obvious) is that the same kinds of people, for the most part, exist in every generation but simply take on different forms depending on the prevailing cultural milieu: every crotchety old church lady you ever met was once a crotchety, young church lady (yes, they get crotchetier as they age, but probably not as much as you think; rather, there is probably a bias to attribute to age what may, in fact, be a difference in upbringing). Ask yourselves, then, who among young people today would have become a crotchety old church lady had they been born forty years earlier? Whom will our grandchildren think of as the “crotchety old church lady” equivalent when the people who are 20 today are 70?

      “Grandma, please don’t talk about critical race theory at the dinner table…”

  20. Spookykou says:

    Does anyone know if this is accurate, or know of any glaring flaws with it.

    Why is this never implemented, I have to change my passwords every month with special characters and numbers and it is obnoxious. Is it because having a password minimum length of 20 or so would cause too many people to write their passwords down(not that the current system seems particularly good at preventing that either) or something else I am missing?

    • Brad says:

      A few comments not woven into any kind of coherent narrative — sorry.

      * Diceware passwords have provable entropy. In that sense they certainly “work”.

      * If I put in a requirement that users have a minimum length password of 20, I’m going to get a whole bunch of passwords like: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

      * Users writing down passwords is not such a terrible outcome in most cases. Usually a physically present attacker isn’t a big part of the threat model.

      * If you just use scrypt like you should be and have some rate limiting to prevent online attacks, your users password quality isn’t a huge deal.

      * The best answer is probably neither special character and number requirements nor a minimum length, but to check against the ten million or so first passwords jack the ripper will try and if it isn’t in that list let it through. Though the UX on that can be tricky.

      * Password rotation policies are separate question from password complexity.

    • Matt M says:

      The overwhelming majority of password-related security incidents that the common person may experience are not achieved via bruteforce, are they? Isn’t it usually phishing or hacking into a company that has stored and insufficiently encrypted its own passwords?

      While “inapastlifeiwasnapoleonandscrewyouifyoudontbelieveme” is probably quite difficult to bruteforce, it’s also probably easier to “guess” (in the conventional sense of the word) than 9 totally random characters.

      • Brad says:

        When a database is hacked and attackers get the hopefully hashed (not encrypted) passwords, there’s a brute force step to try to recover plaintexts. They try hashing a whole bunch of passwords (using the individual salts that hopefully were used) and seeing if they match the stored hash. The plaintext passwords are of some but relatively limited use unless the user happens to have used the same password on other sites. In which case it can be a goldmine.

        • Matt M says:

          I guess my overall point is that it seems like a waste of time to force my grandmother to come up with a 10 character password containing uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters – when anyone who really wants her password can probably just call her and say “I’m from the gas company, there’s a problem with your account, and I need your e-mail password to fix it.”

          • Brad says:

            A phone based spear phising attack like that is relatively expensive. Better would be a broad net email phishing campaign, but gmail does a pretty good job of making sure your grandma won’t see those.

            If the bank or email provider could make sure of one and only one thing it would be that the password she uses on their site won’t be used on other sites. That way when picturesofmygrandson.com gets hacked it won’t mean that Chase or gmail also has to face the headache of a ton of compromised accounts. Which come to think of it is I guess a justification for those otherwise idiotic password requirements.

          • Spookykou says:

            This, same password on multiple sites problem, seems like it would be best solved by everyone having different password requirements, although I have no idea how you could coordinate that.

          • Matt M says:

            This, same password on multiple sites problem, seems like it would be best solved by everyone having different password requirements, although I have no idea how you could coordinate that.

            Oh the market has mostly taken care of that one. I have one password for every site. By which I mean, I have one password for sites that have no requirements, one password for sites that have letters+numbers, one for sites that have letters+numbers+special, one for sites that have letters+numbers+special+uppercase, one for sites that have letters+numbers+special+uppercase+longer than typical length requirement, etc.

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            KeePass was mentioned already, but isn’t a password manager the most obvious solution here? You can buy a usb drive for less than $5 that will fit on your keychain or one shaped like a card you can slip into your wallet. Keep one copy on your person and another on a separate usb drive somewhere at home in case the first is lost. All you need to remember is your master password (which would be useless to the social engineer taking advantage of your grandmother, but who has no physical access to the usb drive). This will be intuitive to even the least tech-savvy people who still understands physical keys and locks.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      I’ve yet to see anyone make a decisive argument against it. This scheme is what I use, as do several of my friends and coworkers. One caveat is that the choice of words really needs to be random. Towards that end I use this.

      The password rules that we’re so used to, because they’re so ubiquitous, are awful. Pretty much everyone on the technical side realizes this, as far as I can tell. Even the government is getting on board with this. The NIST recently changed their standards for passwords:

      Now for all the things you shouldn’t do.

      No composition rules. What this means is, no more rules that force you to use particular characters or combinations, like those daunting conditions on some password reset pages that say, “Your password must contain one lowercase letter, one uppercase letter, one number, four symbols but not &%#@_, and the surname of at least one astronaut.”

      No more expiration without reason. This is my favourite piece of advice: If we want users to comply and choose long, hard-to-guess passwords, we shouldn’t make them change those passwords unnecessarily.

      The only time passwords should be reset is when they are forgotten, if they have been phished, or if you think (or know) that your password database has been stolen and could therefore be subjected to an offline brute-force attack.

      https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2016/08/18/nists-new-password-rules-what-you-need-to-know/

    • hlynkacg says:

      In regards to accuracy, there is the issue that each individual word is effectively 1 “bit” of entropy in a Oxford English Dictionary-sized alphabet. However this problem recedes as you add words to the string and assumes that the would-be breaker knows you used the above method to generate your password.

      There are no glaring flaws that I can see and for what it’s worth this is how I generate my own passwords.

      • Nornagest says:

        I actually spent some time writing a string entropy estimator a while back that worked on this principle: you break down the string into atoms that you can compose to make tokens, you have a bunch of dictionaries of varying sizes, and you hash tokens into each of those dictionaries. Every hash hit is worth log2 of the dictionary size in bits of entropy, lowest wins, and where you can get a smaller entropy for a given combination of tokens by composing them, you do that. You’re done when you’ve checked every combination, which takes O(n^2) time where n is the length of the string.

        By this method a string like “antidisestablishmentarianism” would give you an entropy of about 16 bits (log2 of a lexicon of 50,000 entries * 1 token) and a string like “$R9nk2-V” would give you an entropy of about 56 bits (log2 of 128 * 8 tokens).

        • random832 says:

          It should be 94 (or perhaps 93, this kind of password almost never has spaces) rather than 128, but more to the point why wouldn’t this method assign each letter to a 26-letter “dictionary” and each digit to a 10-digit one? The result is then 38.5 bits.

    • Civilis says:

      As an IT guy, my biggest problem with the XKCD scheme is what I call the fat finger problem, which I’ve never seen any of the password complexity schemes discuss. Each character I type, I have a small chance to mistype. This chance is independent of password complexity for all but the most trivial examples, and is significantly worse on frequently used passwords because I type them faster. It’s also significantly more of an issue with email passwords because those have to go into mobile devices with really small keyboards. A mistype almost always requires re-entering the password again from scratch. There’s an upper limit for me of about 20 characters for memorizable passwords before I end up mistyping them too often. A friend uses an eight word sentence as his wi-fi password, and despite knowing the password it took me a dozen tries to get it in.

      Normally, I actually use the XKCD password scheme for generating initial passwords for new users, most of whom just copy and paste from the initial email they get with the new password, so it’s not a bad idea for generating a memorizable password that’s hard to brute force.

      • gbdub says:

        I think a typical strategy for making passwords under current rules is to have some sort of mnemonic where your password “spells” some memorable word/phrase, but with some or all of the characters replaced with symbols. e.g. MyP@$$w0rd!

        Now, it’s certainly possible to fatfinger your password, but usually when I do, I v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y type it the second (or third) time and get it right. The trouble comes in with the “symbol substitution” passwords – I’ll often remember the mnemonic, but forget exactly my substitutions. Did I capitalize ‘P’? Did I replace the ‘a’ with ‘@’ or not?

        That failure mode goes away if I’m allowed real words, since I can always double check my spelling.

        • Brad says:

          That points out a problem with the UX. I don’t know why everyone does password masking by default. Shoulder surfing is sometimes an issue, but often it isn’t.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            This bugs me, too. But I have seen an increasing number of systems that at least allow you to show the password optionally.

        • Civilis says:

          I think a typical strategy for making passwords under current rules is to have some sort of mnemonic where your password “spells” some memorable word/phrase, but with some or all of the characters replaced with symbols. e.g. MyP@$$w0rd!

          That’s what I do to generate my passwords.

          Part of the ‘fat finger’ problem is that on a failure, I don’t know if I typed the wrong password or mistyped the correct password. It’s not usually an issue if I mistype a password once; the extra time to type the password one additional time is inconsequential.

          The issue comes because I need to type a lot of passwords for my work, often in a short amount of time; there are examples where I’ll need to enter the same password three times in a row to get in to the system, enter a new password two times to change it, and enter the new password again to test it for six password entries (and note that mistyping either of the password change new passwords means re-entering both). Then I’ll need to do the same process on two more servers.

    • J Mann says:

      IMHO, the bigger problem is that it’s not responsible to have the same password for everything. If I sign up for a joke of the day site, I don’t want to use my work password. (And in fact, I can’t use my work password for ANYTHING else, because my boss would not be amused if we lost security because my bank password somehow fell into the wrong hands.)

      So I use a password keeper – I like KeePass a lot, although you have to be careful capitalizing it. The last issue is how to set my password keeper so my wife can get my passwords on death or incapacity, which I will hopefully figure out before those happen.

    • Anonymous says:

      Writing your passwords down isn’t particularly dangerous, so long as you treat that password list with the same care you would show a bank token or debit card. It is eminently superior to reusing passwords. If you lose the list, you at least have been warned that it’s time to reset all your passwords.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Don’t change your passwords every month.

      Using several words as a password is great if you have to communicate it to another person. I use it for wifi. But I use random letters for everything else. Random words are probably slightly easier to memorize than random letters, but I don’t want to memorize most passwords.

      What would it mean to be “implemented”? Do you mean allowed by websites? Most sites do not allow passwords of all lower case letters because they are afraid that you will use a word, but if you use four words, they shouldn’t mind. Some sites have smarter rules. In particular, google does a good job of evaluating passwords. If you use random lower case letters, it requires a slightly longer password than if you use a larger character set. It can tell the difference between random letters and a word. So it would probably be happy with four words. But most sites aren’t smart enough to detect words or have sliding scales of requirements.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      I deal with about a dozen systems in a typical work week, and I almost never have to type a password. Everything’s set up with public/private RSA keys. I don’t see why this wouldn’t be practical in the wild:

      (Probably-unsophisticated) user has a private key and a public key. They need to keep the private key 100%, totally, completely private—never give it out to anybody. This avoids decisions about whether to tell it to the nice person from the gas company or tech support. Plus, it’s 4 KB, so an unsophisticated-enough user probably can’t hand it over to a phisher.

      The public key they put in whatever web site they want to use: bank, gmail, goreanpicoftheday, fredslowsecuritywebsite, etc. if it turns out Fred gets hacked, then the hackers end up with a bunch of public keys, which isn’t a problem at all, because they’re public anyway.

      I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s not exactly cutting-edge technology, and it’s a hell of a lot more convenient to use correctly than what’s in common use right now.

      (Of course, people will want to put a passphrase on their private key, but that can be unchanging, and they can write it down and stick it in a physically-secure location somewhere.)

  21. We enjoyed the meetup we hosted and have been wondering if it would be worth making it a semi-regular event–once a month except when we are out of town.

    Comments by bay area folk–we’re in San Jose–invited.

    • Ivy says:

      I really enjoyed the meetup as well, thank you David and family for your incredible hospitality!

      A semi-regular version would be the highlight of my social calendar.

  22. bysstah rhymes says:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167487016302380

    Anyone got any thoughts on this?

    Havent read it myself. But i would guess they have found some personality traits that correlates with High IQ, and then misinterpreted the results as saying its actually the personality traits that correlates with higher earnings.

    • Art Vandelay says:

      My response to “study finds that your personality can influence how much you earn” is “thanks for you sterling work confirming the obvious”.

      • Matt M says:

        Dennis Prager had a saying, “Studies either confirm the obvious, or are proven wrong a few years later”

  23. NotDarkLord says:

    Hey, random question: pros/cons of living in the bay area? (compared to, say, nyc)

    I’m graduating college in a year (with a cs/math degree), and wondering where to search for jobs.
    So far, I know the bay area has a larger rationalist community which could be interesting, it seems like the cool place to be? And of course the weather is nicer. On the other hand, it sounds more expensive. Probably requires a car, unless it’s possible to find somewhere affordable within biking distance of groceries and job, which doesn’t sound easy (from what I understand). It seems vaguely possible to live in nyc without a car, it has better public transit. And of course, leaving the area means leaving friends/family somewhat behind, weakening ties though of course not cutting them, and hoping to find new connections.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Pros: Weather, many more tech companies, less crowded. Better for biking. Practical to keep a car (not really in Manhattan unless you’re Uber-rich, by which I mean rich as Kalanick).

      Cons: More expensive, especially housing. Commutes tend to be terribad (NY-area commutes can be bad too though). Lopsided gender ratio, which is a serious issue if you’re straight. Fewer industries aside from tech. Did I mention how expensive housing is? And oh yeah, housing costs.

    • dodrian says:

      Here’s a helpful starting place for cost of living comparisons. You do have to look carefully at each category though and decide how much it matters (you already noted the potential problems comparing transportation in NYC with that of the bay area). For example: it says that groceries are on average cheaper where I currently live than to where I used to live, but A) for some reason it includes cigarettes in the comparison, which are much cheaper where I live now but I never actually buy them, and B) processed foods are cheaper where I live, but produce is more expensive, and I tend to cook a lot more fresh. So it says that groceries should be cheaper for me now, but I’ve found them to be more expensive.

      Leaving friends & family is differently hard for different people. I find it mostly pretty easy to move somewhere, seek out friends and establish myself anew, but my wife finds it really difficult. You have to remember settling somewhere new is an active process, it takes work, you don’t just wake up one day and realise you have the social support you need. What works for me is to find something I enjoy doing, and look for groups that do that, it can be a sports group, a musical group (choir, band, or what have you), a different hobby (board games, craft beer, whatever!) that are nearby. Volunteering is also great! They’re all good ways to make new friends and feel part of a new community. Also – it’s best to find things nearby, you’re much more likely to go to that event five minutes down the road than the one that’s a 45 minute trek across town.

      Other places you could consider looking at are Austin and Portland – they’re both very cool places to be and growing tech sectors at the moment.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        It’s also important to note that especially in large cities, these things can vary quite a bit by neighborhood/area/borough/etc. For example, the site you linked lists the cost of groceries in Brooklyn as 87.62% of the cost of groceries in New York City, and the rent in Brooklyn as 74.72% of the rent in New York City.

        Brooklyn is, of course, part of New York City.

        (Note what this implies, also: if the overall NYC numbers are averages for the whole city, then the numbers for Manhattan must be larger than 100% — which means the difference between Brooklyn and Manhattan is quite large indeed! And of course it’s exactly thus, in fact.)

        • Brad says:

          Which illustrates part of what is off about cost of living comparisons. A one bedroom in the West Village is not the same thing as a one bedroom Red Hook. Of course the rent is different, you are renting different things.

          It isn’t that there’s some a cost of living adjustment that needs to be made and you can compare apples to apples. If there was then no one would ever live in Gowanus.

          What’s true for the West Village and Gowanus is true for Manhattan and Omaha. You simply can’t do a comparison the way CoL calculators imply you can. What’s available in one place is not available in the other.

        • The Nybbler says:

          For example, the site you linked lists the cost of groceries in Brooklyn as 87.62% of the cost of groceries in New York City, and the rent in Brooklyn as 74.72% of the rent in New York City.

          Brooklyn is, of course, part of New York City.

          The site gets it right. It has a comparison between Brooklyn, NY and New York, NY. The designation “New York, NY” is specifically the borough of Manhattan.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Fair enough. (An annoying labeling scheme but not an uncommon one.) I stand corrected on that part.

            The overall point stands, though. A 25% difference is non-trivial.

          • Deiseach says: