"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

OT80: OPEC Thread

1. I’m still traveling, so blog output might be a bit light for the next few weeks. Ongoing trip progress updates on my my girlfriend’s travel blog.

2. Thanks to everyone who attended the Salt Lake City meetup on Friday. Highlight was listening to a Mormon theologian describe how Mormon doctrine was basically the same as Bostrom’s view of superintelligent AI. Remember, there are ongoing monthly-ish Salt Lake City meetups; if you’re interested, contact oconradh[at]gmail[dot]com for more information.

3. Topher Brennan, a Bay Area programmer/activist/effective altruist who I’ve engaged with on this blog a few times, is running for Senate. Specifically, he’ll be running in the California primary, probably against incumbent Dianne Feinstein. Although his chances can charitably be described as “a long shot”, if nothing else it’ll hopefully raise awareness of some of the ways Feinstein has disappointed Silicon Valley and other California progressives on issues like health care, free speech, technology, and foreign policy.

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1,161 Responses to OT80: OPEC Thread

  1. Salem says:

    For the utilitarians here:

    Is suffering in dreams morally relevant? If not, why not?

    • Tibor says:

      I’m not a 100% utilitarian but anyway – If other suffer in dreams it is irrelevant for the same reason suffering in films or books is morally irrelevant – it doesn’t actually happen. If you as the dreamer are suffering in your dream, well, you are sort of doing it to yourself and also there’s nothing that can be done about that (other than a healthy lifestyle without stress which reduces the chances of nightmares I guess), so it is not a very interesting point.

      • John Colanduoni says:

        Given that there are drugs which have vivid nightmares as a known side effect (e.g. Lamictal), I’d say it’s a little more complicated than “doing it to yourself”.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        I mean, obviously the dream is only happening inside your brain, but all suffering takes place inside the brain anyway so I’m not sure how dream-suffering is fundamentally different than waking suffering (except perhaps that people tend not to remember their dreams very well, so they have less of a lasting impact than waking experiences). It’s just caused by different things.

        I mean, depression certainly causes suffering, and that’s only happening in your brain.

        Of course “you can’t really stop yourself from having bad dreams” is a relevant point. But someday there might be a pill that can stop nightmares from happening, and if there was I might want to take it, because I don’t particularly want to suffer, whether I’m awake or dreaming.

        “Should we work on a pill that can prevent nightmares?” strikes me as a relevant question for utilitarians, from that perspective.

        • onyomi says:

          Personally, I find I feel better after having had a lot of intense dreams and notice a correlation between restful sleep and dreaming. Put another way, dreaming feels to me like a chance for the mind to “take out garbage,” so while it is possible to experience some distress during a bad dream, it never feels qualitatively the same to me as waking distress and I’m usually glad when it’s done.

          During times of high stress (and paradoxically, times of low stress, as described below) I find I don’t have a lot of dreams, which I attribute to not entering REM enough.

          One might prefer not to need to have the bad dreams, but once you’ve watched the horror movie, experienced the stress, etc. your brain has to process it one way or another. So not having bad dreams at that point is sort of like not having a bowel movement after eating a giant, spicy meal. It might hurt a little on the way out, but better it come out than hang around.

          That said, I do notice some correlation between spending a lot of time meditating and experiencing subjectively dreamless sleep. I attribute it to meditating having a similar “psychic purgative” effect to REM sleep. That is, REM sleep correlates with restful sleep, but meditation lowers the need for restful sleep to some extent, while never fully replacing it.

          • patriciaronczy says:

            My subjective experience is actually quite the opposite, so I am hesitant to believe either of our experiences says much meaningful about the role of dreams.

            I have more dreams with much more disturbing content when I’m under high stress. When I wake up from those dreams, I am exhausted and miserable and it adversely affects my quality of life. When I am less stressed (or stressed but have a non-nightmare night) I either hardly dream or hardly remember my dreams, and I feel much much better.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, I don’t see your experience as contradicting my theory, though I admit mine is just a theory based on subjective experience: namely, if dreams function as a way to “process” stressful stimuli, then one should expect to have more and more intense dreams during times of high stress.

            But I also experience that sometimes I am too stressed out to enter into deep sleep and only after I “come down” from a period of high stress am I able to sleep deeply and “process,” as it were.

            As for feeling tired after a night of intense dreams, it does seem to be the opposite of my experience, though one can’t really compare how one might have felt in the opposite circumstance (had one had a stressful day followed by a night without dreams); comparing how one feels after a relaxing day is not the same.

            For example, one might feel better in the immediate aftermath of an orthopedic injury were the body not to react with inflammation. Yet inflammation is part of the healing process, not part of the injury (of course, it does stick around longer than is adaptive in some cases).

    • OptimalSolver says:

      Certainly not a utilitarian, or a moral realist for that matter, but dreams can have physiological effects, as boys hitting puberty usually find out :-).

      Night terrors, trauma dreams etc. usually disturb sleep to such an extent that the dreamers waking life is severely diminished, so suffering in dreams is very relevant.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I don’t think that’s what Salem is getting at – my understanding is that they want to know people’s view as to whether (the dreamer’s subjective) suffering in dreams should be regarded as morally relevant.

        Second order caveats aside, I personally think it should. So… morally relevant insofar as anything is morally relevant, I guess. Boo to suffering in dreams.

        • OptimalSolver says:

          I’m saying that because dreams have physiological effects, they are morally relevant (although “morals” are subjective preferences, not real things out in objective reality.)

    • fion says:

      Assuming you mean the suffering of the dreamer rather than the suffering of non-existent dream people, then yes, it’s relevant.

      Suffering isn’t about what’s happening to your body, it’s about how you feel. If you feel like you’re suffering you’re suffering.

    • JulieK says:

      As relevant as emotional suffering in general, I would think.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Of course it’s utility relevant, but what do you mean by morally?

      Obviously absolute suffering from the same event in a dream and real life is vastly lower. There might be some additional discounting to watch out if it’s the case that people suffer less aftereffects like trauma from dream suffering.

    • Mengsk says:

      Probably. If you had a technology that could induce terrifying nightmares, I think I would be justifiably upset if you used it on me.

    • Well... says:

      Probably depends on the dreamer, or more precisely, on what stage the dreamer is at in his life.

      I went through my first emotionally serious romantic breakup when I was 17. It’s embarrassingly stupid looking back on it now, but at the time it felt like the end of the world. (As is common for one’s first breakup, I imagine.) For a few years after that I had nightmares where I was back together with the girl, or where I was back in the situation where our relationship had just ended, or where we’d have some other kind of awkward run-in. Waking up from those I felt traumatized and horrified, and sometimes delayed going to sleep because I was dreading the possibility of more of those nightmares.

      But eventually I grew out of it. Nearly 2 decades later, I still occasionally have dreams with that girl in them, and while those dreams are basically the same when they happen, I have enough else going on in my life (wife, kids, career) that I don’t even think about it much, and probably most of the time I forget those dreams within a few moments of waking up anyway.

    • Who’s causing it? Moral systems other than utilitarianism require a conscious perpetrator for something to be morally wrong.

  2. DeWitt says:

    SSC, when did virgin become an insult? Or something we make fun of at all?

    • johan_larson says:

      Don’t know for sure, but I would guess things changed around 1960, when the pill became available. Between the pill and antibiotics, you could pretty much have sex without consequences.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I think this is also a consequence of the world becoming richer. The key leverage HFA men used to have in seeking a partner was the ability to earn money and provide. With welfare and high living standards this leverage has become increasingly useless in the West.

        As a proud largely asexual virgin autist who will never have sex, I don’t care. Rationality is too important to allow sex to get in the way. I’m happy to never have to deal with a partner who I have to see almost every day.

    • OptimalSolver says:

      I’d imagine that older members in ancient world armies would give newbies a hard time over having never been with a woman.

      Virginity is just a sign for a male being inexperienced in the ways of the world, so I imagine it’s been an insult since the evolution of speech. At the very least, I’d wager it’s been an insult for men for about as long as “slut” has been an insult for women.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I think this is probably culture-dependent. Some cultures are more sex-positive and others are not. It basically depends on what kind of memes a culture has.

        Many scientists and mathematicians are lifelong virgins. There is nothing wrong with an individual being a virgin. Instead there is something very wrong with any society in which some of the most brilliant minds become evolutionarily extinct. In the long run a society that does not encourage its geniuses to reproduce tends to lose its brilliance.

        • Timandrias says:

          Doesn’t the fact that humanity is able of consistently producing geniuses, from Aristotle to Einstein, passing for many sung and unsung smart people in all kind of eras, places and cultures, destroy your theory?

          Either most of smart people reproduce, thus ensuing the continuity of their heritage, or the ability of the humanity for producing smart people is not contingent on their reproduction.

          I think is probably both to some degree. Alas, I don’t have the time of going in a internet spree, but your argument doesn’t hold much water.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I’m not sure about your first statement. According to Wikipedia IQ and fertility are negatively correlated while IQ and survival rate of offspring are positively correlated. In a society where survival is no longer an issue evolution tends to lower the average IQ. Your second statement is more likely to be correct though.

            I do believe humanity is increasingly hostile to its brilliant section because ironically technological progress makes it easier to get away with irrationality, lack of long term planning and other less productive traits. So basically our great Grey Tribe is sadly digging its own grave by developing new technologies such as AI that can replace ourselves in the long run.

            Maybe we should think about how to preserve and strengthen the Grey Tribe in the age of AI.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Maybe we should think about how to preserve and strengthen the Grey Tribe in the age of AI.

            I would think the answer to that is obvious; we’re going to teach the AI grey-tribe values, like devaluing mass-market athletic competitions in favor of paperclips.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @The Nybbler I think we need to do more. We may be able to make everyone Grey through transhumanism.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Aluminum oxide is gray.

          • Peffern says:

            You know what else is Gray?

            Goo.

        • pontifex says:

          I think this is probably culture-dependent. Some cultures are more sex-positive and others are not. It basically depends on what kind of memes a culture has.

          “Sex-positive” is a nonsense word, though. It means whatever the speaker wants it to mean.

          Traditional western cultures in the 19th century and before were “sex-positive” about sex between married men and women. It was broadly considered a good thing. On the other hand, they were not “positive” about homosexuality. The ancient Romans were “positive” about almost every kind of sexuality, including some we find morally repellant today, like pedophilia. Today’s values are different from either of those two cultures, but it’s silly to try to reduce the difference to “negative” versus “positive.”

          As far as I know, the only major culture that was ever really “sex-negative” was the Shakers, and, well, they aren’t around any more.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I agree. I should have used a different term. Real major sex-negative cultures probably only exist in highly religious monastic communities.

      • Lasagna says:

        Virginity is just a sign for a male being inexperienced in the ways of the world, so I imagine it’s been an insult since the evolution of speech.

        I’m not so sure. English Renaissance writers didn’t seem to have any more respect for men sleeping around before marriage than they did for women. I’m thinking of Hamlet:

        Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

        Macbeth has the same sort of stuff, but I don’t feel like looking it up.

        Yes, in practice men could probably get away with sleeping around in a way women couldn’t, but I’m not sure being a virginal man would have been considered a “bad” thing. It seems to me it would have been respected.

    • John Schilling says:

      For men, I believe that one predates history. For women, I’m not sure it is considered broadly insulting in Western civilization even now, but I’d wager the number of subcultures in which it is considered insulting, increased greatly in the 1960s because A: the pill and B: politicized “free love”.

    • Maybe men in “ancient armies” used to jibe at each other over sexual inexperience, but I’m guessing that virginity was a less recognized concept before Christianity came along.

      I think only in recent years have men become severely shamed for virginity, and not just by other men. Apparently many women consider virginity in men a “red flag”, indicating awful defects.

      TV Tropes has a collection of examples of virgin-shaming in media. Some go back to the 1970s, but most of them are much more recent.

      Now that it’s less acceptable to shame men for supposed homosexuality (“Never had a girlfriend? You must be gay!”), that same impulse has been redirected toward sexual inexperience per se.

      There is also the rise of the neckbeard/”nice guy” stereotype which Scott discusses in Radicalizing the Romanceless. A man who has never had intercourse is not merely inexperienced; he might belong to this detested outgroup.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        This is a harmful trend. Many male virgins are fairly intelligent. Many work in STEM fields. Detesting virginity is hating a pretty much contributive group. Many male virgins are Grey Tribers as well.

        • Nornagest says:

          “Many” does not establish “disproportionately many”, and it definitely doesn’t establish “sufficiently many to outweigh all the negative correlates”.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I agree. However there will be consequences when a group with enough STEM nerds no longer have any reason to be loyal to the human species.

            For example if aliens invade some angry male virgins will be more than happy to sabotage human defenses for them. Angry male virgins may also intentionally create superintelligent AI to try to overthrow or attack the society. Some may attempt to cause grey goo as well. Do societies really want to deal with these scenarios? Can humanity afford to deal with these scenarios? Humanity will not be able to afford to have thousands of male virgins going SIMAD.

          • Nornagest says:

            There are lots of more plausible problems that can be caused by having a big population of disenfranchised young men: it shows up in a lot of models of terrorism, for example. But on the other hand, we know what those problems are, and they aren’t bad enough to justify questions like “can humanity afford…”.

          • John Schilling says:

            I agree. However there will be consequences when a group with enough STEM nerds no longer have any reason to be loyal to the human species.

            Do they want their group to endure? Because it’s the human species that creates more STEM nerds.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I agree. However there will be consequences when a group with enough STEM nerds no longer have any reason to be loyal to the human species.

            Society’s reaction to this sort of thing can be seen by the reaction to the Columbine massacre. If it is believed that a certain despised group will have members who react to their mistreatment by damaging the society which despises them, the response will be to mistreat them _worse_ to try to make sure they aren’t capable of doing any such damage.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Nornagest Here it is more than disenfranchised young men. It is [i] talented [/i] and disenfranchiseed young men. An angry male virgin can use his STEM skills to significantly harm humanity such as purposefully trying to exterminate humans.

            @John Schilling Some may not care about humanity any more.

            @The Nybbler Then there might be a large scale virgin insurgency and terrorism until either a compromise or complete suppression of capable male virgins.

          • Nornagest says:

            Technical talent’s not worth much when it comes to killing people, not without the help of a lot more more time and infrastructure than your average lone wolf has on tap. There are a few long-tail risks out there, sure, but when it becomes technically possible to build superintelligent AI, it almost certainly won’t be a single bitter nerd who’s the first to crack it. Bioengineered disease might have more potential for homegrown megadeaths, but bio isn’t very strongly associated with the pathetic nerd set.

            Meanwhile, it might interest you to learn that engineers are heavily overrepresented among jihadists.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Nornagaset However as long as bitter nerds can replicate the result they can destroy the world or use existential threat to blackmail humanity into fair treatment of all nerds.

            I think one reason why engineers are overrepresented in jihadism is that literalist fundamentalism is semi-rational. Rational enough to follow the sacred books literally but not so rational that faith is shaken.

          • bean says:

            Meanwhile, it might interest you to learn that engineers are heavily overrepresented among jihadists.

            I suspect there’s some selection bias here. Engineers are overrepresented among jihadists you have heard of by name. This may be because engineers are more likely to become jihadists, or because they’re more likely to become jihadist leaders instead of suicide bombers. The later is particularly likely if the home society steers the best and brightest into engineering instead of, say, law.

          • Nornagest says:

            @Autistic Cat —

            However as long as bitter nerds can replicate the result they can destroy the world or use existential threat to blackmail humanity into fair treatment of all nerds.

            Let me know how that works out for you.

            @bean —

            Yeah, Osama bin Laden was an engineer, as were some other Al-Qaeda higher-ups, but that’s not what I was thinking of. I read a breakdown of known jihadists involved in the Iraqi insurgency by profession sometime around 2008, and engineers were at the very top of the list, proportionally.

            I can’t seem to source it now, though, so I might be misremembering. Don’t think so, though.

          • DeWitt says:

            @Autistic Cat

            An issue with your uprising scenario is that any one man who both has the skills to organise such a matter and the actual willpower to go through with it is also a man who probably won’t stay a virgin for long. I feel like ‘male, virgin, dissatisfied with his lot’ and ‘would become violent to the point of killing innocents’ are not particularly well-overlapping groups.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Autistic Cat

            No, there will never be a large-scale virgin insurgency. The kinds of people who care about attracting women but cannot are not cut out to run an insurgency; it’s people skills just the same.

            @Nornagest

            Meanwhile, it might interest you to learn that engineers are heavily overrepresented among jihadists.

            True or not, this is really little more than just another stick to beat nerds with.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1SX5I8N6FAUOR/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0691145172

            “Many Islamic radicals are better educated than their peers, and a good proportion attended college – with many becoming engineers (Mohammad Atta, Osama bin Laden). The strange part about the latter is that it is a profession we would not naturally associated with a religious movement. Not surprisingly, the authors immediately jump into providing an informal list of such individuals – over a period of decades and a wide geographic area in the Middle East.

            “Then, taking a more scientific and structured approach, they compile a list of 404 members of violent Islamist groups from 30 nationalities. Of that group, they found biographical information for 326 cases and educational information for 284. Of those, 26 had less than a secondary education, 62 completed secondary education (including madrasas), and 196 had higher education (at least 37 studied in Western countries). The share with higher education worked out to 69%. In 1986-87, when many of the individuals were studied, tertiary enrollment rates in the Arab world averaged 12.2%, leaving little doubt that violent Islamist radicals overall were vastly more educated than their compatriots.

            “The authors were also able to find the subject of study for 178 of the 196 cases engaged in higher education at some point. The second most numerous group was comprised of 34 individuals who pursued Islamic studies – not surprising. However, the group that came first was engineers – 78 out of the 178, followed by 14 in medicine, 12 in economics and business, and 7 in natural sciences. Overall, the individuals who studied for engineering, medicine, and science represented 56.7%. Among the 42 of the 78 cases for whom they could find the precise discipline, electrical, civil, and computer-related studies predominated.

            “The preceding pattern generalized except for Saudi Arabia (lower proportion of engineers) and Singapore/Indonesia (higher proportion). (Much less information was available regarding jihadists born/raised in the West. Again, however, engineering was overrepresented – to an even higher degree.)”

          • bean says:

            @Nornagest
            I’m not sure that’s a complete counterexample. My point is that unless we can be sure we have a reasonably representative sample, overrepresentation by engineers could be at least partially an artifact of the fact that engineers are better at getting in the sample, and it’s not at all implausible that an engineer makes a better jihadi than an arabic major, and better jihadis are more likely to end up on the lists.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Nornagest No I have better things to do. I don’t want sex. If one day I indeed do I will go for a legal prostitute in Nevada. If one day I do need a human spouse I will get one from the Third World. I’m a virgin because I don’t want these things, not because they are impossible to obtain.
            @DeWitt and The Nybbler I agree. The Nevada solution and the sexbot solution are much easier and much better than starting a deadly Virgin War.

          • Nornagest says:

            Thank you, Nancy.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            If one day I do need a human spouse I will get one from the Third World

            This doesn’t quite work as “great name for a metal band”, but it feels like it should fit into the memeplex somewhere. title of your sex tape maybe.

            It’s the specificity of “human” that really makes it work.

          • Randy M says:

            Not shutting the door on robots, I assume.

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            Cheap and effective robot wives are definitely the cold fusion of the incel community.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It’s bad to hate people for a harmless difference even if they aren’t especially useful.

        • When people sneer at something, it’s usually not an attempt at objective valuation, it’s an attempt at restoring their own status. It’s a kind of just world theory–everyone who excel in one are has to have a compensating deficit…beautiful but dumb, rich but crooked, smart but lonely.

    • I think it was always more nearly negative than positive applied to a man, but usually positive applied to a woman–and I think it’s currently at least ambiguous applied to a woman.

      Female virginity used to substantially enhance a woman’s value on the marriage market, probably for several reasons. If a woman wasn’t a virgin she might be pregnant, and a man didn’t want to raise another man’s child. If she had been sexually active before marriage in a society whose norms disapproved of that, she might be unfaithful after–indeed might continue an existing affair. If she was sexually active before marriage in a society where that was quite imprudent, that was evidence of short sightedness, imprudence, characteristics that a man didn’t want in a wife. It might also mean that she very much liked sex, which was at least a mixed characteristic in a wife.

      On the other hand, intercourse after engagement but before marriage seems to have been a pretty accepted practice back when other forms of premarital intercourse were not.

      The existence of reliable contraception changed at least some of that. In a society where non-marital sex was safe, not having it could be taken as evidence of being unattractive to the opposite sex, a negative, or uninterested in sex, possibly a negative–consider the tone of “frigid.”

      • Jaskologist says:

        Don’t forget disease. I’ve seen it claimed that antibiotics actually had a bigger effect on promiscuity than reliable contraception.

      • akc09 says:

        Wouldn’t those reasons have made male virginity more attractive too?

        If he wasn’t a virgin, he might have a child around somewhere whose mother would come back and demand support, or at least try to exact some revenge if he had abandoned her. He might be unfaithful after as well, which also risks pulling resources away from the family.

        Short-sightedness and impudence don’t really seem like characteristics you’d want in a husband either, and ditto for the disease possibility.

        I agree that “virginity enhancing a woman’s value on the marriage market” is the stereotype, but I’m trying to figure out why you don’t hear about it going both ways as much. I suppose some of it depends on who is doing the “choosing” and who is doing the “being chosen” in a given society. But for a long time, I think it was people other than the future-spouses doing a lot of the choosing, e.g. parents, and it seems like parents of both parties would want a marriage that was as secure and drama-free as possible.

        • John Schilling says:

          I agree that “virginity enhancing a woman’s value on the marriage market” is the stereotype, but I’m trying to figure out why you don’t hear about it going both ways as much.

          There’s very little danger of a woman devoting great effort or resources to raising The Other Woman’s child because she mistakenly thought it was hers.

        • Spookykou says:

          I imagine that in a society where the type of woman you want to marry is often/should be a virgin, you are probably having your premarital sex with a different type of woman. The type you are not likely to leave your wife for, and who might have a hard time making credible demands for child support.

        • random832 says:

          Wouldn’t those reasons have made male virginity more attractive too?

          1. There’s no male equivalent to the hymen. Regardless of questions about how reliable it actually is, many cultures across time have certainly held the belief that they could positively verify whether a woman had been a virgin.

          2. It is much more damaging to other fitness measures of a society to control everyone’s movements to the degree that you’d need for, say, their family to be able to vouch for them never having had the opportunity to have had sex, than to only do so to half the population.

          • many cultures across time have certainly held the belief that they could positively verify whether a woman had been a virgin.

            I think it’s a little more complicated. Many societies believed that the possession of a hymen was positive evidence of virginity. I’m not sure if there were ones where the absence was considered proof of non-virginity.

            A few historical examples. I read a description of legal records, I think among Dutch Jews some centuries back, of ruptured hymens, presumably often in girls too young for intercourse to be a likely explanation. Pretty clearly the point was to be able to prove to the groom that there was an explanation for the lack of hymen.

            Maimonides discusses the rules if the groom suspects the bride of not being a virgin–the ketubah for a virgin was higher than for a non-virgin. It sounds as though the evidence was not just the lack of a hymen but the vagina not being tight on first intercourse. How well that corresponds to medical reality I don’t know, although Maimonides was a physician and a very smart guy.

            Casanova somewhere comments that a woman cannot be known to not be a virgin unless she has been pregnant.

            My guess from such examples is that while some people might take it for granted that the lack of a hymen implied previous sex, sophisticated opinion in the past was that the hymen proved the presence of virginity but the absence did not prove non-virginity.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Many societies believed that the possession of a hymen was positive evidence of virginity. I’m not sure if there were ones where the absence was considered proof of non-virginity.

            Also it’s not an either/or thing. A hymen is never completely intact because there’s a hole in the center even before it’s been stretched/ruptured, and traces of the hymen can remain even after a woman has had sex multiple times (though giving birth completely obliterates it).

      • Acedia says:

        I think it was always more nearly negative than positive applied to a man

        Was it virginity per se that was derided in men, or was it being sexually undesirable? Were men in the past who were known to be virgins, but attractive or with high social status such that it was obvious that they could have had sex if they’d wanted to, mocked or looked down upon?

      • Wency says:

        Building on this: male virginity is a proxy for being sexually undesirable. While some men may have sexual access to women and eschew it for ascetic reasons, they will predictably always be vastly outnumbered by men who lack sexual access to women, so long as humans are animals. Moreover, even in the former group, we would expect many to adopt this life of asceticism after having bedded a woman at least once, not before.

        We might look at a guy who initially seems undesirable but then learn he has bedded many women. This indicates to us he has something going on that might not initially be clear to us — wealth, power, a wicked sense of humor; in a word: status. By contrast, if a guy seems good looking but has failed to bed a woman, we find ourselves looking for the “defect” that has led to this state of affairs. Perhaps we conclude there is no defect, and he is motivated purely by ascetic concerns, but I think most people would initially be suspicious of this.

        David is right in his assessment of female virginity as a proxy for many things, a few of which could be undesirable, but most of which are desirable, particularly fidelity.

        “If she had been sexually active before marriage in a society whose norms disapproved of that, she might be unfaithful after”

        I think sexual experience is correlated with infidelity (in both men and women, though for different reasons) regardless of societal norms, though the effect is likely stronger in societies that disapprove of the practice, for reasons noted.

        Another point: we can presume that if a woman is at least average-looking and still a virgin, she has had to turn men away (or her family has done so, depending on the society). The knowledge that she didn’t accept the first offer is an indication, to our human brains, that she has something of value, just as we might take more interest in a merchant’s magic beans if we saw him turn down an offer of $1 million for them.

        Traditionally, if a woman had bedded many men, she was probably a prostitute, indicating especially low status. We know her price, and we are not inclined to pay more than that.

        • onyomi says:

          Personally, I think I’d be more tempted to cheat out of pure curiosity after marriage if my wife were the only person I’d ever had sex with before marriage. There is probably a stereotype that the desire for variety is stronger in men, though I don’t know if it’s actually true.

          So, as much of a double standard as it is, a man who’s done “sewing his wild oats” might (possibly incorrectly) be seen as less likely to stray after marriage, whereas a woman who couldn’t wait for marriage might be seen as lacking the self control to stay faithful after marriage. I think the logic of it is that promiscuity is easier for women, yet so too, somehow, does monogamy come more naturally to them (so the stereotype goes, at least).

    • Alexithymia says:

      An anecdote from Reddit shows just how bad things are for male virgins:

      … a guy at work whom we used to look up and respect professionally was revealed to be a virgin at a late age (he’s close to 30). Since that day, we’ve looked down on him mercilessly, mocked him behind his back, even bullied him. His ideas are no longer considered or held in high-esteem, because the people who compete for respect in the office with him have lost all fear of him. So when they debate, they talk over him, deride him, strong-arm him.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        Thanks for sharing that! Right now I think the issue is not virginity itself but instead what it implies about a person in a society. Do voluntary virgins have it better than involuntary ones?

        • Skivverus says:

          Possibly? I understand monks were treated well enough, though that implies a certain amount of organization beyond the lack of sex.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            That’s what I’m thinking about. Societies change. However the sadist nature of a group of humans has not. Virginity itself is not a problem at all if it does not indicate any underlying form of weakness. In this sense it can be seen as a form of signalling. Currently older virgin men are predominantly a group of people the society assumes to be socially weak. There is virgin-shaming not because virginity is inherently absurd but because people can get away with bullying the weak in general and virginity is currently associated with social weakness.

            What virgin men should do is to use nonviolent, legal and harmless means to pressure this to stop by appearing strong. The problem is not virginity at all. Instead the real problem is social weakness.

          • Zodiac says:

            This assumes the virgin men are virgin by choice.
            If that’s the case: sure.
            If not: They’d probably much rather put more effort into not being virgins than to try and glorify it.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Zodiac I agree. In my case I’m just one day away from losing it at any time (i.e. a legal brothel in Nevada) anyway. As an autist I’m not good at seducing. However I’m not indecisive. If I really want sex I will visit Nevada within a week instead of complaining about virginity.

            In the case of virgin incels they probably should also try a legal brothel first. This raises one’s socialsexual status by gaining sexual experience, sexual skills and at least prove that you are willing to do something to improve your own life.

        • Wander says:

          No one will ever believe that a man is a virgin by choice.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        Isolated anecdotes, especially unverifiable third hand ones, show nothing.

    • cassander says:

      Was it ever not an insult for men?

      • DeWitt says:

        I genuinely don’t know, so I figured I’d ask.

      • johan_larson says:

        We do have some very old texts available, including comedic and dramatic material from the Greeks and Romans that might address the matter. Do any of them mention male virgins?

        The Bible talks about all sorts of odd stuff but I don’t recall anything about male virgins.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Personally I don’t recall ever reading anything from a pre-modern work that indicates contempt for male virgins.

          • Protagoras says:

            In Tale of Genji there seems to be general contempt for those who don’t play the game (interestingly, both male and female; if you don’t have lovers, it’s assumed it’s because you don’t have game. Though a woman having it be absolutely known that she has lovers was likely to be in a problematic position, so for women the goal in the game seems to have been to have exactly the right level of deniable rumors about them).

    • Mark says:

      I seem to remember WEB Dubois writing in his autobiography that he was teased by other boys for being a virgin sometime in the late nineteenth century, but it’s been a while since I read it and it might have been more to do with being a general stick-in-the-mud.

      I remember Napoleon wrote (or spoke?) about losing his virginity, I’m not sure if he wrote about a sense of shame.

      [According to “Napoleon Against Himself: A Psychobiography:

      To avoid his violent sexual passion he treated it as a scientific investigation:

      “I spoke to her- I who am more sensitive of all to the odiousness of a prostitute’s trade, who had always felt sullied by so much as a single glance from one of them… but, I thought, this is a person who will be useful for the inquiry…”

      Napoleon had considered sex a dirty matter and his virginal self pure. At the same time, he thought his mother had “prostituted” herself to Marbeuf…. Vincent Cronin believed that from the age of 18 to 25 he had little time for girls… his officers noted he had great self-control and continued “clean living”.

      I don’t get the sense that Napoleon was greatly socially pressured to have sex? Perhaps the opposite?
      ]

  3. OptimalSolver says:

    On the official subreddit, I asked the following question:

    Are there any Haredi/ultra-Orthodox Jews here?

    I live near a large (~30,000) community of them in London. They seem to be attempting to maintain an 18th Century shtetl lifestyle in the middle of a 21st Century global metropolis.

    I’m always wondering just how connected they are to the world around them.

    A very interesting interesting discussion followed, allowing this curious goy a peek into Hasidic Jewish life.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Thanks for posting that– I’m Jewish, but non-observant. The reddit discussion was mostly things I didn’t know.

      Something I don’t think gets mentioned enough is that Judaism is an unmanagably large topic.

    • JulieK says:

      Are there any Haredi/ultra-Orthodox Jews here?

      Yes, but I’m not on reddit.

      • OptimalSolver says:

        Would you mind me asking how “worldly” your community is?

        As in, how tuned in is the average Haredi to world affairs and pop culture?

        Also, how did you come by the rationalsphere?

        • JulieK says:

          In my community (which is not the only type of Haredi community, to be sure), people generally don’t watch television or movies or listen to secular music. Internet use and exposure to secular literature varies. (Personally I try not to read things that are the equivalent of R-rated or beyond.)

          I read HPMOR after I saw a link on a science fiction website, and started posting actively maybe a year later, IIRC after someone linked to “I can tolerate anything but the outgroup.”

    • Parmenides says:

      Yes, I’m a practicing Jew, although I don’t believe in it anymore. I’m still deep in the closet though and all my neighbors and family are religious.

      How connected they are depends on the community. Hassidim are typically the most insular, while modern orthodox are the most open to the secular life. I grew up in a yeshivish (Lithuanian) community, so we’re somewhere in between.

  4. johan_larson says:

    In the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, the town of Sunnydale is located on a hell-mouth and as a result suffers from an overabundance of supernatural activity, some of it very dangerous. In one of the later episodes, it becomes clear that while the town’s murder rate is many times the national norm, the town’s leadership and police and local media conceal this from the citizenry to avoid driving people away.

    How plausible is it that the civic leaders of a town or city could juke the stats on murder by a substantial factor?

    • Anatoly says:

      I think if the murders are not “natural”, it’s completely plausible. The way you normally notice the difference between living in a town with X murder victims per year and 5X murder victims per year is not by knowing personally many victims or their families (unless it’s a very small town or a humongous X). It’s by noticing things that are much more frequent and highly correlate with murder rate: muggings, theft, burglaries, gangs of people mulling about in the streets, sketchy storeowners, broken traffic lights etc. etc. etc. If you go from X to 5X just by supernaturally murdering 4X of the victims without all those other effects, I expect the police and the municipality could absolutely cover it up.

      • johan_larson says:

        It turns out the murder rate can vary quite a bit even in respectable places, from 2/100,000/year in Toronto to 19/100,000/year in Atlanta. Maybe the cops’ best bet is to admit they have a crime problem but attributing it to something other than weird supernatural woo, such as drug dealers with a taste for grisly murder.

        • Incurian says:

          …respectable places… Atlanta.

          What?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Atlanta’s pretty well known for being high crime.

        • MrApophenia says:

          This was, of course, the canonical approach of the Sunnydale PD. They didn’t have monsters, the town was just beset by a particularly nasty gang who really enjoyed PCP.

          Per Mr. Trick, the murder rate wasn’t covered up – they had an official murder rate equivalent to D.C. at its worst. They just blamed it on mundane crime.

          It never struck me at the time but in retrospect this also isn’t great for a cover up. I can’t help but think the news would also be covering a small town where a PCP-crazed gang is doing things like invading parent teacher night and horribly murdering everyone, even without the supernatural connection.

          • random832 says:

            It never struck me at the time but in retrospect this also isn’t great for a cover up. I can’t help but think the news would also be covering a small town where a PCP-crazed gang is doing things like invading parent teacher night and horribly murdering everyone, even without the supernatural connection.

            This is 1997 (to 2003 by the end of the series, nsgre juvpu fhaalqnyr qbrfa’g rkvfg nalzber), mostly before the 24-hour news cycle was fully established. All they have to do is arrange ‘accidents’ for any investigative reporters that come poking around.

            I think it’s also sometimes implied that there’s, in the universe of the show, a natural human tendency to seek mundane explanations to rationalize things they see and forget any supernatural details.

    • alexsloat says:

      The failure mode for murders, so far as I can tell, is the media – murders usually get news coverage, especially in a small town, and the relatives of the deceased will expect it. You can thus count news stories on murders or mysterious deaths in a year to get independant numbers for the murder count. If it disagrees too much with the official stats, it’s a giant red flag. You can probably outright lie about most smaller crimes, but not murder. (That said, a lot of them getting ruled as accidents, suicide, etc. could reduce the stats in “normal” ways).

    • 1soru1 says:

      A lot of things are plausible if you are an ancient Sumerian God in a world where somewhat bright high school students who are not even major cast members can cast reality-warping level magic.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In the US, not much. Murders are the most clear-cut crime because

      1) You have a body and

      2) Someone disappears forever.

      In the Buffyverse, there were very reliable ways of getting rid of bodies available to our baddies (like feeding them to the Mayor or other monster of the week). I’m not sure how they handled the whole “disappear forever” thing; some of the deaths were of transients, where you don’t have that problem directly. But if these are anything but completely below-the-radar hobo types, eventually the rest of the country will notice the “If you go to Sunnydale you disappear” pattern.

    • John Schilling says:

      How plausible is it that the civic leaders of a town or city could juke the stats on murder by a substantial factor?

      Rotherham showed us that the civic leaders of a first-world city can cover up a horrific number of rapes, without even really trying, so I wouldn’t rule out something similar for murders. Two constraints:

      1. Rotherham involved rapes almost exclusively among what we would call the “white trash” or perhaps “deplorable” demographic, low-status people that the media in particular prefers to laugh at rather than sympathize with. When you start getting Pretty (middle class) White Women as victims, it’s much harder to convince everyone to ignore the inbred hick losers spouting conspiracy theories.

      2. Rapes may have complaining victims that you need to silence or convince everyone to ignore, where murders leave silent but conspicuous corpses that first-world nations as a matter of policy don’t ignore. It perhaps helps if they die of something very unconventionally mudery, i.e. two puncture wounds to the neck rather than gunshot wounds, but you’re going to need the coroner to be an active party to a deliberate conspiracy. That becomes less plausible as “coroner” points to a bureaucracy rather than a person. Word of God says that Buffyverse Sunnyvale = Santa Barbara, so a quick google says their coroner’s department has five people. Borderline.

      In Buffy, the victims mostly weren’t white trash, the very pretty white woman Cordelia Chase figured it out by the end of the first season, and the entire high school graduating class by the end of S3. So, probably not plausible that the media wouldn’t have made a scandal of it long before then. But within the above constraints, maybe. Can’t be common, because at least some coroners will eventually talk.

      • johan_larson says:

        In the show, the news media were in on the conspiracy. There was an episode in S3, I think, where a reporter was talking to a cop and asked if they wanted the standard PCP/gang-violence story.

        Still, this is suggesting a rather large conspiracy: all or most cops, all or much of the coroner’s office, at least the cop/crime-facing portions of the news media, and maybe some people at city hall too.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Oh heck, it goes higher than that. There was a (kind of crappy) federal government conspiracy trying to cover up demons so they could weaponize them.

      • Matt M says:

        I am unfamiliar with the Buffyverse, but is it implied that Riverdale is the ONLY place that has such issues with the supernatural?

        Surely in a universe where vampires and goblins exist, there is more crime (and more murder specifically) generally, everywhere, than a universe where they don’t. So they “out of the ordinary” threshold may be higher, if that makes sense?

        • bean says:

          There’s another hellmouth in Cleveland, and LA has plenty of supernatural stuff going on. We didn’t see enough of the rest of the world to know very much about what goes on there. (Also, it’s Sunnydale, not Riverdale.)

      • Eric Rall says:

        Word of God says that Buffyverse Sunnyvale = Santa Barbara, so a quick google says their coroner’s department has five people. Borderline.

        I see two additional issues for this, besides the size of the coroner’s department (on which I agree with your assessment):

        1. Sunnydale’s cover-up operation appears to be orchestrated by the mayor, who’s a big player on the local supernatural-villainy scene and who has been running the city (under multiple successive identities) for over a century. But in California, the coroner’s office appears to be a county-level operation, not city-level, so it’s harder (not impossible) for the mayor to control.

        2. California appears to have a Coroner’s Inquest process, where any suspicious death (determined by the coroner or by any of half a dozen or so state, county, or city officials) gets reviewed by a process where the coroner presents evidence to a jury in a public hearing and it’s the jury, not the coroner, who makes the official ruling about cause of death. I suppose this could be gamed by a sufficiently determined and connected conspiracy (gaming the jury selection process, presenting cherry-picked or fabricated evidence, etc), but it creates a very large surface area for the secret to leak out. Especially since Coroner’s Inquests in common law were set up for the specific purpose of making it difficult for coroners to hush up murders.

      • mupetblast says:

        In a locale more near and dear to the rationalist community than Rotherham – the SF bay area – something similar is happening regarding BART crime: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2017/07/09/bart-withholding-surveillance-videos-of-crime-to-avoid-stereotypes/

    • LHN says:

      The show sometimes (but not consistently) treated the tendency to downplay Sunnydale’s dangers as an ambient supernatural effect. (On the other hand, the high school paper had a regular obit column.) Just what allowed some people and groups to twig while the majority continued to ascribe vampire attacks to gangs hopped up on PCP, and how one transitioned from blindness to awareness, was never really made clear. (Nor was the extent to which it was simple willful ignorance, something the mayor did, or something about the Hellmouth generally.)

      Buffy and the gang actively informing people seems to have been one method of removing the blinders– e.g., Oz’s responding to the revelation about vampires and the Hellmouth with “that explains a lot”. But plenty of villains of the week or season figured it out on their own. (E.g., most parent are clueless, Buffy’s mom only finds out when Buffy tells her, but Amy’s mom turns herself into a practicing witch.)

      Mostly it’s plot-driven- the show is very much about horror going on under the surface of our world, rather than a secondary world in which vampires, demons, and magic are a known an accepted element. So no one is going to try to go public even though a simple public health information campaign (don’t invite strangers in, keep some holy water around even if you aren’t Catholic, etc.) could really do wonders to promote vampire safety.

      • Evan Þ says:

        keep some holy water around even if you aren’t Catholic

        Tangent, but in a world where that worked (and similar preventative measures from other religions didn’t), wouldn’t it be rational to become Catholic?

        (F. Paul Wilson’s Midnight Mass touches on an interesting exploration of this: one of the main characters is a rabbi who wears a cross around his neck because that’s the one thing that keeps back vampires. Read the short story; the expansion into a novel really isn’t worth it.)

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          In Peter Watts’s Blindsight, there’s an actual physiological reason for vampires reacting badly to crosses (and anything with such right angle intersections in their vision). So religion wouldn’t enter into it at all.

          It’s a fantastic book, by the way. Anybody who like to read SF and has an interest in the nature of consciousness and the ways in which our perceptual system lies to us will enjoy it.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I started Blindsight twice, but got bogged down both times while they were just starting to explore the alien spaceship. Things were weird, nothing interesting was happening, and none of the characters held my sympathy.

            (Watts’s explanation clearly doesn’t hold within Midnight Mass, though, because those vampires are perfectly fine around other right angles. And, I don’t think there could be any such physiological explanation for vampires reacting to holy water.)

        • LHN says:

          Modern vampire stories tend to shy strongly away from any religious implications of the vampires sensitivities, even where those aren’t given an alternate explanation a la Blindsight. Buffy in particular was a mythological mishmash: vampires are the result of basically Lovecraftian demons who preexisted humanity taking up residence inside corpses, but Christian holy symbols work on them because reasons.

          (And later somehow one of those corpse-demons eventually could develop the desire for a soul, and other demons proved to be more or less just folks instead of inhuman aspects of a prior reality indifferent to and inimical to humans.)

          There are also lots of pagan gods, trolls, mummies, the First Evil who may or may not be Satan, and the occasional hint of divine Providence. Basically whatever was needed that week. Either way, no one ever really bothers to ask whether the fact that crosses and water blessed by a priest have repeatable physical effects has any larger implications worth considering.

          • J Mann says:

            I would have liked a seriously religious character in Buffy, but you’re almost guaranteed to offend someone.

            (Butcher seems to have gotten away with it – he’s vague on whether Jehovah is actually in charge of all his material Gods, but Michael Carpenter is one of the best religious characters I can name.)

          • MrApophenia says:

            It’s handled without explicit reference to real world religions, but the main character’s arc on Angel is pretty obviously meant to be a religious one.

            Albeit, clearly not a positive portrayal of religion, given that the arc can be summed up as a depressed guy finding meaning and purpose in serving God, then ultimately finding out God is just as ultimately destructive as the devil and killing both of them.

            (Or dying symbolically in the futile effort to do so, depending how you read the last episode.)

          • J Mann says:

            @MrApophenia

            That’s fair, and I guess that Ethan Rayne and the disciples of Glory, Jasmine, etc are religious, but what I meant (and didn’t say very well) was that I would have loved a sympathetic portrayal of an recognizable modern person of faith.

            (Somebody like the more religious lead in Book of Mormon, even – you can make fun of him or her, as long as you get who they are.)

            You’re right that Angel goes through an existential arc where he gets disappointed in divine power and sets out for himself (more than once, because he’s not very smart!), and there’s room for “formerly religious, not existentialist” characters like Angel or Stannis Baratheon or John Constantine, or Preacher (at least so far on the show – I haven’t read the comic), but I think there’s also some room for “actually religious, in a way that most of the religious people J Mann knows are religious.”

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          A sceptic could argue that Catholicism simply went around nabbing anything that worked on vampires and called it a holy symbol.

          “Early Christians used a fish as their symbol, but they replaced it with the torture device that killed their Lord? That’s suspicious isn’t it.”

          On another tangent a lot of modern urban fantasy where crosses work on vampires also have evidence for other faiths. For example Voodoo priests can raise zombies in the Buffyverse.

          • Evan Þ says:

            That’s an interesting idea, which yes, I’ve seen before. But there’re several things that couldn’t really be nabbed without some supernatural power. Holy water is water with a pinch of salt and a blessing spoken over it; if vampires aren’t repelled by the sea, there’s no natural reason for them to be repelled by holy water. Consecrated hosts are the same way, only more so.

            (If they were repelled by both holy water and Tibetan prayer wheels, on the other hand, things would be more complicated. I’d probably guess they were both placebos and it was the psychological attitude doing the work, and proceed to do double-blind tests with blessed v. unblessed water, or water blessed by a priest v. water blessed by a layman.)

          • Civilis says:

            My go-to explanation when using vampires in fiction is that crosses and other holy objects work based on the subconscious faith (or belief) of the vampire; it’s effectively a psychosomatic reaction on the vampire’s part.

            You have some medieval peasant that is bitten and rises as a vampire, and faced with a reminder of his humanity in the form of a cross or other holy object – something he considered sacred in life – is startled long enough to overcome the hunger and feel guilt as to what he’s become, and recoils enough for the mob to stake him. Enough medieval peasants turned vampires get staked by cross-wielding mobs and it enters the lore, making the effect more powerful. You get to the modern era and find that a newly-turned vampire might be an atheist that doesn’t believe in Christianity but does have a subconscious recollection that crosses harm vampires that has the same effect.

            I find a lot of unexpected benefits to this approach to vampiric weaknesses. It also allows for the effect to be tailored to the plot. Somebody grabbing a couple of sticks and holding them in the shape of a cross might not be enough to trigger the mental reaction, on the other hand, a priest in full vestment wielding a fancy symbol is likely to have a more powerful effect, which will be attributed by observers to the strength of the priest’s faith. An ancient vampire might be less weakened by lingering humanity, more cynical about God, or otherwise resistant or immune to the effect. And some individual vampires may be vulnerable to different religious symbols, or anyone that comes across as extraordinarily holy.

          • engleberg says:

            Crucifixion was a big deal in pre-Christian Rome- the slave in the play who says ‘I know I was born to be crucified’, the line in Odi et Amo where ‘I Hate and I Love and it’s Crucifying me’; this isn’t retconned by monks afterward. It was the big publicly displayed torture threat.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Tangent to your tangent, I watched the first episode of Netflix’s Castlevania series, and of course they had to make the Catholic Church out to be awful bad guys for burning a witch, but, I mean, in the context of the story, she literally was a consort of Dracula and did acquire her knowledge and power by said unholy pact.

          Witch burning was bad because there are no actual witches (which the early Church fathers knew. Declaring someone a witch was itself a heresy because it acknowledges an existence of witchcraft. People should have listened to St. Augustine.) But in a universe where people are actually consorting with demons for power, why am I supposed to be feel bad about burning witches?

          • random832 says:

            she literally was a consort of Dracula and did acquire her knowledge and power by said unholy pact.

            As far as I could tell, the only “power” she acquired was truly mundane science (the only “evidence” they found was that her chemistry set was too fancy), not any kind of actual magic. They had no legitimate basis to believe she was a witch.

            And, of course, Dracula was not actually Satan. He was willing to do very evil things to get revenge on the world after his wife was killed, but he hadn’t done any such things within living memory before that. Gurer’f nyfb n zbzrag va gur ynfg rcvfbqr jurer vg’f fgebatyl vzcyvrq gung Tbq vf erny naq gung nf chavfuzrag sbe gurve npgvbaf ur jvguqerj uvf cebgrpgvba sebz gur ybpny puhepu, nyybjvat qrzbaf gb vainqr naq xvyy gur ovfubc.

          • onyomi says:

            And, of course, Dracula was not actually Satan. He was willing to do very evil things to get revenge on the world after his wife was killed, but he hadn’t done any such things within living memory before that.

            The series has an unusual mix of sciencey vampires and religion, probably due to the history of the video game series, which began with a more classic sort of Bela Lugosi/Christopher Lee Dracula (evil demon cursed by God) but then clearly borrowed/copied a lot of inspiration from the Vampire Hunter D world, in which the monsters and such are the products of nuclear war/science experiments and the vampires’ longtime dominion owing primarily to their superior technology (though the vampires themselves also seem to have powers bordering on magical and their pre-apocalypse origins are mysterious; also living for thousands of years gives you a leg up studying science).

            The Netflix series starts out implying Dracula is misunderstood: he has the “real” science which he hasn’t bothered to share with regular people because they’re too stupid and superstitious to appreciate it.

            Yet when he’s aggrieved he doesn’t take his revenge using superior technology; he summons an army of demons from hell. And the demons basically say they’re from hell, not science experiments. So it’s sort of like “I’ll show you for superstitiously condemning my science and rationality as demonic witchcraft… by using witchcraft to summon demons.”

            Obviously the witch burners in the story are not sympathetic, but it is an odd sort of mix.

          • lvlln says:

            Haven’t seen the show, but I always thought witch burning was bad for at least a couple reasons, one of which was that no real witches existed, and another of which was that burning someone to death is a needlessly cruel way of punishing them. I mean, even granting that capital punishment is something that isn’t bad, causing unnecessary suffering while carrying it out seems bad, and the amount of unnecessary suffering caused by burning someone alive seems truly great.

            Again, I haven’t seen the show, so maybe there’s a good in-universe reason why witches had to be killed by burning?

          • Protagoras says:

            What happened to freedom of association? And freedom to enter into voluntary contracts? How could it possibly be justified to burn someone tp death just for exercising those freedoms?

          • even granting that capital punishment is something that isn’t bad, causing unnecessary suffering while carrying it out seems bad,

            Depends on how you are justifying capital punishment. If the objective is to get rid of this offender so that he won’t offend again, then painless execution suffices. If the objective is to deter other people from offending by the threat of punishment for them, then the worse the punishment the more deterrence it should produce.

          • J Mann says:

            According to the spoilers for episode 1, the Church seems to have gotten everything wrong they could have.

            1) The woman they burned did learn things from Dracula, but it wasn’t magic, it was medical science that she used for the good of her community.

            2) However, Dracula was actually *capable* of dark magic, and by burning his doctor wife, the Church incited his unholy wrath.

            I’m reminded of the more facile criticisms of Western foreign policy, where everyone is super nice and constructive until contacted by Colonialism / Yankee Imperialism / etc.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Again, I haven’t seen the show, so maybe there’s a good in-universe reason why witches had to be killed by burning?

            In general I think it’s a “purification with fire” kind of thing. In real life though not all victims of the medieval witch hunts were burned. Some were hanged or beheaded.

            Witch hunts and the moral panic that leads to them are practically universal in human experience, so it’s very difficult to start talking about what “they did to witches” because that all depends on who “they” is and what time period and region you’re talking about.

            I was annoyed with the show because I absolutely love Castlevania (in the past 6 months I’ve replayed every game from the first one for the NES up through Symphony of the Night), and they gotta start in with the Catholic bashing, when in reality the Catholic Church was one of the few spiritual authorities to preach against the existence of (and therefore hunting of) witches. Witchcraft persecution was generally a bottom-up sort of affair (neighbors accusing their lower-status neighbors, and then eventually everyone panicking and working their way up through the class structure) and not a top-down sort of thing where authorities went out looking for people to punish. For a good ~1500 years or so the Church was telling the commoners to stop believing in such silly superstitions, and later persecutions in which Church members were involved were against Church doctrine, and not because of it.

            Just saying, if it weren’t for the Catholic Church, many, many, many more people would have been persecuted for witchcraft and I grumble at pop culture that tries to pretend the Church caused people to go after witches.

            So this was doubly annoying: in real life, the Church was far more involved in calming witch hysteria than inciting it, and in the TV show, they’re still evil even when there is genuine hellish evil magic going on. Can’t win.

            Hmmm. I guess with Deiseach taking a break I’ve taken on the roll of “angry ranting Catholic shaking fist at media on SSC.”

          • DrBeat says:

            And, of course, Dracula was not actually Satan. He was willing to do very evil things to get revenge on the world after his wife was killed, but he hadn’t done any such things within living memory before that.

            Dracula’s been an evil asshole since… when was Lament of Innocence, the 11th century? If people can recognize the history of the Belmont clan, they can recognize that even if Dracula hasn’t been Up To Some Shit in the past twenty years, he’s still fucking Dracula, he’s got the Grim Reaper and a giant ball of corpses and whatever the fuck Slogra and Gaibon are, and in the long term he’s Up To Some Shit.

          • onyomi says:

            even if Dracula hasn’t been Up To Some Shit in the past twenty years, he’s still fucking Dracula, he’s got the Grim Reaper and a giant ball of corpses and whatever the fuck Slogra and Gaibon are, and in the long term he’s Up To Some Shit

            And he has, in fact, been up to some shit in recent memory: when Alucard’s mother approaches his castle, it is shown to be surrounded by impaled bodies, I believe.

            I mean, maybe he had a good reason to impale them (they were invaders coming to burn down his castle, say), but I doubt the families of the impaled saw it that way.

            Which, again, is not to take the side of the witch burning, anti-science townsfolk, but just to say that Dracula definitely already has a reputation for evil when the show begins.

          • random832 says:

            And he has, in fact, been up to some shit in recent memory: when Alucard’s mother approaches his castle, it is shown to be surrounded by impaled bodies, I believe.

            As I recall they were skeletons, and he mentioned in the dialogue that it had been quite some time. But my main point was that he was not literally Satan (this is a point the games are sometimes inconsistent on, as I understand it), a figure completely incapable of anything good or even neutral/mundane, which is an argument against Conrad Honcho’s characterization of their marriage as an “unholy pact”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “But what about all the good things Hitler Dracula did?”

      • J Mann says:

        I was always astonished that even after learning what was going on, the Sunnydale kids kept going out after dark without even arming themselves.

        • Jiro says:

          Self-defense is a right-wing idea, and the show was left-wing.

          Buffy actually told a bank security guard that guns are never helpful.

          • LHN says:

            Rocket launchers, on the other hand…

          • The Nybbler says:

            To be fair, guns being useless against the supernatural is a trope that’s Older Than Buffy.

          • LHN says:

            Though the show regularly showed modern weaponry being useful (the aforementioned rocket launcher, the Initiative’s equipment during the front half of their arc, Warren nearly taking out the Slayer with a pistol). Only for the main cast to mostly eschew them anyway out of what mostly seems to be aesthetic revulsion.

            Oddly, where the very American Buffy avoids guns, the British Ultraviolet goes all in for marrying vampire^W “Code V” vulnerabilities with up-to-date weapons tech, from the carbon bullets to the allicin gas grenades to the camera gunsights. (If you can’t see the target on the screen, shoot.)

          • random832 says:

            I think at some point it was stated that they draw too much attention and don’t have enough stopping power. Vampires aren’t actually alive, they can survive just fine with some lead in them. Demons are generally much more durable than humans. And everyone knows what a gunshot sounds like.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the first season, Darla neutralized Angel just fine with a pistol, and if he could survive with some some lead in him, it was in a sufficiently un-fine state that anyone so inclined could easily have finished the job with a stake. And the only reason Buffy herself survived, was Darla’s plot-required abysmal marksmanship.

            Which I’m sort of OK with. Guns aren’t terribly useful for vampires trying to feed, what with spilling all the tasty blood before you’re close enough to drink it. And with feeding being a daily-ish thing but fighting Slayers a once-in-a-lifetime experience, sure, most vampires are experts in hand-to-fang combat but lousy marksmen and so stick with what they know.

            Flip side, I’m also OK with an organization run by a bunch of stuffy British academics not twigging to the “hey, this would be much easier if we just gave powerful handguns and assault rifles to teenaged girls!” solution, and for a collection of teenagers in suburban Southern California not being able to up their own game to that level. It becomes a more glaring problem in later seasons when we have e.g. the Initiative, and the Watcher’s Council as a crack covert-operations force complete with black helicopters, etc. But that’s about the point where Buffy becomes unwatchable anyway.

          • Jiro says:

            Warren nearly taking out the Slayer with a pistol

            That was used by a villain, who was also shown as a misogynist, in a context designed to vill the viewer with maximum loathing because he killed a main character, so it doesn’t detract from the general “guns are bad” message.

          • J Mann says:

            Sorry – I meant mostly that:

            (1) If I were Xander and Willow, I’d made strong efforts never to be outside of a home after dark, and

            (2) If I did leave home after dark, I’d have crosses all over, plus a supersoaker full of holy water at all time. (Actually I’d have that at home too).

            Demons are pretty vulnerable to blades – presumably guns would work for them too, but it would be pretty difficult to carry a gun as a California teenager. I’d at least start carrying a metal tipped walking stick and a tactical flashlight, plus some pepper spray if I could get it.

          • Vorkon says:

            That was used by a villain, who was also shown as a misogynist, in a context designed to vill the viewer with maximum loathing because he killed a main character, so it doesn’t detract from the general “guns are bad” message.

            It’s also worth pointing out that all the demons in the bar where he was trying to brag about it were all like, “Dude, did you actually think that would kill her? You know she’s got super healing powers, right?”

    • baconbacon says:

      In the novel Watership Down a band of wandering rabbits comes across a warren that is underpopulated. The inhabitants write poetry and make art, but never ask where someone is. Turns out there is a farmer who provides them with food and kills their predators but also hides snares in the bushes to harvest them. It becomes a powerful cultural norm not to talk about the disappearances, and the rabbits are so welcoming to strangers (in their own interests of course) that it is disconcerting to the wanderers who happen upon it.

      • Vermillion says:

        I just fell down the weirdest internet hole looking for a certain webcomic I wanted to link to.

        Ended up reading a novella about Courtney Cox who, when she gets upset, makes an exact duplicate of the thing she’s upset about.

        …ok back to work.

    • random832 says:

      Word of God says that Buffyverse Sunnyvale = Santa Barbara, so a quick google says their coroner’s department has five people. Borderline.

      There’s substantial in-show evidence that it is in the same location (driving distance to L.A., Oxnard being the nearest town in that direction, an on-screen map that is clearly just relabeled), but I don’t recall anything pinning down definitively that it’s meant to be the same size.

  5. OptimalSolver says:

    Is there any practical value in lucid dreaming?

    Also, I’ve heard that the period just before the onset of sleep, aka the hypnagogic state, is the most fruitful for creative thought and ideas. Something about the prefrontal cortex powering down allowing more “unusual” thoughts to flow through your mind. Has anyone here found this to be true?

    • Reasoner says:

      Has anyone here found this to be true?

      Yes. I recommend keeping a notebook besides your bed in a way that makes writing in it as easy as possible. I probably average a couple good ideas per week.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Wouldn’t sitting up and turning on the light to write in the notebook make it take longer to fall asleep? I already have trouble falling asleep, so that sounds disturbing.

        • Reasoner says:

          Good question. I recommend writing in the dark, with one idea per page, using some kind of gel pen that writes reliably and doesn’t require very much pressure. The notebook doesn’t have to be very big.

          I actually find that this helps me fall asleep because I don’t have to worry about forgetting brilliant ideas I have. YMMV.

      • Reasoner says:

        Sample idea that I wrote in my notebook last night while thinking about Topher Brennan:

        Let’s say you’re a high IQ SSC reader living in a metropolitan area and you want to get elected to office. What’s your best strategy?

        You have two strikes against you. First, your high IQ makes it harder to come across as relatable to voters. Second, you probably live in a state that’s densely populated, which means fewer congressional seats per citizen and more competition.

        Here’s a way to solve both of those problems: Move to a less densely populated state and apprentice under an aging congressperson, then try to get them to endorse you when they retire.

        According to this possibly crankish website, people are most impressed by folks who have about 20 points more than they do. Therefore, politicians selected for impressing common folks will typically have IQs of around 120 to 125, and these politicians will in turn be most impressed by someone with an IQ of around 140 to 145. So it’s plausible that being smart would actually be an asset in achieving the politician’s endorsement.

        And since you are being endorsed by the ex-encumbent, you’re unlikely to be seen as a carpetbagger.

        See also: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/24/opinion/campaign-stops/can-democrats-make-running-for-office-seem-cool.html

        Note also that this is how Nancy Pelosi got started: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Pelosi#Elections

        • Nornagest says:

          I have no idea how easy that’d be, but I’m pretty sure it’s easier than trying to take Diane Feinstein’s seat.

    • carvenvisage says:

      Is there any practical value in lucid dreaming?

      I never tried it but doing cool stuff can be good for motivation, both directly and in getting to think of yourself as a person who does cool stuff.

    • powerfuller says:

      In my experience I tend to come up with better ideas in the penumbra of sleep.

      Never mind practical value, the entertainment value of lucid dreaming is enough to try it out! I guess you can use it for motivation or practice: if you’re dieting, dream about eating the food you want to; dream about giving an intimidating speech, etc. Maybe it could help with psychological issues, like dreaming about talking with a dead relative. I mostly stick to flying, myself.

  6. rationaldebt says:

    If you’re interested in evidence-based nootropics, link text is worth checking out.

    Disclaimer: as well as using the custom-made stacks, I have some equity in this.

    • rationaldebt says:

      Ok, I failed at describing the link. You basically get sent nootropics & won’t know what you’re taking each week (you find out later) so it mitigates the placebo effect.

      • Bugmaster says:

        So, each week, I’m potentially taking a different random mind-altering drug, without knowing what it is ? What could possibly go wrong ?

        • entobat says:

          I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but gosh am I sure I haven’t wandered out of the SSC comments section.

  7. MawBTS says:

    Can I have a Lesswrong health check?

    A few months back there was a push to revive it. Was this successful? I can’t check for myself because I don’t know what the best barometer of the site’s activity is (articles? discussion in the forum?) and also because I have no benchmark of how active the site was when it was healthy.

  8. Peter says:

    Mormons and AI: I’ve never read it, but apparently there’s Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming Saga, “patterned on” (sayeth Wikipedia) The Book Of Mormon, featuring a godlike AI. I have no idea whether this has anything to do with your Mormon theologian’s talk, but maybe there’s something about Mormons and superintelligent AIs.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I made it to the end of book three without realising that it was intended as a Mormon allegory at all (to be fair, I was in my mid-teens and basically knew next-to-nothing about them – and I don’t think any books beyond 3 had been published at the time). It was just a fun story* involving a superintelligent AI in need of repair.

      *I think – I have no idea if I would enjoy it now.

      • dodrian says:

        Last month I finished the third Homecoming book. It’s been pretty clear through the whole series that there are religious allegories involved but I don’t know enough about Mormon theology in particular to say when it diverged from generic ‘Computer as God’ sci-fi trope to Mormonism.

        I enjoyed the first two books as good page turners good characters. The third one started pretty poorly with a characters expounding upon on one of Card’s weird sociology theory. It was sort of relevant to the plot, but could have been handled much better.

        I’ll probably attempt to read the fourth book as I’ve already bought it, but unless the story picks back up I’m not going to go looking for the fifth.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        Never even thought of it as an allegory. Just a fairly interesting book series.

      • caethan says:

        It’s not an allegory, it’s just a straight-up transposition of the Book of Mormon into a sci-fi setting. Pissed me off to no end when I read it first as a teen. First, it’s just lazy. Second, it’s disrespectful.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I read the first three books of the series. It’s a good story until they reach Earth and things get seriously weird, but there were a few things I found jarring about it. The biggest being that the godlike AI (which is a stand-in for God in the Book of Mormon) is clearly seen by the narrative as being benevolent, but its actions as described were deeply disturbing in many cases and it’s ways of doing things would have made it an outright villain in most other SF stories.

      I later tried reading the Book of Mormon. I didn’t get very far, but from what I did read I felt that Homecoming’s relation to the Book of Mormon was less “patterned on” and more “blatantly plagiarized”. OSC didn’t even change the names of the major characters.

  9. Anon. says:

    I finished the Three Body Problem series a couple of days ago. I didn’t love the first book, but the 2nd and 3rd ones were very strong (The Dark Forest probably being the best). Despite all the Chinese content, the series generally felt quite western. I read an article by Cixin where he noted that the Apocalypse isn’t a big thing in China, they don’t have the idea in their religious background like Christianity does. That drags along all sorts of western stuff with it. And Clarke/Asimov are big influences, so it has that “golden age sf” feel to it.

    SPOILERS BELOW (spoiler tags when?)

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    On The Dark Forest:

    I didn’t love the Luo Ji stuff early on (or any of the wallfacer/wallbreaker storylines), but everything around the dark forest theory was incredible. The whole book basically justifies itself with this one idea.

    On Death’s End:

    Incredibly dark stuff, especially the first chapter in Part V, holy fucking shit.

    Loved the scope.

    Kinda disappointed the Gravity and Blue Space were ignored after they fire the signal, I would’ve liked some chapters on their journey.

    I was also caught off-guard at how incredibly reactionary the 3rd book was. I’m highly sympathetic to that sort of thing, and even I occasionally thought “jeez, that’s a bit much”. The first one had the Cultural Revolution stuff (with obvious contemporary parallels) of course, but it wasn’t really at the center of the story. In Death’s End, the book’s central thesis is basically that femininity and humanism are existential risks (not even risks, but pathways to inevitable civilizational destruction). Is this what fascist bodybuilder SF looks like? Cixin even spells it out:

    >Twice, she had been placed in a position of authority second only to God, and both times she had pushed the world into the abyss in the name of love.

    Which also brings up the fact that the protagonist of this book is a mass-murderer on an incredible scale who never gets even a hint of comeuppance, I liked that. You don’t see it often.

    I kinda missed Da Shi, but Wade was fun, a kind of inhuman Nietzchean eternal striver:

    >If we lose our human nature, we lose much, but if we lose our bestial nature, we lose everything.

    The first one won the Hugo and the third one is a finalist this year. I haven’t really followed the puppies stuff very closely, but if something like Death’s End can be a finalist, how could anyone complain about excess SJness?

    • Autistic Cat says:

      This is a series I would like to read. Sometimes we have to face the darkest possible scenarios and explicitly discuss them so that they do not become reality.

    • This might be an independent reinvention but the Dark Forest theory of the Drake Equation seems to have first appeared in SF in The Killing Star. With somewhat more realistic technology in that book but the writing isn’t great. And apparently it came from Usenet before that.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      I had high expectations from this, but having read just the first book, I was disappointed. My complaint isn’t around the writing or the characters, but the fundamental premise of the book. Once you realize it’s all wrong, it really takes the wind out of the book’s sails.

      SPOILERS BELOW

      First, it’s not a 3-body problem. It’s a 4-body problem: three stars and a planet (and later, the planet gets a moon, making it 5 bodies). The mass of the planet is small in the system, but the chaotic nature of the three body problem is such that this should make a difference.

      Second, the real world differs from the math of a three body problem anyway. There’s going to be drag from tidal effects, atmospheric friction, and so on.

      So there was this civilization-encompassing quest for a solution to the three body problem. So once you see all the ways that even a correct mathematical solution would fail to deliver the promised effect, most of the immediacy is lost. And I found myself just wondering, “come on, how dumb are these guys?”.

      On the other hand, some of that quest for a solution – in particular, the human-driven digital computer (right down to a clock, a bus, and so on), was very cool.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      So after the previous discussion, I decided I needed to read through Death’s End before I gave a judgment of Dark Forest theory, after another user pointed out that there was a lot of stuff that came up in that book. Spoilers for the series follow.

      I came out pretty unimpressed. Dark Forest theory is a thing that could happen, but it’s definitely not the only stable place for galactic civilization (which is how every character and the author treat it, as a universal truth), and they handwave a ton of stuff away.

      We get one look at a Dark Forest civilization, and their justification for cleansing instead of negotiating or figuring out whether the other civilization is a threat is that as soon as you see another civilization, the other civilization has seen you and can destroy you. Except we learned earlier in the book that Dark Forest civilizations use isolated ships to launch their cleansing strikes, because otherwise as soon as you blow up another civilization, a third civilization will locate you from the origin of the strike. So why can’t they just observe and risk the one ship? I don’t know, and no one ever asks that question.

      This is exacerbated by the fact that we learn that some of the ordnance used in Dark Forest cleansings are causing the destruction of the universe (and every civilization in it) by collapsing dimensions locally, which eventually spread. So even if you successfully take out every competitor, you’re still doing far worse over the long term than any sort of 9-tsiak-style resource-sharing agreement. This is a much stronger case than where SSC was last time, pointing out that destroying suns to stop resource shortages is asinine.
      And no one ever seems to question whether using these dimensional superweapons is worth it: the alien goes straight from sun-destroyer to dimensional collapser, and all he needs to use it is approval from his supervisor, which he gets without any real discussion.

      I think it was a pretty interesting set of ideas (the rapid expansion of scope near the end reminded me a lot of Greg Egan’s Diaspora) but he relied a lot on Dark Forest theory as a fundamental truth, and failed to convince me of it.

      • engleberg says:

        It’s on my to-read list, but the Hugo brand is burned badly enough to keep it low on the list. Has anyone who’s read Terry Pratchett’s Strata, Benford’s A Darker Geometry, or Lem’s vision of island universe civilizations altering the guanta of the universe in their own favor and therefore inevitably drifting into eternal wars of attrition with their neighbors also read Liu and been impressed?

    • tscharf says:

      I loved this series. I actually liked the first book the most, it was more near future plausible which I tend to prefer. This series was very original and I suppose part of it is that is was from a Chinese culture. The author also came up with some very interesting “thought problems” and worked through the logical outcomes of his plots, there wasn’t nearly as much “hand waving to FTL travel” kind of stuff. Things got a bit weird in the third book, but off the rails in the last book of a series isn’t exactly unprecedented.

      Definitely recommended for SciFi fans.

    • mobile says:

      Use rot13 to hide spoilers.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        I think the problem with rot13ing spoilers is that they require a lot of additional investment for anyone passing by. I often see spoilers on this site for series I haven’t even heard about, and wouldn’t mind spoiling for myself to hear the discussion, but not enough to go find the rot13 site and decode every post on the thread.

        Beware trivial inconveniences, and all that.

        • random832 says:

          How about a rot13 button? Or just a way to mark sections of text to be blacked out and made visible by clicking or hovering.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Yeah, the Reddit spoiler tag system (where things tagged as spoilers are blacked out, but mousing over them reveals the text) is really good for this sort of thing.

            Having a way to click on the page and un-rot13 the post would be good as well, but you’d need some sort of tagging for what’s rot13 and what’s not (as spoilered posts will generally include a section in plaintext explaining what they’re spoiling, although maybe it’s fine to just have that be unreadable after they click the button).

            There’s probably a Chrome extension that does this, but expecting random passersby to just have that ready is probably unrealistic as well.

        • rlms says:

          Just become fluent in rot13.

          • Aapje says:

            Pna lbh cyrnfr whfg jevgr abeznyyl? V unq gb ebg13 lbhe fgngrzrag gb or noyr gb ernq vg. Guk.

    • Chevron says:

      I read the first book recently and was really surprised how much I disliked it. I was listening to the audiobook, so I wasn’t seeing how much of the book was left, and when it ended I think I actually may have said “Wait what” out loud because I was so surprised that was all there was to the story. Maybe part of it is just the cultural gap but I found the whole story felt a little off, the concepts discussed just weren’t remotely engaging enough to carry a whole book, and the story had such a minimal arc that I felt very disengaged. Also (SPOILER, I suppose) the Trisolarans’ use of the Sophons seemed absurdly weak and uncreative.

      I started listening to the second book but the narration was so awful I returned it. Maybe I’ll try reading the physical thing some time if I can get it from the library and have the time, but overall I was pretty unimpressed.

    • Nornagest says:

      Is this what fascist bodybuilder SF looks like?

      No, that’s The Night Land.

  10. Winter Shaker says:

    Feinstein has disappointed Silicon Valley and other California progressives on issues like health care, free speech, technology, and foreign policy.

    And indeed drug policy reform, as seems relevant given the discussion in the last open thread.

    • Well... says:

      We should not expect progressives to ultimately reverse a set of policies invented and put in place by progressives, when the underlying motivations have not changed.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        What if drug laws were justified by criminology which later turned out to be false?

      • BBA says:

        invented and put in place by progressives

        Oh, come on. The War on Drugs has been a bipartisan project since Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act, unless you’re defining “progressive” as everything to the left of Calvin Coolidge.

        • Well... says:

          Nixon was a 7th-inning relief pitcher. By Nixon’s day, the war on drugs had been going on for nearly a century.

          Hamilton Wright, Frances Harrison, Bishop Charles Brent, those guys were on the starting lineup–and they were all progressives. There wasn’t much opposition to them back in those days (what sane public figure wanted to align himself with vice, temptation, and strange chemicals of foreign origin?) but the few voices who did oppose the drug warriors were basically all conservatives, and used conservative reasoning too.

          • BBA says:

            Okay, I see where you’re coming from now. But I don’t know how much continuity there is between “progressivism” then and now. I suspect most self-described progressives today would reject Roosevelt and Wilson in favor of Debs, if they understand the history at all. And then there’s William Jennings Bryan – who wanted to break up the banks, but also wanted to mandate creationism in the public schools – where the hell does he end up on the political spectrum?

            Unless, again, your argument that progressivism is authoritarian and conservatism is libertarian, always and forever, or that Cthulhu always swims left, because left is defined as whatever direction Cthulhu is swimming.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t claim that progressivism is authoritarian and that’s the end of it, I merely said the underlying motivations of progressivism viz. the war on drugs then and now are the same.

  11. Autistic Cat says:

    Many neurotypicals online believe that I don’t act like a human because I’m autistic and do not show emotions a lot.

    I wonder whether an autist is actually less likely to pass the Turing Test compared to a non-autist. What do you guys think?

    • DeWitt says:

      I wonder whether an autist is actually less likely to pass the Turing Test compared to a non-autist.

      Yes.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Less likely in general, probably; but less likely than modern chatbots ? I doubt it. Of course, that all depends on the degree of autism; the more severe cases who are virtually unable to communicate at all would fail the test — but then, so would any human in a coma, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I agree. This is an interesting question.

        Recently I found this article. Since I don’t have any background in psychology I’m not sure whether this is just woo. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-imprinted-brain/201506/the-real-turing-test-curing-computer-autism

        In some sense we can indeed say that chatbots generally can’t pass the Turing Test because they do not act in culturally appropriate way and as a result are sort of autistic.

        I do love computers though precisely because they are autistic and hence computers and I are on the same wavelength.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I do love computers though precisely because they are autistic and hence computers and I are on the same wavelength

          Not even close. For example, as of today, no chatbot could spontaneously emulate this short discussion that we’re having. In 3..5 decades, maybe (and this is me being optimistic), but not yet.

        • beleester says:

          Chatbots have some of the failure modes of an autistic person, but they also have a lot of wholly unique failure modes.

          For instance, here’s Scott Aaronson talking to the Eugene Goostman chatbot:

          Scott: Which is bigger, a shoebox or Mount Everest?
          Eugene: I can’t make a choice right now. I should think it out later. And I forgot to ask you where you are from…
          Scott: How many legs does a camel have?
          Eugene: Something between 2 and 4. Maybe, three? :-))) By the way, I still don’t know your specialty – or, possibly, I’ve missed it?

          Those aren’t hard questions for a human. They don’t require any social skills. But Eugene doesn’t actually know the answers, so he dodges the question in a way no human would. To catch bots in the Turing test, it’s often as much about not following normal conversational patterns as it is about following them. Pushing the bot outside its programming.

          • baconbacon says:

            I don’t think that the chat bot is missing the information about how many legs a camel has, but is responding to programming to avoid giving overly specific answers. What is 7 divided by 22? Human answer (without a calculator) “about 3” or “3.14” or something along those lines for most people. To avoid detection a computer has to avoid saying “to how many digits?” and so has to introduce some ambiguity into its answers.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @baconbacon:
            No, it’s actually a lot worse. It’s not the case that the chatbot somehow knows some stuff about the world, but is missing the detailed information on camels. Rather, it is the case that the chatbot is incapable of knowing anything, about anything, camels included. As it turns out, the seemingly simple act of “knowing”, which humans perform instinctively, is so difficult to not just implement but even to understand, that no one has ever succeeded. Recent (very recent) advances in RNNs and other Deep Learning techniques are slowly getting us to the point where “knowing” is possible, but we’re still quite far from that goal.

    • Itai Bar-Natan says:

      Scott Aaronson recounts in his notes for “Quantum Computing Since Democritus” (link here) that in an actual test one woman was mistaken for a computer since “no human would know that much about Shakespeare…”.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Yes, I’ve noticed that we humans are working on getting chatbots to pass the Turing test from both sides. We are making chatbots smarter, and we are making humans… well… yeah.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If a human being “fails” the Turing test, it is the test-giver who has failed.

    • carvenvisage says:

      I wonder whether an autist is actually less likely to pass the Turing Test compared to a non-autist.

      Not necesarilly. autist would have more trouble immitating tone, cadence, flow, whatever words I should use, ‘neurotypical’ would have more trouble identifying actual beliefs and positions. So it might vary basd on whether the culture is more identifiable by how they talk or by an unusual/complex belief structure.

      edit: I assumed you meant ideological turing test

      • Autistic Cat says:

        No, I mean the real Turing Test. Are autists likely to be identified as robots?

        • carvenvisage says:

          Not sure. If it’s low functioning autistics they might come across as ‘buggy’, but because (afaik) chatbots cann’t truly follow a conversation they might rely on filler a lot and end up sounding like extreme neurotypicals.

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      I wonder whether an autist is actually less likely to pass the Turing Test compared to a non-autist. What do you guys think?

      When is Scott going to do something about the obvious spam bot problem in the open threads?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      What do you think about an autist is less likely to pass the Turing Test compared to a non-autist?

  12. There was a meetup recently where a bunch of us got together to talk about Seeing LIke a State. Well, Scott’s review for many but some of us had read it. The big question quickly became about when enforced legibility is good in the end and when it isn’t. Clearly there’s always trauma involved. If you’re American thinking about a switch to the Metric System quickly brings home the costs in a small but visceral way. And someone brought up the more profound dislocation in the switch to standardizing on English in Singapore. But at the same time certain modernist attempts to enforce legibility or conformity seem to have paid off. Replacing London’s ad hoc, naturally grown sewer systems with a centrally planned one had huge public health benefits. The Metric System seems to have been worth the price for the countries that adopted it. Indeed, clinging to traditional units would have been infeasible for any country with an economy smaller than the US’s. And the previous moves from local units to nationally standardized units seems to have been a net success. So is there some way to look and tell in advance whether moves to impose standardization will work out?

    This is part of a larger pattern and whenever I’m considering buying a book about X being good or bad I want to see if the author provides a chapter on exceptions to the rule.

    • Schibes says:

      Is there some way to look and tell in advance whether moves to impose standardization will work out?

      Sure, the most popular vetting mechanism would involve checking the experience level of the standardization team. I see this all the time at my job in IT at a large telco, our customers are moving like a herd in switching their server farms from onsite data centres to cloud hosting. All the project managers leading these transitions will have worked on numerous more or less identical projects to this one in the past and will lead a customer through various assessment exercises to see if switching to cloud hosting is actually the right move for them given their various competing priorities in security, scalability, cost, etc.

      As can be easily imagined however, doing these types of projects at the nation-state level is exponentially more complex than at the corporate level. The first things that come to mind are the never-ending presence of graft and corruption (especially in developing countries), in addition to the lack of buy-in from the average citizen (such as the USA’s botched metric conversion 40 years ago). Sometimes you will see an experienced project manager express overconfidence about how well (poorly) their solutions will (fail to) translate from the private sector to the public sector.

  13. bean says:

    Naval Gazing:
    This is why the carriers are not doomed, Part 1

    A question that has come up several times recently is the controversy over the future of the US carrier force in the face of new threats, and it deserves an answer at some length. As such, I’m going to talk about carriers instead of battleships today.

    The basic theory is that improved Chinese missiles, particularly the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) mean that the US cannot bring carriers within 1000-2000 km of the Chinese coast without them being killed. Some go even farther, and claim that soon, any country (we’ll call it Enemyistan) with some cash will be able to stand off the USN, and the carriers will be totally obsolete.

    Fortunately for the US, this is not true. Today, we’ll start with the threat from conventional missiles. ASBMs can wait for later, because I have more than enough for this week.

    So, what does a US carrier group (CVBG) look like when trying to defend itself? Well, a typical CVBG is composed of a carrier, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser (CG), and 3-4 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDGs). The CG normally carries the burden of long-range air defense, while the DDGs are configured to protect themselves and execute land-attack missions. If they were going up against China, or some other high-threat area, the DDGs are perfectly capable of carrying more SAMs, and a second CG might well be assigned to the group.

    The outer ring of defenses is going to consist of proactive measures. The USN learned at Pearl Harbor that it is better to give than to receive. As such, the various US commanders will be trying to eliminate as many enemy missile launchers as possible before they can be used. This could mean a submarine or destroyer launching Tomahawks at an airfield, naval base, or coastal-defense position, or it could be the carrier’s airplanes attacking missile boats or airplanes before they get within range. This is very hard to quantify, so I’ll ignore it in my numerical analysis (which I’m going to try to keep conservative), but it will be very important in an actual war.

    The second layer is to keep the enemy from getting targeting data good enough to launch a strike. Getting targeting-quality data on a naval force is surprisingly hard, although I’m not going to go into much detail this week. (That will be in an installment quite soon.) For this week, I’m just going to say that no, whatever wonder device you’re thinking of won’t solve it completely for China, and Enemyistan has next to no chance provided that the CVBG’s commander is competent. However, this is also hard to quantify, and I’m trying to give a reasonable worst-case scenario, so I’ll ignore the problems here and assume that the CVBG has been located.

    Now we come to the missiles. The outer layer is going to be Standard Missiles, the USN’s long-range air defense missile dating back to the 60s (although it’s the ship of Theseus by now). There are two subvariants, Extended-range and Medium-range. The ER variant has a range of 200 nm, while the MR version is around 90 nm. For a normal, peacetime carrier group, you have the CG with 96 of these (not sure of the exact mix of MRs and ERs) providing the outer layer of fleet air defense. In an air-defense configuration, a DDG will carry 72.

    The middle layer is the Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). This is a shorter-range missile (at least 30 nm), and a normal peacetime loadout is 24 on each DDG and 16 on the carrier. It is fantastically maneuverable, and I was told that they basically come out of the Vertical Launch System (VLS) sideways. Because 4 can fit in each VLS cell (as opposed to a single Standard) a CVBG can in theory carry upward of a thousand, although the US doesn’t have enough missiles in inventory to support this kind of loadout. (But we’ll come back to that problem later.)

    The inner layer is point-defense systems, designed to protect only the ship mounting them. There are two, the Rolling-Airframe Missile (RAM) and the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS). Almost all of the escorts mount one or more CIWS, which is a 20mm gatling gun hooked up to a radar system that automatically shoots down anything it thinks is a missile. Unfortunately, it’s not that effective against high-speed missiles because the debris from even a shot-down missile can still strike the ship. The RAM was designed to solve this, shooting down missiles at greater range. A carrier carries 2 21-round RAM launchers.

    Now it’s time to look at how many missiles we’d need to overwhelm a carrier’s defenses. A typical group in peacetime conditions (which we’d expect if we were going up against Enemyistan) would have 96 Standards, 88 ESSMs, and 42 RAMs, a total of 226 missiles (actually more, because I’m not counting ESSMs on the CG, which is another 24). Based on recent experience off of Yemen, I think it’s very conservative to assume that you’ll have a 50% kill probability against a typical missile with one of these weapons. (I believe the actual number is more like 70%.) Under this assumption, the CVBG can shoot down 113 incoming ASMs. In a war with China, that number might well top 200.

    But the defenses don’t stop there. There’s also electronic warfare to consider. This is a fantastically complicated topic, and we can’t know the answer without an actual war, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that EW will draw off another 50% of missiles. This decoy work will probably take place at some point in the ESSM engagement zone, and well before the RAMs come into play. So for our fight with Enemyistan, we have 48 missiles shot down by Standards, 22 shot down by ESSMs before the EW takes effect. To saturate the rest of the defenses will require 43 missiles to not be drawn off, taking the number of missiles the CVBG can handle to 156. If the missiles in question are subsonic (the vast majority of ASMs worldwide are, and I’d expect higher-speed missiles to be preferentially targeted), then the Phalanx on a targeted ship will probably take out another 2-3, maybe more, depending on how spread out the salvo is. So we now have a round number for Enemyistan, 160 missiles to make one possible hit on a carrier. (One hit is not going to kill the carrier outright, and I’ve systematically erred in favor of the attacker. The CVBG will have to go home to reload, but it’s still alive, and the next carrier coming up behind it doesn’t have to face those missiles.)

    But what does that number mean in context? In the grand scheme of things, how many missiles is Enemyistan likely to be able to put into the air?

    Unfortunately for Enemyistan, they are going to have a very difficult time of it. A typical surface warship carries 4-8 ASMs, and for most second-rate navies, there are no missiles kept ashore as replacements. (As a side note, I’ve assumed perfect reliability on the part of the attacker’s missiles. This is a very bad assumption for Enemyistan, who has probably been skimping on maintenance.) The Iranian navy has a total of ~200 missile tubes on its surface combatants, including the ones currently under construction. Obviously air-launched and shore-based missiles could be added to this, but it is also necessary to subtract the missiles lost to US counterattacks before launch, and the missiles that are not fired due to the ship having a broken engine that day, or because they couldn’t get targeting data due to US jamming. A best case for Enemyistan is that they sink one US carrier, then get smashed by the next two CVBGs behind it, which they have no missiles left to engage. A more likely case is that they sink a couple of merchant ships that were where they thought the US carrier was, then get destroyed by all three CVBGs.

    China is going to be a tougher nut to crack. Obviously, they have more missiles, enough so that launching a couple of 200+-missile salvoes is not out of the question. And they’re going to have better surveillance equipment, so that we can’t just trick them into wasting their ASMs on empty ocean (probably). China has approximately 224 naval strike aircraft, each of which can probably carry 2 missiles. That’s almost certainly enough to overwhelm a single CVBG, even in wartime, but a lot of the attacking aircraft would be destroyed in the attack and they would probably be unable to take out a second CVBG the same way. And the US has 9. (Note that we’re ignoring strike aircraft destroyed on the ground, down for maintenance, or simply assigned to a different region, as well as the fact that carriers usually operate in groups in a serious war, driving up the number of escorts available.) Much the same math applies to shore-based and shipboard ASM launchers, although I’m not going to go into detail here because counting platforms is boring, and there’s surprisingly little data available on Chinese coastal missile strength. The ultimate balance between US naval forces and the Chinese is pretty close right now, and I don’t see improved technology skewing the balance too much one way or the other.

    • bean says:

      Naval Gazing:
      Index
      I’m a volunteer tour guide at the USS Iowa in Los Angeles, and I enjoy explaining battleships so much that I’ve been doing it here for quite a while. I’m starting to branch out into modern naval matters, too. This is my index of the current posts, updated so that I don’t have to ask Scott to put up a link when the previous index gets locked down. Please don’t post a reply to this index comment so I can keep it updated as new ones get published and the new posts are easy to find.

      History:
      General History of Battleships, Part 1 and Part 2

      The Early Ironclads

      Pre-Dreadnoughts
      The loss of HMS Victoria
      The Battle of Jutland: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
      US Battleships in WW2
      Rest-of-world Battleships in WW2
      Battlecruisers
      Battleships after WW2
      The Destroyer that accidentally attacked a President
      The South American Dreadnought Race
      Dreadnoughts of the minor powers
      Life aboard Iowa

      Technical:
      Fire Control
      History of Fire Control
      Armor, Part 1 and Part 2
      Propulsion
      Armament Part 1 and Part 2
      Turret vs barbette
      Underwater protection
      Secondary Armament, Part 1 and Part 2
      Survivability and Damage Control Part 1

      Modern Naval:
      Why the carriers are not doomed Part 1

      Misc:
      Bibliography
      Thoughts on tour guiding
      Questions I get as a tour guide

    • DeWitt says:

      Naval Gazing

      I’m just here to commend you for the pun. Well played.

    • Garrett says:

      What are the impacts of the supercavitating torpedoes the Russians are developing? I’d think that locating the carrier is still a major problem. But I’m uncertain what kind of defense exists or would be possible.

      • hlynkacg says:

        It’s hard to say without knowing precisely what sort of payload and tracking capability it will have. The cavitation effect is going to preclude the use of traditional sonar-based seeker heads which means that engagement ranges will either have to be relatively short to accommodate dumb-fire or wire guidance, or it’s warhead will be of the nuclear variety. In either case the best defense is going to be “don’t get shot”.

        Edit to elaborate.

        One of the carriers chief weaknesses is limited ability to maneuver while at flight quarters. Once a cycle begins they’re locked into a given course (+/- a few degrees) for a minimum of several minutes. From the submariner’s perspective the ideal attack profile would to simply get out in front of the carrier and then wait for them to close the distance.

        It’s up to the escorts and the carrier’s own dippers (ASW helicopters) to prevent this so to that end I would hope that in a war with an SCT-equipped Enemyistan the Navy would put a much lower premium on whale health than it does now.

        • bean says:

          I sent this post to some friends for review, and one, a former submariner, said they used to go upwind of carriers, and call in airstrikes, then tag the carriers when they turned into the wind to launch interceptors.
          (For the record, it’s not that easy to get upwind of a carrier in a diesel-electric submarine.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            That sounds right, but be aware as we wander away from battleships and into naval aviation (and helicopter ops in particular) we’re getting into my territory. Granted, I spent most of my career operating off small decks and FOBs but I held a carrier deck qual for close to 6 years and still have my (unclassified) notes/gouge-book.

          • bean says:

            I try to write as if I have someone reading who knows more than I do, but thanks for the heads-up.
            Actually, I do have a question. How quickly can they suspend flight operations to maneuver? I’d imagine that there are limits when you have unsecured airplanes on deck, but how dramatic are they? And how sure are we that they won’t be ignored when there are torpedoes headed for the carrier? Better to lose a couple of planes (and hope the pilots eject) than to lose the carrier.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s a complex question. From a safety of the ship perspective The biggest concerns are ensuring that the elevators (especially those on the outboard side of the turn) are raised and locked, and securing any ordinance that’s on deck or in transition from the magazine. After that you’re looking to secure aircraft, catapults, and GSE. 90 seconds is considered a respectable time in drills but it may take a bit less or considerably more depending on circumstance.

            The limits themselves are on roll and lateral-Gs which means turn-rate becomes dramatically more restrictive as speed increases. In the event of a no-shit torpedo attack I imagine the question becomes just how long the captain of the carrier (or whomever has the conn) is willing to wait before turning the wheel hard over.

      • bean says:

        First, active defense against conventional torpedoes is the fusion power of the naval world. It’s been on the next generation of warships since the 60s, and still is, so from that point of view, the supercavitating torpedoes aren’t any worse.
        Second, they’re not new. VA-111 was introduced in 1977. This isn’t really your fault. One of the rules of evaluating military information is that almost everything you hear about Russian weapons comes from their sales people. And it doesn’t do to say ‘yes, we’ve had this since the 70s, and haven’t improved it that much’ (which is, AIUI, true).
        I’m genuinely unsure about the utility of supercavitating torpedoes. They can’t use normal homing guidance, and I don’t know how effective intertial guidance is with a conventional warhead. It would have been very effective with the nuclear warhead they originally used, but those are generally frowned upon these days. Overall, I think they’re probably not much more effective than conventional torpedoes, if at all.

      • John Schilling says:

        Supercavitating torpedoes are as I understand it mostly for use against enemy submarines, as a way of maybe killing them before they can shoot back and turn sub-on-sub combat into a game for MADmen. Against aircraft carriers, you don’t really need them because, as bean notes, once an ordinary torpedo has the scent of you there’s probably no escape. The only good defense is to keep the submarine from getting close enough to launch torpedoes in the first place, and conventional torpedoes have a longer effective range than supercavitating rocket torpedoes.

        I believe USN aircraft carriers do now carry a sort of beta-test torpedo defense system of dubious utility, as do the Russians themselves, but this postdates the Shkval and isn’t going to change the tactics for a while yet.

        • bean says:

          Against aircraft carriers, you don’t really need them because, as bean notes, once an ordinary torpedo has the scent of you there’s probably no escape. The only good defense is to keep the submarine from getting close enough to launch torpedoes in the first place, and conventional torpedoes have a longer effective range than supercavitating rocket torpedoes.

          Qusi-nitpicking time. Conventional torpedoes have a relatively short effective range, because they aren’t that much faster than their targets. If the target is capable of 30 kts, and the torpedo 45, then you have only a third of your theoretical maximum range. But that is probably still more than the rocket torpedoes, which are basically straight-runners. A VA-111 will take 1.8 minutes to reach maximum range, but the target will be dodging unless they have no sonar at all.

          I believe USN aircraft carriers do now carry a sort of beta-test torpedo defense system of dubious utility, as do the Russians themselves, but this postdates the Shkval and isn’t going to change the tactics for a while yet.

          Quite possibly. Most of my reference books are several years old, as the latest versions are outside my budget. But yes, they’re still rather experimental, and shouldn’t be counted on.

          • gbdub says:

            So why is intercepting torpedoes so much harder than intercepting cruise missiles, supersonic sea skimmers, or ballistic missiles? We seem to be getting pretty good at those tasks, and torpedoes are bigger, slower, and radiate an easy to track sensor signal.

          • bean says:

            That’s a really good question, to which I have no answer. Maybe torpedoes are just magic. Or maybe it’s the water, protecting them. Sinister stuff. Don’t trust it.
            Seriously, I suspect it has to do with the fact that it’s harder to see things in water than in air. Sonar is less precise than radar, and when you’re trying to shoot at a fast incoming torpedo, the system just isn’t up to it.

          • baconbacon says:

            Going to risk looking like a total fool here, but I would guess that all the issues that make torpedoes slower are going to effect the counter measures at least as much. The density of water is going to limit the effectiveness of lighter weight/higher volume projectiles in defending against them.

          • John Schilling says:

            One issue is that neither radar nor sonar is accurate enough to guide a projectile to hit a small target like another missile or torpedo based on remote observation – if you’re not going to have really big area-effect warheads, you need at least a semi-active guidance system where the receiver is on the interceptor and gets more effective as it gets closer to the target.

            With radar, that’s fairly easy because radar basically always works. With sonar, self-generated noise makes it increasingly ineffective as platform speed increases, but your interceptor pretty much has to be faster(*) than the torpedo it is trying to intercept. The enemy torpedo just needs a sonar capable of making out a large warship’s signature through self-noise as it closes at say 40 knots, and you need to track a small torpedo through the much noisier environment at 60 knots. Hope you’ve got really good signal-processing algorithms and electronics to run them.

            The Russian solution is to make their best estimate from sonar mounted on the target ship, and then launch a salvo of mortar- or rocket-lofted depth charges in its path. Nobody knows how well this will work in practice; I expect that if it does work well enough the enemy will teach their torpedoes to zig-zag on the approach and then it won’t work any more.

            * That’s not an absolute mathematical requirement, but for operational purposes it’s pretty close to one.

          • Eric Rall says:

            your interceptor pretty much has to be faster(*) than the torpedo it is trying to intercept.

            * That’s not an absolute mathematical requirement, but for operational purposes it’s pretty close to one.

            From what I remember from when I was working on my thesis, the key thing the interceptor needs to catch the evader is an advantage in crossrange acceleration. The basic setup is that the interceptor starts somewhere near the target, and the evader is trying to get past the interceptor while approaching the target. To oversimplify, most evasion techniques boil down to dodging one direction, then jinking back in another direction once the interceptor is committed to following you the first direction. It defeat this, the interceptor needs to be able to switch directions faster than the evader.

            Speed matters in the basic scenario mainly because it correlates with acceleration (engine power drives both acceleration and top speed, and in air or water you can also use control surfaces to redirect your up/downrange speed into crossrange speed), and secondarily because it lets you close on the evader faster giving it less time to try to dodge.

            It matters more in more complex scenarios where the interceptor is launched from a different direction (e.g. a THAAD battery in South Korea trying to shoot down a Chinese missile aimed at a naval base in Japan) and needs to approach from the side, so it’s at least partially trying to catch up with the evader’s downrange velocity.

            Speed matters most when they thing you’re intercepting is a vehicle (e.g. a missile intercepting an airplane or a torpedo intercepting a sub) rather than just a missile or ballistic projectile. In this scenario, one of the evader’s strategies is to turn away from the interceptor and run away from it at top speed. A stern chase extends the distance the interceptor needs to cover, and depending on the interceptor’s range and its speed advantage over the evader, the evader might be able to keep the chase going until the interceptor runs out of fuel. Or if the evader is as fast or faster than the projectile, the evader can stay away from it indefinitely. This doesn’t really come up in the basic scenario (interceptor launching from near the evader’s target) since the evader is typically committed to coming towards the target and doesn’t have the fuel to run away and then come back after it loses the interceptor.

    • Salem says:

      I don’t understand your maths.

      For an incoming missile, you appear to be estimating:
      * 50% chance to be taken out by EW
      * 50% chance to be taken out by Standard
      * 50% chance to be taken out by ESSM – or maybe 25%, but I’ll stick with the higher figure
      * 50% chance to be taken out by RAM
      * Some (unstated) chance to be taken out by Phalanx – to be generous I will put this at 50%.

      This suggests that NEDAJA will average 1 hit per 32 missiles fired.

      However, you conclude that the expectation is 160 missiles to score a hit. Is this based on saturating each layer? If so, why? Naively, I would have thought these missiles would be travelling sufficiently fast that a single layer of defences won’t get many shots at it.

      • bean says:

        Naively, I would have thought these missiles would be travelling sufficiently fast that a single layer of defences won’t get many shots at it.

        This is the bad assumption in your reasoning. AEGIS is smart enough to retarget missiles in flight, so you can essentially take multiple shots with a given layer of defenses. (Earlier SAM systems would just shoot 2 missiles at each target, which is a bit less effective.) Also, the minimum ranges on the system are low enough that it usually has enough time for a given layer to do a second engagement. This wouldn’t have been true 30 years ago, but it is today.
        Obviously, a faster missile gives the system less time to react, but faster missiles are bigger and more expensive. This means you can’t fire as many of them on a given budget, a phenomenon called ‘virtual attrition’. When you start to look at the math, it’s actually surprisingly even between more small missiles and fewer faster missiles.
        But yes, I was looking at running the US out of missiles. Other potential models are beyond my ability to do here, although I will endorse Command: Modern Air and Naval Operations as a good tool if you want to look in more detail. It was created by people who are on the same level of geekdom as I am, and I’ve run quite a few missile v ship battles. They usually play out (for modern ships) as the ships holding out until they run out of missiles.

        • Salem says:

          OK, so if each layer can take 2 or 3 shots, then the attacker will essentially be relying on saturation, got it. So the first ~160 missiles/carrier group do very little, but the next few after that are deadly, taking out the carrier and its escorts in short order. With less conservative estimates, perhaps 250 missiles.

          So at $10m for a DF-21D, that makes $2.5bn to take out a carrier group costing at least $15bn. Still pretty worrisome.

          What do you make of the reports that most of these defences are useless against modern ASBMs? I take it you are skeptical?

          • bean says:

            The defenses I’ve described are pretty useless against ASBMs. I was describing defenses against conventional ASMs, because this topic is too big for me to write up in a week. The DF-21D would be more effective, at least for now, although indications are that the Chinese are backing away from it. (If carriers are so useless, why do they keep building them?) That said, defenses against ASBMs are being developed, and there are some fairly serious problems that ASBMs have. I’ll be writing that up shortly.
            As for cost, don’t forget the launch platforms. Or the missiles that were killed by the Tomahawks off the SSNs before they got a chance to be fired.
            (And note that the 2.5 billion of ASMs are only useful for attacking ships. The carrier group has a lot of other uses. The current US force isn’t exactly what you’d build for an optimized hot war, and there have been some design compromises for lower-intensity operations. But it’s good enough for a hot war that our enemies are really worried about them.)

          • Eric Rall says:

            Land-based ballistic missiles like DF-21D also have to saturate land or air based boost-phase and midcourse-phase ABM systems in the theater. That’s not hard right now, with THAAD and GMD having only a few dozen interceptors, and in a war with China most of them would likely be reserved to counter China’s nuclear arsenal. But China currently only has 60-80 DF-21Ds, and if they build more DF-21Ds, we can build more THAAD interceptors in parallel.

            If the anti-ship missiles are launched from ships or planes, then you can’t just look at the cost of the missiles. Ships and planes are expensive, and you’re going to lose quite a few of them trying to go after a CVBG because the CVBG’s ships and planes are going to be shooting back at you.

          • bean says:

            The counter to the DF-21D is the SM-3, which is probably the most advanced of the US ABM systems, and works quite well. The Block II is significantly higher-energy than THAAD.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Is the SM-3 already accounted for in your calculations, or would it be fired from a different ship elsewhere in the theater and not part of the CVBG?

          • bean says:

            I didn’t cover SM-3 this time because I was focusing on conventional ASMs. SM-3 will be discussed down the road when I look specifically at ASBMs (split out for length). It’s going to be on some combination of the CGs and DDGs in the CVBG.

          • cassander says:

            (If carriers are so useless, why do they keep building them?)

            Oh, bean, you know the answer to this. The carriers are built by the navy, the DF-21 is built by the army. Unless the generals literally use the missiles to sink under construction carriers, there’s not much they can do to stop admirals from being admirals.

          • bean says:

            Oh, bean, you know the answer to this. The carriers are built by the navy, the DF-21 is built by the army. Unless the generals literally use the missiles to sink under construction carriers, there’s not much they can do to stop admirals from being admirals.

            Not true. Coastal defense is under the navy.

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            Coastal defense is, but the DF-21 is ballistic, and is thus controlled by the rocket forces, unless I’m much mistaken.

          • bean says:

            @cassander
            Even if that’s true (and I’m really not sure, as the internal structure of the Chinese military is pretty opaque) there has been a notable shift in power within their establishment over the past 5-10 years. Basically, there’s the ‘coast defense’ and ‘sea control’ factions. DF-21D was a weapon of the coast defense faction, whoever owns it. (And the Chinese are not the Japanese pre-WW2, with each service doing its own thing.) You could say that it was aimed, not at American carriers, but at Chinese ones. But it missed. Since 2010-ish, there’s been very little new news on the DF-21D, and the production numbers are low. At the same time, the sea control faction has gained traction (the operations in Somalia have been a major boost to them, and they’re pushing for us to change the translation to People’s Liberation Forces Navy).

          • cassander says:

            @bean

            I’m don’t disagree, but I think you’re overselling the point. Yes, the service rivalries are not as bad as they japanese, no one’s ever are, short of countries with outright civil wars, but they still exist. And yes, the PLA seen a lot of reorganization in the last 5 years and while it’s still unclear exactly how things are going to play out, clearly the PLAGF is on the losing end relative to the Navy. And yes, the DF-21 specifically seems to be out of favor

            My original comment was a bit tongue in cheek, my real point was that there was nothing unusual about the chinese wanting both carriers and carrier killer missiles.

      • John Schilling says:

        As bean notes, the Aegis system has enough opportunities to retarget that this sort of probability calculation is going to very strongly favor the defense. BOTE, I get six or seven discrete engagements against a subsonic, sea-skimming missile, and the last few of those the system will probably be firing two missiles at a time at whatever got through the first layers. 0.5^8 would give <0.4% probability, or one hit per 250 missiles fired. Which won't sink or even disable an aircraft carrier.

        Where this sort of calculation breaks down is when you have to start dealing with single-point failures or common failure modes. What are the odds that Aegis will misclassify a missile's radar return as a false target and not fire any Standards or ESSMs at it? Small, but probably not 0.4% small. You’ve got four target-illumination radars on a CG and if one of them has a loose connection or stuck bearing, the entire system loses 25% of its capacity.

        Most analysis either ignores these effects or handwaves them away, because there’s really not enough data to do anything more.

        And, to be fair, this applies to both sides. If the enemy launches 200 missiles at an aircraft carrier, maybe half of them instead target the destroyer that was turned at just the right angle to give an extra-strong radar return.

        • bean says:

          What are the odds that Aegis will misclassify a missile’s radar return as a false target and not fire any Standards or ESSMs at it? Small, but probably not 0.4% small. You’ve got four target-illumination radars on a CG and if one of them has a loose connection or stuck bearing, the entire system loses 25% of its capacity.

          A good point, but one that is greatly mitigated by the latest generation of networked systems. The ships share pictures, so even if one AEGIS system decides that a given missile is not a threat, the others probably won’t, and should outvote it, or at the very least engage it on their own. Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) means that the CG with a stuck illuminator can pass missiles off to one of the land-attack Burkes (which otherwise would be idle early on) to guide. There are still potential system-level failures, but I’d bet reasonably heavily that the other guy is at least as likely to have them as the USN is.

        • Salem says:

          This gives rise to another dumb question:

          How many targets can these layers deal with at once? Does 6 opportunities for engagement with a single missile mean that a volley of 7 missiles is guaranteed to get one through? Or am I right in imagining that there must be sufficient capacity to deal with multiple missiles simultaneously?

          • bean says:

            There is absolutely capability to deal with multiple missiles simultaneously. That’s why AEGIS was developed. I don’t know the exact number (it’s obviously classified), and it’s going to vary with the engagement conditions, but I’m pretty sure it’s over 12 per ship, and my best guess would be on the order of 24. And there’s increasing interest in autonomous homing, to raise this number even higher.
            (I have some stuff written on the mechanics of AEGIS that I may post on Wednesday.)

          • cassander says:

            I for one would love to know more about AEGIS. My knowledge of radars and sensors has stalled at uncomfortably low level.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Bean

            Not sure if you need it but if you want to discuss search/target acquisition tactics, and more specifically the air wing and individual expeditionary detachment’s role in it prior to your targeting and localization post you can drop me a line at [my user handle]@gmail.com.

    • James Miller says:

      If China is willing to use a missile with a hydrogen bomb on it could China easily get the missile close enough to kill the carrier?

      • bean says:

        Easily is stretching it. You’d be just as vulnerable as a conventional missile to the outer layers of defenses, although you’d be able to avoid CIWS and maybe RAM. The big advantage is that you only need to get one missile through for a kill, not several. (This was more important 30-40 years ago, where the odds of a few leakers getting through from an attack that didn’t totally overwhelm the defenses were a lot higher.) The reason that it won’t happen is because the US response involves ICBMs.
        Nuclear weapons are less destructive than you think they are, and won’t solve the problem of getting close. Ships in particular are surprisingly durable, provided they have a washdown system to keep fallout from sticking to them. This is actually an area where the US has made substantial improvements since the height of the Cold War. The Burkes were the first ships really designed to withstand near-miss nukes.

        • ilkarnal says:

          All those planes sitting on top of the carrier are very exposed and vulnerable to nuclear solicitations.

          The reason that it won’t happen is because the US response involves ICBMs.

          ‘Oh, we lost a carrier battle group – welp, might as well trade in all our major cities!’

          Absurd.

          • bean says:

            All those planes sitting on top of the carrier are very exposed and vulnerable to nuclear solicitations.

            Define ‘very’. How big is the weapon likely to be, and how close does it have to be before it starts damaging the deck park?
            (The answer to part 2 is ‘a lot closer than you think’.)

            ‘Oh, we lost a carrier battle group – welp, might as well trade in all our major cities!’

            Absurd.

            The same logic works on the other side. ‘Let’s put all of our cities at risk to destroy a carrier’ is even more illogical. It’s a lot safer to stick to conventional warheads, and they work nearly as well these days.

          • John Schilling says:

            ‘Oh, we lost a carrier battle group – welp, might as well trade in all our major cities!’

            Absurd.

            I was going to write a charitable response, but only because I missed your last word. Instead:

            Deterrence works both ways. Mutual Assured Destruction works both ways. And bean didn’t say that the US response involved all of our ICBMs, or even most of them.

            You are speaking from foolish ignorance that you ought to have corrected before posting.

          • Nornagest says:

            ‘Oh, we lost a carrier battle group – welp, might as well trade in all our major cities!’

            I don’t think we (or anyone else with nukes, even North Korea) would go straight to countervalue. But if a nuclear-armed enemy used their nukes on a carrier battle group, dropping an ICBM on a naval base or a major airfield is proportionate retaliation. And since they’ve just proven they’re willing to launch their first nuke, it behooves you to aim your retaliatory strike at preventing them from launching their second.

            You might correctly note that things can escalate easily from there. That’s one reason why it hasn’t happened.

          • ilkarnal says:

            bean didn’t say that the US response involved all of our ICBMs, or even most of them…

            It does not take ‘all of our ICBMs’ or ‘most of our ICBMS’ to devastate a country. Launching ICBMs, plural, on major Russian or Chinese targets in response to a carrier battle group being nuked is very, very likely to result in ICBMs, plural, being launched in response on major American targets. De-escalating at this point, assuming there’s room to de-escalate, is very difficult. “Welp, might as well trade in all our major cities!” is an entirely appropriate quip.

            If he meant to imply ‘launch ICBMs on Siberian wasteland or open ocean or remote military base to show that we’re pissed off and mean business’ he ought to have clarified that he meant that response ‘involving ICBMs’ to be a very very noncentral use of ICBMs, one for which cruise missiles whether conventional or nuclear seem more suitable.

            Considering he didn’t do so even in his reply, I think my response was fine. The response “‘Let’s put all of our cities at risk to destroy a carrier’ is even more illogical” implies I am not totally off base.

            You are speaking from foolish ignorance that you ought to have corrected before posting.

            I’m not sure why it bothers you so much that I called a pretty out-there proposition ‘absurd’ – after sketching out why I considered it absurd – but I wanna make clear that I don’t give a half-shred of a fuck what you think of me or what I ought to have done. You want me to clarify something, you want to challenge something, make your points. You wanna signal contempt – save your breath.

            I was going to write a charitable response, but only because I missed your last word. Instead:

            I’ve never seen anything more fucking worthwhile than the first and last two lines in this reply! They really tie the whole thing together, it’s like an inverse shit sandwich.

            Or maybe you should just say what you have to say without the asinine reverse-sugar coat, which I reiterate means fuck-all to me.

          • bean says:

            It does not take ‘all of our ICBMs’ or ‘most of our ICBMS’ to devastate a country.

            You do not know how much damage an ICBM will do. Seriously, everyone overestimates the effectiveness of nuclear weapons until they look themselves. To devastate China, it would take quite a few, although not all. To blow up a couple of artificial islands would take a couple, and be a reasonable response.

            Launching ICBMs, plural, on major Russian or Chinese targets in response to a carrier battle group being nuked is very, very likely to result in ICBMs, plural, being launched in response on major American targets. De-escalating at this point, assuming there’s room to de-escalate, is very difficult. “Welp, might as well trade in all our major cities!” is an entirely appropriate quip.

            It’s very difficult to de-escalate after the first one goes off, period, which is why they wouldn’t do so in the first place. Also, as John points out, they don’t have that many, and they’re rather too precious to use on probably the hardest target around.

            I’m not sure why it bothers you so much that I called a pretty out-there proposition ‘absurd’ – after sketching out why I considered it absurd – but I wanna make clear that I don’t give a half-shred of a fuck what you think of me or what I ought to have done. You want me to clarify something, you want to challenge something, make your points. You wanna signal contempt – save your breath.

            I’ve met John. He’s a fairly senior guy at a respected analysis firm. You’re a random person off the internet who isn’t a regular in the naval threads, who comes in acting confrontational (not normal in these threads) and spouting the sort of nonsense you get from public articles on this stuff. Yes, he (and I) have reason to be displeased with you. Now go, find out how much actual damage nuclear weapons do, and then we’ll talk.

          • ilkarnal says:

            But if a nuclear-armed enemy used their nukes on a carrier battle group, dropping an ICBM on a naval base or a major airfield is proportionate retaliation. And since they’ve just proven they’re willing to launch their first nuke, it behooves you to aim your retaliatory strike at preventing them from launching their second.

            Preventing them from launching their second requires an all-out strike – no limited response will do for that purpose.

            An ICBM is not ICBMs, plural. The plural does matter. ‘The US response would involve an ICBM’ is more clearly separated from the general usage scenario for ICBMs than what bean actually said. Once you’re launching a few ICBMs, unless you’re targeting unusually minor targets, you are wreaking such havoc that it isn’t clear that the enemy can avoid making a tit-for-tat response.

            You might correctly note that things can escalate easily from there. That’s one reason why it hasn’t happened.

            A much more major reason is that the US has not, and likely would not dare to enter a conventional war with countries that have large nuclear arsenals. Should such a war start, and should the defenses of the carrier battle group prove as puissant as bean suggests (unlikely though that may be) a nuclear strike on a CVBG launching strikes on crucial interests of Russia or China is not out of the question.

            You might correctly note that things can escalate easily from there. That’s one reason why it hasn’t happened.

          • bean says:

            Preventing them from launching their second requires an all-out strike – no limited response will do for that purpose.

            This might be the most sensible thing you’ve said yet.

            An ICBM is not ICBMs, plural. The plural does matter. ‘The US response would involve an ICBM’ is more clearly separated from the general usage scenario for ICBMs than what bean actually said. Once you’re launching a few ICBMs, unless you’re targeting unusually minor targets, you are wreaking such havoc that it isn’t clear that the enemy can avoid making a tit-for-tat response.

            You’re reading way too much into a fairly quick comment of mine. Using nuclear weapons against a carrier is basically the same as using them against a major airbase. Any use of nuclear weapons in that kind of context is very very close to setting off a full-scale nuclear war. Neither side wants that, so they won’t try them tactically in the first place. Yes, it’s possible that the US response is to hit a couple of airbases, and maybe the Chinese let it go. More likely, we now have WW3. The Chinese won’t try in the first place.

            A much more major reason is that the US has not, and likely would not dare to enter a conventional war with countries that have large nuclear arsenals. Should such a war start, and should the defenses of the carrier battle group prove as puissant as bean suggests (unlikely though that may be) a nuclear strike on a CVBG launching strikes on crucial interests of Russia or China is not out of the question.

            You’re still looking at this from a weirdly one-sided perspective. The US doesn’t dare get into a conventional war with Russia and China, but they also don’t dare get into a war with us. Also, a nuclear strike against a carrier is just stupid. Conventional weapons are better for that job today, because defenses are good and nukes are expensive and have political ramifications.

          • ilkarnal says:

            You do not know how much damage an ICBM will do. Seriously, everyone overestimates the effectiveness of nuclear weapons until they look themselves. To devastate China, it would take quite a few, although not all.

            I am well aware of how much damage an ICBM will do. Every ICBM can carry several warheads with yields in the hundreds of kilotons. Go click on over to nukemap and see what a few W88s will do. A few ICBMs each carrying several W88-scale warheads are a very big deal. ‘Devastating China’ does not mean defeating China, or wiping out every motherfucker in China. Would ~20 475 kiloton explosions in US cities devastate the US? Damn right they would. Wouldn’t wipe us out, but would be a very big deal. Would change this country forever.

            Blowing up a couple of China’s artificial islands would be an extremely unusual use of a couple of ICBMs. Those little sand strips do not merit anything like that kind of firepower.

            If you say ‘the response involves ICBMs’ you are making certain implications. It’s like if I say ‘if you fuck my daughter, the response involves my shotgun’ – clearly I am not implying that I am going to go shoot several loads of buckshot into your lawn.

            That aside, now that you’ve clarified exactly what you meant – or stepped back from what was implied by your statement – let’s address that. It is very unlikely that the US response would ‘involve ICBMs’ in the form of using a couple on some sand strips in the south china sea. Much more likely responses include conventional cruise missile strikes on more major Chinese military targets, and simply backing down after some bellicose rhetoric (which no-one likes to signal, for obvious reasons, but which the US is pretty good at doing.) A nuclear response would likely use a few nuclear cruise missiles, not ICBMs.

            I’ve met John. He’s a fairly senior guy at a respected analysis firm.

            Wow, that makes all the issues I had with his comment go away!

            His comment didn’t impress me – and it came along with passive aggressive nonsense that pissed me off. Even if I would be impressed with his workplace, his workplace ain’t him, and the totality of his person ain’t his comment. I don’t have to give a -fuck- about anything but good arguments. And I don’t. Can I make that clearer? Let’s stipulate that he’s God. God left annoying passive aggressive bullshit in the reply box, and deserves my objections.

            You’re a random person off the internet who isn’t a regular in the naval threads, who comes in acting confrontational

            I didn’t start off denigrating either of you. Not only do I not care what you two think of me – I didn’t expect you to care what I think of you. I’m interested in the subject. Address the subject. I don’t claim you have no right to pour salt alongside, but I will throw it right back in anyone’s face.

            Now go, find out how much actual damage nuclear weapons do, and then we’ll talk.

            I’m well aware of how much actual damage nuclear weapons do. Nothing I have said is out of line with that. I would agree that the popular imagination of nuclear weapons is unrealistic. Mine isn’t.

          • bean says:

            I am well aware of how much damage an ICBM will do. Every ICBM can carry several warheads with yields in the hundreds of kilotons. Go click on over to nukemap and see what a few W88s will do.

            Unlike you (apparently), I’ve actually done that. It took me 6 300 kt warheads to devastate the 20th-largest metro area in the nation.

            A few ICBMs each carrying several W88-scale warheads are a very big deal. ‘Devastating China’ does not mean defeating China, or wiping out every motherfucker in China. Would ~20 475 kiloton explosions in US cities devastate the US? Damn right they would. Wouldn’t wipe us out, but would be a very big deal. Would change this country forever.

            4 airliners flow by lunatics changed this country forever. Again, I’ve actually run the numbers on what it would take to take out a major metro area. You clearly haven’t.

            That aside, now that you’ve clarified exactly what you meant – or stepped back from what was implied by your statement – let’s address that. It is very unlikely that the US response would ‘involve ICBMs’ in the form of using a couple on some sand strips in the south china sea.

            I don’t know what the exact response would be. I’m not a nuclear targeteer, and I’m definitely not the President when this happens. I do know that using a nuke on a carrier is far too likely to draw a strategic response to be plausible for the Chinese to do. It’s plausible that the US would try to keep the retaliation to a level that would de-escalate. It’s also plausible that we’d go all-out.

            Much more likely responses include conventional cruise missile strikes on more major Chinese military targets, and simply backing down after some bellicose rhetoric (which no-one likes to signal, for obvious reasons, but which the US is pretty good at doing.) A nuclear response would likely use a few nuclear cruise missiles, not ICBMs.

            What Chinese targets haven’t already been hit by conventional cruise missiles?

            His comment didn’t impress me – and it came along with passive aggressive nonsense that pissed me off.

            The idea that the US obviously wouldn’t retaliate after a nuclear strike on a carrier, to the point where it becomes plausible for the Chinese to launch such a strike, is patently ludicrous to anyone who has read actual books on nuclear weapons. So yes, a dismissive response was not entirely out of line.

            I’m well aware of how much actual damage nuclear weapons do. Nothing I have said is out of line with that. I would agree that the popular imagination of nuclear weapons is unrealistic. Mine isn’t.

            Really? And what are your thoughts on nuclear winter?

          • ilkarnal says:

            You’re still looking at this from a weirdly one-sided perspective. The US doesn’t dare get into a conventional war with Russia and China, but they also don’t dare get into a war with us.

            It’s ‘weirdly one sided’ only without the context. China and Russia aren’t in the forward/aggressive posture here. Russian interventions involve reacting to attempts to dismantle what remains of their old sphere of influence, and China is even more passive than Russia. They aren’t the adventurous ones.

            Also, a nuclear strike against a carrier is just stupid. Conventional weapons are better for that job today, because defenses are good and nukes are expensive and have political ramifications.

            Conventional weapons are better for that job today – I agree wholeheartedly.

            They are much better precisely because defenses will not nullify them. If defenses could easily deal with conventional weapons, nuclear warheads could rise to the occasion. Stopping a sea-skimming supersonic cruise missile before it gets close enough for its nuclear warhead to fuck you up is even harder than stopping it before it hits you.

          • bean says:

            It’s ‘weirdly one sided’ only without the context. China and Russia aren’t in the forward/aggressive posture here. Russian interventions involve reacting to attempts to dismantle what remains of their old sphere of influence, and China is even more passive than Russia. They aren’t the adventurous ones.

            Because Russia has a moral right to dominate Eastern Europe, whatever the Eastern Europeans think, and China actually deserves all of the various islands under dispute. It’s only the meddling of the evil, evil US that’s causing trouble, and if we just left them to it, everything would be great.

            They are much better precisely because defenses will not nullify them. If defenses could easily deal with conventional weapons, nuclear warheads could rise to the occasion. Stopping a sea-skimming supersonic cruise missile before it gets close enough for its nuclear warhead to fuck you up is even harder than stopping it before it hits you.

            How big is the warhead on this missile likely to be? And how close does it then have to be before it can ‘fuck you up’? How does that number compare to the range of common anti-missile weapons in use by the US? How much more does the nuclear version cost?

          • ilkarnal says:

            What Chinese targets haven’t already been hit by conventional cruise missiles?

            The US could use every cruise missile in its inventory and there would be a panoply of Chinese targets still untouched.

            The idea that the US obviously wouldn’t retaliate after a nuclear strike on a carrier

            With ICBMs? Against targets suitable for ICBMs? I reiterate, absurd.

            I don’t think it ‘obviously wouldn’t retaliate.’ I think backing down is a strong possibility, but certainly not guaranteed or ‘obvious.’ It obviously is a strong possibility, though. The US has always had a bark worse than its bite, and this would be a really scary situation. There’s a very strong possibility leadership would decide this whole going to war with China thing is busto, time to cut losses.

            Really? And what are your thoughts on nuclear winter?

            Nonsense peddled by a bizarre array of people who ought to have known better. Firestorm is not guaranteed, and that time we had a nuclear firestorm the soot rained out fairly quickly (as large particulate matter is wont to do.) To be fair, Sagan also predicted that burning Kuwaiti oil wells could lead to climatic disaster, so aside from idealistic desire to prevent nuclear war there was a good helping of plain old stupidity.

            So yes, a dismissive response was not entirely out of line.

            A ‘dismissive response’ is what I gave you. ‘Absurd.’

            “You are speaking from foolish ignorance that you ought to have corrected before posting” touches on the personal.

            I’m not a wilting flower, I won’t be put off by much rougher language than this, but I will respond in kind.

            patently ludicrous to anyone who has read actual books on nuclear weapons.

            Uh huh.

            What is an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy? In the late 1990s, Russian analysts wrote about the small-scale use of nuclear weapons to demonstrate credibility and resolve in conflict and thus convince an adversary to stand down. This is neither an inherently nefarious or a new idea. It echoes Herman Kahn’s writing on nuclear deterrence, to say nothing of some past U.S. doctrines.

            I guess they didn’t read enough ‘actual books’ about nuclear weapons.

            This sort of idea has actually cropped up quite a lot, which you really ought to know if you’re going to arrogantly posture in the way that you have. When the conventional scales are too badly tipped, limited use of nuclear weapons is a way to try to stave off defeat. Obviously conventional solutions are preferable – if they work. If you don’t think they will work, you are left with more desperate options.

            One of the most fervent supporters of the Davy Crockett was West Germany’s defense minister Franz Josef Strauss, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Strauss promoted the idea of equipping German brigades with the weapon to be supplied by the US, arguing that this would allow German troops to become a much more effective factor in NATO’s defense of Germany against a potential Soviet invasion. He argued that a single Davy Crockett could replace 40–50 salvos of a whole divisional artillery park – allowing the funds and troops normally needed for this artillery to be invested into further troops, or not having to be spent at all. US NATO commanders strongly opposed Strauss’s ideas, as they would have made the use of tactical nuclear weapons almost mandatory in case of war, further reducing the ability of NATO to defend itself without resorting to atomic weapons.

            I guess the good minister should have read more actual books.

            These are serious and open questions in the field of modern military strategy. It is ludicrous to think that a country would signal that it would back down in the face of a limited nuclear strike, for obvious reasons – but not at all ludicrous to think that in practice, it would.

            Of all the ways a limited nuclear strike could be carried out, a few ICBMs is perhaps the worst, because it looks the most like a real first strike. You want the least resemblance possible.

            A nuclear cruise missile attacking a target at sea has the least resemblance possible, which stands in favor of that course of action – should it be required, which I don’t think it ever will be.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Because Russia has a moral right to dominate Eastern Europe, whatever the Eastern Europeans think, and China actually deserves all of the various islands under dispute. It’s only the meddling of the evil, evil US that’s causing trouble, and if we just left them to it, everything would be great.

            Morality doesn’t enter into it. The US is the one being aggressive, forward, adventurous, regardless of the moral purity of its aims.

            How big is the warhead on this missile likely to be? And how close does it then have to be before it can ‘fuck you up’?

            150kt, or thereabouts. Probably 2-3km?

            How does that number compare to the range of common anti-missile weapons in use by the US?

            It’s less, obviously. That doesn’t mean intercepting a supersonic sea-skimmer before it reaches 0m isn’t incredibly difficult. When you give the missile much more ‘play’ in terms of where it can detonate and still fuck you up, you make interception still more difficult. And the consequences of failure much more severe.

            Nukes are expensive – damn right. Carriers are even more expensive. You can afford to throw a whole lot of nukes at each carrier if you have to – and, to be clear, I would claim you don’t have to.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I can devastate New York City with one nuke.

          • pontifex says:

            Morality doesn’t enter into it. The US is the one being aggressive, forward, adventurous, regardless of the moral purity of its aims.

            Russia literally invaded Crimea. Whether or not that was right or wrong, I would certainly describe it as “aggressive, forward, adventurous.” China’s actions in the South China Sea, such as building artificial islands and attacking fishing boats, are certainly also “aggressive, forward, and adventurous.” In other words, the US has been aggressive, but so have other countries.

            It’s a pretty interesting question how the US would retaliate for a nuclear strike on our carriers. I think more than anything else the president would just be baffled that someone had decided to make a first strike on something other than our nuclear launch silos or cities. Pretty much every option would be on the table at that point, since a nuclear-capable power was behaving in a bizarre and unexpected way.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Unlike you (apparently), I’ve actually done that. It took me 6 300 kt warheads to devastate the 20th-largest metro area in the nation.

            Missed this earlier. With the first, most central nuke, St. Louis would be ‘devastated.’ If your definition of ‘devastated’ is not a single building standing in the whole metro area you would need a hell of a lot more nukes than you used. Do you understand how far-reaching the effects of hundreds of thousands of casualties are on such a city? Hell, the state that city is in? ‘Devastated’ is apt for any city where a 300kt nuke goes off. The whole region would be embroiled in dealing with the (non-literal) fallout for weeks. Now a few American ICBMs, say three, carry 24 475 kt nukes into a country – I call that country ‘devastated.’ Any country in the world would be consumed by that event for a good period of time.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Russia literally invaded Crimea.

            After Ukraine’s president, the one who was relatively friendly to Russia, the one the Crimeans (largely pro-Russia) voted for, was violently deposed. Like I said, a response to an attempt to destroy what remains of Russia’s sphere of influence. Reactive.

            China’s actions in the South China Sea, such as building artificial islands and attacking fishing boats, are certainly also “aggressive, forward, and adventurous.” In other words, the US has been aggressive, but so have other countries.

            Comparing China’s sand-dredging and Russia’s attempt to hold on to some scraps of influence in its near abroad to the quixotic flurry of invasions and ‘interventions’ the US emits is laughable.

            It’s a pretty interesting question how the US would retaliate for a nuclear strike on our carriers. I think more than anything else the president would just be baffled that someone had decided to make a first strike on something other than our nuclear launch silos or cities

            Obviously the carrier in question would have been launching strikes on the forces of the country that nuked it – so it wouldn’t be very baffling. A ‘first strike’ on a carrier is absurd. It would be a response to the carrier fucking up their shit.

            Now, I claim the carrier’s shit gets fucked by the conventional defenses of Russia/China (especially Russia tho) so they have no need to resort to nukes. But if the carrier is practically impervious to their attacks, it is exceedingly dangerous. Tremendous amounts of damage can be done by a carrier air wing. Spectacular quantities of ordinance can be delivered continuously. It would have to be dealt with.

            This means in practice carriers can’t really be used to fuck up Russia/China’s shit. As the offensive tool that they are, their realistic use is fucking up the little guy.

            Which leads into my objection that fucking up the little guy ain’t gave us shit, ain’t eva gave us shit. So I don’t think very highly of the carrier.

          • bean says:

            The US could use every cruise missile in its inventory and there would be a panoply of Chinese targets still untouched.

            But if we’ve already used all the cruise missiles, we don’t have any more cruise missiles to shoot. By the time a carrier gets nuked, either the targets would be gone, or we’d be out of missiles. Pick one.

            With ICBMs? Against targets suitable for ICBMs? I reiterate, absurd.

            I will admit that the reference to ICBMs was offhand, and not a detailed targeting plan. Yes, it is more likely that we’d use ALCMs or something of that nature. But that road leads to ICBMs an uncomfortable percentage of the time.

            Nonsense peddled by a bizarre array of people who ought to have known better.

            At least you know something.

            A ‘dismissive response’ is what I gave you. ‘Absurd.’

            No, him dismissing you.

            Uh huh.

            So a weird Russian idea that the Russians don’t even support, much less the Chinese, who have a much smaller nuclear program than they could have?

            I guess they didn’t read enough ‘actual books’ about nuclear weapons.

            Yes, there are parallels to some 50s doctrines. Those doctrines may even have been good ones at the time. (A position I’m partial to.) But those are not the doctrines that shape current thinking. Tactical nukes went out of style in the 80s, for a lot of reasons. Threat of escalation is one. Improved conventional weapons are another. Both apply here.

            Morality doesn’t enter into it. The US is the one being aggressive, forward, adventurous, regardless of the moral purity of its aims.

            You missed my point. Why is it the US being aggressive? Are we determining aggression on simple geographical proximity? On historic links? Russia invaded Ukraine. China’s behavior in the South China Sea is not notably restrained, either. To call wanting to maintain the status quo ‘aggressive’ is Orwellian.

            150kt, or thereabouts. Probably 2-3km?

            The slide rule says 17 psi overpressure at 1 nm from that warhead. Unfortunately, I can’t turn up a value for blast hardening right now (although I suspect it may be somewhere in one of my books, but I have a lot), but I believe that’s in the ‘damaged, not dead’ range. That’s light damage on reinforced concrete and seismic structures, for a baseline.

            It’s less, obviously. That doesn’t mean intercepting a supersonic sea-skimmer before it reaches 0m isn’t incredibly difficult. When you give the missile much more ‘play’ in terms of where it can detonate and still fuck you up, you make interception still more difficult. And the consequences of failure much more severe.

            ESSM range is 30 nm. You’re only evading CIWS and are firmly within RAM range. So I’m not sure what it gains you.

            Nukes are expensive – damn right. Carriers are even more expensive. You can afford to throw a whole lot of nukes at each carrier if you have to – and, to be clear, I would claim you don’t have to.

            Comparing the nukes to the carrier is missing the point entirely. You’re comparing them to the alternative conventional missiles. How much does the warhead cost compared to the missile? Whoever is right about defenses, you mean to tell me that the defenses in that last 1-2 km are going to shoot down so many missiles that it’s cheaper to buy nukes than to buy more missiles?

            Missed this earlier. With the first, most central nuke, St. Louis would be ‘devastated.’ If your definition of ‘devastated’ is not a single building standing in the whole metro area you would need a hell of a lot more nukes than you used.

            Maybe I’m not using either definition. Maybe I’m using the definition where I’m trying to kill the most important military targets. Because that first bomb leaves downtown totally intact. (It was aimed at the airport, where Boeing has a plant.) I stand by my targeteering as a reasonable effort under current circumstances. The details are in OT 69.25.

            Now a few American ICBMs, say three, carry 24 475 kt nukes into a country – I call that country ‘devastated.’ Any country in the world would be consumed by that event for a good period of time.

            If you’re going to take my use of ICBM excessively literally, I’m going to do the same to you. Check how many warheads each US ICBM carries. And stop being amazed when I find it hard to take you seriously when you make mistakes like this after being pedantic to me.

            @The Nybbler

            I can devastate New York City with one nuke.

            No, you can devastate Manhattan (ignoring that nukemap doesn’t take things like shadowing into account, which would be very important in practice there), which is an unusually compact target. The rest of NYC is OK, and the trick conspicuously fails when you try it on any other US city.

          • pontifex says:

            [Russia invaded Crimea] After Ukraine’s president, the one who was relatively friendly to Russia, the one the Crimeans (largely pro-Russia) voted for, was violently deposed. Like I said, a response to an attempt to destroy what remains of Russia’s sphere of influence. Reactive.

            Good point! Also, I don’t know if you knew this, but when the Nazis invaded France, it wasn’t an aggressive act. It was just a response to an attempt to destroy German civilization by Judeo-Communist forces. Reactive. I think it’s great that humanity has come so far in moving beyond aggressiveness, that we can even send troops to invade other countries without being considered “aggressive” by all right-thinking people.

            [Note to the humor-impaired: the preceding paragraph is sarcasm. The Nazis were scumbags.]

            Comparing China’s sand-dredging and Russia’s attempt to hold on to some scraps of influence in its near abroad to the quixotic flurry of invasions and ‘interventions’ the US emits is laughable.

            I think pretty much everyone on SSC hates US foreign policy. The libertarians and anarcho-capitalists probably hate it for different reasons than the progressives and hard-line leftists, of course… Nobody in this thread was arguing that US foreign policy was good. Just that it’s forehead-slappingly stupid to call invading another country “not aggressive.”

            This means in practice carriers can’t really be used to fuck up Russia/China’s shit. As the offensive tool that they are, their realistic use is fucking up the little guy…. Which leads into my objection that fucking up the little guy ain’t gave us shit, ain’t eva gave us shit. So I don’t think very highly of the carrier.

            Your point of view is not self-consistent. If Russia and China have to “preserve their traditional sphere of influence,” then surely we do too? And carriers are a good way to do that.

            Nobody is ever really neutral in a modern war. At best, they’re Switzerland, a place that is de-facto controlled by one of the big guys.

          • ilkarnal says:

            No, him dismissing you.

            Then my response was appropriately ‘dismissive’ in response.

            But if we’ve already used all the cruise missiles, we don’t have any more cruise missiles to shoot.

            We wouldn’t have already used all our cruise missiles. That was not implied by my reply. If I point out that you could use all the bullets in your gun and still leave people in this city alive, ‘IF YOU’VE ALREADY USED ALL THE BULLETS YOU CAN’T SHOOT ANYONE’ is not a very insightful response. As has been sadly typical.

            By the time a carrier gets nuked, either the targets would be gone, or we’d be out of missiles.

            Or, as would obviously be the case, we wouldn’t use ALL our cruise missiles. There’s continuous production of new cruise missiles, there’s the limitations of delivery platforms, there’s the need for strategic reserves.

            I will admit that the reference to ICBMs was offhand, and not a detailed targeting plan. Yes, it is more likely that we’d use ALCMs or something of that nature. But that road leads to ICBMs an uncomfortable percentage of the time.

            OK. So ‘the US response involves ICBMs’ was a misleading comment, even if you were implying an absurdly noncentral use of ICBMs. But that isn’t getting at the real issue. ‘The US response involves ICBMs’ is a smugfuck thing to say, implying ‘You wouldn’t DARE to do this because of course we would OBLITERATE you in response.’ If you mean ‘The US response involves ICBMs on some tiny little bullshit islands, maybe’ then you should SAY THAT.

            Getting into a hot war with Russia or China leads to ICBMs ‘an uncomfortable percentage of the time.’ Nuking a clearly delineated military target at sea is certainly a risky escalation, but depending on the situation it could be less risky than leaving it alive.

            ‘The response involves us demolishing the Chinese artificial islands, possibly with nuclear armed cruise missiles’ is a perfectly unobjectionable statement.

            How about next time you step back right away and cut all the preceding huffing and puffing.

            Check how many warheads each US ICBM carries. And stop being amazed when I find it hard to take you seriously when you make mistakes like this after being pedantic to me.

            Trident is an ‘intercontinental ballistic missile.’ You would usually say SLBM, instead of ICBM, but it is a submarine launched… intercontinental ballistic missile. It was clear I meant Trident II when I referred to the W88 warhead.

            http://www.military-today.com/missiles/trident_2.htm

            I am not the only one to use the acronym in this way. It is nonstandard but not literally wrong.

            Your point properly made is that LGM-30, which is what you would usually be referring to with ‘ICBMs,’ has three W78 warheads, not the 8 W88 warheads of Trident III. Three W78s are considerably less destructive than 8 W88s – assuming the latter is unfairly exaggerating your response. That’s a fair point. Just come out and make it. Snarky bullshit is annoying and thoroughly unimpressive.

            If you’re going to take my use of ICBM excessively literally

            I was never being ‘excessively literal.’ Your response implied something that was incorrect, and also ridiculous. If I say ‘My response to you putting my child in detention involves THIS AXE!!!!!’ It’s perfectly clear that I don’t mean that I am gonna go take some chunks out of the school’s lawn. And if I didn’t even intend to do that with an axe, my statement is even more unrepresentative. It is, what’s the word… Oh yes, absurd. Stupid, even. In retrospect I should have been harsher. To turn around and say ‘How COULD you act like I was threatening you with the axe??? Of COURSE I meant I would go tear up parts of your lawn with this hammer. How could you be so EXCESSIVELY LITERAL’ is way, way more stupid.

            Or just dishonest backpedaling.

            So a weird Russian idea that the Russians don’t even support

            That a significant fraction of Russians in relevant military positions apparently supported very recently. The fact that this was taken seriously for some time by the military of one of the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers makes it something you don’t get to dismiss as ‘patently ludicrous to anyone who has read actual books on nuclear weapons.’

            Yes, there are parallels to some 50s doctrines. Those doctrines may even have been good ones at the time. (A position I’m partial to.)

            You claim that something is patently absurd to ‘anyone who has read actual books on nuclear weapons,’ that is a claim that rests on ‘anyone who has read actual books on nuclear weapons,’ which is a whole group of people with a great deal more collective clout than YOU.

            But those are not the doctrines that shape current thinking.

            Current thinking is not responding to an overwhelming conventional imbalance that threatens to sweep us away. If China is getting assraped by carriers and can’t do shit about it conventionally, it’s not unreasonable to claim that their thinking will run along the same lines as those in similar positions went down. Like the West Germans at certain points, like the Russians during some part of the ’90s.

            Are we determining aggression on simple geographical proximity? On historic links?

            How about either? How close is the US to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria? What are its deep historic links to these places?

            Russia invaded Ukraine.

            After Ukraine’s government was overthrown by a coalition that included some violently anti-Russian members. In protection of those areas of Ukraine that were pro-Russia and voted overwhelmingly for the president who was violently deposed. And yes, it matters that Ukraine borders Russia and that not very long ago they were part of the same Union.

            China’s behavior in the South China Sea is not notably restrained, either.

            It is compared even to invading Ukraine, which is restraint personified compared to US actions.

            Unfortunately, I can’t turn up a value for blast hardening right now (although I suspect it may be somewhere in one of my books, but I have a lot), but I believe that’s in the ‘damaged, not dead’ range.

            So you didn’t have numbers in mind for how much overpressure the planes on the deck can withstand, then. The question is whether I am wrong that those planes can withstand considerably less overpressure than the ship itself. If you’re gonna act like a smug asshole over me making that implication, I would fucking hope you had something behind that.

            I also wonder about the thermal pulse. Could that in itself fuck some things up – certainly people on the deck, but what about the equipment? Would it melt or significantly weaken the tyres, for example? Melt some plastic in the cockpit? I’m not sure, but it seems plausible.

            Whoever is right about defenses, you mean to tell me that the defenses in that last 1-2 km are going to shoot down so many missiles that it’s cheaper to buy nukes than to buy more missiles?

            It’s not just about not having to make that last couple km. It’s the fact that instead of the end-point having to be along the surface area of the carrier, the end-point can be anywhere in a 1-3km radius hemisphere centered on the carrier (or other target in the CVBG, though those are more durable.) ECM solicitations that could lead the conventional missile to miss completely can leave the nuke still detonating within acceptable radius.

            It takes the carrier about 3.5 minutes to travel 3km. The Moskit missile travels at ~45 kilometers a minute at low altitude, faster at high altitude. That means an Su-34 can from ~150km launch on the carrier’s position and if the missile simply detonates as soon as it reaches that position, with no further guidance whatsoever the carrier still gets fucked up.

            The missile that has been armed with a nuclear warhead has a great deal more freedom and room for error in terms of terminal maneuver. This matters. The greater damage done also matters.

            What is cheaper is not the question. In the moment they cannot turn nuclear warheads into more cruise missiles. Their delivery of cruise missiles is also bottlenecked by delivery platforms.

            I would claim it isn’t a good use of nuclear warheads because the defenses of the carrier aren’t nearly as effective as you imply. But if they were, then taking out a carrier which is striking crucial targets would be an excellent use of several nuclear armed cruise missiles.

            Maybe I’m not using either definition. Maybe I’m using the definition where I’m trying to kill the most important military targets.

            That’s an idiosyncratic definition of ‘devastate.’

            ____________________________________________________________

            Good point! Also, I don’t know if you knew this, but when the Nazis invaded France, it wasn’t an aggressive act. It was just a response to an attempt to destroy German civilization by Judeo-Communist forces. Reactive.

            The differences are pretty obvious.

            Just that it’s forehead-slappingly stupid to call invading another country “not aggressive.

            Depends what preceded that invasion. And the issue is comparative.

            Your point of view is not self-consistent. If Russia and China have to “preserve their traditional sphere of influence,” then surely we do too?

            No one ‘has to’ do anything. Russia and China’s actions have been in line with their national self-interest. The relative aggressiveness/adventurousness aside, which is a point that I am happy to maintain, our interventions as I pointed out earlier ‘ain’t gave us shit.’ If we seized some material benefit from our actions I would be much more supportive of them.

            Nobody is ever really neutral in a modern war.

            You are free to stay out of it. France didn’t have to go into Iraq. We don’t have to go anywhere.

          • bean says:

            We wouldn’t have already used all our cruise missiles. That was not implied by my reply. If I point out that you could use all the bullets in your gun and still leave people in this city alive, ‘IF YOU’VE ALREADY USED ALL THE BULLETS YOU CAN’T SHOOT ANYONE’ is not a very insightful response. As has been sadly typical.

            No, it’s entirely on-point. I asked what targets would be left after the initial (pre-nuke) conventional cruise missile strikes to launch retaliatory strikes on. You said that there would be some because the US didn’t have enough cruise missiles to kill all of the targets. But if we’re limited by our missile stocks, what do we use to launch the retaliatory strikes?

            Or, as would obviously be the case, we wouldn’t use ALL our cruise missiles. There’s continuous production of new cruise missiles, there’s the limitations of delivery platforms, there’s the need for strategic reserves.

            The whole point of retaliation is that you’re doing more than you otherwise would have. If the Chinese launch a nuke at a carrier in a war that is not already all-out, then we need to launch a full-scale nuclear strike because they’ve clearly gone crazy.

            OK. So ‘the US response involves ICBMs’ was a misleading comment, even if you were implying an absurdly noncentral use of ICBMs. But that isn’t getting at the real issue. ‘The US response involves ICBMs’ is a smugfuck thing to say, implying ‘You wouldn’t DARE to do this because of course we would OBLITERATE you in response.’ If you mean ‘The US response involves ICBMs on some tiny little bullshit islands, maybe’ then you should SAY THAT.

            I have limited time. I was trying to point out that nuclear weapons are serious business, and the Chinese would need to gain a massive advantage for it to be worth the increased risk of all-out nuclear war, and that the advantage just wasn’t there.

            ‘The response involves us demolishing the Chinese artificial islands, possibly with nuclear armed cruise missiles’ is a perfectly unobjectionable statement.

            I had falsely assumed that the general assumption of good faith that prevailed in the battleship threads would carry over to this one, and was a bit sloppy in my answer. I was wrong.
            As for terminology, if you’re going to nitpick, I’m going to nitpick back. I’m well aware that you meant Trident II when you brought up the W88. But if you’re going to be pedantic, I’m perfectly willing to play the game. There aren’t enough W88s to equip all of the Trident IIs, so most are armed with 100 kt W76s taken from Trident Is. And the ICBMs are almost all single warheads today.

            That a significant fraction of Russians in relevant military positions apparently supported very recently. The fact that this was taken seriously for some time by the military of one of the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers makes it something you don’t get to dismiss as ‘patently ludicrous to anyone who has read actual books on nuclear weapons.’

            All sorts of weird things get taken seriously by serious militaries. I’d point to LCS and Zumwalt as prime examples. Also, the Russians are not the Chinese.

            Current thinking is not responding to an overwhelming conventional imbalance that threatens to sweep us away. If China is getting assraped by carriers and can’t do shit about it conventionally, it’s not unreasonable to claim that their thinking will run along the same lines as those in similar positions went down. Like the West Germans at certain points, like the Russians during some part of the ’90s.

            Pick one:
            1. Carriers are weak and vulnerable to the Chinese.
            2. Carriers are likely to beat the Chinese so badly that they will break out the nukes.

            Yes, if the US is clearly beating the Chinese, nukes are possibly on the table for them. This is an inherent limit on any war with the Chinese, and the reason we haven’t seen a great power war since 1945. Any war between nuclear powers is going to be carefully fought to avoid a nuclear war. The last one was fought so carefully that we never actually shot at each other directly.

            So you didn’t have numbers in mind for how much overpressure the planes on the deck can withstand, then. The question is whether I am wrong that those planes can withstand considerably less overpressure than the ship itself. If you’re gonna act like a smug asshole over me making that implication, I would fucking hope you had something behind that.

            That number, I do have, but forgot to pull last night. For jet fighters, you’ll have 50% out of service but field-repairable at 5 psi and 50% out of service and depot-repairable at 8 psi. (I think a carrier is probably ‘light depot’) You get to 8 psi at 2760 yards and 5 psi at 3830 yards. However, these are both at optimum burst height, which is sort of impossible in your supersonic sea-skimming missile. So I’ll use ground-level numbers instead, which are 2000 yards for 8 psi and 2390 yards for 5 psi. So yes, in theory a 150 kt nuke at ~2 km would do a lot of damage to the deck park. But it wouldn’t necessarily be game over, and the planes would definitely be repairable. (And these numbers are from the 50s. I believe that the situation has generally gotten better since then.)
            (Also note that 17 psi at 1 nm is from a weapon at optimum altitude, not on the surface. Again, comments about sea-skimming apply.)

            I also wonder about the thermal pulse. Could that in itself fuck some things up – certainly people on the deck, but what about the equipment? Would it melt or significantly weaken the tyres, for example? Melt some plastic in the cockpit? I’m not sure, but it seems plausible.

            Google ‘effects of nuclear weapons’ and find out yourself what the thermal pulse numbers are. My source (AMCP 706-161, sadly paywalled) indicates that the blast is the primary damage mechanism for aircraft. Some of my books indicate that thermal was more of a concern for ships, but I believe that was in the context of ‘after we deal with blast’.

            It’s not just about not having to make that last couple km. It’s the fact that instead of the end-point having to be along the surface area of the carrier, the end-point can be anywhere in a 1-3km radius hemisphere centered on the carrier (or other target in the CVBG, though those are more durable.) ECM solicitations that could lead the conventional missile to miss completely can leave the nuke still detonating within acceptable radius.

            You’re sure giving ECM a lot of credit. I’d spend the cash on ECCM instead. Cheaper, and less political fallout.

            The missile that has been armed with a nuclear warhead has a great deal more freedom and room for error in terms of terminal maneuver. This matters. The greater damage done also matters.

            It’s also 10 times as expensive, and that includes the ones that get shot down before they go off. This sort of logic worked a lot better back in the 70s, before modern electronics.

            What is cheaper is not the question. In the moment they cannot turn nuclear warheads into more cruise missiles. Their delivery of cruise missiles is also bottlenecked by delivery platforms.

            If the bottleneck is delivery platforms, then I can’t see nuclear warheads making things better. Nobody is casual with the things, and the overhead cost of nuclear capability is significant.

            That’s an idiosyncratic definition of ‘devastate.’

            Not really. I’ve done a fair bit of research into targeting methods, and what I provided isn’t that far off from what you’d get in a modern environment. I want the city dead, not wounded, and that doesn’t happen with one bomb on a reasonable-sized city.

            I’m not even going to bother answering your nonsense on American ‘aggression’.

          • ilkarnal says:

            No, it’s entirely on-point. I asked what targets would be left after the initial (pre-nuke) conventional cruise missile strikes to launch retaliatory strikes on. You said that there would be some because the US didn’t have enough cruise missiles to kill all of the targets. But if we’re limited by our missile stocks, what do we use to launch the retaliatory strikes?

            We will not strike all possible targets. We will not use all our missiles in stock. We are limited not just by the missiles we have on hand but by delivery platforms and opportunity and political considerations. We have, at the very least, nuclear armed cruise missiles that we would not have used at this stage in the scenario.

            If the Chinese launch a nuke at a carrier in a war that is not already all-out, then we need to launch a full-scale nuclear strike because they’ve clearly gone crazy.

            ‘All-out’ means we have devastated each other’s major cities. There is a huge amount of room beneath that to play with. The war could be over Taiwan, for example. It could get very hot but still be limited to that theater. Strikes from our carriers on Chinese assets in that limited theater, including parts of the Chinese mainland that are close to Taiwan, could bring up the prospect of a Chinese defeat, which might be politically impossible for the CPC to accept. After conventional attacks fail, they could resort to nukes.

            “We need to launch a full-scale nuclear strike because they’ve clearly gone crazy” is more bullshit bluster. If Chinese cities/industrial areas are being devastated by airstrikes, they are not ‘crazy’ to respond with whatever level of force removes that threat and safeguards their shores. This would be perfectly well understood. For them to sit back while scenes of devastation sweep Chinese media would be very perilous indeed.

            Pick one:
            1. Carriers are weak and vulnerable to the Chinese.
            2. Carriers are likely to beat the Chinese so badly that they will break out the nukes.

            IF you are correct – which you aren’t – about the potency of the CVBGs defenses, THEN breaking out nukes makes a great deal of sense.

            You aren’t, so it doesn’t.

            There was nothing unclear about this position in my replies.

            I had falsely assumed that the general assumption of good faith that prevailed in the battleship threads would carry over to this one, and was a bit sloppy in my answer.

            I didn’t interpret what you said in bad faith. I interpreted it correctly. My axe-waving parent example from before is on point. There are implications to saying your response will ‘involve’ a given deadly implement. Under some circumstances that implication is just absurd.

            You knew perfectly well what you were doing, or you simply misspoke, in which case you should have promptly said so and admitted that while your intention was not to say something absurd, you accidentally did. “The reason that it won’t happen is because the US response involves ICBMs.” This is a perfect motte-and-bailey example, only you couldn’t even salvage your motte. You were vastly magnifying the probable US response, when really you could only begin to defend the very minimum edge of what a response that ‘involves ICBMs’ would entail.

            If being ‘a bit sloppy’ means implying something nonsensical, having that pointed out lead to immediate retraction, not all this rigamarole.

            And your illustrious very senior friend should not have gotten so bitchy.

            All sorts of weird things get taken seriously by serious militaries.

            You can call anything ‘weird’ that your heart desires, but don’t say such things are ”patently ludicrous to anyone who has read actual books on |subject.|”

            Yes, if the US is clearly beating the Chinese, nukes are possibly on the table for them.

            At least you know something.

            I’m not even going to bother answering your nonsense on American ‘aggression’

            That’s a relief. I don’t want correcting nonsense in this thread to turn into a full time job.

          • bean says:

            We will not strike all possible targets. We will not use all our missiles in stock. We are limited not just by the missiles we have on hand but by delivery platforms and opportunity and political considerations. We have, at the very least, nuclear armed cruise missiles that we would not have used at this stage in the scenario.

            Your quote that started this:

            Much more likely responses include conventional cruise missile strikes on more major Chinese military targets

            (and the next phrase was about backing down, not about ALCMs).
            If the Chinese start breaking out the nukes while we still have the capability to strike ‘more major targets’ with conventional cruise missiles, then they’re very far off the playbook, and everyone gets very nervous, to the point where the button marked ‘SIOP’ becomes a real option. If the US is clearly winning the war, our playbook says ‘back off, so they don’t break out the nukes’.

            IF you are correct – which you aren’t – about the potency of the CVBGs defenses, THEN breaking out nukes makes a great deal of sense.

            Except that it doesn’t. Nukes are expensive and politically very different from conventional weapons, and only very slightly more effective.

            You aren’t, so it doesn’t.

            And yet you don’t seem to understand how the systems work today. What is your source for disregarding my PK estimates? I’ll point to Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems as one of my prime sources.

            I didn’t interpret what you said in bad faith. I interpreted it correctly. My axe-waving parent example from before is on point. There are implications to saying your response will ‘involve’ a given deadly implement. Under some circumstances that implication is just absurd.

            You interpreted a comment meant to read ‘this way lies nuclear war’ as a detailed evaluation of the likely US response, and have continued to beat me with it even after I clarified what I was doing there. Yes, it was sloppy. No, I am not made of time. Most of my response to James was looking at the tactical implications of nuclear weapon use, not the strategic ones, but I thought it was worth pointing out that they are considered serious business on that level.
            And whatever criticisms you can level at me for being sloppy, I can throw them back doubled. All you did in the first post in this string was call what I said absurd, leaving me in the dark as to what you were thinking was the case. If you’d pointed out that ALCMs were more likely, I’d have agreed with you. But as far as I could tell, you seemed to think that there was no risk of escalation at all, and that the US would just back down. Or something like that. Which is nonsensical enough that I consider my initial response to be kind, and don’t blame John at all for writing you off immediately. I’m about to do the same.

            That’s a relief. I don’t want correcting nonsense in this thread to turn into a full time job.

            There’s been a lot of nonsense, most of it from you. I’ll note that you have yet to admit error on nuclear effects, or on weapons loadouts. I’m spending a lot of time and effort cleaning up your mess. (And you’re not citing anything, or doing any research beyond basic google, which is probably a bad sign.) It’s not worth my time. Good-bye.

          • John Schilling says:

            OK, this is getting kind of ridiculous.

            Putting tactical nuclear warheads on antiship missiles marginally increases their ability to defeat aircraft carrier battle groups, probably negating Phalanx but not other missile defenses, and turning what would have been a damaging hit that probably forces the CVBG to withdraw(*) into a spectacular kill. A single nuclear missile in this application would almost certainly be shot down, so accomplishing anything useful would require at least a dozen or two – a significant portion of e.g. China’s nuclear arsenal. And if any of them actually detonate, on target or otherwise, it would place China or whomever at risk of being drawn into an escalating nuclear war. All for the sake of sinking an aircraft carrier that they probably could have sent home with conventional ordnance.

            To have any chance of controlling the subsequent escalation, they would have to subordinate tactical command and control of the strike to the highest level of political control, lest your field commanders accidentally nuke the Americans while your diplomats were negotiating a cease-fire. At this point, you are actually less likely to defeat the carrier for lack of ability to strike a fleeting target at the opportune moment.

            Tactical or strategic nuclear weapons on cruise or ballistic missiles substantially increase the ability to defeat e.g. airbases, where unlike aircraft carriers the important structures can be widely dispersed and protected by meters of reinforced concrete. In this application, you probably only need the one nuclear missile because very few nations (not China) have even a minimal ability to intercept ICBM-class targets.

            And using nuclear weapons in at least proportionate response to an enemy first use, enormously enhances the credibility of a nation’s deterrence. Really, anything less than proportionate nuclear response pretty much destroys the credibility of deterrence, signals to all of one’s adversaries that they should nuke early and often and settle for nothing less than victory. In the long term, for a nation facing multiple threats on a global basis and unwilling to surrender on all fronts, this ultimately increases the risk of large-scale nuclear warfare.

            China has little to gain and much to lose by putting nuclear warheads on any of the missiles it might fire at a US Navy aircraft carrier. The United States has its entire global influence to lose by not retaliating in kind, and more still at risk if its enemies do not settle for merely the rest of the globe. So the idea that because “China and Russia aren’t in the forward/aggressive posture”, they are at all likely to launch nuclear strikes against the US Navy and the United States is going to simply back down from that, is not terribly plausible. If your world view is one where the United States is an arrogant, cowardly bully all but invading the aggrieved Chinese, I can see how that might make sense, but if that’s your world view then a discussion of naval tactics probably isn’t the place to thresh it out.

            Also:
            “Absurd” as a paragraph
            “inverse shit sandwich”
            “which I reiterate means fuck-all to me”
            “God left annoying passive aggressive bullshit in the reply box”
            “How about next time you step back right away and cut all the preceding huffing and puffing”
            And an average of I’m guessing 2-3 “fucks” per post, at least half of them directed at me or bean.

            I’m not sure why he’s trying to engage with you, but I’m done. We’ve both given you sound arguments; you started with contemptuous dismissal and escalated the level of insult and obscenity at every possible opportunity. This isn’t the place where that impresses or persuades anyone.

            * If nothing else, the escorts will have substantially depleted their inventory of surface-to-air missiles at a time when the group has clearly been localized by an enemy within striking range

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Christ on a crutch, @ilkarnal must be the blackest pot ever to spy a kettle.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Putting tactical nuclear warheads on antiship missiles marginally increases their ability to defeat aircraft carrier battle groups, probably negating Phalanx but not other missile defenses

            No. The vast increase in flexibility in terminal maneuver, the fact that what was a complete miss turns into guaranteed soft-kill – these are very big deals.

            A single nuclear missile in this application would almost certainly be shot down, so accomplishing anything useful would require at least a dozen or two

            You would mix in some nuclear with a wave of conventional. You don’t need all nuclear.

            And if any of them actually detonate, on target or otherwise, it would place China or whomever at risk of being drawn into an escalating nuclear war. All for the sake of sinking an aircraft carrier that they probably could have sent home with conventional ordnance.

            If they send it home with conventional ordinance, obviously they don’t nuke it. If the defenses and general evasive ability are as good as they are being sold, they have a very very difficult time sending it home with just conventional ordinance. Sending them home, the likely multiple CVBGs they have to deal with.

            If your world view is one where the United States is an arrogant, cowardly bully all but invading the aggrieved Chinese, I can see how that might make sense, but if that’s your world view then a discussion of naval tactics probably isn’t the place to thresh it out.

            The US is arrogant and cowardly, that’s just obvious. Bully – well, who cares. It could be completely justified in its war with China. Grant that the plight of the Taiwanese is the moral issue of our age. The US is no bully but an honorable knight in shining armor. Nevertheless, the Chinese will be defending their homeland and the US will be fighting far abroad. This matters. The US has proved very willing to pull out when things turn sour, and things would turn very very sour.

            And an average of I’m guessing 2-3 “fucks” per post, at least half of them directed at me or bean.

            In response to the passive aggressive nonsense shoved in my face by you two wonderfully self-confident fellows. “Inverse shit sandwich” is a perfect response for the bullshit you posted. Do you defend it? What call was there for

            You are speaking from foolish ignorance that you ought to have corrected before posting.

            Do you think you’re some sort of luminary? Where the fuck do you get off saying shit like in response to a perfectly justified comment that focused on the content of someone else’s post, not them? Bean backed off from his original statement, and he backed off for a reason.

            It would be justified if you were right and your apparent high self-regard was justified. It isn’t.

            I’m not sure why he’s trying to engage with you, but I’m done.

            What do you think the value of the flouncing airs you two put on is? I’ll tell you, it’s ZERO. If you don’t want to talk then just don’t talk. Please. You don’t impress me. I’m responding to correct your bullshit claims and your bullshit attitude. It would be just. great. if you would stop vomiting smug into the reply box.

            Christ on a crutch, @ilkarnal must be the blackest pot ever to spy a kettle.

            I exchange salt for salt. These two clearly think very highly of themselves, and since they were kind enough to make clear they don’t think very highly of me – I’ll make clear that they have my contempt, and why.

            I’m NOT saying that they have to ‘be nice.’ I’m pointing out that I’m not defecting against some norm of good grace that they set forth. And that I am right, and they are wrong.

            I want to warn everyone in the strongest possible terms not to take these two seriously. They seem to have a firm grasp of certain technical facts – and incredibly poor judgement. The fool in scholar’s garb is the most perilous.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I want to warn everyone in the strongest possible terms not to take these two seriously. They seem to have a firm grasp of certain technical facts – and incredibly poor judgement. The fool in scholar’s garb is the most perilous.

            And yet these two are longstanding valued members of the community with proven track records (presumably even the lefties here can agree on that for technical matters). Hell, John’s even cited in the news on nuclear missile things from time to time.

            Meanwhile, you are some new rando with an ICBM-sized chip on their shoulder. Shit man, I’ve had a nukes discussion with bean where I felt the need to cool off before posting because I was getting pissed off, and I think you’re way out of line.

          • ilkarnal says:

            And yet these two are longstanding valued members of the community with proven track records (presumably even the lefties here can agree on that for technical matters).

            All the more reason to call them the out when they get something wrong. Apparently they are used to getting away with spewing poorly thought out offhand nonsense unchallenged. That’s a bad thing. People who believe wacky things are fine. People who believe wacky things and act like those challenging them are challenging the laws of thermodynamics are bad news – or at least annoying.

            Hell, John’s even cited in the news on nuclear missile things from time to time.

            Oh, I know. And I also remember this gem of a comment from him. F-35s armed with lasers as traffic control for <10lb drones? Insanity, on multiple levels. King Airs flying around zapping errant drones with lasers – still insane. No matter how dire the proposed micro-drone threat, this approach just doesn't work. Say a group is strapping grenades to drones like this and flying them into crowds/VIPs. You have to have remarkably poor judgement to think an F-35 patrolling over the general area could do a goddamn thing.

            I’m not impressed with him. The best I’ve seen from him is him stating the obvious on NK (not just in the article). Again, wacky ideas are fine. They aren’t fine accompanied with his attitude. ‘Oh, well everyone else is very impressed with him!’ If true, that makes it worse.

            Meanwhile, you are some new rando with an ICBM-sized chip on their shoulder. Shit man, I’ve had a nukes discussion with bean where I felt the need to cool off before posting because I was getting pissed off, and I think you’re way out of line.

            I’m not out of line at all. Their taking the one line ‘absurd’ – in response to a truly absurd proposition – as some dire insult is a sign that their egos are way out of line.

            I’m not ‘new,’ and I don’t think it would matter if I was. Chip on my shoulder? What self respecting person could hear You are speaking from foolish ignorance that you ought to have corrected before posting when they were absolutely in the right, and let that shit stand?

            God shouldn’t be that smug.

          • ilkarnal says:

            Reading through the nuke thread you linked – familiar annoying smug attitude resurfaces, but that aside – people seem to assume that nuclear war would stop with the first exchange. Even these anti-alarmists are acting like after the nuclear exchange it’s time to rebuild.

            Well, since the world doesn’t end – they are right about that – the nuclear exchange is only the beginning of the war. The two sides will look to finish each other off. The bioweapons program of the Soviet Union, inherited by the Russian Federation, looms large here. Probably wouldn’t be the end of the road for them… Probably would be, for us.

            Generally, I’ve been very impressed with how the Soviets planned and built for the great potential conflict that faced them.

          • I want to warn everyone in the strongest possible terms not to take these two seriously.

            You would be more successful in that endeavor if you didn’t write in a style likely to discourage readers from taking you seriously.

          • Austin says:

            @ilkarnal

            From John’s comment you linked

            And really, an F-35 is overkill for this. A militarized King Air would be about right, or an airship parked over every threatened city. You could even use high buildings as a vantage point.

            Or, of course, a bigger drone.

            Misrepresenting what he said as advocating F-35’s and only F-35s is not helping your case.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ ilkarnal
            I was going to sit this thread out but I feel the need to voice my support for Gobbobobble here.

            John may be an arrogant ass but, as bean pointed out, you did arguably fire the first shot. In any case, you still haven’t addressed thier core argument. Namely that China (or any other hypothetical adversary for that matter) has little to gain and a lot to loose by deploying nukes in an anti-ship role, while the US has almost everything to loose if it doesn’t respond to a nuclear attack in kind.

          • ilkarnal says:

            You would be more successful in that endeavor if you didn’t write in a style likely to discourage readers from taking you seriously.

            If you are referring to the part where I’m very confrontational – I think that’s a necessary response to someone talking down to you, trying to set themselves up as an authority, if you want people to understand that they are totally undeserving of said authority. Being meek in the face of that sort of ‘correction’ would be accepting something that is impossible to accept in this case.

            If you’re referring to general writing style – I think my writing is very clear and readable, thank you very much.

            Misrepresenting what he said as advocating F-35’s and only F-35s is not helping your case.

            I didn’t. From my comment:

            F-35s armed with lasers as traffic control for <10lb drones? Insanity, on multiple levels. King Airs flying around zapping errant drones with lasers – still insane.

            Also, he said F-35s are ‘overkill,’ when really they wouldn’t work at all for this purpose. It wouldn’t just be cost-inefficient, it wouldn’t work. At all.

            John may be an arrogant ass but, as bean pointed out, you did arguably fire the first shot

            My ‘first shot’ was in my view completely appropriate, and as I said before bean backed down from the claim I was responding to for good reason. It is clear that that claim was absurd.

            John’s reply was completely unacceptable, unless you have a very high opinion of John and think he was right. I don’t, and he was obviously wrong.

            In any case, you still haven’t addressed thier core point that China (or any other hypothetical adversary for that matter) has little to gain and a lot to loose by deploying nukes in an anti-ship role

            I have addressed it, very directly and more than once. What they have to gain is enormously improved flexibility and chance to ‘hit,’ from the fact that they only need to come within 2-3km, and overall damage per warhead. I don’t think they’ll need this.

            If bean’s claim about the potency of the CVBGs defenses was correct, along with his claim about how difficult a CVBG is to locate, then it is very possible that they would need this. And it would indeed make their attacks considerably more effective.

            while the US has almost everything to loose if it doesn’t respond to a nuclear attack in kind.

            Wrong – but a nuclear attack ‘in kind’ is definitely not a bad idea. That wouldn’t involve ICBMs.

            China might very well view trading their artificial islands in the south china sea, or similar military targets, for the CVBGs wreaking havoc on their territory as a necessary sacrifice.

            I didn’t say the US definitely shouldn’t respond ‘in kind.’ I said straight up that it’s a perfectly respectable position.

            I have implied and will re-iterate that there is a strong possibility that the US backs down – amid bellicose rhetoric and perhaps symbolic strikes, possibly nuclear, on marginal targets. The US does not lose ‘everything’ or even close from doing this. It is clear that a nuclear attack on a carrier engaged in strikes against the country that nuked it is a very different kettle of fish than a nuclear attack on a US city or cities. As the US is not willing to trade away its major cities, it is put in a position where it must find tit-for-tat responses in the form of pure military targets that can’t be interpreted as existentially threatening.

            The US has many more such targets, and more important targets of this kind, around the world than China or Russia. It may decide to quit while only down a CVBG.

            Of course, it would never signal such intentions. But in practice, killing lots of Americans has been a great way to get the US to leave you alone. You’d be wise to note this, and compare bark to bite throughout the past several decades. When it comes to wars of choice, the US takes its hand from the cookie jar when burned.

            China would be very foolish to view this as a guarantee.

          • CatCube says:

            @ilkarnal

            Well, I can’t evaluate the technical portion of your argument with bean and John, but the part that I can evaluate, where you brush off a US nuclear response to a nuclear attack as “absurd”, is so sand-poundingly stupid that I frankly have to question everything else.

            Your contention is that China nukes a carrier, and as soon as the Defense Support Program satellites pick up the double flash, the obvious US response is to throw up its hands and say, “OK everybody, head back. The last survivors of the CVBG limp as far as you can. We’ll try to get some ships out of Guam to pick you up. All other forces start retrograde operations to the APOD. Good try everyone!” You think this is obvious enough to roll up in a smarmy one-word response, despite it being in direct contravention to US policy of 60 years, internal politics of the military and government, and at least a significant fraction of the actual population.

            Your smug response could just as easily be reworded as “Why would the Chinese risk their cities to take out one carrier?” I agree that the US gives up too easily–Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have an awful lot of dead people who threw in with us–but you apparently missed the fact that there were an awful lot of corpses between us going in and pulling out in all of those conflicts. Enough so that you need to explain why you think US policy won’t control, not merely assert it with one word.

            And, by the way, you aren’t returning “salt-for-salt.” The only one of the three of you using salty language is you. As somebody who uses some combination of “fuck,” “shit,” and “Goddamn” in almost every third post I make here, I notice that John and bean use profanity very rarely. You’ve just been pouring on salt.

            Edit: Your reply with clarification was posted while I was writing. So you *do* think that the US will respond with nuclear weapons, you just thought to pedantically make a one-word reply to the rather obvious metonymy of using “ICBM” for the more general “nuclear weapons.”

          • bean says:

            I’m pointing out that I’m not defecting against some norm of good grace that they set forth.

            This, I have to respond to. Naval Gazing started in mid-February, 5 months ago. I’ve read virtually every comment on all of my posts in the series. In all that time, we’ve never had an exchange half as vitriolic as this one, and they’ve been noted by several people for being polite, helpful threads. The first time I can recall you posting on one, and we get our first war. So yes, you are probably the defector. (I’ve even been proved wrong a couple of times. If I thought it would help, I’d post links, and I will if anyone else wants me to.)

            I want to warn everyone in the strongest possible terms not to take these two seriously. They seem to have a firm grasp of certain technical facts – and incredibly poor judgement. The fool in scholar’s garb is the most perilous.

            I’d say the same about you, but you’re more or less your own warning. Your unusual views about foreign policy have pretty much killed any chance of displacing either of us as a naval/military expert.

          • pontifex says:

            @John Schilling: your comment said exactly what I was trying to say, but much better. Thank you. And thanks, @bean, for the great series of posts…

          • ilkarnal says:

            Well, I can’t evaluate the technical portion of your argument with bean and John, but the part that I can evaluate, where you brush off a US nuclear response to a nuclear attack as “absurd”, is so sand-poundingly stupid that I frankly have to question everything else.

            It is explicitly clear in the thread you’re replying to that I believe a nuclear response in the form of a few nuclear-armed cruise missiles is a perfectly respectable prediction.

            Your contention is that China nukes a carrier, and as soon as the Defense Support Program satellites pick up the double flash, the obvious US response is to throw up its hands and say, “OK everybody, head back. The last survivors of the CVBG limp as far as you can. We’ll try to get some ships out of Guam to pick you up. All other forces start retrograde operations to the APOD. Good try everyone!”

            Certainly possible. I’m not sure where you get the impression that the US responds to casualties with renewed vigor – but that hasn’t been the pattern.

            Your smug response could just as easily be reworded as “Why would the Chinese risk their cities to take out one carrier?”

            No, it couldn’t. It is absolutely clear that the US would not respond to a carrier being nuked by trading away its major cities.

            but you apparently missed the fact that there were an awful lot of corpses between us going in and pulling out in all of those conflicts.

            China has the opportunity to produce these corpses at a much greater rate!

            And, by the way, you aren’t returning “salt-for-salt.” The only one of the three of you using salty language is you.

            Bullshit. Unless you’re a five year old kid who sweats at curse words, the contempt dripping from their replies, starting with John Schilling’s first reply, is absolutely worthy of my vigorous response. Especially when they are dead wrong.

            our reply with clarification was posted while I was writing. So you *do* think that the US will respond with nuclear weapons, you just thought to pedantically make a one-word reply to the rather obvious metonymy of using “ICBM” for the more general “nuclear weapons.

            ICBMs are not general ‘nuclear weapons.’ They are suited for large scale ‘countervalue’ strikes, and very unsuited to limited strikes.

            Bean was invoking the spectre of a full nuclear exchange where China and the US lose their cities, where it is absolutely inappropriate to do so. It is clear that that was absurd. He backed down – to the point of withdrawing from the claim that it would involve ICBMs at all. Eventually.

            He should have backed down immediately and straightforwardly. Schilling should not have said I was ‘speaking from ignorance that I should have corrected before posting’ when I stated the obvious. I called something that was clearly absurd, absurd, after pointing out why it was absurd.

            These two are used to spouting nonsense without anyone pointing out that it is nonsense, it seems.

            In all that time, we’ve never had an exchange half as vitriolic as this one

            Maybe because no-one has been unkind or knowledgeable enough to pop your bubble when you say something insane? Maybe because some people back down when John Schilling lectures them like he’s some kind of authority figure, rather than lodging the appropriate strenuous objection? Maybe because you seem to have been addressing much more obscure historical matters – just my impression from very brief perusal a couple times in the past – as opposed to modern and highly relevant issues like nuclear strategy?

            Maybe because people don’t know condescending arrogant bullshit when they see it, and mistake it for healthy confidence? In that regard, much depends on being knowledgeable enough to spot the fool who disguises himself as a guru.

            Your unusual views about foreign policy have pretty much killed any chance of displacing either of us as a naval/military expert.

            ????

            Do you think we’re competing for a job at the Atlantic Council? Displace you from what? This is an open forum. I can’t stop you from being wrong on the internet until the day your heart stops beating. I don’t think anyone should take either of you seriously, but I’m voicing that sentiment loudly and repeatedly in response to Schilling’s decision to cast aspersions on the replier in addition to the reply – and your tacit and explicit support of that decision.

            With that first reply it was clear I should respond in kind, unless the insult was withdrawn or at least the disgustingly arrogant tone went away. I’m not on some kind of crusade. I just feel obliged to respond to posts in my little thread here. And the subject interests me!

            This, I have to respond to.

            Hey, I thought you had no time and were finished replying to me. What exactly was the point of that smug idiotic posturing, again?

            Incidentally, I thank Gobbobobble for posting this thread. It provides a great example of how someone with poor judgement plus a pile of books yields someone with poor judgement and a pile of books.

            You’ve helped clarify something I’ve been kicking around in my head since I listened to this Julia Galef podcast, which among other things talks about ‘high information’ vs ‘low information’ voters and values. The problem is the importance of priors – someone with terribly inaccurate priors and a whole pile of information about a subject will likely still end up far off base, if the information is not of the sort that shakes up one’s priors.

            First of all, some people seem to have terribly wacky priors. Whether this is an issue fundamental to those people or whether they are produced through some unlucky chance-based process is unclear, but it’s definitely a thing.

            Second of all, there are efforts – large scale and organized – to systemically bias people’s priors when it comes to various subjects. As a rule of thumb, the more ‘political’ the subject or sub-subject is the more likely you are to run into such distortion. It’s possible that the places where people tend get their information are particularly well suited as vectors of these distortion campaigns.

            So while information is definitely great, it shouldn’t be surprising that ‘high information’ people often advocate for bizarre and obviously incorrect or destructive positions.

            Anyway. During the Cold War there was a sustained attempt to bias people’s views about how disastrous a thermonuclear exchange, in and of itself, would be. To catastrophize, essentially. That effort seems to have lost its motive force with the USSR’s collapse, and what remains of it are basically the legacy remnants of that campaign.

            Now the new push – much less vigorous than the old push – seems to be to say that nuclear exchange isn’t necessarily completely catastrophic, we have missile defenses which will get better and better, and they really wouldn’t ever dare to nuke us – their sabre rattling doesn’t and shouldn’t scare anyone. Their arsenal is rotting anyway. Soon they’ll be paved over by wondrous missile defense technology and their own decay.

            The problem is that the technical point which must be awarded is not as significant as it seems. Yes, thermonuclear exchange in and of itself won’t wipe us out. But that means that it won’t wipe them out either. Instead of being the end, it will be the beginning of an incredibly bitter conflict.

            Biological warfare, both against people and against the crops and livestock that sustain them, will likely rear its head. In the wake of a huge tide of injuries and deaths this line of attack will improve several-fold in efficiency.

            Conventional weaponry has not stood still since WW2, and what survives of the conventional militaries will continue to wreak havoc.

            It is apparent that nuclear weapons can be manufactured with a fairly minimal economic/industrial base. If one side doesn’t rapidly obliterate the other with what means remain after the exchange, production will re-start propelled by terrible vengeful purpose.

            To make my position clear, I would agree with the anti-catastrophizers that nuclear war is survivable and winnable. By one side. For the other, it will be quite as catastrophic as billed.

            I would be happy to support a crash-program where we do the actual work that would be required to make nuclear war survivable, winnable, then even practical. It is possible. But such grand efforts are not the purview of our slovenly and slothful elite. The present desultory missile defense projects are a parody of what that effort would have to entail.

            Anyway I am not railing against any great peril, just what I see as rank stupidity and arrogance. This kind of folly is only dangerous if it comes with balls, and the powers that be have no balls.

          • bean says:

            Maybe because no-one has been unkind or knowledgeable enough to pop your bubble when you say something insane? Maybe because some people back down when John Schilling lectures them like he’s some kind of authority figure, rather than lodging the appropriate strenuous objection? Maybe because you seem to have been addressing much more obscure historical matters – just my impression from very brief perusal a couple times in the past – as opposed to modern and highly relevant issues like nuclear strategy?

            Maybe because people don’t know condescending arrogant bullshit when they see it, and mistake it for healthy confidence? In that regard, much depends on being knowledgeable enough to spot the fool who disguises himself as a guru.

            So you’re claiming that I’ve been making things up for the past 5 months? In that case, there should be something in one of the top-level posts that’s an error that you can spot that nobody else called me on. I’ve been nice and indexed them for you. Find one, and provide sources for any counterclaim. (And if it’s ‘the battleship was not totally useless during WW2’, provide logic, too.)

            Hey, I thought you had no time and were finished replying to me. What exactly was the point of that smug idiotic posturing, again?

            The difference between ‘no time’ and ‘better ways to use my time’ is fairly obvious. I can argue with you, which is clearly pointless, or I can write more for the people who are actually interested in learning things. Doing the research it takes to deconstruct your factual claims takes a lot more time than dealing with that kind of petty personal sniping.

          • ilkarnal says:

            So you’re claiming that I’ve been making things up for the past 5 months?

            No.

            In that case, there should be something in one of the top-level posts that’s an error that you can spot that nobody else called me on.

            They don’t particularly interest me. You said:

            In all that time, we’ve never had an exchange half as vitriolic as this one, and they’ve been noted by several people for being polite, helpful threads. The first time I can recall you posting on one, and we get our first war. So yes, you are probably the defector.

            I pointed out several potential important ways that this particular case could be different from those other cases that didn’t devolve into vitriol. Do you know what ‘maybe’ means?

            Find one, and provide sources for any counterclaim.

            How about YOU be MY errand boy. Find several cases of John Schilling saying things like “I was going to write a charitable response, but only because I missed your last word” and “You are speaking from foolish ignorance that you ought to have corrected before posting.” See how often he gets friendly responses.

            Then, defend the idea that someone who has received this sort of reply from John, and believes John is taking a position that is obviously incorrect, is in the wrong if they respond in kind and tell John exactly what they think of him.

            The difference between ‘no time’ and ‘better ways to use my time’ is fairly obvious.

            In either case you ought to stay quiet.

            I can argue with you, which is clearly pointless, or I can write more for the people who are actually interested in learning things.

            What do you think you’re doing now? You’re arguing with me, but instead of marshaling interesting arguments you’re flouncing around whining about how this isn’t worth your time. That’s because being treated as some sort of higher authority is more important to you than the actual arguments. Well, that’s pathetic. Stop leavening your comments with this irritating drivel. Talk, or don’t – and if you do, then don’t be stupid enough to talk about why you shouldn’t be talking.

            Doing the research it takes to deconstruct your factual claims takes a lot more time than dealing with that kind of petty personal sniping.

            You don’t get to whine about personal sniping when you approve of personal sniping in response to my initial impersonal comment. If you two confined yourself to criticizing my post I would return the courtesy and confine my critiques to yours. You started this wonderful exploration of the worth of the conversationalists as opposed to the conversation. Well, Schilling started it and you gave your support later.

          • Spookykou says:

            Imagine if ilkarnal had just used a conventional comment to sink bean’s carrier post, this terrible comment war could have been avoided.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I know right?

          • dndnrsn says:

            The future of war is irregular.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Good thing we picked a chaos marine to be SecDef 😉

      • John Schilling says:

        Note also that nuclear missiles are really, really expensive, and China only has about 250 of them. Most of which are devoted to higher-priority tasks than sinking single aircraft carriers.

        Furthermore, nuclear missiles are politically sensitive and not something you want to hand out to a random Admiral or worse mere captain and say, “if you’ve got a shot at an aircraft carrier, take it”. All of China’s nuclear weapons, probably including the warheads for the submarine-launched ballistic missiles, belong to the Second Artillery Corps – an army organization that basically takes orders directly from Xi Jinping.

        So to make that practical, you’d need to have an extremely flexible and responsive command and control chain up to the highest levels, and you’d need some way to predict which missile out of a salvo would penetrate a CVBG’s defenses and so merit a nuclear warhead – or at least some way to narrow it down to five or so.

        • bean says:

          Oh, yes. This, too. One of the lesser-known problems with nuclear ABM systems is that they require much more rigorous command and control systems, which handicap their response time compared to non-nuclear systems. The same applies to anything nuclear, particularly when you’re talking about using it against something as expensive and high-profile as a carrier.

      • TheRadicalModerate says:

        A couple of things:

        1) Remember that blast radius is roughly proportional to the cube root of the weapon energy.

        2) A little naive wikipedia’ing lists the radius at which most civilian buildings will be destroyed (about 5 psi) as about 6.2 km for a 1 Mt airburst at 2000 m altitude. I’d guess that a carrier could withstand substantially more than that, but let’s be conservative.

        Here’s the thing about solid-fuel ballistic missiles: They pretty much always have the same flight time, because they always impart the same energy. (There’s no throttle on a solid-fuel rocket; it burns until the fuel is gone.) If you use an intermediate-range missile at a shorter range than it was designed for, you have to pop it up to a higher altitude, and it takes longer therefore to fall onto its target. Presumably, you’d aim the missile where you expected the carrier to be when the warhead arrived.

        I can’t find the flight time for a DF-26 (aka “the Guam Express”), but I’d be surprised if it were less than 8 minutes. Assuming that the carrier got launch warning in 2 minutes, it would then have 6 minutes to be at least 6.2 km away from where the missile was aimed.

        Assume a 50 kph cruising speed. That’s 5 km in 6 minutes. If the carrier did nothing more than come to a dead stop, it would be close to safe from our 1 Mt/2 km altitude air burst. If it executed a high-speed turn of at least 90°, and the turn takes one minute, it would have 5 minutes of steaming at full speed (close to 60 kph), which would allow it to travel 5 km perpendicular to its course to ground zero, which would make it sqrt(5² + 5²) = 7 km from ground zero before the bad thing happened.

        So a purely ballistic IRBM (which is probably the smallest thing that can carry a two-stage H-bomb in the 1 Mt range) probably can’t get the job done.

        Alternatives:

        a) Some kind of MARV could almost certainly deliver the warhead directly on top of the carrier, as long as it can acquire the ship through an ionization layer to aim. That’s pretty fancy technology–I doubt the Chinese will have it, nor would it be particularly useful for them.

        b) You use a boosted fission nuke in the 150 kt range on an anti-ship missile. But now you’re left with the problem of getting the nuke within about 3.5 km (that’s a bit of a SWAG–blast radius increases as the cube root of the energy with medium-altitude air bursts, but it’s harder to figure on a low-altitude anti-ship missile). But now you have to make it through both the outer and middle missile defenses, which gives you well less than a 5% of getting the nuke through to the target. Those puppies are expensive, and they make your opponent really mad. Probably not worth it.

        • For the heat and blast effects that dominate with a larger that would be the square root of distance rather than the cube since the blast radius is a matter of flux going below a threshold. There’s also an exponential decay factor as the atmosphere absorbs energy but the constant for that is low enough that we can ignore it.

          An alternative to decreasing range by putting a missile on a higher trajectory is decreasing range by putting it on a lower one. This is more complicated than aiming higher and I have no idea if it would be feasible for the Chinese rocket forces. It was certainly a major concern for people in potential US/USSR wars though.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            I found this on nuclear explosion effects, which says:

            3.61: Theoretically, a given pressure will occur at a distance from an explosion that is proportional to the cube root of the energy yield. Full-scale tests have shown this relationship between distance and energy yield holds for yields up to (and including) the megaton range.

            The passing of a shock wave through the air is not a conservative or reversible process; it’s bleeding energy through the volume of air through which it travels.

            As for the depressed trajectory, sure enough, there’s a declassified paper from the CIA OSWR about α-steering, where you pop up through the atmosphere, then fly a negative angle of attack to generate a depressed trajectory. They came to the conclusion that the Russians couldn’t do it with their SLBMs in the 80’s.

            I’d also guess that it would be essential not to reenter in the boost phase, which would prevent you from depressing the trajectory too much with an IRBM. But thanks for the (ahem) steer.

    • ilkarnal says:

      I think you’re not dealing with the PKill issue properly. If you have 50% PKill you will waste a lot of missiles on overkill or you will let a fraction of the missiles through, period. Having the ability to retarget missiles in flight may ameliorate this issue but it surely won’t eliminate it. A lot of missiles need to be engaged in a very short period of time, they have different trajectories because the submarines, planes, ships, or coastal defense batteries aren’t all stacked right next to each other, and the trajectories change as a cruise missile shifts to a sea-skimming profile (if it was high-low instead of low-low trajectory). Distinguishing whether you’ve scored a kill isn’t necessarily instant or totally reliable (you could have fatally damaged the motor but the missile didn’t explode or disintegrate, so for a while it looks like it survived.) You won’t be able to re-use 100% of the missiles you’ve expended on a killed target with 100% efficiency.

      An even more more deadly issue is that cruise missiles can be used in low-low sea skimming trajectories, bypassing most of the defensive layers. A plane that spots the carrier with radar can dive to a low altitude and launch sea-skimming missiles which can only be spotted and engaged at very short ranges. A submarine that locates the carrier battle group with sonar can either approach and launch torpedoes or launch cruise missiles, once again on a low trajectory. The ability of the carrier’s protectors to kill 100% of these intruders before they can launch their deadly attacks is very, very doubtful.

      Threats to the carriers air wing from modern air defense systems are another issue that hasn’t been touched upon.

      Big picture – surface ships and planes are in trouble because unlike submarines and land units they can’t hide beneath something or imitate something else in their environment. They stick out, necessarily. Sticking out is bad unless you can take a beating. Land fortifications stick out, but they are still useful because they are very tough nuts to crack. Surface ships and planes have been moving in the wrong direction, becoming ever more fragile.

      My prescription is to go low, small, cheap, and tough. Accept that you’ll get hit, a lot, and have the numbers to be able to deal with it. The current approach of big, high, expensive, and fragile is guaranteed disaster against a peer opponent. Engaging with sub-peer opponents means you won’t get wiped out for being stupid, and I guess that’s nice, but it’s not clear to me what the point of those engagements are. Yes, those are the sorts engagements we’re getting embroiled in, but what have we ever gotten out of them? Even if I accept big-high-expensive-fragile is better for kicking little shithole countries around, why should I care?

      • bean says:

        Having the ability to retarget missiles in flight may ameliorate this issue but it surely won’t eliminate it. A lot of missiles need to be engaged in a very short period of time, they have different trajectories because the submarines, planes, ships, or coastal defense batteries aren’t all stacked right next to each other, and the trajectories change as a cruise missile shifts to a sea-skimming profile (if it was high-low instead of low-low trajectory).

        You’re ignoring two factors. First, setting up a time-on-target attack like that is very, very difficult. Odds are that the carrier has moved, and your shore-based missiles are now behind your air-launched ones. Second, I don’t necessarily need to retarget from one batch to another. There are 24 missiles coming in on similar trajectories, and I have a 50% PK. I fire 48 missiles out at them, staggered so I engage all of them repeatedly. No overkill, no leakers (in theory). In practice, leakers are handled by the next layer, which takes a higher chance of overkill.

        Distinguishing whether you’ve scored a kill isn’t necessarily instant or totally reliable (you could have fatally damaged the motor but the missile didn’t explode or disintegrate, so for a while it looks like it survived.) You won’t be able to re-use 100% of the missiles you’ve expended on a killed target with 100% efficiency.

        This is part of why I took 50% as my PK instead of 70%. (Also, modern radar systems are really impressive at doing things like this.)

        An even more more deadly issue is that cruise missiles can be used in low-low sea skimming trajectories, bypassing most of the defensive layers.

        AWACS and CEC. The ships can take tracks from an E-2, and start firing before they can see the missiles themselves. Also, some of the longer-range Standards have active sensors which mean they don’t even need illuminators, and can be guided on target by the E-2.

        The ability of the carrier’s protectors to kill 100% of these intruders before they can launch their deadly attacks is very, very doubtful.

        Yes. But the ability of those to get through 100% of the time is also very doubtful.

        Threats to the carriers air wing from modern air defense systems are another issue that hasn’t been touched upon.

        Yes. I only have so much time to write these, and am focusing on the defensive aspects of modern naval warfare now.

        Big picture – surface ships and planes are in trouble because unlike submarines and land units they can’t hide beneath something or imitate something else in their environment. They stick out, necessarily. Sticking out is bad unless you can take a beating. Land fortifications stick out, but they are still useful because they are very tough nuts to crack. Surface ships and planes have been moving in the wrong direction, becoming ever more fragile.

        Not quite true. Finding ships at sea is still pretty hard (I’m working on that column next), and ships have become less fragile of late.

        My prescription is to go low, small, cheap, and tough.

        These are mutually exclusive. Low (in terms of airplanes) means that you’re vulnerable to every idiot with a rifle. The A-10s had to go to medium altitude in Desert Storm, although their proponents don’t like to talk about it. It’s meaningless for ships. Small and cheap usually means useless. Integrated combat systems are big and expensive. They also work very well, but they aren’t flashy. For people who like to count missile tubes, FACs look great. But they die when they go up against people with helicopters, combat systems, and some idea of what they’re doing. The same applies to airplanes. A big, expensive airplane with BVR missiles and radar will beat a daylight interceptor with a couple of sidewinders most of the time, if it’s fought right. If it isn’t (Vietnam) the problem is not the hardware, and fixing the use changes the game massively.
        As for tough, I’d like to point out that damage control is a feature of major navies, not minor ones. Unless you’re talking about the A-10, which can get you home, but takes a lot of work to use again. I’d rather not get hit.

        And if all we care about is peer opponents, the correct tools are ICBMs, not carriers or LCSs.

        • ilkarnal says:

          First, setting up a time-on-target attack like that is very, very difficult.

          I’m not saying shore submarine air surface all attack at the same time, fearsome as that proposition is. I’m saying the bunch of aircraft attacking your CVBG aren’t all coming in from the same vector, or even necessarily very similar vectors. I’d imagine coordination would mostly be within a branch – the air forces coordinate their own attacks, shore batteries theirs, surface ships theirs. And they would be coming from diverse vectors for each of these branches from dispersed launchers.

          AWACS and CEC.

          Out of 4 E-2s at best two of them will be operating at a given time, and they are a crucial and vulnerable element of the carrier’s air wing. You aren’t going to have a couple of E-2s circling the CVBG at all times. Moreover, broaching an important subject that hasn’t been touched upon, if you have E-2s continuously hunting for cruise missiles around the CVBG, the emissions can be detected from quite far away. Locating the CVBG got considerably easier. All these radar systems are a double edged sword in that they allow you to defend yourself, but also make you much more prominent.

          What’s the E-2 detection range for cruise missiles? I’m sure very respectable, but what’s their distance from the CVBG? I reiterate that they have a job to do beyond hunting cruise missiles, including helping the fighter wing hunt the launchers of cruise missiles as far afield as possible.

          I’m not sure that AWACS driven launch has the same PKill as the more straightforward case.

          Here’s what’s piled on top of the CVBGs defenses. Instead of the case we started with where they get to engage the cruise missiles very efficiently, with a pretty high PKill, we have sea skimming supersonic cruise missiles coming along diverse paths, perhaps coordinated launch by a group of Oscar guided missile submarines, or Tu-22M bombers, gaining from their stealth and speed respectively an element of surprise and unpredictability. AWACS in flight/on scene are maybe 2, maybe 1, maybe 0.

          This is a much blacker picture, but not an implausible one. Indeed, this is the picture carriers should expect to face if they launch attacks on Russian soil. How do they fare in this case? What is PKill against supersonic cruise missiles? How much of a chance do you have to parsimoniously dole out missiles over time as they come screaming over the horizon?

          These are mutually exclusive. Low (in terms of airplanes) means that you’re vulnerable to every idiot with a rifle.

          In WW2 low flying strafing airplanes saw a great deal of success, despite an abundance of idiots with rifles underneath.

          It’s meaningless for ships.

          Hey, a short squat little ship is more difficult to detect and hit.

          Not quite true. Finding ships at sea is still pretty hard (I’m working on that column next), and ships have become less fragile of late.

          How hard is it when there’s an E-2 shining bright circling right above those ships, I wonder?

          And why is it so hard? Planes have radar. Ships and submarines have sonar. There are a lot of searchers and a few big fat targets. You know roughly where they are from what’s being hit. The forces searching for the CVBG don’t all have to independently find it, it takes -one- unit to find it and scream out to all the others.

          And if all we care about is peer opponents, the correct tools are ICBMs, not carriers or LCSs.

          Hey, there are countermeasures to ICBMs, despite countries being criminally lackadaisical about them. Digging deep works well. Sure, ginormous nukes fuck up deep fortifications.. But you can’t have ginormous nukes AND MIRV. And missile defense gets a lot less impossible when the warhead has to snuggle with you to kill you.

          In practice, though, sure. Everyone builds glass houses and is terrified of stones. We could be perfectly safe without our conventional military. Safer, probably, because we’d be less likely to commit idiotic provocations.

          If you want to conquer peer opponents, not just deter them – this sort of real ambition seems to have been burned out of the Western man’s blood – ICBMs simply will not do the job. The right nuclearized ‘conventional’ military might. That’s a different conversation, though.

          • bean says:

            I’m not saying shore submarine air surface all attack at the same time, fearsome as that proposition is. I’m saying the bunch of aircraft attacking your CVBG aren’t all coming in from the same vector, or even necessarily very similar vectors. I’d imagine coordination would mostly be within a branch – the air forces coordinate their own attacks, shore batteries theirs, surface ships theirs. And they would be coming from diverse vectors for each of these branches from dispersed launchers.

            You explicitly brought all of the various types of launchers in one sentence. Yes, it’s a bit ambiguous, but I’m not feeling particularly charitable. Also, coordinating split vectors is still not easy, even if it’s just airplanes.

            Out of 4 E-2s at best two of them will be operating at a given time, and they are a crucial and vulnerable element of the carrier’s air wing. You aren’t going to have a couple of E-2s circling the CVBG at all times. Moreover, broaching an important subject that hasn’t been touched upon, if you have E-2s continuously hunting for cruise missiles around the CVBG, the emissions can be detected from quite far away. Locating the CVBG got considerably easier. All these radar systems are a double edged sword in that they allow you to defend yourself, but also make you much more prominent.

            You will have one E-2 in the area at all times. Yes, maybe it’s circling 50 km away from the carrier, but the datalink still works. And the raid is detected via space-based systems, either ELINT or IR. Both have been in use for 35 years now. That’s how you know when to go for cruise missile scan mode.

            What’s the E-2 detection range for cruise missiles? I’m sure very respectable, but what’s their distance from the CVBG? I reiterate that they have a job to do beyond hunting cruise missiles, including helping the fighter wing hunt the launchers of cruise missiles as far afield as possible.

            After the missiles are fired, the prime job changes. You don’t have to do both at the same time. (Also, modern radar can probably do both at once. Seriously, does most of your knowledge of this stuff come from the 80s?)

            I’m not sure that AWACS driven launch has the same PKill as the more straightforward case.

            I already spotted you 20%. How much more do you want? And if it’s launch on AWACS data, home on cruiser illuminator, then it does have the same PKill.

            Here’s what’s piled on top of the CVBGs defenses. Instead of the case we started with where they get to engage the cruise missiles very efficiently, with a pretty high PKill, we have sea skimming supersonic cruise missiles coming along diverse paths, perhaps coordinated launch by a group of Oscar guided missile submarines, or Tu-22M bombers, gaining from their stealth and speed respectively an element of surprise and unpredictability. AWACS in flight/on scene are maybe 2, maybe 1, maybe 0.

            How are those systems coordinating their attack? Magic? Oh, radio! And the US is good at picking up and using that data. Again, I suspect you’re using books from the 80s, before a lot of this stuff entered the public sphere. Find anything by Norman Friedman that’s been published since 1990 (and is relevant to the discussion), and then we’ll talk.

            In WW2 low flying strafing airplanes saw a great deal of success, despite an abundance of idiots with rifles underneath.

            By the end of the war in Europe, strafing was an art form to avoid the very smart people with 20mm guns. (OK, idiots with rifles was an exaggeration.) Same thing happened in Vietnam, with the added problem of MANPADS.

            How hard is it when there’s an E-2 shining bright circling right above those ships, I wonder?

            When the E-2 is in LPI mode 100 km away and the ships are waiting to be cued by satellite, not very.

            And why is it so hard? Planes have radar. Ships and submarines have sonar. There are a lot of searchers and a few big fat targets. You know roughly where they are from what’s being hit. The forces searching for the CVBG don’t all have to independently find it, it takes -one- unit to find it and scream out to all the others.

            This is a question I am writing up the answer to, but you’ll have to wait until next week, because the answer is really complicated.

            In practice, though, sure. Everyone builds glass houses and is terrified of stones. We could be perfectly safe without our conventional military. Safer, probably, because we’d be less likely to commit idiotic provocations.

            That’s debatable, but more or less my point.

            If you want to conquer peer opponents, not just deter them – this sort of real ambition seems to have been burned out of the Western man’s blood – ICBMs simply will not do the job. The right nuclearized ‘conventional’ military might. That’s a different conversation, though.

            ‘Conquer peer opponents’ has been notably absent from US strategy documents since 1945, and is not a design driver for our forces. I can’t figure out what sort of agenda you’re pushing, but it’s incoherent in the context of current strategy.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            @bean–

            And if it’s launch on AWACS data, home on cruiser illuminator, then it does have the same PKill.

            I don’t think that works. the AWACS has look-down radar. The cruiser doesn’t. The cruiser has no fire-control on the target until it comes over the horizon and out of the grass, which for an ASCM flying at 50 m with a cruiser radar at the same height is about 50 km (31 miles). That’s not much time to engage–I’d guess that it chops PKill down quite a bit.

          • bean says:

            I don’t think that works. the AWACS has look-down radar. The cruiser doesn’t. The cruiser has no fire-control on the target until it comes over the horizon and out of the grass, which for an ASCM flying at 50 m with a cruiser radar at the same height is about 50 km (31 miles). That’s not much time to engage–I’d guess that it chops PKill down quite a bit.

            The AWACS can pass the cruiser data precise enough that the cruiser can launch and do midcourse guidance without having to see the target itself, or even take over midcourse guidance itself. Either the missile has its own seeker (SM-6) or the firing is timed so that the cruiser will be able to see the incoming ASM by the time the SAM reaches it. The term is Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), and it’s been around for a while. See here for an explanation.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            @bean (2)

            Let me see if I’ve got this straight:

            1) Raid warning (possibly AWACS, more likely launch detection).
            2) AWACS acquires a look-down target.
            3) Cruiser shoots, hands off CEC to AWACS.
            4) AWACS does mid-course guidance.
            5) AWACS hands CEC back to cruiser as cruiser acquires a look-across target @ ~30 nm.
            6) Cruiser does terminal illumination, or a properly equipped missile can seek in for terminal guidance.
            7) Boom, splash (i.e. missile hits the water), or miss (missile can re-engage).

            You’re fighting two different constraints here:

            a) It’d be easier just to let the AWACS do terminal illumination, but then it runs the risk of being overloaded if it has to dedicate a couple of seconds for each terminal.

            b) The cruiser has more capacity (more power, more radars, and a deeper compute plant) than the AWACS, but it has to wait until things are deep into the threat envelope before doing terminal engagements. And the possibility of splashing your own missiles on terminal approach becomes particularly dangerous now.

            Both of those sound… bad. Not it’ll-never-work bad, but bad enough that they probably degrade your kill probabilities.

            If I ran the circus, I’d want more AWACS capacity. It’s entirely likely that there’s a handy algorithm that will let the AWACS leisurely kill things far-out, then hand off terminal guidance for the leakers. Effectively, would mean that there’s sort of a fourth kill zone, where the cruiser is seeking sorta-kinda long-range targets with standards, before the DDGs start going after mid-range targets.

            Note that multi-axis threats are especially messy with these sorta-kinda long-range guys. It’s probably handy for your opponent to have some fortified atolls in your rear. I wonder if somebody’s thought of that…

          • John Schilling says:

            a) It’d be easier just to let the AWACS do terminal illumination, but then it runs the risk of being overloaded if it has to dedicate a couple of seconds for each terminal.

            AWACS doesn’t have terminal illumination capability at all. The baseline design with a single rotating antenna doesn’t allow for that, and while you could presumably now do an upgrade with a couple of lateral phased-array illuminators, it isn’t a priority.

            In part because when I did the math for 6-8 complete engagement cycles against an inbound wave of missiles, that was assuming sea skimmers with the initial engagement at 40-50 km. But also because if you’ve got an AWACS in the air, you’ve also got F-18s in the air and more at Alert+5 on the deck. If those can’t reach far enough to swat the enemy launch platforms out of the sky, they can do the first round of AWACS-cued outer zone missile intercepts with AMRAAM and Sidewinder. And probably some hotshot would want to prove he could take down a Sunburn with the gun :-)

          • bean says:

            Let me see if I’ve got this straight:

            1) Raid warning (possibly AWACS, more likely launch detection).
            2) AWACS acquires a look-down target.
            3) Cruiser shoots, hands off CEC to AWACS.
            4) AWACS does mid-course guidance.
            5) AWACS hands CEC back to cruiser as cruiser acquires a look-across target @ ~30 nm.
            6) Cruiser does terminal illumination, or a properly equipped missile can seek in for terminal guidance.
            7) Boom, splash (i.e. missile hits the water), or miss (missile can re-engage).

            I think I was confusing different operating modes earlier. I know that CEC-enabled missiles can have midcourse guidance done by platforms other than the launch platform, but the two missiles I know for certain are CEC-enabled both have active sensors for terminal engagements. I think that AEGIS can fire missiles ‘on spec’ (but I couldn’t provide a reference off-hand), but in that case, the AWACS would just be providing the data on where the target is, and midcourse guidance (via the missile’s programmable autopilot) would be handled by the cruiser.

            a) It’d be easier just to let the AWACS do terminal illumination, but then it runs the risk of being overloaded if it has to dedicate a couple of seconds for each terminal.

            As John says, it can’t. Wrong kind of radar for that.

            b) The cruiser has more capacity (more power, more radars, and a deeper compute plant) than the AWACS, but it has to wait until things are deep into the threat envelope before doing terminal engagements. And the possibility of splashing your own missiles on terminal approach becomes particularly dangerous now.

            I’m not 100% sure what this means. The AWACS is good enough to make this work, and to some extent, that’s all you need. Moore’s law has been moving more power to smaller platforms since the 50s. At some point, extra computing power becomes Pk of 58% instead of 57%, which is swamped by noise in the real world.

            Both of those sound… bad. Not it’ll-never-work bad, but bad enough that they probably degrade your kill probabilities.

            I’m just finishing up a book on this kind of stuff. What they can do is pretty incredible.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            @john schilling

            AWACS doesn’t have terminal illumination capability at all. The baseline design with a single rotating antenna doesn’t allow for that, and while you could presumably now do an upgrade with a couple of lateral phased-array illuminators, it isn’t a priority.

            Thanks for the correction on the radar. Guess I was just assuming that they’d upgraded to a phased array inside the existing radome (electrical stuff is easy, aeronautical stuff is hard). Apparently not.

            I’m a bit surprised. Seems like engaging skimmers well over the horizon would be a priority, because it’s possible to lose track of the little suckers. Maybe they figure that seekers on the Standards is a better solution. Seems like you’d run into electrical power issues at some point, though.

          • bean says:

            Thanks for the correction on the radar. Guess I was just assuming that they’d upgraded to a phased array inside the existing radome (electrical stuff is easy, aeronautical stuff is hard). Apparently not.

            They did. APY-9 is an AESA, but it’s still rotating, sort of like SAMPSON. Even then, the issue is that it may not generate the right kind of signals for terminal illumination, and as you point out, it’s going to have limited capacity. That’s solved by giving the missiles their own seekers.

            I’m a bit surprised. Seems like engaging skimmers well over the horizon would be a priority, because it’s possible to lose track of the little suckers. Maybe they figure that seekers on the Standards is a better solution. Seems like you’d run into electrical power issues at some point, though.

            For the seekers? It’s the same one that AMRAAM uses, which seems to work very well, based on combat experience. Power is a lot less important than it used to be, due to improved electronics.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            @bean:

            I’m not 100% sure what this means. The AWACS is good enough to make this work, and to some extent, that’s all you need. Moore’s law has been moving more power to smaller platforms since the 50s. At some point, extra computing power becomes Pk of 58% instead of 57%, which is swamped by noise in the real world.

            I suspect that electrical power is more of a limitation than compute power, but John’s correction on the AWACS radar resolves some of the mystery there. If you’re not having to blast out terminal guidance on multiple targets simultaneously, your power requirements go down a fair amount.

            It’d be interesting to know what the compute budget looked like. Again, not having to beam-steer for terminal guidance takes a big compute task off the table for the AWACS, leaving you with a whole bunch of input signal processing (mostly fed to dedicated DSPs, I’d guess), and a fairly short-cycle management task. You probably need a full update on the states of your targets and SAMs at least once a second, if not more. That sounds like your basic NP-hard kind of problem, which isn’t overwhelming with a couple hundred objects, but isn’t nothing, either.

          • bean says:

            @TheRadicalModerate
            AEGIS was originally a system built on early-70s computers. The first prototype ran in 1973, while the first operational one went to sea in 1983. They were running on UYK-7 and UYK-20 computers, which were introduced in 1970, and worked pretty well. UYK-7 had a memory of 1,536,000 bytes and a speed of 750 kFLOPS. This is a less powerful computer than the one in my phone. I know that bloat is a thing, but it’s hard to see bloat so bad that it’s outrun Moore’s law.
            If you really want to get into the details of naval computer systems, I have a couple of book recommendations. A copy of the Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems (doesn’t have to be the latest, which is quite expensive, while older editions are cheap) would be good, along with Norman Friedman’s Network-Centric Warfare, which I’m just about to finish.

        • TheRadicalModerate says:

          @bean (note: wrong nesting)

          For the seekers? It’s the same one that AMRAAM uses, which seems to work very well, based on combat experience. Power is a lot less important than it used to be, due to improved electronics.

          SMs are solid-rocket engines, so it’s hard to put a generator on board. I’d guess all the internal electrical power comes off a battery, which would put pretty tight constraints on how many radiation-seconds of seeker activity you can get.

          And microwave power probably hasn’t scaled down as much as the power needed for computation. It’s probably down somewhat, because more compute power means than you can pull a signal out of a weaker return than before, but there are physical limits to how much return you need.

          • bean says:

            SMs are solid-rocket engines, so it’s hard to put a generator on board. I’d guess all the internal electrical power comes off a battery, which would put pretty tight constraints on how many radiation-seconds of seeker activity you can get.

            I don’t remember offhand how they’re powered, although I can look. In either case, you don’t need many radiation-seconds, as you’re not turning on the seeker until you’re pretty close (I think <10 seconds out).

            And microwave power probably hasn’t scaled down as much as the power needed for computation. It’s probably down somewhat, because more compute power means than you can pull a signal out of a weaker return than before, but there are physical limits to how much return you need.

            I was referring to improved signal-processing electronics, not reduced computational power burden directly. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    • cassander says:

      There’s a more fundamental reason carriers aren’t going anywhere, anything that makes carriers obsolete almost certainly makes airbases obsolete too. As bean notes, the task of finding, guiding a missile near, then actually hitting a moving carrier is extremely difficult. Fixed targets can be located in peace, attacked by missiles with unjammable guidance systems, and can’t dodge. A few missiles can take out a runway just as readily as they can a carrier, and if you want to posit some defense for the runways, you also need a defense for the taxiways, hangars, air traffic control towers, truck loading docks, on base housing, and the electrical substation, the destruction of any of which will render an airbase ineffectual.

      Any technology that doesn’t operate underwater capable of taking out a carrier is equally capable of taking out an airfield at the same range. Any along those lines that renders carriers obsolete is equally applicable to land based aircraft. And while I can certainly see how that might be a possibility someday, we aren’t there yet.

      • Protagoras says:

        The biggest advantage of airbases as compared to carriers is how much cheaper they are to build or rebuild. Advancing technology has perversely somewhat reduced that advantage, by increasing the complexity of the support facilities, but it certainly hasn’t been eliminated, and if the evolution of military tactics called for it, there are doubtless ways to partially reverse the trend (bean mentioned late 20th century Swedish efforts in that direction in a recent discussion of aircraft).

        • bean says:

          Note, though, that the CONOPS the Swedes were using is very, very different from the one that the US would need to run to fight the Chinese, or vice versa. Frankly, the Swedish plan was probably doomed in the 80s, due to better networks, and it definitely wouldn’t work in the western Pacific, where you don’t have many places to choose from to put your planes.

        • cassander says:

          I was going to include something about cost, decided against it, probably should have kept it in. Air bases aren’t cheap. IIRC the last time this came up, the denver international airport ended up costing about the same as the nimitz classes that were built at a similar time. Remember, a carrier isn’t just a runway. It’s a runway, a hanger, a maintenance facility, a fuel/ammo storage dump, a power plant, and housing and several months supplies for everyone who runs them. Carriers aren’t free, by any means. At the very least, they have to buy up front a lot of things that the base can pay for over time. But the costs are not wildly disproportionate.

          • Protagoras says:

            Denver International appears to also have three runways. I’m not sure how accurate it is to compare civilian to military air facilities, as I have no idea how much of the cost of the airport is facilities for dealing with civilian passengers, but it seems like at the very least an installation much larger (and so more capable) than a single carrier should not have its cost compared to that of a single carrier. You should at least try to find something that’s actually comparable to a carrier.

          • bean says:

            I did some math on this a while back. Depending on the way you adjust for inflation, the difference between a carrier and a base for a wing of medium bombers is about 3-10x. (My base cost numbers were from the 50s.)

          • cassander says:

            @Protagas

            I grant that they aren’t great comparisons, but it’s not often major new airbases get built from ground up so I’m not aware of a better one. But a carrier represents a coupler runways at least, and if you have a better comparison, I’m all ears.

            @bean

            3-10x which way? A fighter base, I assume, would be cheaper, but I doubt it would be that much cheaper.

          • bean says:

            The base was cheaper. Here’s my analysis.

          • John Schilling says:

            Once the shooting starts, though, the relevant cost is what it takes to restore the thing to full operational capability when the enemy has put e.g. half a dozen three-meter holes through it, top to bottom. For an airbase, that means bulldozers, concrete, and steel matting. For an aircraft carrier, that means wistfully looking at the sunken hulk and ordering a new one from scratch.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling says:

            Once the shooting starts, though, the relevant cost is what it takes to restore the thing to full operational capability when the enemy has put e.g. half a dozen three-meter holes through it, top to bottom. For an airbase, that means bulldozers, concrete, and steel matting. For an aircraft carrier, that means wistfully looking at the sunken hulk and ordering a new one from scratch.

            That’s true in the longer run, but if you lose the war (or some very important battles) in the short run because none of your planes can fly for a week, it doesn’t really matter.

          • Garrett says:

            That’s true in the longer run, but if you lose the war (or some very important battles) in the short run because none of your planes can fly for a week, it doesn’t really matter.

            My understanding is that the engineering folks in the Air Force hold competitions to see how fast they can rebuild runways after (simulated) bombing. From what I can recall reading elsewhere, the time to repair a runway for combat use can be measured in tens of minutes.

          • cassander says:

            @Garrett says:

            What you say is like saying that the biathlon proves that we can train our soldiers to a universal standard of one shot, one kill. Yes, you can repair runways very quickly…..if you have the supplies on hand, if you have a highly trained crews ready to go, if no delayed action munitions have been left behind, if none of those supplies or people damaged in the initial attack, and so on.

          • bean says:

            My understanding is that the engineering folks in the Air Force hold competitions to see how fast they can rebuild runways after (simulated) bombing. From what I can recall reading elsewhere, the time to repair a runway for combat use can be measured in tens of minutes.

            The runway is generally the easiest thing to repair. When your flight crews are sleeping in tents and the ground crews are having to fuel using 55-gallon drums and a portable pump, combat efficiency is going to suffer a lot, even if the runway has been patched.

          • John Schilling says:

            The runway is also the easiest thing to damage, because everything else can be kept under cover. And even soft cover means the attacker isn’t sure which shed holds the bulldozer and supply of concrete, which holds the tanker full of JP-8 with the single-point refueling rig, and which one is empty – which can change daily.

            But note that in the US attack on Shayrat, the runway wasn’t even targeted on the stated grounds that it would be too easy to repair.

    • Chalid says:

      Well, a typical CVBG is composed of a carrier, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser (CG), and 3-4 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDGs).

      Could you give a sense of the relative cost of each of these? Also, how much of the cost of the carrier resides in the planes vs the ship?

      Just looking at Wikipedia for the Nimitz class I see unit costs of $50-100m/plane, and normally 90 aircraft being deployed, which seems to imply the total cost of the aircraft is on the carrier is greater than that of the ship itself (Wikipedia says $4.5 billion). Is that a sensible way of looking at it?

      • bean says:

        Naval costing is fantastically complicated. The latest Burkes are running $1.8 bn each, although some of that is coming back up to speed after the line was shut down. A Tico would (in theory, as it’s been out of production since the early 90s) cost a bit more. Say $1.5 bn for the Burkes and $2 bn for the Tico. The last Nimitz, CVN-77, is listed by wiki at $6.2 bn. The unit cost for the Ford is looking more like $10 bn. I’d say that aircraft cost is probably on the order of $100 million per plane. So in round numbers, the air wing costs about as much as the carrier.

      • cassander says:

        modern air wings are smaller than 90 aircraft. Right now the wing is about 44 fighters (currently all varieties of the F-18), 5 electronic attack aircraft, which are also a variety of F-18, 4 E-2 aircraft with radar dishes, 2 cargo aircraft, and about 20 helicopters. Of all those aircraft only the E-2s are more than 100 mil. New F-18s will run you about 75, and everything else is less, though as bean says, these numbers are extremely approximate, aircraft costing being almost as complicated as ship costing.

        • bean says:

          Currently flyaway for a Super Hornet is very close to $100 million.
          To expand on the ‘costing is complicated’, the sticker price is dependent on how many you want to buy and how the costs are divided up. Developing a new airplane/ship/weapon is expensive, and that money is required before the first unit leaves the line. So do you have a separate development contract, or amortize the cost over the buy (or the first X units of the buy, because you’re not sure how many you want, and the contractor wants to be sure they get paid back)?
          And there are substantial savings from high-rate production. In military production, there’s often a fair bit of slack in much of the supply chain. The contractor has to pay for the workers, the building, the tooling, and so on. The subcontractors all have to maintain their capabilities, too. So a fair bit of the cost of a given project goes to what is essentially overhead, and buying more of the given thing means that you’re spreading the overhead thinner. Right now, the flyaway (year’s budget/planes) cost for a Super Hornet is actually higher than the F-35A, primarily because the Super Hornet line is almost shut down, and the F-35 is ramping up. But if you shut down the line entirely, the work experience disappears, and it’s fantastically expensive to start up again. That’s what’s gone on with the Burkes recently.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      bean, I really enjoy your posts and wanted to thank you for the effort you put into them.

      • engleberg says:

        I really like bean’s posts too.

        Carrier’s won’t go away because the basic idea of putting a flat deck on an oiler won’t go away. Fuel, parts, bombs, planes that go in and out of range as you choose- it’s just too good an idea to forget.

        Carriers will stay vulnerable. Supply ships full of bombs and fuel.

        If I was looking for a cheap carrier, I’d buy some cheap oil tankers and put flat decks on them. Maybe old supertankers so I could skip catapults. The Baltic Dry Index is still really affordable. But avionics and jet turbines are not.

        • cassander says:

          The idea isn’t completely crazy but there are some pretty hard limits with such a ship. I wouldn’t want to risk it anywhere near an enemy that can fight back.

        • Nornagest says:

          Isn’t that basically the escort carrier concept from WWII? We got some decent mileage out of those in ASW and similar roles, but their low speed made them operationally clunky, and they were very, very fragile in a stand-up fight.

          • bean says:

            Some of the early CVEs (Sangamon and sisters) were indeed converted oilers, and the later Commencement Bay-class was based on an oiler design, too. Others came from other types of mercies, and the Casablancas were bespoke, but rather odd.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Another direction you could go would be to keep carriers as warships, but make them lighter warships so you don’t have as many eggs in one basket. The extreme end of this would probably be something like taking the main gun off a destroyer and instead parking 1-2 VTOL fighters on the deck, but that would be terribly cost-inefficient (a CVN probably costs 5-10x as much as our modified DD, but it can fly 40-80x as many fighters, and VTOL requires design sacrifices on the fighter so a carrier-launched fighter will be more effective than a similar VTOL fighter). But there might be a sweet spot where the trade-off makes sense, kinda like the light carriers and escort carriers of the WW2 era (which I think were mostly built on BC and CA-sized hulls, respectively).

          Edit: ninjaed, and now that Bean mentions it, I realize I mis-remembered and CVEs were mostly built on merchant hulls that just happened to be in similar displacement classes as CAs. I think the CVLs were a different beast, built on warship hulls. I think I’ve been playing too much HOI3 lately and forgot that the game’s merge of CVEs and CVLs into a single ship type was a simplifying game design decision, not the actual historical facts.

          • bean says:

            The CVLs were built on CL hulls, and were rather austere. The Navy didn’t like them much, and they were retired pretty quickly after the war. CVEs were oilers or fast merchantmen.

            Basically, the answer to your question is that the overhead of operating a strike carrier pushes you up into the realms that modern US carriers occupy. You can get enough planes and enough support for those planes on the ship. A carrier half the size would cost a lot more than half as much and carry less than half as many planes. I may write more on this subject, but it’s going to be a while, as my docket is pretty full.

          • cassander says:

            The trouble with this that there tend to be economies of scale in ship building. As a very general rule, two ships of size X are going to carry less stuff than one ship of size 2X

            This is even more true for carrier, because the support facilities for aircraft operation tend to have large and relatively fixed costs. You need a deck of a certain minimum deck size to make aircraft operations possible. You need one set of air traffic control personnel and equipment. You need at least one elevator to get to the hangar, and so on. All of these things drive up the minimum efficient size of a carrier. More than that, though, they grow a lot slower than the size of an air group. a set of arresting gear for a ship with 20 planes takes up just as much weight and space as one on a ship with 80. A ship with 80 planes will have more maintainers than one with 20, but it won’t have 4 times as much equipment, and so on.

            Smaller carriers have been considered and studied for decades, but almost all the studies come back with the same answer, that you want to buy as big a carrier as you can afford to buy in the number you require.

        • bean says:

          Carrier’s won’t go away because the basic idea of putting a flat deck on an oiler won’t go away. Fuel, parts, bombs, planes that go in and out of range as you choose- it’s just too good an idea to forget.

          That’s an…interesting interpretation of the concept of a carrier.
          Basically, modern carrier operations are very complex, and simply seeing a carrier as an oiler with a flat deck is not going to give you the full picture. You need a hangar, and that’s going to mean major structural work. You need to go fast enough to generate wind over deck. Oiler engines can’t handle that. You need electronics and places to plan missions. You need damage control, so the thing doesn’t go up when someone accidentally drops a live bomb. (Yes, it’s happened.) You need protected magazines, assembly spaces, and ways to get the bombs onto the flight deck. You have to pack all of the thousand-and-one pieces of equipment that are required to operate a modern air force into a ship, and that’s not easy. Air operations have gotten more complicated since WW2, particularly if you want to run a strike carrier, and not just a platform for CAS airplanes like most Harrier navies do/did.

          If I was looking for a cheap carrier, I’d buy some cheap oil tankers and put flat decks on them. Maybe old supertankers so I could skip catapults. The Baltic Dry Index is still really affordable. But avionics and jet turbines are not.

          The most you might be able to get from a decked oiler is something akin to RFA Argus. As an example of non-obvious problems that crop up with these types of conversions, the early escort carriers essentially had a deck built atop an existing merchant hull, with the hangar in the space between the two. The original deck had sheer, which meant that at the ends, the gap was too short to use as a hangar, and even where it wasn’t, handling planes was complicated. I’m sure we’d find something similar if we tried a conversion like you propose.
          A supertanker isn’t going to give us enough speed to be able to skip catapults. Jets simply take too much runway.

          • engleberg says:

            @that’s an … interesting concept of carrier-

            Come now, a carrier is a box full of fuel and bombs you launch planes from. If you make it fast, give it guns, armor it up or throw in too many complex safety systems, it stops being a good box of fuel and bombs.

            If I wanted a carrier for the Zanzibar Navy I’d buy a cheap fuel tanker from the Baltic Dry Index. Fragile, incapable of threatening a US carrier, sure. But it would protect my fishermen.

          • bean says:

            Come now, a carrier is a box full of fuel and bombs you launch planes from. If you make it fast, give it guns, armor it up or throw in too many complex safety systems, it stops being a good box of fuel and bombs.

            Yes and no. Part of my astonishment was the use of ‘oiler’ as the base. An oiler is a specific type of ship, used to UNREP other ships, mostly with fuel. This is not the same as a box of fuel and bombs.
            Re speed, not so much. Speed is important for most carriers, because it makes air operations easier and because the carrier may not be where you want to use it, and you need to get it there fast.
            You’re sort of right about guns and armor, although this is something which has changed over time. In WW2, the British paid too high a price for their armor in terms of carrier capability, and the 8″ guns that various people tried were not worth it. The various AA guns didn’t have that much of a penalty, and it’s generally good to give a high-value target point-defense capability.
            I agree that safety systems can be overdone, but keep in mind that fuel and bombs are flammable. It stops being a good box of fuel and ammo if it’s on fire or sunk.

            If I wanted a carrier for the Zanzibar Navy I’d buy a cheap fuel tanker from the Baltic Dry Index. Fragile, incapable of threatening a US carrier, sure. But it would protect my fishermen.

            That’s a very different thing. If you’re just trying to protect fishermen, then something like RFA Argus or Chakri Naruebet (which was designed to do explicitly that) will be the right answer. But that’s a helicopter carrier, and occupies a very different niche from a full-scale strike carrier. You’re trading off against OPVs, some of which may have flight decks and maybe even hangars.
            (Actually, it’s not even necessarily a full helicopter carrier. Chakri Naruebet is best thought of as an OPV with a flight deck, because she lacks the ASW combat systems of other helicopter carriers.)

          • engleberg says:

            @part of my astonishment was the use of ‘oiler’-

            I think you are reading ‘oiler’ as as a Naval term of art for a specific class while I wrote it as half-remembered squid slang.

            @keep in mind that fuel and bombs are flammable-

            Sure.

            @A supertanker isn’t going to give us enough speed to be able to skip catapults. Jets simply take too much runway-

            The biggest new supertankers are 1500 feet, the biggest old ones are 1300, and USAF jets want 6000 for say a F-15 or C-17. But experienced pilots can land at 2000, which gets close. They might still need twenty knots wind over the bow, but I don’t think they’d need catapults.

          • bean says:

            I think you are reading ‘oiler’ as as a Naval term of art for a specific class while I wrote it as half-remembered squid slang.

            Well, yes. I’m reading it how it’s normally used.

            The biggest new supertankers are 1500 feet, the biggest old ones are 1300, and USAF jets want 6000 for say a F-15 or C-17. But experienced pilots can land at 2000, which gets close. They might still need twenty knots wind over the bow, but I don’t think they’d need catapults.

            There are two sets of problems with this.
            First, why are you building this carrier? If your mission is to protect fishing boats, then it’s hard to see what a fast jet can do that a helicopter or a Harrier can’t. If for some reason, you occasionally need fast jets far out to sea, it’s going to be much, much cheaper to invest in a couple of KC-130s. But I can’t see any reason to operate fast jets far out at sea in a manner that a converted VLCC/ULCC could manage.
            Second, it doesn’t work on a practical level. The standard aircraft characteristics for an F-15C list the landing ground roll as 4300-4500 ft, with a landing speed of ~140 kts. Wind over deck of 20 kts will cut that down to ~3,200 ft, still twice the length available. I won’t say that a really good pilot on a good day couldn’t manage to stop on the deck, but it’s right out for regular operations. A C-130 can fly off of a full carrier sans aids, but nothing that requires more runway, so you need arresting gear (and carrier-capable aircraft, which means either Hornets or Rafales). Theoretically, you might be able to get away without a catapult. Takeoff roll is something like 1250-2050 ft in the SAC, which means you could probably get a lightly-loaded F-15 in the air safely. (I don’t have an F/A-18 SAC, but I’d guess those are comparable.) But that raises serious operational problems. Back in WW2, carrier strike capacity was set by how many planes you could get on deck while still leaving enough deck clear forward for the planes to make their takeoff runs. As planes got bigger and heavier, capacity decreased, to the point where they had to go to catapults to get reasonable groups. You’re essentially going back to those days, and using planes that need almost all the deck. So you only have a few airplanes on this giant ship. Again, why? The only thing I can think of that even remotely makes sense is that you want to be able to say ‘I fly fast jets off of a carrier’. That kind of posturing is rarely good defense policy.

          • engleberg says:

            @I’m using how it’s normally used –

            AOE is the professional term of art for a specific USN class. ‘Oiler’ can be any floating box full of oil, going back to steam ships that had an oil tank for when coal wasn’t heating their boilers fast enough.

            “you want to be able to say, ‘I fly fast jets off a carrier’. That kind of posturing rarely makes good defense policy’-

            I want to be able to say it for cheap. A light T-38 with a 2000 runway requirement could adapt to a 1,300 foot sloping runway with a 20 knot wind more cheaply than building catapults. I think. I could be wrong. Could well be some reason neither of us has thought of, why nobody is doing it. If I was obviously right China would buy fifty old tankers and supertankers, slap on sloping decks, and drive them in circles all around Taiwan and the South China Sea. Anyone who wanted to bring on war with a billion man army could bring it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even in colloquial usage, “oiler” refers to ships which are not fast nor designed to tolerate damage, which do not have battle-management C3I systems or even minimal defenses, whose cavernous internal volume is laid out in exactly the wrong way to support flight operations, and which can’t support the catapults and recovery gear that you actually do need to operate modern strike fighters at full combat weight.

            Building aircraft carriers on tanker hulls would work about as well as building them on container-ship hulls, and we know how well that works. If someone has a need for an aircraft transporter to deliver planes to some remote theater of operations, such a ship might make sense. If China wants to build fifty of them and pretend they are real aircraft carriers, great. Their diplomatic value will be limited to intimidating nations that don’t have a navy or an air force, and the first proper carrier battle group to show up will sweep them from the sea.

          • bean says:

            AOE is the professional term of art for a specific USN class. ‘Oiler’ can be any floating box full of oil, going back to steam ships that had an oil tank for when coal wasn’t heating their boilers fast enough.

            No. An oiler is an underway replenishment ship that is primarily designed to transfer fuel. An AOE is a ship that carries oil and ammunition. An AO is an oiler.

            I want to be able to say it for cheap. A light T-38 with a 2000 runway requirement could adapt to a 1,300 foot sloping runway with a 20 knot wind more cheaply than building catapults. I think. I could be wrong. Could well be some reason neither of us has thought of, why nobody is doing it. If I was obviously right China would buy fifty old tankers and supertankers, slap on sloping decks, and drive them in circles all around Taiwan and the South China Sea. Anyone who wanted to bring on war with a billion man army could bring it.

            Again, you’re missing my point. “I fly fast jets at sea” is not the same statement as “I fly fast jets at sea and can use them in the normal way fast jets are used”. Normally, people leave off the second bit because nobody is crazy enough to spend a bunch of money on a totally useless capability like this.
            You might be able to fly fast jets at sea from a converted supertanker. You might even be able to do it with an accident rate that wouldn’t scare 50s test pilots. You’d probably impress the FoxtrotAlpha brigade (for lack of a better term). But as John says, you wouldn’t be able to use them against anyone with a real air force, because a converted tanker would not have the support facilities necessary to use the planes properly, and everyone who matters knows this (except maybe Congress). China (who does not have a billion-man army, because that’s almost all of their population) would have provided 50 targets for the USN. The biggest question is if the air or sub communities get the higher score in the event of war.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I had no idea I would find this topic so interesting until I started reading bean’s writeups!

  14. Oleg S. says:

    Does anyone know a sane way to publish a scientific article?

    Something like [bio]arXiv, only with peer review would be great. It just fells like insanity to send an article to Elsiever and such only to scihub it afterward. I don’t understand why I have to pay to publish in open-access journals too but will happily volunteer my time to review other articles.

    • Cheese says:

      There are some open access on the cheaper end, PLOSone costs about 1500 USD. Peer J about 1000 if it’s bio and there are other similar ones for other topic areas. Often your institution will have assistance for publishing costs, or the journal itself will waive if you can prove insufficient funds.

      I don’t really understand the criticism of open access fees. Sure, the review itself is volunteer time. But how are they to pay for server and editorial staff costs?

      • Oleg S. says:

        I don’t really understand the criticism of open access fees. Sure, the review itself is volunteer time. But how are they to pay for server and editorial staff costs?

        $1500 per article is still a lot. Take for example an arXiv and PLOS.

        In 2014, 8000 articles were posted in arXiv monthly, which gives 96k articles per year. The PLOS published articles in 2016, so arXiv and PLOS are about in the same league in terms of requirements for bandwith / storage. The annual budget of arXiv was $826k in 2013-2017, thus we can estimate server costs for PLOS to be approx $800k.

        22k articles published in PLOS in 2016 generated 1500$ * 22k = 33M$ of revenue. The $800k for hosting is almost insubstantial, substract it and you will have $32M/year for editorial stuff. Rejection rate in this journal is 50%, so the payrate is $32M / 44k = $727 for every article submitted to the journal.

        Compare it with the $25 median hourly payrate of research scientist. I think it takes at most 4 hours to evaluate peer’s research, much less to filter out obvious bunk. So, what does exactly editors do to justify the $727 / article?

        • PedroS says:

          “So, what does exactly editors do to justify the $727 / article?”

          Actually, many editors work pro bono (I know I do). Why do we do it? A mix of idealism, a wish to boost our CVs, increase our name recognition and the opportunity to look at a much larger swathe of the peer-reviewing landscape than we otherwise would. A few hundred dollars of those $727 are for typesetting. Then you have to take something for the development/maintenance of manuscript submission systems .

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ll point out that the eprint sort of services handle the server fees without charging anyone anything. I’ve been on conference committees and journal boards and put in a lot of free labor reviewing papers and recommending changes, and I’ve never been paid a dime. It’s really hard for me to see why an online journal (even a high-quality one) would need to charge a thousand dollars to publish your paper, when nearly all the work being done is volunteer labor.

    • crh says:

      Depending on your field overlay journals may be an option. These are ‘journals’ that essentially just publish links to publications on arXiv and the like. Since they perform only the (low cost) gatekeeping/curation functions of a journal without the (high cost and mostly pointless) publishing functions, they tend to be free or very low cost to submit to.

  15. hlynkacg says:

    Does anyone remember an article from a year or two back (before the Trump madness) about the distribution of US GDP by state/county? The basic gist of it was that since the 1980s the top 10 richest cities in the US had gone from accounting for approx half the US GDP to account for [shockingly high percentage]. I’m almost certain that I originally found it through one of Scott’s link threads but now I can’t seem to find it.

    In any case, a few of the conversations in Change Minds or Drive Turnout and the last Open Thread have gotten me thinking about this again. Progressive talk about inequality a lot and propose redistributing wealth to address this. I understand thier reasons but it also reduces everything to a single axis, money. In my own experience is that there are a lot of people who don’t want money so much as they want respect and for thier home/county/state to be less of a shithole. Sadly the typical Progressive response to this seems to be something along the lines of “well if you moved to the shining city your home would be a shining city rather than a shithole” which IMO entirely misses the point. The classic globalist refrain is that “the winners” win more than “the losers” lose making globalism a winning strategy in terms of net utils but what they never seem to acknowledge is that most people are not utilitarians and that this is small comfort to those who find themselves holding the short end of the stick.

    To that end, what if we started looking at inequality in terms of geography as well as wealth. Some will argue that we already do this, that the interstate highways, national parks, military, etc… are a massive “hidden subsidy” of the interior paid for by the cities, but what if we made it explicit? It seems to me that modern communications and transportation technology has made transplanting jobs much more practical than transplanting people or wealth. Prior to the election Instapundit proposal for “draining the swamp” was to literally “redistribute the government” by moving federal departments out of Washington DC/Arlington county. Sure some departments, specifically those dealing with foreign policy such as State and Defense probably ought to remain in the capitol, but there are few reasons I can see why the Department of Agriculture for instance shouldn’t be headquartered in an agricultural state and I’m sure there are a lot of folks in Iowa and Nebraska who’d be interested in the associated office jobs. Likewise, the FBI’s been trying to build a new headquarters for years only to be stymied by the expense and overcrowding of office space in the DC area. Why not sidestep the problem by moving the HQ to somewhere more central? St Louis perhaps.

    Granted some states already do this in the form of targeted tax-cuts, Georgia’s film industry being a central example, but I think it’s worth considering on a wider level. What would it cost to get a company like Google to abandon the Bay Area for Wisconsin, or West Virginia? Sure the Bay Area is where the trendy people are, but to turn the conversation from last week on it’s head, if the trendy people are not willing to “move where the work is” maybe they don’t need that trendy job as much as they thought.

    • Matt M says:

      To focus on your last paragraph, the issue is network effects. Both Google as a corporation, and the trendy people who want to work for it, want to be where all the other trendy people are. The fact that it happens to be the bay area is trivial.

      But you can’t really spread them all out across the country because then you lose the network effects. They benefit from a concentration of talent. You could pick up all of silicon valley and drop it in Wisconsin and things would probably be fine, but scattering it piece by piece throughout the country would make as much sense as say, the Soviet government saying “this factory is owned by the workers, therefore we are going to dismantle every machine and send each worker one piece.” The thing doesn’t really work unless all the pieces are together.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I think you’ve completely missed the point of that paragraph. Your thesis is that trendy/successful people move to where there’s work. So if you want equality move the work to places that need it more. The people will follow.

        • Iain says:

          I actually think you’ve missed Matt M’s point here.

          Geographical proximity has benefits for both tech companies and tech employees. (Many people would also agree that the increased productivity has benefits to society, but the argument doesn’t depend on that.) The Bay Area is the Schelling point for the tech industry, where everybody goes who wants to benefit from that proximity. Hypothetically speaking, massive government intervention would enable you to move that Schelling point to a new location. At that point, the Bay Area would suffer a similar fate to the Rust Belt, and you would have the same problems as before, except with “the Bay Area” crossed out in a horde of thinkpieces and replaced with “West Virginia”.

          You can’t just “move the work to the places that need it more”, because the work desperately wants to be clumpy.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I get that this is what Matt is arguing, but he’s treating geographic concentration of wealth as an immutable law of the universe when when it’s actually a fairly recent phenomena.

          • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

            @hlynkacg: I think he’s more or less right to do so. It’s a “fairly recent phenomenon” only in the sense that the importance of work with high cognitive demands and finely-differentiated skillsets has become a larger driver of economic growth and competitiveness. Agglomeration economies and hubs that exist to take advantage of them aren’t new. Maybe this will wane in a decade or two if telepresence/VR become widely-adopted as good substitutes for in-person socializing, but I’m not holding my breath.

          • Iain says:

            In the guise of the financial industry, geographic concentration of wealth has been around since at least the founding of the Dutch East India Company. Throughout history, it has been the case that some cities are larger and wealthier than others, often because of some industry that is concentrated there.

            To the extent that this is a modern phenomenon, I suspect it has to do with the decreasing requirement of physical proximity. You can watch a movie from Hollywood, invest in a company traded on the NYSE, or look something up on Google from the comfort of your living room.

            When companies benefit more from being close to other companies in their industry than they do from being close to their customers, they will tend to cluster geographically. Bribing Google to move to Wisconsin is not going to change the underlying financial imperatives. It’s not about being “trendy”; there are real, practical benefits to concentration. If you nevertheless want to chop up Silicon Valley and sprinkle it across the Midwest, you will either have to dole out enormous bribes, or get down and dirty with authoritarian central planning.

          • hlynkacg says:

            This seems to imply that your ideal economic state would be something akin to Panem in The Hunger Games where in 1 city accounts for the entirety of the national GDP and the wider territories are only relevant insofar as they support the Capitol.

          • Iain says:

            Did I say anything about my own ideals?

            I’m just trying to establish the basic economic reality: any attempt to decentralize will be pushing against powerful economic forces. This is a hard problem, and I think you are underestimating its scope.

          • thad says:

            What are the benefits to tech companies?

          • Iain says:

            Access to funding and advice from people with a lot of experience in the industry. A huge, highly skilled pool of prospective employees.

          • thad says:

            Ok, some of those make sense, but I was under the impression that people moved to the are for tech jobs. So if the jobs were elsewhere, the workforce would likewise move. And the funding thing seems like a huge market inefficiency. If proximity matters that much for funding, there should be opportunities elsewhere that aren’t being properly explored. So it looks to me like either the effects of having knowledgeable people nearby are much higher than I would have thought, or this is a bubble waiting to pop.

          • Iain says:

            If all the tech jobs and startups were elsewhere, people would move to that elsewhere. If all the tech jobs and startups were scattered across the country, people would be less inclined to move. If you join a startup and it fails, it’s a lot easier to find a similar job in the Bay Area than it would be in, say, Omaha.

            This article about Y Combinator is exceedingly breathless, but my understanding is that this part is completely accurate:

            But those perks are secondary to two huge edges that come with a Golden Ticket of a YC invite. The first is instant access to an alumni network of over 1,500 companies and 3,500 founders who’ve been through the program, including deca-unicorns like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe. This network, a not-so-secret society of startup royalty, is a treasure trove of master-class advice and, depending on the startup, an instant customer base. The second advantage is the instant credibility with investors that comes from being in the program. After three months, companies wind up with seed funding or even Series A money averaging $1.42 million (as of the most recent batch).

    • The Nybbler says:

      For Google, it would require Larry Page and at least one of the other two to have essentially a religious revelation. But even a “company like Google” has no reason to move to WV or Wisconsin. There’s nothing there for them (at least not in WV). Even if the land was free and taxes were zero. You couldn’t get enough “trendy” people to move there.

      There are “companies like Google” in the broad sense in other places. There’s tech companies in Washington D.C., mostly (but not wholly) doing government contracting. There’s SAS in North Carolina. There’s tech in NYC, not all of which is outposts of Silicon Valley companies. There are places besides Silicon Valley you can build or move a tech company, but not (former) coal country. You at least need a strong technical university, preferably a few. You also need connectivity but that’s easier to solve. Maybe some visionary could manage to build the entire infrastructure de novo, though it seems very high risk. But even if they did, this helps the current residents only slightly. They’re still going to have to move — probably under that scenario more than the current one, as cost of living will go up. They’ll just get a one-time windfall when they sell.

      • Matt M says:

        Right. You can probably convince a sufficient number of trendy people to go to Seattle, Portland, or even Austin.

        But good luck with the rust belt!

        • baconbacon says:

          This is a tautology, the Rust Belt is the Rust Belt because of declining economics. Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh are Rust Belt Cities, but Chicago is not thanks to a growing population up through 2015 and is still the 3rd largest metro area in the US. They had no trouble with growth through ~2010.

          Places are defined as trendy if people will move to them, you can’t prove that a place can’t be trendy by noting that no one moves there, you are only noting that it isn’t trendy now.

          If you sort Wikipedia’s list of largest metropolitan areas by growth from 2010-2016 then the trendiest place look like TX, FL and NC/SC.

        • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

          Pittsburgh’s autonomous vehicles niche is a bit of an exception here, but as it’s exclusively driven by a strong research program at Carnegie Mellon that was blooming at the exact right time to get a massive infusion of cash from Uber, Ford, and others. Apparently being in the Rust Belt isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, if you’re in its biggest city and happen to get really lucky…

          • BBA says:

            Detroit is still much larger than Pittsburgh, despite its precipitous decline.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That says more about Detroit’s former size than it does about Pittsburgh.

            IRC the city itself had something like 1.8 million people and another 4 million in it’s wider metro area at it’s peak.

          • bbartlog says:

            Pittsburgh has a fairly well developed tech sector thanks to its universities. It’s no Silicon Valley but it compares favorably with a lot of other similar-sized Rust Belt cities. It’s not just the recent autonomous vehicles thing either, there have been successful startups in search (Lycos), speech recognition (M*Modal), digital hardware (FORE systems), and other areas going back to the 1990s.

      • beleester says:

        Wisconsin does have a huge tech company (Epic Systems), as a matter of fact. It used to be a small tech company in Madison, and then it got a lot bigger, so they built a new headquarters just outside of town. And while they do have UW there, I don’t think that’s their primary feeder. If you have a huge tech company, you can put it anywhere – people will move to work for you.

        A bigger problem, I suspect, is that there’s just not that many companies like Google. There’s a lot more cities in the Midwest than there are giant tech companies that you can build an economy around.

        • Brad says:

          I don’t think there’s any other companies like Google. I’m not even sure Google is still Google or maybe ever was.

          What I mean by that is there is a, call it an understanding, that anyone that passes some threshold can go get a job at Google; a sense out in the industry that there is no fixed number of positions over there. Apple, certainly a very large tech employer, doesn’t have nearly the same mystique.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m in the software industry, and I’ve worked for Google. From inside the Googleplex, no place was more prestigious than Google, but some companies were on par: Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, big new (or revitalized) companies that had a lot of influence and a high profile. Some of the high-profile unicorn startups rated, too.

            Your idea that Google will hire all the people it can get who pass a certain bar isn’t right. There were personnel budgets just like in any business. And I don’t remember hearing of any slots going unfilled because no qualified workers could be found. Google simply has so many good people applying that they can be very very selective.

            I do remember some talk about how the average had dropped a little, and the incoming Googlers of 2011 weren’t quiiiite up to the standard of the new Googlers of 2006.

        • hlynkacg says:

          So the obvious question is now, why is Epic Systems in Wisconsin and not Silicon Valley?

          • Charles F says:

            There’s a definite image as a friendly, midwestern, never going to go public, dedicated to the local community, sort of company.

            There’s a really nice, very big, campus that makes a pretty great impression when representatives from pretty much every one of their customers shows up once a year for their user’s meeting. It would be an enormous project to put together something comparable in CA.

            There’s a slightly eccentric CEO who would probably never approve of moving.

            They’re big enough and established enough that they don’t seem to need to be in Silicon Valley to attract employees.

            They’ve been around since 1979 and never dealt with the whole venture capital deal. Some of their earliest customers were around Madison, so they wouldn’t have wanted to move away from the doctors they were trying to form a community with.

          • pontifex says:

            EPIC is a pretty old company, founded in 1979. Think IBM, not Silicon Valley.

            They use a programming language called MUMPS so old that it even predates C++. Alex Papadimoulis of the Daily WTF claims that it is a huge pile of technical debt (I don’t know enough to evaluate this claim.) More charitable take on MUMPS here.

          • beleester says:

            @Charles F covered it pretty well.

            @Pontifex: I’ve worked at Epic. MUMPS sucks, but they’ve built enough tools to cover up the sucky bits. There’s a modern IDE, there’s an optimizing compiler, there’s a linter that will catch the stupid mistakes you can make because of language quirks, and there’s a proper API for the database. And their VB6 code is slowly being replaced by a shiny new ASP.NET framework with data binding and everything.

            I heard horror stories about the old days, but I found M surprisingly okay to work in. They still have a preposterously huge pile of code with a ton of internal libraries to learn, which sucks, but I don’t think the language is their main problem.

      • thad says:

        I don’t buy that it would totally displace current residents. I mean sure, if the population just explodes (think the fracking boom), but would it be like that? I would think that cities that have lost population should be able to regain a large portion of that population without breaking everything. Prices would go up, but so would job opportunities. Sure, you would no longer be able to buy houses for a dollar, but I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. Struggling areas have very different problems from large, growing areas.

        • The Nybbler says:

          What job opportunities? The tech company isn’t going to be hiring the ex-manufacturing/mining workers to do tech. There will be some service jobs created, and a mini-boom for the building trades, but not that much. Meanwhile, the cheap grocery store closes its doors and is replaced by a Whole Paycheck, the local diner closes and is replaced by the kind of expensive coffee shop the tech workers like, even the hardware store closes because the space is more valuable as a rock gym.

          It seems to be an iron law; when conditions get worse in an area, the current residents are hurt, but when they improve, the current residents in general do not benefit. Instead, they’re priced out. At least as owners they reap a one-time windfall; when they’re renters they get nothing (see: gentrification)

          • baconbacon says:

            It seems to be an iron law; when conditions get worse in an area, the current residents are hurt, but when they improve, the current residents in general do not benefit.

            These aren’t the same people. Those who are left for a resurgence after a boom aren’t average, they are specifically selected for the type of people who either skills, personality, or preference wise hung around in a declining area.

          • thad says:

            Job opportunities largely in service industries, but that includes more than just working at the new Whole Foods (or Wegman’s. I’m originally from Buffalo and that’s what I’m using as my example. I would imagine that a smaller city like Erie would benefit more from a smaller change whereas Detroit would be able to gracefully absorb more). You’ll have an increased need for teachers, doctors, tax preparers, car salesmen. As for factory workers, most of those jobs are so long gone that you aren’t re-training the people who held them. For Buffalo, the Bethlehem Steel plant basically closed in 82, and had been in decline before that. The question isn’t about retraining people who lost their jobs 35 years ago, but about providing opportunities in the area to keep local kids from moving out. It’s about providing a larger tax base for infrastructure improvements and maintenance. It’s also about providing any jobs for the unemployed. Hell, before Terry Pegula bought the Bills it was about remaining a viable city for an NFL team.

            The local diner probably doesn’t close, probably the empty storefront next to it gets filled in, and that coffeeshop needs employees, including management. Like I said, my model is Buffalo. The city used to have roughly 250K more people, the area upwards of 1M more. Now, I will grant that it depends on how it happens. If a massive fleet of Google buses shows up to drop off 10,000 high wage employees (I couldn’t find exact numbers on how many Google employees there are at the main campus. it’s probably more than 10K, but that seems like an extreme example) with no one in the area having been aware of the plan, ok, sure, that causes problems. If Google decides to try to build a campus for those 10,000 employees to work at in the middle of the West Side, maybe that’s a problem. If they buy some land in the burbs, maybe an undeveloped lot and then some neighboring properties, it’s much less of a problem. If it’s 5K instead of 10K, if it’s a gradual influx over the course of a decade rather than overnight, these things ease the shock, and I think are more realistic.

            I’m not saying that literally no one will be hurt, but the notion that it would have the same effect as adding those people to a city that doesn’t have vacant lots to build on, that doesn’t have unoccupied houses, strikes me as absurd. Yes, housing prices go up, but in the situation where they build in the suburbs it drives up housing prices the most in the suburbs and in the trendier areas. I’m claiming that the shock to housing values is mitigated by the available land on which to build. I’m not saying that low income areas are completely unaffected, I’m saying that the unoccupied houses in those areas help absorb the shock.

    • Iain says:

      Network effects. Tech people want to be in Silicon Valley because that’s where the tech people are. Employers and employees each have a larger pool to choose from without having to move; if you work for Google in West Virginia and want to change jobs, what are you supposed to do?

      I suspect that a non-trivial amount of the Department of Agriculture’s work involves producing data/reports for political decision-makers, in which case physical proximity to DC is an advantage. There’s still probably room to move some things out, though, and I don’t disagree in principle.

      Sadly the typical Progressive response to this seems to be something along the lines of “well if you moved to the shining city your home would be a shining city rather than a shithole” which IMO entirely misses the point.

      Are you really going to call this the progressive response? If you go back and look at the earlier conversations, there are a lot of people taking this stance across the political spectrum. (Among other things, I’m pretty sure that it’s the libertarian response.)

      • 1soru1 says:

        > Are you really going to call this the progressive response?

        Yeah, that one is up there with ‘what I can’t stand about Republicans is the way they are forcing all the gays to get married’ or something.

        Progressive economics 101: money flows downhill, from high-cost (low efficiency) areas to low cost ones. Which means cities with decent infrastructure and amenities.

        Without national borders in between, people follow that flow or get left behind. When your nation is sufficiently big the trip back home to see family is a once-a-year effort, families and communities are going to get separated like isotopes in a centrifuge.

        To reduce the intensity of the flow, you need to pump money uphill. Which requires non-market economics. Typically this is tax-and-spend, but anything with a mathematically equivalent effect would work too.

      • Randy M says:

        Are you really going to call this the progressive response?

        Neo-liberal?

    • herbert herberson says:

      Believe it or not, this CNN op-ed makes a good rundown of why this could be a good idea for the government. It notes some secondary advantages as well, like cost savings and the possibility of some form of major attack taking out DC.

    • baconbacon says:

      Does anyone remember an article from a year or two back (before the Trump madness) about the distribution of US GDP by state/county? The basic gist of it was that since the 1980s the top 10 richest cities in the US had gone from accounting for approx half the US GDP to account for [shockingly high percentage]. I’m almost certain that I originally found it through one of Scott’s link threads but now I can’t seem to find it.

      In any case, a few of the conversations in Change Minds or Drive Turnout and the last Open Thread have gotten me thinking about this again. Progressive talk about inequality a lot and propose redistributing wealth to address this. I understand thier reasons but it also reduces everything to a single axis, money.

      Of note is that the shrinking economic portion of the country is already net ‘beneficiaries’ of federal transfers. No one ever stops to consider that this might be the causal relationship.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Okay, I’ll consider it. What’s the evidence for it?

        • baconbacon says:

          There isn’t much evidence because I don’t know if it has ever been seriously explored, but there is some anecdotal stuff as economic gains often stall out when transfer mechanisms are applied. Black male wages made gains on white male wages from the end of WW2 through the introduction of the great society (this was with white wages growing so they weren’t just shrinking slower or some other mechanism). The introduction of welfare correlates fairly well with stagnation of black male wages to white male wages, and a stagnation in the decline in the poverty rate. Federal transfers have likewise not raised living standards for Reservation Native Americans.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Okay. If you don’t have evidence, do you have a proposed mechanism? I mean, the causality going the other direction has, I think, a pretty strong story:

            “This group fell into poverty, so we started transferring money to them.”

            Feels pretty straightforward. Do you have a proposed basis for believing that it went, “We started transferring money to this group, and thus they fell into poverty?”

            Please be sure to distinguish between “We transferred money to this impoverished group and it didn’t change their trajectory significantly,” which is a pretty straightforward story, and “We transferred money to this impoverished group and the very act of transferring money to them caused or worsened their poverty.”

            If you won the lottery tomorrow, for $250,000, do you think that you would probably end up worse off (in a financial sense) than you are today?

          • Do you have a proposed basis for believing that it went, “We started transferring money to this group, and thus they fell into poverty?”

            The mechanism is that the transfer is conditional on being poor, hence reduces the incentive to get out of poverty, which is hard, or avoid falling into it.

            The fact I like to cite is that if you look at the poverty rate, definition held constant, it was falling pretty fast from the end of WWII, which I think is as far back as we have good data, until about the point at which the War on Poverty got fully funded and staffed. From then until now it has been roughly constant, going up and down with economic conditions.

            As Murray described it in Losing Ground, which I believe was his first book, the War on Poverty was originally supposed to be about getting people out of poverty–job training and similar programs. It was a complete failure at doing that, so got retconned into a program to make being poor less unpleasant.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            So you’re basically saying that welfare programs are just insufficiently technocratically managed and all that’s really necessary to make them successful is to slowly phase out benefits in a way that keeps a decently high value to each marginal dollar?

          • DeWitt says:

            Not all libertarians agree about the minutiae, but the argument ranges from ‘my tax dollars should not be used to subsidise the poor’ from ‘this couldn’t be well-managed even if we tried and investing in it by means of the government is an awful idea’

          • Eric Rall says:

            You need a very shallow phase-out to avoid poverty-trap effects, especially when there are multiple programs that all phase out in similar ranges. You can do this by expanding the phase-out range, but that makes the program much more expensive because this expands the program’s eligibility into the broader middle class. It also increases the number of people vulnerable to the disincentive effects of losing benefits if their income increases, so if you miscalculated and set the phase-out too steep, you wind up with a much larger population with reduced incentives to pursue opportunities for increased income.

            You can avoid the disincentive effects entirely by treating benefits as taxable income instead of phasing them out with income, so you just get the disincentive effects of income taxes, not those stacked with the income phase outs of all of your means-tested programs. But this, too, is expensive since it yields an extremely shallow phase-out that never phases the benefits out entirely. There are a few programs that are treated this way (unemployment benefits are pure taxable income, and social security benefit are partially taxable income, with more of them being taxable the more taxable income you have), but I don’t think it’s been tried broadly for antipoverty programs.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            You can’t really fix this by making benefits phase out slowly. Anything that makes poverty less unpleasant, and doesn’t make riches less unpleasant by the same amount, will decrease the incentive to make money.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can’t really fix this by making benefits phase out slowly. Anything that makes poverty less unpleasant, and doesn’t make riches less unpleasant by the same amount, will decrease the incentive to make money.

            The welfare trap effect has nothing to do with making poverty less unpleasant or riches more unpleasant. It has to do with making total income non-monotonic in wages, which makes local maxima possible.

            That really can be avoided by phasing benefits out slowly, although the math works out such that they’re way more expensive that way.

          • Corey says:

            @DavidFriedman: is the constant poverty definition you use one that excludes anti-poverty program effects? That’s a relatively common failure mode; e.g. if you exclude in-kind benefits then Medicaid or food stamps can have no effect by definition.

          • The Nybbler says:

            e.g. if you exclude in-kind benefits then Medicaid or food stamps can have no effect by definition.

            Which is very useful if you want to push for more redistribution programs.

          • baconbacon says:

            hat’s a relatively common failure mode; e.g. if you exclude in-kind benefits then Medicaid or food stamps can have no effect by definition.

            This isn’t true according to most welfare advocates, transfer payments are supposed to provide the proverbial “hand up” out of poverty. It is true that you won’t get a reduction from the actual transfers, but it has been postulated by many that their existence can/should/will lead to lower poverty in the future.

          • is the constant poverty definition you use one that excludes anti-poverty program effects?

            I believe the usual measure is income before welfare payments and the like. Not, I would guess, before social security, private pension, etc.

            As I think I said, Murray’s point in Losing Ground was that the War on Poverty was supposed to make people not poor, self-supporting, hence job training and similar programs. It failed in that, so was converted into a program to make being poor less bad. Prior to that, the poverty rate by that measure had been going down for a couple of decades. After that, it stopped doing so.

            Your “anti-poverty effects” presumably refers to what it ended up doing, not what it was initially sold as doing. If the result of job retraining was that someone had a job and so was no longer poor, that would be a decline in the poverty rate.

          • Corey says:

            And given that nobody can get political support for any anti-poverty aid other than in-kind aid, now no anti-poverty program can ever lower the rate. Convenient! The we can get thinkpieces about how hamburgers don’t feed anybody if you don’t count the hamburgers people eat, and get rid of hamburgers. Your logic certainly doesn’t have any loose ends.

          • Corey says:

            Upon further reflection, I’d wager that Medicaid shoulders a lot of blame; if one set out to design a program to keep people poor one couldn’t do much better. It may even tie into the lack-of-moving problem in other subthreads; asset limits are likely low enough that one can’t save for moving costs without losing Medicaid (and of course changing States requires starting over with Medicaid in the new State).

            Not that it’s clear how to fix that. Universal coverage with sliding-scale deductibles and out-of-pocket-maxima is probably the only way, and that will never happen politically. Any method where you transition off of Medicaid onto private or no coverage is going to produce a sharp discontinuity at that point, no matter how you design the deductibles and such. And replacing Medicaid with a cash equivalent for buying private insurance or buying health care directly would be so much more expensive that it would also be a political non-starter.

          • Witness says:

            @Corey

            I think there are two definitions of the word poverty being used in this discussion.

            If I’m reading correctly, you want to use it to mean approximately “has a not-too-sucky life” and thus the government programs* that give people benefits allowing them to have a not-too-sucky life are definitionally keeping them out of poverty.

            Others (again, if I’m reading correctly) are using it to mean “can provide themselves a not-too-sucky life without government assistance”, and thus people who have a not-too-sucky life only by virtue of government programs* are definitionally still in poverty.

            *”government programs” may be overbroad here for different people in this conversation, depending on how one counts e.g. Social Security. And other terms as well might suffer from vagueness. Remember to read charitably 🙂

          • Corey says:

            @Witness: Fair enough. What I was originally trying to do was a standard econ thing of reducing in-kind benefits to their cash equivalents, e.g. someone who gets Medicaid is $(value of the healthcare received) better off than someone who doesn’t, and therefore the Medicaid recipient can be considered to have a cash income increased by that dollar value for comparison. (Complicated by, especially in healthcare, that dollar value may be wildly divergent from the cost of providing it, and is going to vary from person to person).

            And I see the general point of “why aren’t these programs getting people back into the workforce, then?” My guess is that some of them can’t possibly do that (e.g. SSI), and others have sharp eligibility cliffs that cause people to keep their incomes low or face high (sometimes way over 100%) marginal tax rates on the extra income (Medicaid, as above).

          • And given that nobody can get political support for any anti-poverty aid other than in-kind aid, now no anti-poverty program can ever lower the rate.

            The rate was, however, going down until the War on Poverty got going. That had anti-poverty aid designed to get people out of poverty and failed to do so, providing at least some evidence against the idea that such aid would succeed. It replaced it with aid designed to make being poor less unpleasant.

            If your explanation of the fact that the poverty rate isn’t going down is the lack of government programs to lower it, how do you explain the fact that it was going down before such programs?

          • Brad says:

            @David Friedman
            It’s not entirely clear what statistic you want to use. Is it percent of people living in households with total earned compensation (edit) above below some real fixed threshold?

          • Corey says:

            the fact that the poverty rate isn’t going down

            How do you know this, given that your data undercounts significant sources of income? Is my income only my cash salary, or does it include the actuarial value of employer-sponsored health insurance (which is about 20% of the total)? If I live with my parents, am I economically better or worse off than someone with identical income who lives on his own?

            After excluding all the food I eat, my calorie consumption has stayed constant at 0, but for some reason my weight doesn’t go down – it’s a mystery indeed.

          • the fact that the poverty rate isn’t going down

            How do you know this, given that your data undercounts significant sources of income?

            Because, as I thought I made clear already, the poverty rate I am talking about is defined by income before transfers. In the earlier period, the number of people who were poor before transfers was going down. In the later period it wasn’t. That fact requires an explanation.

            The original objective of the War on Poverty was to reduce, ideally eliminate, poverty defined in that way, to make people self-supporting. It failed at that. Insofar as we are willing to accept post hoc ergo propter hoc, it had the opposite of its intended effect–reduced the number of people who were self-supporting by ending the decline in the poverty rate defined in those terms that had been occurring.

    • bean says:

      The British have tried distributing government departments, and it hasn’t worked all that well. Basically, you end up with a few offices in other parts of the country, and much higher travel budgets as the higher-ups have to go to the capitol regularly to do things there. Where does the Secretary of Agriculture work when most of his staff is in Nebraska? He has to attend cabinet meetings and such.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      I think the economic disutility of this is pretty similar to what you get from redistribution of wealth. Living in the city has a lot of utility, so if you’re trying to make an overall-more-prosperous nation, then concentrated cities are a good thing. And my experience – a lot in NJ, and just a little in TX – suggests that the government is fostering that concentration. In particular, there’s a huge flow of money from the suburbs into the city in the form of school funding. A significant portion of taxes collected for schools in the suburbs is skimmed off and sent to inner-city schools (where they pay twice as much to get half the outcome, but that’s a different conversation).

      I do get that you’re saying that geography is potentially a different dimension, so judging it against wealth isn’t exactly fair. You’re acknowledging that there’s be some tradeoff.

      But if so, why not start thinking about all the other ways in which we’re unequal – like the fact that I’m really lousy at sports, not particularly attractive, and so on. The whole bugaboo about wealth inequality tries to drive to a conclusion where I’m not allowed to notice those areas where I’m weak and strong, and decide to invest what resources I have into increasing my overall value in the dimension I have the most control over. They’re saying that along that dimension we should all be (relatively) equal, and so there’s little I can do to improve my overall value.

    • DocKaon says:

      The problem is that the resentment is fractal. The people in rural Wisconsin don’t just resent Silicon Valley or Washington, D.C., they resent Madison, WI too. Our political system divides us into states, but for most purposes they’re irrelevant. The divide is between rural and urban and redistributing companies or organizations between different cities won’t heal that divide.

      To go with your example of relocating Google to Wisconsin (since I grew up there). Google would have to relocate to either Madison or Milwaukee, because there just aren’t enough people or infrastructure in other parts of the state. So what you’ve done is increase the wealth and population of urban areas in a predominately rural state. That doesn’t resolve the issue. Madison is already a successful urban area with a low unemployment rate and good jobs for highly educated professionals. An unemployed high school graduate in Janesville isn’t going to suddenly become less resentful of urban elites, because they can now move to Madison and get a service industry job catering to the needs of transplanted Google employees, than they were when they could get a service industry job catering to the needs of Epic Systems employees or biotech workers.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        Relevant anecdote: http://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/obamacare-cleveland-clinic-non-profit-hospital-taxes/

        tl;dr: when a world-class institution time-travels into the middle of your failing city, the result might be you getting a job, or it might be planners bulldozing your neighborhood to build a highway for the commuters (and the worst part is, they are right to do so…). It is good at some level though (for the county or the state)

        • baconbacon says:

          I lived in the suburbs of Cleveland for 20+ years, the story that makes the most sense to me is that high taxes and corruption drove most business and people out of Cleveland over a few decades. The few businesses that remained were non profits like the clinic that consume resources and pay little or nothing directly to the city. This compounds as taxes have to rise or benefits cut for non clinic property, more for profit businesses move out, etc, etc.

          Eventually local politicians looking for a scapegoat go after the Clinic, they blame them for all their problems, the Clinic responds defensively (and even aggressively) and the divide quickly widens.

      • BBA says:

        And tech firms aren’t the broad-based employers that manufacturing firms used to be. To pull some arbitrary examples from annual reports, 20 years ago Eastman Kodak employed 94,800 people. Today Google (including the rest of Alphabet) has 72,000 employees. Now just compare how prominent Google is now to how prominent Kodak was in the ’90s.

        • baconbacon says:

          Amazon employs 340,000+, and I don’t think that includes affiliates and 3rd party sellers (some of) who earn significant amounts of income through amazon.

          • BBA says:

            Well, yeah, they’re a retailer, they need more people. Sears (the Amazon of its day) had about as many employees 20 years ago.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Redistributing government is a terrible idea.

      • hlynkacg says:

        That link seems to be arguing the opposite really.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Yeah, I should have said:

          In recent decades the US government as been concentrating, because it is a good idea.

    • John Schilling says:

      The type of person that Google, some small dotcom startup, or anyone in between wants working for them, is the sort of person who could just as well get a job at Apple or Oracle or any of a dozen other dotcom startups. And the type of person who doesn’t turn out the “I want to talk, think, and do computer stuff” part of their brain at 5:00 every weekday afternoon. If you promise this person reasonable pay, reasonable working conditions, and reasonable colleagues, in Silicon Valley, they’ll take your offer. And they’ll hedge their bets by doing their off-duty nerdish socializing with a mix of the most amiable colleagues from your shop and the entire rest of the SV population, and if it turns out you were lying about the reasonable working conditions, they’re out the door to one of your competitors.

      If you promise them reasonable pay, working conditions, and colleagues, in Gary Indiana, they will understand that if you don’t deliver either they will have to eat the loss or they will have to pay all the transaction costs of a cross-country move. So you’ll have to up the pay to compensate. And if you are going to come through with the adequate working conditions and social environment for nerds, without the SV ecosystem to draw on, that’s also going to cost extra. And when you go to your investors and try to explain why you are paying so much extra for talent, after you promised to save them money by setting up shop in Indiana? They aren’t going to come up with the money, so you’re going to wind up with second-rate talent and high turnover.

      Also, your investors live in Silicon Valley and they need face time.

      • Matt M says:

        Right. Even the literal largest company in the world struggles to recruit MBA talent, because how many Harvard grads want to go live in Bentonville, Arkansas?

      • hlynkacg says:

        This doesn’t answer the question though. That [insert tech company] wants to be in Silicon Valley was a given from the start.

      • Aapje says:

        @John Schilling

        The costs of living is much higher in SV than in Gary Indiana, which also needs to be compensated for. You are cherry picking costs to make SV look better.

        • poipoipoi says:

          @Aapje,

          Yes, but there’s still real costs there.

          I just left Silicon Valley for family reasons (They’re in the Eastern timezone, I’m in the Western and getting home from work at 9:00… Then add on an $1800 plane ticket home for Christmas…), but you’ll notice that I moved to New York when I did. Because if you don’t like your one employer in Gary, Indiana, you’re SOL in the exact way John Schilling described.

          And as both SF and NYC cannibalize themselves, I’m not sure what’s going to end up happening.

          Because when Cleveland, population 2 Million in the Metro Area, doesn’t have enough tech jobs for me to be willing to move there…

        • JayT says:

          I would have to be paid more than I currently make in San Francisco to move to a job in Gary, Indiana. There are many non-monetary benefits to living in the Bay Area that would have to be bought out to make me consider Gary.

    • tscharf says:

      In my own experience is that there are a lot of people who don’t want money so much as they want respect and for thier home/county/state to be less of a shithole.

      One answer is subsidizing lower paid jobs and possibly re-importing some of the exported jobs. I’m sure David Friedman will tell us all about what trade theory says and why this is a loser overall. He’s probably right about that, but what theory leaves out is:

      1. Social upheaval
      2. Government’s real role

      We are progressively (ha ha) getting closer to a social revolt on inequality. One word, Trump. Even if the market is working perfectly, it is not socially acceptable to pay an engineer 1000x of a garbage man. This may be the true economic value of a garbage man, but the equation changes when the garbage men burn down Google et. al. So we have a hard to gauge degree of freedom here that needs to be examined. An optimum market that results in The Hunger Games society may end with similar outcomes.

      The government’s job is not to maximize GDP, although that may be the right path in most cases. The government’s jobs is to provide for the welfare of its citizens. Food stamps and Oxycontin are not a path to a well functioning society. At some point the GDP and the citizen’s welfare paths diverge, and it may be that we are getting close to that point, the trends are not promising for this to get better.

      We are heading to Blade Runner instead of The Jetsons. The winners in society needs to redistribute enough wealth to prevent social upheaval. I’m beginning to wonder if they don’t properly understand this. If they don’t work out a smart way to do this, then the lower classes will insert a government that does it with a far more blunt and inefficient method. One answer to the inequality of living in a sewer is to make everyone live in a sewer. Do you really want to give Trump and Bernie supporters that option?

      The item of most concern isn’t that we are already on a predestined path to Blade Runner, but that a precondition for social upheaval is becoming apparent. The winners are losing the mandate to rule the losers. While the winners denigrate the losers and wonder why they can’t understand “facts” they are missing the more important question which is: Why don’t they trust you anymore? This involves looking in the mirror and answering some hard questions.

      So to make a long story longer, the winners need to move to a less efficient and less optimized market to better optimize the lower quartiles citizen’s welfare. They need to do it in their own self interest because they might end up living in a sewer.

      • The Nybbler says:

        So the “winners” have to work their entire lives to produce all the things, AND provide welfare for the “losers” who have free time, free housing, free food, free education, free medical care, and probably better luck with romance (c.f. “Henry” in Radicalizing the Romanceless)? Who exactly is the winner again?

        • Matt M says:

          There’s probably an argument to be made that the best way, as a general rule of public policy, to deal with people who say “give me money or I burn your house down” is NOT to give them the money.

          • DeWitt says:

            That works morally, and in a ‘don’t negotiate with terrorists’ sense, but how would you say this works out practically? What is your solution to deal with angry poor folk that doesn’t involve buying them off somehow?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Well, one solution would be to give the “winners” – defined as anyone making more than $X/year, or some other status any able person could reach – literal titles of nobility, unique rights like sumptuary laws, etc. Of course, the modern “losers” would probably revolt at that too; equality is too engrained in modern society.

            (Yes, depending on how limited-supply those privileges are and how much the “winners” value being the only ones to have them, they could conspire to keep other people down. We’d need to strike a careful balance where they think the privileges are worth paying taxes for, but they don’t cling to them too much.)

          • DeWitt says:

            A lot of those privileges are things we already have, sorta. Someone who’s not a ‘winner’ certainly has the riiiiiiight to drive a Lamborghini and buy a castle in France, but the right to do so without the actual means is a hollow thing.

            That said, I’ve often thought cities could try ‘renting’ street names to people willing to pay for it. I could see certain wealthy sorts buying off streets to be named after themselves for a time – maybe even all time.

          • One of the greatest conceits of the right wing is that the “winners” produce everything and the “losers” live off their largesse. The classical labor theory of value explains how it is actually the other way around. No welfare will ever come close to compensating for surplus value extraction (after-tax profits dwindling to zero would be the only situation in which we could say that this had occurred). In reality, Galt’s Gulch would collapse in an instant without the labor of workers around the world to sustain it.

            Part of me wishes that, one day, Randians would own up to their bluff and let the poor die off in a recession. Then the ensuing labor shortage would show them that, oh hey, we do still need the poor, and that unemployment benefits are actually benefiting employers as much as employees by keeping the labor force alive during slow times.

          • achenx says:

            You’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
            And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

          • hlynkacg says:

            The real question is what does “getting rid of the dane” in this context even look like?

          • DeWitt says:

            It looks like the poor not burning down cars and eating the rich rather than going about life quietly.

          • Nornagest says:

            Fortunately, the classical labor theory of value is horseshit.

          • Protagoras says:

            @achenx, One of the most common historical patterns when wealthy nations paid off neighboring barbarians is that the neighboring barbarians started behaving themselves to ensure the flow of wealth continued and started trying to keep away rival barbarians to prevent them from trying to take a cut of the payoff. So it was often a good deal for the wealthy nations, paying off one enemy to avoid having to fight several (though the payoffs do have to be continuous, that much is true). But the successful examples are less dramatic than the failures, and it sounds like a “wimpy” strategy, so everybody focuses on the rarer failures rather than the more frequent successes (or misinterprets the failures; empires that used this strategy and then abruptly decided that they needed the money more urgently to finance their internal squabbles and so cut off the payments have indeed fared poorly after that decision).

          • pdbarnlsey says:

            The classical labor theory of value explains how it is actually the other way around

            I think “asserts” is probably a fairer characterisation here.

        • tscharf says:

          I think the point I was making is that at some point the incentives must also include “stop the lower classes from revolting”. We already provide the things you listed and the reasons they exist are a mix of humanitarianism and keeping them from revolting. Imagine a “more better winner” world where those things are taken away. Hope you have good locks on your doors John Galt, ha ha.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Hope you have good locks on your doors John Galt, ha ha.

            The idea of Atlas shrugging is simply the flip side of the poor revolting because the wealthy aren’t distributing them enough largesse. It’s the productive revolting because they’re doing all the work while others get all of the benefits for free.

            I’m not seeing how the idea that “the productive should have their wealth redistributed to the unproductive in order to avoid having the unproductive kill them” is all that different from slavery. One bunch is doing the work, the other bunch is taking the proceeds under the threat of force.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Have a note about Atlas Shrugged: People bailed out to Galt’s Gulch because the US was turning into a nasty dictatorship. It wasn’t just redistribution, it was a future of being punished for not meeting impossible goals while living in a crumbling society with a very dangerous government. If this sounds vaguely like the USSR, it’s not a coincidence.

            To read Ayn Rand, you’d think she’d never heard of Judaism, which combines a requirement to give charity and a prohibition against wrecking yourself by giving too much.

          • hlynkacg says:

            One bunch is doing the work, the other bunch is taking the proceeds under the threat of force.

            But which bunch is which?

          • tscharf says:

            @The Nybbler
            I’m not debating the perfect society, I loved Atlas Shrugged. Cops are wearing body cameras now not because of economics but citizen welfare.

            The question is whether the lower classes are at fault or if the upper classes have unmaliciously constructed an economy the lower classes cannot win at.

            Proper economics favors this endpoint if that produces the maximum GDP. It’s better for the total economy to export high value items and import low value items that are made cheaper elsewhere. The people in the US who were good at making cheap plastic toys are unemployed. Those unemployed go get jobs in the high value industries and the world is a happy efficient place.

            What happens when there are no longer enough high value jobs for the displaced workers? They have to accept low value jobs and make toys for $2/day to compete or starve to death. Too bad they don’t live in China where that works. Free international trade without open borders everywhere may be flawed. Burglary is much more lucrative.

            Does maximized GDP by highly disparate skill values also infer wealth distribution as part of the social contract? It may be that maximizing citizen welfare is stopping cheap toy imports.

            How would you feel if toy making was high value and software skills were imported for an effective $2/day, and you couldn’t compete in toy making because you are irredeemably clumsy? Unemployable in a manufacturing only market. The best part is the wealthy toy makers are calling you a deplorable undeserving loser, ha ha. They mean well of course.

            I’m not saying we are there yet. I’m mostly libertarian but think we have to be careful in constructing a society that maximizes economics at the cost of citizen welfare. There are limits here.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            @tscharf

            Proper economics favors this endpoint if

            Economics doesn’t favor any endpoint. It gives us the tools to help understand the consequences of any choice. But the values used in weighing those choices isn’t up to economics, it’s up to all of us individually (at least in a market system). And so, to the extent that this is the choice being made, it’s because we’ve generally chosen to take that path.

            What happens when there are no longer enough high value jobs

            It seems you’re looking at this as a zero-sum game. It’s not. Even though we’re buying iPhones made cheaply in China, the result is that demand for the engineering to design and program these comes from the USA. So the more people that buy those cheap devices (and making them cheaply abroad increases that number), the greater the demand for those high-value jobs. And since we’ve stimulated that demand not just back here in America, but people all over the world are buying the phones, the effect on increasing the high-value jobs is amplified.

          • hlynkacg says:

            MoebiusStreet

            Granted, but you’re ignoring the apparent second-order effect where in this means leads to that same wealth being increasingly concentrated in a smaller population and a smaller geographical space.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            I don’t see why it’s necessarily a smaller population. It’s almost certainly a different population, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true that it’s smaller.

            Regarding geography, at least in the case of iphone-type stuff, I think you’re wrong. Phone apps are a cottage industry that can be done from literally anywhere. To be sure, there’s probably some tendency for this stuff to be localized (Silicon Valley) but it extends significantly from there. And the manufacturing we’re comparing this to is *necessarily* localized (and is where we get terms like “rust belt” from) – manufacturing is capital-intensive and requires bringing people into proximity to the manufacturing facilities; and their suppliers naturally tend to follow.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What happens when there are no longer enough high value jobs for the displaced workers? They have to accept low value jobs and make toys for $2/day to compete or starve to death. Too bad they don’t live in China where that works. Free international trade without open borders everywhere may be flawed. Burglary is much more lucrative.

            There’s two basic answers to that one. One involves bread and circuses, the other involves jails and gallows. The problem with bread and circuses is it never ends. The poor and unemployed need food. Oh, but not just government cheese and day-old bread, they should have the same choice in food people who are working get. They need housing. And of course that housing should be to the same standards as any other. And they shouldn’t have to leave their communities, even if they are in the most expensive places in the country. Food and housing… wait, they also need medical care. No one should be denied medical care because they are poor. And certainly it’s not right that the rich get better medical care than the poor. Oh, and child care. That should be provided too, and to the same standard as those paying for it get; it’s not the poor child’s fault their parents are poor. And certainly no one should be limited in how many children they have, it’s a basic human right. And education, all the way through college. And on and on.

            So who is paying for all this? Why, people who are not poor and unemployed. Hey, they’ve got money, they can afford it. So they have to work another 10-20 years, what’s their time worth anyway?

            Yeah, I get it, don’t pay off the poor, they might start robbing people directly. But they’re probably not as good at it as the government is at doing it on their behalf. And the upper classes are more competent, maybe they can stop them from robbing so much. Perhaps with jails and gallows.

            How would you feel if toy making was high value and software skills were imported for an effective $2/day, and you couldn’t compete in toy making because you are irredeemably clumsy? Unemployable in a manufacturing only market. The best part is the wealthy toy makers are calling you a deplorable undeserving loser, ha ha. They mean well of course.

            No, they don’t. And you see, I believe that’s exactly what would happen if the situation were reversed. Nobody would care — after all, how many software people are there, and are they really likely to do that much thieving and robbing? No, I’d get told the usual thing: “You’re a smart guy; you figure it out”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ The Nybbler

            You still don’t get it. Having large contiguous groups of poor unemployed people is dangerous.

            It’s dangerous because sooner or later they will start thieving and robbing specifically because there will be “smart guys” among them who realize that being the local godfather/warlord or an employee there of is the best deal they can get. The whole point of “redistributing the economy” is to make that class smaller and less contiguous and thus less dangerous.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s dangerous because sooner or later absolutely will start thieving and robbing specifically because there will be smart guys among them who realize that being the local godfather/Mafiosi/warlord etc.. is a good deal

            The smart guys will be the ones who recognize that the Mafia works much better when it sticks to the Italian-American community than when it starts going after WASP money. There’s probably a stable equilibrium where you give all the unemployables say one-and-a-half times starvation wages(*) in welfare, let the local criminal gangs skim enough off the top to live large but crack down hard if they start preying on respectable people.

            In this equilibrium, the Mafia serves as both the scapegoat for why everyone in the communities in question are poor, and as an escape valve for the smart, determined, and unethical ones who want to stop being poor but who you’d rather not see go revolutionary.

            I do not like this solution, but it seems to be a workable one. Worse, it seems like it would work best if you could demarcate “employable” vs “welfare-bum poor” along ethnic lines.

            * “Starvation wages” defined not by literal starvation but by what the median voter sees as unconscionable deprivation even for a deplorable when it shows up on his TV screen or facebook feed.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s dangerous because sooner or later absolutely will start thieving and robbing specifically because there will be smart guys among them who realize that being the local godfather/Mafiosi/warlord etc.. is a good deal.

            They’re STILL unlikely to be as good at it as the actual government.

            The whole point of “redistributing the economy” is to make that class smaller and less contiguous and thus less dangerous.

            Might make that class less dangerous, but it’ll make it more numerous, not less. Subsidize something, get more of it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            They’re STILL unlikely to be as good at it as the actual government.

            So?

            Gang-bangers are generally outgunned by the cops who are in turn outgunned by the military. That doesn’t stop gang-bangers (and cops for that matter) from shooting people.

            Subsidize something, get more of it.

            That’s the intent. subsidize movement away from dense economic centers, to get more movement away from dense economic centers.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            They’re STILL unlikely to be as good at it as the actual government.

            If you define “good at it” as how much value in dollars a thief can extract compared to the taxman, maybe.

            Sure, the taxes on a house will probably exceed the amount of money a copper thief can get for the wiring and plumbing at a scrapyard, but the amount of damage the thief does in procuring that small amount is much, much greater. And you don’t even get fire service or roads out of the deal with the thief.

          • Incurian says:

            Sure, but you can shoot a thief without everyone getting all upset about it.

          • I’m not seeing how the idea that “the productive should have their wealth redistributed to the unproductive in order to avoid having the unproductive kill them” is all that different from slavery. One bunch is doing the work, the other bunch is taking the proceeds under the threat of force.

            One difference is that the rich are not transferrable chattels. Another is that they have the option of not working. Which they don’t take. Because of status…

          • How would you feel if toy making was high value and software skills were imported for an effective $2/day, and you couldn’t compete in toy making because you are irredeemably clumsy? Unemployable in a manufacturing only market. The best part is the wealthy toy makers are calling you a deplorable undeserving loser, ha ha. They mean well of course.

            And the other thing everyone forgets is that safety nets are there for workers as well, because no one has a 100% guarantee of lifelong employment.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Sure, the taxes on a house will probably exceed the amount of money a copper thief can get for the wiring and plumbing at a scrapyard, but the amount of damage the thief does in procuring that small amount is much, much greater. And you don’t even get fire service or roads out of the deal with the thief.

            Plus, some forms of thieving, such as mugging, impose negative consequences over and above the loss of or damage to property. How many people do you think would prefer a smaller welfare budget if it meant that they couldn’t leave the house alone for fear of being robbed at gun-point?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @CatCube

            I’m not suggesting no government, I’m suggesting not doing massive redistribution to avoid revolt by the poor. So there’s still fire service and roads… and police.

            @TheAncientGeek

            And the other thing everyone forgets is that safety nets are there for workers as well, because no one has a 100% guarantee of lifelong employment.

            Answered already. I don’t believe it. If I’m in a position to need a safety net, I’ll get a pile of “you shoulddas” and “You’re a smart guy, you figure it out”. I’m the not kind of person who can get the sympathetic ear of a social worker who will then turn the system upside down to get me benefits.

          • Incurian says:

            Once you start paying the Danegeld…

          • How many people do you think would prefer a smaller welfare budget if it meant that they couldn’t leave the house alone for fear of being robbed at gun-point?

            It isn’t clear whether welfare payments reduce the risk or increase it. Someone receiving welfare can’t take a legal job without losing the welfare, but muggers don’t report their income to the welfare department. And they have lots of time for mugging if they don’t have to work at McDonalds to feed themselves.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          So the “winners” have to work their entire lives to produce all the things, AND provide welfare for the “losers” who have free time, free housing, free food, free education, free medical care

          No?

          Bread and circuses are actually pretty cheap. We’ve been playing that game in the inner cities for decades after all.

          What these people are asking for is a functioning local economy with good jobs (full-time, reasonable pay, not make-work). That’s not something you can write a check for without changing anything else: it means actually rebuilding the American manufacturing economy, Marshall-plan style.

          • baconbacon says:

            The one analysis that I recall reading on the Marshall plan (many years ago) had the opposite effect. Countries receiving the most money (I think per capita) had a slower manufacturing rebound than those receiving the least. If I have time later I will hunt a little for it.

          • Rob K says:

            You keep saying this, but, dawg, domestic manufacturing output is higher than ever. Midcentury levels of manufacturing employment aren’t coming back because with current technology you don’t need as many humans per unit of output as you once did. Re-shore as much manufacturing as you like and you’re not changing that basic reality.

            This doesn’t mean that good low-skill jobs can’t come back; the quality of manufacturing jobs had more to do with unionization than the inherent nature of the work. But it does have lasting implications for economic geography.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            Amplifying Rob K’s point – I don’t have the link handy, but I saw a study a few months back that concluded that of the decline in US manufacturing jobs over the past several decades, only about 1/8 was attributable to offshoring. The remainder is the result of improved production processes and automation.

          • baconbacon says:

            This is not the piece I was looking for, but Tyler Cowen has this linked on his personal web page, written in 1985. It includes this point (transcribed, any errors mine)

            … bad economic policy was the true culprit. In nearly every country occupied by Germany during the war, the stringent of Nazi economic controls was continued even after the country was liberated. And in each case rapid economic growth occurred only after the controls were lifted, and sound economic policy established.
            This happened irrespective of the timing and extent of Marshall Plan aid.

          • Brad says:

            What these people are asking for is a functioning local economy with good jobs (full-time, reasonable pay, not make-work).

            What they want is impossible. Specifically the make-work part.

            Even if I need my lawn mowed, if I hire my neighbor’s developmentally disabled son to do it at twice the going rate because I feel bad for him and he does a worse job, that’s pretty clearly make-work.

          • baconbacon says:

            What they want is impossible. Specifically the make-work part

            Why is it impossible? It existed not that long ago.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Granted, the manufacturing likely aren’t coming back but that’s entirely orthagonal the geographic distribution of the economy (or lack there of).

          • Brad says:

            @baconbacon
            Because what is and isn’t make-work depends on the rest of the world. It can’t be defined in a vacuum.

            If the AI demand for labor apocalypse happens (the FAI scenario), then everything will be make-work even though everything isn’t make-work now.

          • baconbacon says:

            Because what is and isn’t make-work depends on the rest of the world. It can’t be defined in a vacuum.

            And? What is it about rust belt (or whatever term you want) populations that prevents them from earning a living in an age when more people are earning a decent living in the US workforce than ever before?

          • tscharf says:

            It’s obviously not impossible. Wall up the borders and ban robots. It certainly isn’t desirable to do that. You seem to keep saying it is impossible to not go down the optimum economic path or reverse past technological advances.

            Doing this crazy thing will make most people on this forum’s life “worse”. Cars will be crappier and more expensive. It’s quite unclear that it doesn’t make other citizens welfare “better”. I get that economic theory suggests this is a really bad plan.

            If the message is the inevitable march of progress has obsoleted you because your brain is too feeble and tough turds if you don’t like it then social upheaval may be sooner rather than later. It’s not necessarily burning down Washington, it may be electing more Trumps until things change on the ground. Making the winner’s economy worse as a byproduct of dumb policy might be a problem that can be overlooked, karma.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            The thing is, you’re not *only* bringing down the fat cats to your level. You’re also condemning your children. The status quo means that they’ll have a better life[1], but those draconian actions will prevent it.

            [1] Yes, wage stagnation and all. But at the same time, buying power has increased so much that it’s possible to say that today, an average person is better off than was a Rockefeller a century ago. (you may disagree with that, but it’s at least a colorable argument)

          • hlynkacg says:

            The thing is, you’re not *only* bringing down the fat cats to your level. You’re also condemning your children

            Is this really true though? IE “condemning” my children to the quality of life I have now in place of condemning them to decline sounds like the sort of deal I can’t refuse.

          • Brad says:

            @tscharf

            It’s obviously not impossible. Wall up the borders and ban robots. It certainly isn’t desirable to do that. You seem to keep saying it is impossible to not go down the optimum economic path or reverse past technological advances.

            I’m saying it’s impossible because what you suggest would just be a make-work system writ large. In a post scarcity world (to extend the analogy) a group can go off and pretend to be 19th century farmers, or maybe 15th if they’d prefer that. And perhaps somehow they could seize the levers of government and force everyone else to buy their incredibly expensive and unreliable crops. But they’d be playing a sort of game, they wouldn’t actually be contributing anything to society. On the contrary in the version where they force people to buy thier produce they’d be destroying value. They’d be hard working only in the same sense that someone that digs and refills holes is hard working.

          • John Schilling says:

            Doing this crazy thing will make most people on this forum’s life “worse”. Cars will be crappier and more expensive

            Because people’s quality of life is determined by the cost and features of their automobile, obviously.

            I think there is a tendency to overestimate the importance of cheap, high-quality consumer goods and deprecate, well, just about everything else, in evaluating quality of life, probably because the cheapness of consumer goods is easier to measure. I think you might do well to look at e.g. the discussions people are having cross-thread about the real value of continuing to live in the community one has spent decades growing roots.

            If you take that away from people and offer in consolation, “…but now you can have a Prius, and maybe aspire to a Tesla! You’d never have been able to afford anything better than a crappy Dodge working the mills in West Podunk!”, they’re going to either hit you in the face with bricks or elect Donald Trump as your President, and you’re never going to understand why.

          • albatross11 says:

            John Schilling said:

            I think there is a tendency to overestimate the importance of cheap, high-quality consumer goods and deprecate, well, just about everything else, in evaluating quality of life, probably because the cheapness of consumer goods is easier to measure.

            I think this is true. Further, it’s easy to add together costs and benefits denominated in dollars, whereas other kinds of costs and benefits are often pretty hard to put in those terms. And often, the non-dollar costs don’t add up linearly in a nice way–you have some problem that increases incrementally until it causes some huge change in your society. (Incremental increases in crime rate could take you from Tokyo to Caracas, but Caracas is a qualitatively different sort of place than Tokyo because of the differences in risk of crime, in all sorts of ways.)

            On the other hand, this feels a bit like the description of _Seeing Like a State_[1]. It’s easy to throw away beneficial things because they don’t register in a market, and yet, overall, we may still wind up a lot better off following where a market leads us than trying to protect every walled garden everywhere. The history of the industrial revolution is just chock full of times where good, productive ways of life got obsoleted[2], communities were wrecked, and many beautiful things were lost. But without allowing that, I think we’d be immensely poorer in material things, enough so that we’d probably be worse off even with the good things about those communities and ways of life.

            [1] I haven’t read the book, just Scott’s discussion, so I’m probably getting a lot wrong here.

            [2] My wife used to work cleaning up Superfund sites, including many sites where coal was used to make town gas for gaslights. This industry provided good solid jobs and a good life for many people, and supported a valuable thing for the surrounding community. It went away because electric lights are a whole lot better than gas lights, and natural gas is a whole lot better than coal gas. We’re much better off that it was allowed to go away, *even though we destroyed some good ways of life allowing it to go away*. There are hundreds of similar cases.

          • Civilis says:

            I’m saying it’s impossible because what you suggest would just be a make-work system writ large. In a post scarcity world (to extend the analogy) a group can go off and pretend to be 19th century farmers, or maybe 15th if they’d prefer that. And perhaps somehow they could seize the levers of government and force everyone else to buy their incredibly expensive and unreliable crops. But they’d be playing a sort of game, they wouldn’t actually be contributing anything to society. On the contrary in the version where they force people to buy thier produce they’d be destroying value. They’d be hard working only in the same sense that someone that digs and refills holes is hard working.

            Does MMO gold farming count as a make-work job? Does an MMO gold farmer contribute to society?

            You have a small but growing number of people making money from small market transactions adding a little value each to the economy. That’s the root of Uber and AirBnb’s and Ebay’s business models. And not all of them require a physical object; you can develop an indie game or a mod, write an ebook, or put up a Patreon tip jar link on your blog.

            There’s an endless amount of things I currently do that someone else does better than I do, and if I find someone that does it better and likes doing it more than I do, it rewards me to pay them to do it for me to give me time to do something I enjoy more.

            I can certainly see why some people value removing the tedium from a video game enough to pay people to do it for them, and given that it adds value to an individual enough for them to to pay for it, I think it contributes to society.

          • Brad says:

            @Civis
            I’m not sure about gold farming in wow, but certainly in eve. And youtube makeup celebs, etsy producers, and web novelists certainly do.

            I’m not exactly sure what you are getting at, but I suppose that if the 19th century farmer types find willing consumers for their bespoke agriculture than they’d be adding value too. So I guess the part that really turns it around is the compulsion. When no one is allowed to make or sell butter using modern processes because someone wants to play at 19th century farmer and be guaranteed a large market, that person is destroying value even though he is producing butter.

          • Civilis says:

            I’m not exactly sure what you are getting at, but I suppose that if the 19th century farmer types find willing consumers for their bespoke agriculture than they’d be adding value too.

            The Wikipedia definition: A make-work job is a job that has less immediate financial benefit to the economy than the job costs to support. Make-work jobs are similar to workfare, but are publicly offered on the job market and have otherwise normal employment requirements (workfare jobs, in contrast, may be handed out to a randomly selected applicant or have special requirements such as continuing to search for a non-workfare job).

            One of the problems with make-work from the worker’s perspective is that it is seen as degrading. Digging a hole and filling it doesn’t accomplish anything. Nobody would voluntarily pay someone to do that, so it’s obviously make-work. You could just as easily sit around and not work and still get paid and still accomplish the same amount, and people know this, and some people don’t like it, so finding ways to avoid that psychology is important. Further, the people giving them make-work and the people paying for the make-work know it’s make-work, and they have psychological issues with it.

            I worked for a local government social services agency, and parts of the agency would raise funds by finding simple jobs for the clients (individuals with some level of impaired ability to function) to do, things like after-hours cleaning of businesses or bulk paper shredding. It was subsidized both by the government and by the businesses contracting the services. If you just look at the business end, it may or may not be make-work; the business was paying the agency more than they would have paid a conventional cleaning or shredding firm, but they got the extra benefit of helping the less advantaged. I don’t know that the clients thought of it as make-work, but that’s to be understood given the circumstances.

            I don’t think artists or game developers or people that make a living on E-bay or Uber or gold farmers think of it as make-work; I think they think they are accomplishing something. More importantly, the people giving them money don’t think of it as make-work, so there’s not the psychological issues with wasting money or time.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Everyone calling protectionism make-work,

            If I pay my younger brother twenty dollars to mow my lawn instead of paying a landscaper ten dollars, that’s not make-work.

            If my father tells me to pay my brother twenty dollars to mow my lawn instead of paying a landscaper ten dollars, that’s still not make-work.

            Why not? Because even if it’s not maximally efficient, it’s real work. One way or another the lawn needs mowing. This is just a question of who mows it and what compensation they should get.

            The nation is a family, just at a larger scale. We should take care of our own because they’re our own not just because it happens to be to our momentary advantage. If we’ve really forgotten that then we’re in a lot of trouble.

          • Randy M says:

            There’s no point arguing over whether something fits the term “make-work”; value is subjective and the term is not precisely defined. To go anywhere the discussion needs to be about what the benefits and costs are to various policies or attitudes.

          • Brad says:

            I agree it is a good analogy but I disagree with your conclusion. Your brother is doing make-work. He should not have pride based on his ‘job’ and inasmuch as he does he is lying to himself. What you are suggesting may be a valid parenting strategy for children but the government isn’t and ought not to be your daddy.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            The difference between make-work and work isn’t whether the person is being overpaid, it’s whether, in some sense, the work getting done makes a difference to someone, and whether there isn’t some much easier way for the work to get done.

          • baconbacon says:

            We should take care of our own because they’re our own not just because it happens to be to our momentary advantage

            This is a false presentation of the options. The ability to “help our own” is entirely dependent on making efficient economic trades. That $20 you have to spend only has value and meaning if it can be exchanged for goods and services. To much protectionism doesn’t just mean slower growth, or the ‘haves’ having a handful of fewer options, it often means negative growth, semi permanent recession and a greater number of ‘have nots’, which, of course, will lead to even greater cries for protectionism, all while ‘our own’ see a steadily declining standard of living.

          • tscharf says:

            I suppose that if the 19th century farmer types find willing consumers for their bespoke agriculture than they’d be adding value too.

            Ever been to Whole Foods? ha ha.

          • Randy M says:

            I suppose that if the 19th century farmer types find willing consumers for their bespoke agriculture than they’d be adding value too.

            Ever been to Whole Foods? ha ha.

            For a brief time, only the rich will have self driving cars. Shortly after, only the rich will use professional drivers.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nancy:

            I think the best definition of make-work is *useless* work being done only to give someone a job. Sometimes the job is a punishment, as with a student being given lines to copy; other times it’s a way to dissuade people from staying on public assistance by saying “yes you can have $X/month, but you have to spend half of each day digging ditches and the other half filling them in.”

            I don’t think it’s reasonable to call some job make-work just because there is some conceivable way to get it done cheaper or better. Having your kid mow the lawn or watch his younger siblings or walk the dog doesn’t seem much like make-work, even if

            a. There’s a hungry immigrant living down the street who would do all three jobs better for less money.

            b. There’s a hungry Venezuelan who’s be happy to take those jobs and do them better for less money, if not for US immigration controls keeping him in Caracas.

            c. There is a commercial service which would do the job better and cheaper.

            If you use the term “make-work” for those situations, then you have to call it make-work every time that someone used plumber X to unstop his drains when plumber Y would have done the job for less money, every time someone pays for some job to be done when there was some set of policies that might have been enacted to allow it to be done more cheaply by someone else.

          • I don’t think it’s reasonable to call some job make-work just because there is some conceivable way to get it done cheaper or better.

            Yes, the concept of “make-work” has been promoted a bit. Having your brother mow the lawn for $20 when the market is $10 for that job isn’t make-work, but it is a subsidy. And when the government does it, it is welfare. If your brother is on the ball, he will realize that he has not earned $20. He earned $10 and was given $10. This isn’t make-work, but it is the equivalent, or at least halfway there. If I was the one mowing the lawn, I would prefer you to give me $10 and pay me $10 to mow the lawn. Then at least I could have pride in the $10 job.

          • CatCube says:

            Well, we can eliminate all the “make-work” jobs doing environmental impact assessments, because the only reason they exist is legislation requiring them. Repeal NEPA and let the economy boom!

            More seriously, except for the anarchists here, we all support some variety of legislation to require things that society “ought” to do that a market won’t provide on its own. If the mere existence of a legal requirement in place of market forces is the only reason a particular job exists means that it’s useless make-work, well, Brad, you might actually be more right-wing than me.

            I’ve actually started to go back and forth on this as I get older. I agree that the most “efficient” ordering of an economy, per comparative advantage. However, when I go back home and see the Memorial Day parade that was the highlight of the town I grew up in as a sad, empty shell of what it was even 15 years ago…well, if you told me that everything I bought would be 5%-10% more expensive, but my home wouldn’t be an aging-out wasteland and I could live near my family, I’m actually ready to listen on some days.

          • tscharf says:

            @CatCube,

            That’s exactly where I am. I’ve been hard core market economy for decades. I left WV in 1985 and when I go visit it is still….1985 or worse. The thriving chemical industry is gone.

            I drive through rural GA, AL, KY, WV, etc. and then do a tour of China and I just find it difficult to accept this is the intentional and preferred outcome by our economic designers.

            I can’t blindly support it anymore. I’m much more skeptical than I used to be. I’ll pay more for my shoes if these places can be less of a shithole. I don’t particularly like any of the solutions either but don’t accept nothing can or should be done.

          • Brad says:

            Well, we can eliminate all the “make-work” jobs doing environmental impact assessments, because the only reason they exist is legislation requiring them. Repeal NEPA and let the economy boom!

            More seriously, except for the anarchists here, we all support some variety of legislation to require things that society “ought” to do that a market won’t provide on its own. If the mere existence of a legal requirement in place of market forces is the only reason a particular job exists means that it’s useless make-work, well, Brad, you might actually be more right-wing than me.

            If I agreed with the cynical right wing interpretation of regulation — that they exist for the purpose of creating work for bureaucrats — then I’d agree that they are make-work jobs. But I don’t, so I don’t.

            It’s hard for me to understand how you can defend as not-welfare a situation where someone is making market excess compensation due directly to a government policy designed deliberately to ensure that job would exist and pay market excess compensation.

            The worst part about this socialism come lately position is how even now it doesn’t seem to be especially universal. I don’t hear anything about how we are going to create “good jobs” for minorities living in inner cities. It seems to be like the old Jim Crow voting laws — if your grandfather had a “good job” than you are entitled to one, but if not, tough luck.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t hear anything about how we are going to create “good jobs” for minorities living in inner cities.

            You do hear (or at least I do) that, with automation and outsourcing eliminating low skill jobs, the worst thing for low income minority groups would be import more competition. In as much as you see immigration restriction as a form of welfare, then, that is some answer to your complaint. Some of the difference is may be that inner cities decay gradually, versus when company towns cease all at once? (In addition to the obvious in-group preferences)

            It’s hard for me to understand how you can defend as not-welfare a situation where someone is making market excess compensation due directly to a government policy designed deliberately to ensure that job would exist and pay market excess compensation.

            I do not think shaping economic policy to preserve jobs other countries are willing to do cheaper is strictly analogous to a straight wealth transfer. It makes sense to me to seek to preserve some large measure of industrial capacity as insurance against global economic shock, diplomatic tensions, or even just raising standards of living in China/India making those jobs now cost more over there than here. (though I haven’t seen such arguments made here).

            I do find it odd that despite much of the reason for a close of factories in the US is that overseas the jobs are done with less safety regulations, environmental protections, and concerns for fair wages there no longer seems to be neither the calls to protect the foreigners with our regulations nor allow better competition by reducing our regulations. Instead we regulate ourselves out of industrial efficiency, ignore that the unseen others suffer burdens we don’t allow our own to take on even voluntarily, and hope increasing technology will produce enough surplus to provide for all.

            Am I ignorant of some other reason, or is this out-group homogeneity bias? Am I questioning why neo-liberals don’t share progressive concerns?

          • random832 says:

            @Randy M

            A quick google shows there was apparently some half-hearted language in the TPP to enforce higher labor standards on overseas manufacturing (the article I found mainly focuses on criticizing it for not including Mexico). So it’s at least something that’s on some people’s minds.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It’s hard for me to understand how you can defend as not-welfare a situation where someone is making market excess compensation due directly to a government policy designed deliberately to ensure that job would exist and pay market excess compensation.

            Couldn’t one also argue that the “market compensation” rate is due to foreign governments’ policy (more specifically, lack thereof on labor and environmental rules) designed deliberately to ensure that the job would exist?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Tossing out a half-formed idea to followup on my own post and Randy & random’s posts –
            The US has the SPEECH Act:

            The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act is a 2010 federal statutory law in the United States that makes foreign libel judgments unenforceable in U.S. courts, unless either the legislation applied offers at least as much protection as the U.S. First Amendment (concerning free speech), or the defendant would have been found liable even if the case had been heard under U.S. law.

            What would people think of a similarly structured law that would impose a tariff on goods produced under conditions that would be illegal if done in the US?

            I expect there’s something horribly wrong with it somewhere, but maybe more econ&legalistically-inclined folks here can come up with ways to fill some of in the holes 🙂

          • Iain says:

            @Randy M:

            I do find it odd that despite much of the reason for a close of factories in the US is that overseas the jobs are done with less safety regulations, environmental protections, and concerns for fair wages there no longer seems to be neither the calls to protect the foreigners with our regulations nor allow better competition by reducing our regulations.

            Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has been blogging about this forever (on the side of wanting to protect foreign workers). As random832 says, TPP covered some of this. I expect that there is a reasonably strong correlation between support for unions and support for better working conditions for foreign workers, since the logic behind the two positions is quite similar.

            @Gobbobobble: At least part of the left would be on board.

          • baconbacon says:

            Wall up the borders and ban robots.

            This would destroy real wages, not promote them.

          • Brad says:

            I think this cost increasing regulations can be broken up into two groups:

            1) Things that we care about because we are rich and can afford to care about them.

            2) Issues impacting the global commons.

            For the first one think of things like particulate pollution that leads to smog and increased asthma rates in the area around the factory. Or safety rules that keep the amputations down to a low level. Or minimum wage laws. I don’t think it is appropriate to put in place compensatory tariffs for these types of regulations.

            For the second one think a CO2 tax (assume for the sake of argument they make sense) or a ban using CFCs. For these I do think a compensatory tariff can make sense.

            In terms of whether there’s a distinction between progressives and neo-liberals on this question, leaving aside definition issues, I do think there’s a diversity of views on the left. From downright protectionist, to free trade with labor and environmental reservations with teeth, to quite pro-free trade.

            For myself, I certain don’t think we have the optimal regulatory regime and would be open to looking at e.g. OSHA regs and seeing if each one makes sense and strikes the right balance. And I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t care for minimum wage laws.

            @Iain

            Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has been blogging about this forever (on the side of wanting to protect foreign workers). As random832 says, TPP covered some of this. I expect that there is a reasonably strong correlation between support for unions and support for better working conditions for foreign workers, since the logic behind the two positions is quite similar.

            I haven’t read Loomis, but I have found in the past that many pro-union pro-foreign worker protections in trade deals proponents are disingenuous. The idea isn’t to protect foreign workers but to eliminate their jobs in favor of more work for domestic union workers. In other words protectionism dressed up in faux concern for third world laborers.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ gobbobobble

            What would people think of a similarly structured law that would impose a tariff on goods produced under conditions that would be illegal if done in the US?

            You just get more and more protectionism, and rule crafting/evading. Some people I knew in academia told me how to get a foreign student a work visa (or whatever the equivalent was) for a graduate program. The rules allowed for foreign students as long as no domestic students met the necessary criteria, so to get your foreign student you have to select them, and then write a proposal that specifically requires their “skill set” with as many details as possible that they match. Does your desired student speak several languages? Then 1% of the grant will be applied to setting up a “multinational liaison position to coordinate findings with other research groups”.

            A similar process would immediately happen with such a proposal. Every union would be lining up to file law suits against any foreign company that paid even 1 employee less than the US minimum wage, or didn’t pay overtime in exactly the way the US did, or had a 14 year old work X+1 hours a week instead of the X they are legally allowed to in the US.

            Worse though is that every industry would have an incentive to take any practice that was standard, but not required by law, and turn it into law. Actually worse than that, but that is bad enough. The regulations today would be nothing compared to the excruciating minutia that every industry would be trying to cram into bills to make some foreign company technically in violation of the law.

          • Iain says:

            @Brad:

            I mean, Erik Loomis has written an entire book about it. While I can’t claim to know what is in his secret heart of hearts, at some point you have to accept that people are sincere about their professed beliefs.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @baconbacon

            Hmm, good points, thanks. What if we change the calculus so that it’s not a company-behavior requirement, but instead comparing the regulations of the producing nation? If I understand SPEECH correctly (which I probably don’t), it can apply based on “Someland’s speech protections are inferior and that’s a sufficient condition to ignore their ruling” – what if “the relevant state department has determined that Someland’s labor/environmental/etc protections are insufficient on points a b and c, therefore according to the chart we’re imposing an X% Externality Tariff on all Somelandic goods”

            Probably still a bitch to implement, but likely better than a lawsuit-based system, no?

          • I’ll pay more for my shoes if these places can be less of a shithole.

            So we import fewer shoes, export less wheat, and in addition to your paying more for your shoes, rural areas that don’t produce shoes and do produce wheat are worse off.

            There are two halves to your implicit argument. One is that free trade benefits us as consumers by making things we buy less expensive, which is true. The other is that it hurts us as producers by lowering our ability to make money producing things. There is no reason to expect that to be true in general.

            Free trade makes some producers worse off, because they now have to compete with imported goods, some producers better off, because they now get to sell more abroad–the people who sell us shoes have dollars with which to buy wheat. Any particular tariff benefits producers in one industry, hurts producers in many others. Concentrated interest groups are more politically effective than dispersed, so the people benefited get the effect on them more heavily weighted in the political market–also in the public image of effects.

          • tscharf says:

            There is no reason to expect that to be true in general.

            You can convince me all day that this is not optimal, and I really want to believe this will properly resolve itself using market forces, what I don’t understand is how this will theoretically happen and it doesn’t seem to be happening.

            If we are at a point where too much low end manufacturing has been offshored what are we to do with our low end manufacturing work force? I think your answer is that the wheat farmers effectively pay them to do nothing in theory, right? Or they go become butlers and maids for the wheat farmers? Or they go work in China where that low end pay can still feed a family?

            The simple model (the only one I can handle at the moment) assumes the displaced workforce finds other work that is more valuable than shoe making is in the US. Eventually shoe making may become more expensive in China as they get fat and wealthy like the US and it may return later when it makes sense.

            My guess is the “in general” is where things get complicated. I think one place this fails is when people who are good at making shoes are unable to move to China to make the most of their skills. It’s also not clear to me why if we subsidize shoe making with wheat profits that China buys less wheat (trade war, they are now poorer?).

            Then you have unfair advantages through Chinese currency manipulation (my knowledge here is very thin), trade deficits, lack of fair exposure to their markets, their ability to use “dirty” manufacturing, and a much lower priced labor market. Isn’t China effectively already subsidizing their shoe making work force? The easy answer is China needs to play fair. Even if they did we still have unemployed shoe makers I think.

            I want magic fairy dust that helps American lower skilled society, maybe there is none, but some answers are worse than others.

          • BBA says:

            @Brad: We’re rich and can afford to care about not making our textile factories deathtraps but Bangladesh isn’t, which is why they still have textile factories and we don’t.

            I get the cold logic here, but it feels, well, wrong to be so callous about the human consequences.

          • Corey says:

            @BBA: While I generally agree, the standard counterargument is that sweatshop labor sucks less than subsistence farming, which would be Bangladeshis’ other option.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          So the “winners” have to work their entire lives to produce all the things

          But they don’t actually produce “all the things.” The current losers used to produce all the things. Then the current winners allied with the communist winners and China and are using their slave labor to produce “all the things.”

        • Who exactly is the winner again?

          The people with status.

      • DeWitt says:

        The winners in society needs to redistribute enough wealth to prevent social upheaval. I’m beginning to wonder if they don’t properly understand this.

        They did, once. In the 19th century, the city of Manchester installed pipelines for clean drinking water all could access. Not because the wealthy and the government were so charitably inclined, no; all it took was rumor of the poor poisoning the previous supply, and it was done. This is not a standalone case, as even otherwise conservative figures like Bismarck ended up instituting welfare policies in their countries for the sheer reason that they did not wish for the communists to gain power.

        So, if nothing else, I predict the need for reform will scale with the amount of cars set on fire and Donald Trump-adjacent people getting elected.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          From my point of view, though, Donald Trump is the reform, and the reaction to the out of touch managerial class. That is, the working class people used to have jobs and dignity, and then the technocrats levied both harsh regulations against their employers while at the same time removing trade barriers such that products could be manufactured in parts of the world where no such regulations exist. This is beneficial for the technocrat class, but a welfare check and an opioid addiction are a poor substitute for a job, a family, a community and a church for the working class.

          What sort of reforms from the Democrats and neocon Republicans are you thinking will make the Trump voters douse their torches and shed their pitchforks?

          • DeWitt says:

            Short answer: I’m not sure this is something fixable by politics, see also Moloch

            Longer answer: turning the US into its state-of-being back in 1965 won’t solve your problems.

            Fifty years ago, the gap between ‘US unskilled worker’ and ‘Indian unskilled worker’ was a much larger one than it is today; similarly, a lack of available capital and knowledge abroad made developing industry and a functioning economy something much more difficult. Between technology and a process of catching up, these gaps have become much smaller: there are no borders for those interested in investing abroad, education has improved immensely, and the degree of difference between east and west is much smaller.

            Now, if you really, really want to, you can try to plug your ears and pretend none of this is true. Anyone wishing to import cars or toasters from China now pays a tariff of some large degree, the minimum wage is abolished, environmental laws are no longer a thing, perhaps even strike down even older laws and customs such as the 40-hour work week, child labor, retirement ages, and the like. Migration is legal, but you as well as your kids will not have any right to welfare or anything else for the next fifty years. Or ban immigration altogether, I don’t care. Go nuts.

            Are you entirely sure the people voting Trump are going to end up liking what they get? I’m not sure they’d regret such, but I’m also not sure enough it’s a good plan that I’d support such radical changes. There will be pollution and workplace death and people ground down from labor and awfully low wages and exploitation of the common man of a scale we don’t quite remember there was, and the fact that global competition is much stiffer means that it may not even work out all that well.

            But let’s say this is all fine. Let’s say that working seventy hours a week in dingy factories making TV’s and furniture for poor pay is an acceptable tradeoff, one that is well-received in those of the rust belt and wherever else, and they consider that all worth it.

            How are you going to actually have the managerial class go along with it?

            Old-style factories don’t exist in a vacuum. If you’re going to raise tariffs and be protectionist to a degree that rural economies like such become profitable again, it’s going to raise prices by a lot, or cause a drop in quality instead. Much as having better gadgets and products doesn’t dictate someone’s happiness instead, people are going to notice. I could afford three vacations and a new phone every year, but now that seems like a distant dream? I heard that in Canada, someone doing my job makes three times what I do. The white collar sorts who are going to feel the effects of these kinds of policies aren’t likely to elect their own Donald Trumps or head innawoods to form militias or any such thing once they get pissed, they’re quite simply going to move. Much like destitute rurals who long for a better past are local and proud of where they are, the people who benefit from free trade and open borders don’t care whether they live in New York or Toronto or London or Berlin or anywhere else: a Western city is a Western city is a Western city, and moving about is not an issue for those in the highest echelons of society. Once they notice what’s going on, the response is very likely to be a collective ‘okay then’, only for them to move off towards greener pastures. You’d basically be Eastern Europe by that point.

            So, to reiterate: I’m not sure. I’m not sure if much could be done, and if it wouldn’t drive the very same problem up at the other end of society instead. I certainly don’t think that every little tariff or restriction on immigration is going to cause the sorts of effect as I’ve noted at once, but it’s certainly a risk, and I don’t know that a pleasing solution for everyone exists. And even then, I don’t know that blaming democrats/neoliberal republicans is really valid here.

            The note I made earlier about Eastern Europe wasn’t in vain, either. Both it and Southern Europe by and large have much what Trumpists seem to want going for them: protectionism, subsidies, nativism, a lack of immigration. The results don’t look very pretty.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The technocrat elite who have manipulated regulation and trade policy to enrich themselves at the expense of the working class are going to up and leave the country if the working class tips things back in their favor?

            No.

            Stop.

            Don’t.

            This is the disconnect. The rural folk / Red Tribe accuse the city folk / Blue Tribe of not actually caring about the country or the people in it, and I guess you agree? The city folk don’t really care about “America” or “other Americans,” just that they’ve got a city to live in where they can have a new phone and 3 vacations a year.

            I think the Red Tribe will be perfectly fine with that. They don’t want phones or vacations, they want a community, and without the Blue Tribers regulating industry to death while putting up no barriers to foreign slave labor, they’ll be able to do that. Can we start a marketing or fundraising campaign to ship the technocrats to Canada?

          • DeWitt says:

            The rural folk / Red Tribe accuse the city folk / Blue Tribe of not actually caring about the country or the people in it, and I guess you agree?

            I’m not sure we agree entirely, but they don’t care to the extent that rurals/red tribers/whatever you want to call them do, sure.

            I think the Red Tribe will be perfectly fine with that.

            Okay, but I think you’re wrong to think so.

            The fortunate fact of the matter is that we have a rather good analogous situation to this debate, which is Eastern Europe. It is not exceptional for any Eastern European country to have a double-digit percentage of its actual citizenry living abroad; furthermore, these also aren’t quite the cases of unskilled migration you’d see as with Turkey to Europe, or from Mexico to Canada.

            Some statistics, just to illustrate:

            Serbia: 20% or so living abroad
            Romania: 18% or so living abroad
            Bulgaria: Some 15% abroad, though measuring is hard
            Lithuania: More than 20% abroad
            Latvia: 17%-or-so, ethnic Russians make it a pain to tell

            And before anyone notes that the immigration involved is unskilled, that is patently untrue. Well-educated Eastern Europeans are absolutely the most likely ones to migrate, as are the ones who aren’t necessarily well-educated but otherwise in possession of a career. ‘Only the idiots don’t migrate’ is more than a silly joke in that part of the continent, and it’s the future you profess to want for your own country.

            So, okay. We have a case study in what America might look like, should all the non-loyals leave. But it’s worth it, you say. Let them leave (or even fund them moving to Canada!) so the Red Tribe can go to church and have sunday barbeques and whatnot. That’s preferred, yes?

            Hardly. Insofar red tribe/blue tribe maps well to Eastern Europe, things aren’t looking good for the rural population there. Eastern European suicide rates are depressingly high, and birthrates are very low. Most countries have a literal ministry of migrants that spends its time going about trying to get people to move back home because people that are wealthy and educated are sorely lacking. Infrastructure is poorly-maintained, crime is high, ditto corruption, and the ‘sense of community’ you tell me that’ll make things worth it appears to very much be lacking.

            Why are you so confident your country will make do just fine if it decides its obligations don’t extend to its managerial class? People on the other side of the fence count, and they could stand to see some improvements, but this is a bravery debate, one where you want to see what the right balance is. Deciding that a nation of churchgoers and those without higher education is going to be off just fine without vegans and cosmopolitans doesn’t seem to work very well in reality.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Doesn’t this have some trouble with causation, though?

            We start with a. Eastern Europe has a lot of smart people abroad, and b. Eastern Europe has a lot of bad metrics that make it a rough place to live.

            So that means one of:
            1. Eastern Europe drove its more educated population away, which led to a lot of bad metrics happening (because the smarter population were required to keep the metrics good)
            2. Eastern Europe was a bad place to live, which drove its more educated population to other countries (because they were useful elsewhere, and so had the option)

            If we’re looking at 1, then yeah, it’s a real problem if America drives its technocrats away. That is, if the “educated” of Eastern Europe actually maps well to the “technocrats” of America.

            If we’re looking at 2, then America is quite clearly not currently in a state of Eastern Europe-bad metrics, so it’s unlikely to be mirrored here. You’d have to show that the country going Red Tribe is actually going to lead to the bad outcomes, which would lead to people moving away for reasons other than “being technocrats”

            How does the timing of this work out? Does Eastern Europe becoming a bad place to live predate or postdate the exodus of the more educated?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @DeWitt

            Why are you so confident your country will make do just fine if it decides its obligations don’t extend to its managerial class?

            The problem is that the managerial class has already decided that their obligations do not extend to the working class, and their solution for the working class is “move to the cities and eat arugula salads like us.” Might as well have said “let them eat cake.”

            Right now with the policies favoring the managerial class, the working class is dying. Your argument for continuing the pursue the policies that allow the managerial class new phones and vacations is that things will be even worse for the working class than they are now.

            1) I don’t think that’s a given. America is not Eastern Europe and is not recovering from a century of communist oppression.

            2) If the choice is between definitely dying slowly and taking a risk that results in either living or dying more quickly, I’m guessing the Red Tribe is going to choose the latter.

            This seems to be a perpetual argument that I do not think we will ever solve.

            “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” — William Jennings Bryan

            My guess is though that we’ll just lurch a little more in favor of the farms and factories for a little while, and the cities will remain mostly unburnt.

          • DeWitt says:

            1. Eastern Europe drove its more educated population away, which led to a lot of bad metrics happening (because the smarter population were required to keep the metrics good)
            2. Eastern Europe was a bad place to live, which drove its more educated population to other countries (because they were useful elsewhere, and so had the option)

            The gist of the matter is that being an honest person in Eastern Europe is a sucker’s game. The pay isn’t very good, the benefits aren’t, and you’re going to see idiots and asshats all around you get cushy jobs because they’re well-connected. The economy’s climate is one of rampant bureaucracy and corruption, where every odd person with a shred of power is going to obstruct all they can if no bribes are paid. Moving to Germany/Austria/the UK/the Netherlands/Sweden is a much better prospect than trying to make this all work, so people move off.

            And while the US isn’t anywhere near that sort of level, tariffs, protectionism, and measures in general to dial back the economy to some early 20th century analogue are likely to get yourself in a similar sorts of situation.

            The problem is that the managerial class has already decided that their obligations do not extend to the working class, and their solution for the working class is “move to the cities and eat arugula salads like us.” Might as well have said “let them eat cake.”

            And that’s, very unironically, terrible. I don’t advocate this. Then again, I don’t advocate the reverse either, and the solution of ‘let’s make everything terrible for all’ is one I’d consider awful.

            Right now with the policies favoring the managerial class, the working class is dying. Your argument for continuing the pursue the policies that allow the managerial class new phones and vacations is that things will be even worse for the working class than they are now.

            I’d argue for some, but not all. Crucially, though, I’m noting that simply turning everything back to 50/75/100/however many years ago won’t work out in a modern context. There’s plenty you could do that won’t affect the managerial class much, but may well have the working class’ lot improve, from placing restrictions on immigration to not actually implementing a nationwide minimum wage in a country as huge as the US is. This kind of attitude:

            This seems to be a perpetual argument that I do not think we will ever solve.

            -is exactly right! The nature of a bravery debate is that you’re not arguing for the extremes, you’re arguing for how much of one or the other. The US should indeed steer itself to a better climate for its working class, but the kind of thing that’ll drive off everyone else is very unlikely to have results that’ll be good in the end.

            My guess is though that we’ll just lurch a little more in favor of the farms and factories for a little while, and the cities will remain mostly unburnt.

            I’m not sure, but I hope so. It’d be a good place for your country to move towards.

      • So to make a long story longer, the winners need to move to a less efficient and less optimized market to better optimize the lower quartiles citizen’s welfare.

        This assumes that the features that make the market efficient are the ones responsible for the poor welfare of people at the bottom, rather than features that make it inefficient. Professional licensing down to the level of hair braiders. Minimum wage laws pricing low skill teenagers out of their first job. High levels of crime and violence in the inner city due to drugs being illegal. K-12 schooling effectively a government monopoly for the lower quartile. Trade restrictions hurt agriculture, since the U.S. is a large net exporter–farm products are part of what we are paying for our imports with–and agriculture is a sizable part of what supports the rural population.

        My point isn’t that you have to agree with all of these points. It is that you have simply accepted one interpretation of the world, one in which it’s the pro-market policies which cause the problem, over another in which it’s the anti-market policies. And it doesn’t look as though you realize that that is a debatable issue.

        • tscharf says:

          I’m not really arguing how to optimize economics and furiously agree with most everything you said. However I have a hard time believing that the most efficient market is by definition the fairest market to all classes (insert definition of fair here…). If it’s not then the path to fairness may be a less efficient market by design.

          I guess the question is what would be the best way to redistribute income more “fairly” while doing the least amount of damage to the economy? I know that’s kind of like asking which tooth would you prefer to get pulled out with pliers.

          • Tibor says:

            It’s funny, this thing. My impression from talking to many left-wingers is that there is a large overlap between them and libertarians in many questions, basically everything that does not directly involve the economy, vaguely speaking. It is not a perfect overlap. Many (most? I’m not sure) libertarians, me included, are more socially liberal than even the reasonable leftists (I’m ignoring the identity politics left), for example things like the freedom of association don’t seem to have as much support among the left (in fact I’d say that no group other than libertarians really supports it consistently), but broadly speaking there seems to be a lot of agreement.

            Where there is a disagreement is that the left believes that some groups of people are inherently disadvantaged in a market economy and should therefore get some benefits. The way this is done in practice is a mixture of very complicated and often ad hoc rules that make someone better off, someone worse off and overall, at least as far as libertarians believe (I think it is safe to say that, I don’t know any libertarians who support the typical western welfare state of today), almost everyone worse of on net.

            So while the libertarians would generally prefer a society where there either isn’t a state (if they’re anarchocapitalist) at all or a very minimal state providing only national defense, police and the courts (or possibly just a little more than that), it seems to me that most left-wingers would be perfectly happy with that latter minarchist system as long as there were something along the lines of minimum basic income associated with it. So basically a state that provides the army, police, courts and a flat rate basic income for everyone and nothing else. This might still be suboptimal to the libertarians but if you actually scale the state down to just that, it would be a vast improvement (from the libertarian point of view) over the current state pretty much anywhere in the world. If that works well you can then think about whether the welfare is really necessary or if private charity is sufficient, but until that point you can have a simple free market+simplistic welfare platform which could possibly attract a large part of the left and simultaneously propose a much more libertarian society than the one we live in (wherever you live).

            However, I don’t know any party with this program (or any serious attempt at estimating the state budget in that society). It could be because of several reasons. One is that my assumption is simply wrong and that this idea would not be attractive to a substantial part of the left. Another is that it is sort of “intertribal”. Libertarians generally oppose the welfare state and if they simply hear “and we give free money to everyone no questions asked”, then their knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss that idea. Similarly, the left might hear “and we get rid of all current social welfare programs and also almost all other market regulation” and they again reject it without thinking about it further. If that is the case, I guess you just need someone who is charismatic and good at PR enough to sell that idea and convince the libertarians (admittedly, this is a lower priority since there are only so many libertarians) that this is on net actually significantly less state than what we have now and the leftwingers that this means all of these disadvantaged people will be covered and in fact possibly covered better than they are today.

            This is of course still incompatible with many other people. If you’re paternalistic and believe that the state should limit individual choice for your own good (or rather for other people’s own good, people who propose paternalism usually don’t think they are the ones who need it), you won’t ever agree with it. If you think that people should not get money just cause for moral reasons even if it is possibly more efficient and comes off cheaper, then you won’t agree either (same if you believe that it would in fact not be more efficient). But I think this could still attract quite a lot of people, a lot more than “traditional” libertarianism ever will in the current society.

          • freedom of association don’t seem to have as much support among the left

            That would depend on whether you are using it to mean the right to hold meetings, or the right to discriminate.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            Isn’t the problem that the numbers don’t work out? You can have a very small UBI that left-wingers are going to consider insufficient or a big one, that distorts the labor market by having huge taxes on those with high incomes and little incentive to do the shitty jobs, which presumably pisses off the libertarians.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Tibor

            So basically a state that provides the army, police, courts and a flat rate basic income for everyone and nothing else.

            And then the leftist says, “but what about the environment? What about healthcare? What about the existential threat of climate change? What about the three-toed yellow horn frog? What about worker safety? What about food safety? What about lead paint? What about racial discrimination? What about sexism? What about homophobia and Islamophobia and transphobia?”

          • John Schilling says:

            That would depend on whether you are using it to mean the right to hold meetings, or the right to discriminate.

            Can I discriminate in who I invite to my meetings? Does it matter if I hold these meetings regularly and do interesting and/or useful stuff at them?

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: I don’t know. Maybe you’re right it doesn’t add up. On one hand you could expect more people to live off just the minimum basic income, but how many more I can’t say. If you don’t set it too high to be a very attractive alternative to working (I don’t think anybody advocates that though) then it probably would not be too many. At the same time you save huge amounts of money by scaling the state down to minimum. I would not be too surprised if just replacing the welfare system with this (and letting the rest of the government untouched) were enough to compensate the costs. Aren’t there any estimates online?

          • Tibor says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z: Both.

            @Conrad Honcho: I guess you have a point and it is a bit more complicated. But apart from the environment and global warming, most of these problems again seem to be most effectively soluble by just giving people cash. That is as long as you don’t believe you know better how those people should spend their money than they do themselves.

            As for pollution, global warming, etc. reaching a consensus between the left and the libertarians might be more difficult, there might be some larger disagreements on how to treat externalities in general. But even if you exclude these more complicated things, you can replace a lot of left-wing policy by simply “directly redistribute cash” and that would move the left and the libertarians a lot closer together.

          • The Nybbler says:

            So basically a state that provides the army, police, courts and a flat rate basic income for everyone and nothing else. This might still be suboptimal to the libertarians but if you actually scale the state down to just that, it would be a vast improvement (from the libertarian point of view) over the current state pretty much anywhere in the world.

            Certainly this would be pretty decent compared to current states, from the minarchist libertarian viewpoint… and assuming the numbers would work out. But we’ll never get there and if some tyrant God came down from the heavens and imposed it, it wouldn’t last three weeks after he left.

          • brokilodeluxe says:

            @Aapje

            I find John Cochrane’s proposal to limit a UBI by time to be a proposal both sides could potentially agree to.

            Limit by time, not by income. You can have an additional (say) $10,000 per year, for 5 years, at any point in your life. Most people using social programs do in fact use them to get out of trouble and back on track. Let’s make that the expectation. This is not permanent income support, this is help to get out of trouble. That lets us be more generous, without blowing the budget, and without inducing as large a marginal tax rate to working.

          • baconbacon says:

            JC’s proposal is a non starter, if you do it literally the way you described then virtually everyone takes their payment in year 1 (seriously would you rather have $10,000 this year or maybe $10,000 in some future year?). Now you have to either randomize it (doesn’t work nearly as well for helping people when they have an actual problem if they have to wait 2-5 years to get the money) or tie it to ‘need’ so it is no longer a UBI, or make it in kind in the form of coupons for food/housing/medical care. In other words you have to turn it into a regular welfare system.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            The one time lifeline of 5 years of extra income is interesting, but wouldn’t it make the most sense for everyone to claim it immediately upon passage of the law? Unless the lifeline is going to be better than the time value of money or a simple rate of return, it is financially smart to take the cash up front and save it yourself. The impact of that overwhelming demand up front would be impossible to meet. Even assuming not everyone did this, wouldn’t fears about the solvency of such a program create a self-fulfilling run on the program akin to a bank run?

          • Brad says:

            @Tibor
            There are communitarians on both the left and the right.

            On the left it leads to support for elaborate cradle to grave social system, not as a purely functional matter (i.e. to keep people from suffering), but as an end itself — to tie people into a greater community. This is also the root of the anti-gentrification idea.

            Although identitarian movements superficially map very cleanly to communitarianism, they are actually mixed. The elements that emphasize local power brokers and funding their local organization is clearly communitarian, but the elements that involve individual rules and benefits are not.

            The kind of leftist for whom the UBI is attractive is the flip side of the coin. Call it technocratic, call it neo-liberal, call it wonkish and out of touch, whatever you’d like. This group believes in a sort of kinder, gentler libertariansim. They think the libertarians are basically right on many positive questions (though not the gold bug stuff) and want to use their insights into things like unintended consequences of regulations to e.g. guarantee everyone a minimal standard of living in as efficient a manner as possible. This group is also more likely to strongly support individual liberties, though not to the extent of going against what they consider axiomatically necessary policies like anti-racial-discrimination laws.

          • brokilodeluxe says:

            @baconbacon

            I guess I’m not for a UBI per se, only a restructuring of how we do welfare. A generous 5 year maximum allotment of cash transfers contingent on “need” (defined the same way we dish out food stamps) seems preferable to cash transfers contingent on age (Social Security) or transfers contingent on unemployment (unemployment benefits)

            @AnarchyDice

            Agreed on your points with one small caveat.

            Technically no government program is in danger of becoming “insolvent” in the same sense as a bank is as the government can technically print it’s own currency.

            Assuming the money was indexed to inflation, fear of a “run” on the program and a mass currency expansion + inflation to keep up would make it rational to *keep* your money inside the system instead of taking it out.

          • baconbacon says:

            Technically no government program is in danger of becoming “insolvent” in the same sense as a bank is as the government can technically print it’s own currency.

            This is a myth that has been refuted theoretically and empirically. Either in the sense that the definition is so technical as to have no bearing on the real world, or it is simply flatly be proven incorrect by countries that destroyed their own currency and prices rise FASTER than the government can print money.

          • brokilodeluxe says:

            @baconbacon

            I was using it in an extremely technical (maybe not very useful) sense, yes.

            But I wasn’t trying to be pedantic. The fear wouldn’t be insolvency (in which case you’d want to withdraw your money as quickly as possible), it would be hyperinflation (in which case I’m not sure what the rational response would be). You could potentially behave to those two fears differently.

          • baconbacon says:

            I guess I’m not for a UBI per se, only a restructuring of how we do welfare. A generous 5 year maximum allotment of cash transfers contingent on “need” (defined the same way we dish out food stamps) seems preferable to cash transfers contingent on being old (Social Security) or transfers contingent on being unemployed (unemployment benefits)

            If you aren’t personally that is fine, but these suggestions are generally supposed to appease both sides by being more efficient in both the cost and the way they improve the lives of the poor. If you cut one of those out then you no longer have serious grounds for a compromise.

          • baconbacon says:

            The fear wouldn’t be insolvency, it would be hyperinflation. You would behave to those two fears differently.

            Behavior is exactly the same. Get your money out of that bank/get your money out of that currency. A run is simply a race to see who gets their assets out first.

          • brokilodeluxe says:

            If you aren’t personally that is fine, but these suggestions are generally supposed to appease both sides by being more efficient in both the cost and the way they improve the lives of the poor. If you cut one of those out then you no longer have serious grounds for a compromise.

            It seems to me that making welfare contingent on being poor would both cost less and be more efficient to improving the lives of the poor than making welfare contingent on being unemployed or being old (for example).

          • baconbacon says:

            It seems to me that making welfare contingent on being poor would both cost less and be more efficient to improving the lives of the poor than making welfare contingent on being unemployed or being old (for example).

            It is very difficult to avoid the marginal tax problem then, and you are almost ensuring that anyone that gets on welfare has a large incentive to stay on welfare. This is a primary conservative/libertarian complaint about the system.

          • brokilodeluxe says:

            It is very difficult to avoid the marginal tax problem then

            How about making the cash transfers a smooth, steady function of your income?

            Would that not alleviate some of the “welfare cutoff trap” stuff

            and you are almost ensuring that anyone that gets on welfare has a large incentive to stay on welfare

            I realize, now I’m talking about 2 separate ideas. But the original idea (John Cochranes) was that the cash transfers had a 5 year limit. If you used it up for 5 years, that’s on you. Your incentive is that your additional income is scarce.

            Behavior is exactly the same. Get your money out of that bank/get your money out of that currency. A run is simply a race to see who gets their assets out first.

            Either way, I find it hard to believe that a time-limited UBI would be more prone to hyperinflation or insolvency than an infinite one. You could have the exorbitant taxes you were planning on having with a straight UBI for 5 years and then drop taxes shortly thereafter.

          • baconbacon says:

            How about making the cash transfers a smooth, steady function of your income?

            If you have the transfer at $10,000 (max) for a $0 income. Lets say you want it really nice and smooth with limited marginal tax problems so you reduce it by $1,000 for every $10,000 earned. You have solved the majority of the MTR issue, but now you are transferring notable sums of cash to the non poor ($5,000 to someone earning $50,000) and you have budget issues (Median household income is ~ $50,000, roughly 115 million households, you are talking 600+ billion in payments conservatively).

            The trouble is finding a spot (in terms of making a compromise deal) where the poor are getting the help without the MTR. If you pay a $10k benefit and phase it out up to $30,000 you have to have at a minimum a 33% MTR at some point. If you push it to $50,000 you can get the MTR down to 20% but you have just expanded it to cover an extra 20-30 million households and made it a lot more expensive.

            I realize, now I’m talking about 2 separate ideas. But the original idea (John Cochranes) was that the cash transfers had a 5 year limit. If you used it up for 5 years, that’s on you. Your incentive is that your additional income is scarce.

            What actually happens politically though? Are the Dems never going to have control again or are they also going to see things this way?

            Edit to change 30% to 33%.

          • If it’s not then the path to fairness may be a less efficient market by design.

            Design by what mechanism?

            I don’t know how one should define fairness, but it’s clear that a perfectly wise, benevolent, all powerful ruler could alter society in ways that increase total utility. We don’t have any of those. So the issue is whether the outcome of the political market, the actions that the political system will actually produce, give us more utility, or more fairness, at the cost of less economic efficiency.

            I see no reason to expect that they do or will. The market has mechanisms that (imperfectly) maximize economic efficiency aka total value–utility as measured in dollars by willingness to pay. That’s only a proxy for total utility. It has mechanisms that allocate rewards (imperfectly) in proportion to how much each person contributes to the welfare of other people–that fits a possible definition of fairness, but not the only one.

            The political market is driven by a combination of democratic voting by rationally ignorant voters and lobbying by organized special interests. Why would you expect that to make it do a better job of maximizing either utility or fairness?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Tibor

            But apart from the environment and global warming, most of these problems again seem to be most effectively soluble by just giving people cash.

            I really don’t think “throw cash people” would solve many of the things the left considers key issues, like racism, sexism, all the other bad -isms. “My company no longer hires or serves blacks, Jews, gays, Mexicans, gay Mexicans, Muslims or women, but it’s okay because the government’s going to give you $10k a year.”

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            The problem is that the calculation depends greatly on certain assumptions, like how much government services to cut and how people will respond (will people work less or more, will the rich find loop holes?)

            @brokilodeluxe

            Most of the left is not going to consider it is reasonable to let the disabled starve. Furthermore, a temporary UBI pretty much assumes that economic crises happen once in a lifetime, which seems unlikely and/or something that many are not going to want to gamble on.

            Furthermore, (young) people can be short-sighted and many of them can be expected to burn through their temp UBI frivolously. Welfare is not just about helping wise people.

            So at most that temporary UBI can be added on top of a welfare system, not replace it.

          • Tibor says:

            @Conrad Honcho: Unless I misunderstand the -isms, the main issue people seem to have (excluding the identity politics nutjobs with “microaggressions” etc. who are a small even if loud minority) is that those who are thus discriminated suffer from unfair economic disadvantages. And most of the “countermeasures” indeed seem to be economic. I guess there are exceptions such as “hate crimes” (or actually this is the only exception I can think of).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I agree that concern over the -isms includes economic concerns, but I’m pretty sure it’s more holistic than that. Human dignity, prevention of abuse, slavery, holocaust. For instance, I don’t think people are against antisemitism because Jews are economically disadvantaged.

            So, I do not believe you could satisfy the left’s anti-ism-ism with cash payments. If you can, let’s do that immediately. I would gladly pay $10k a year to never have to hear the words “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” etc, ever again. Steal at twice the price.

      • j r says:

        We are progressively (ha ha) getting closer to a social revolt on inequality. One word, Trump. Even if the market is working perfectly, it is not socially acceptable to pay an engineer 1000x of a garbage man.

        According to what I could find on the internet in a few minutes, the median pay for a garbage man is about $15/hr, which is about $30k a year. Overtime get that up close to 40k and more years on the job can get that up $60k a year, higher than the median household income. In some places, NYC for one, a garbage man can make near $80k a year. My wife used to work as a civil engineer and made about $65k. She often worked on construction sites where she was in the second lowest paying job, above the laborers.

        I don’t mention this to be pedantic, but rather to point out that so much of the economic and social analysis out there is detached from reality. If we want to think correctly about the state of the economy and have a hope of fixing the things that need fixing, it’s pretty important to adhere to the truth of the situation instead of getting caught up in these kinds of false narratives. The U.S. doesn’t have a problem with not redistributing enough income or with certain people taking too much of the pie. The nature of the economy tends to be such that you have to create value before you can keep a piece of that value as salary or profit. Sometimes that gets screwed up – like when financial institutions where booking profits on shitty structured products that were built to implode once they were sold down the line – but for the most part no one is going to pay you $X unless you are making $X plus some number greater than 0.

        Another way of saying this is that people tend to get paid according to the marginal product of their labor. Our big problem is that the advance of technology has meant that automation can do a lot of things that people use to have to do. And as a result there are more and more people whose marginal product of labor gets closer and closer to 0. That’s a pretty big problem to solve, but redistribution and nativity economic policies simply will not be enough. We need to grow the economy. We need more positive technology shocks. And we need to help people acquire greater and greater amounts of human capital.

        At some point the GDP and the citizen’s welfare paths diverge, and it may be that we are getting close to that point, the trends are not promising for this to get better.

        Also, I’m not sure that this means anything. GDP is a just a measure of the value of all the goods or services produced or consumed in an economy. The population of the United States grows by about 1% per year. If GDP growth is below 1%, then we are collectively getting poorer. If it grows at about 1%, then we are all standing still. Good pro-growth policies is about the best thing that any government can do to support the well being of its citizens and that includes poor, middle-class and wealthy citizens.

        • tscharf says:

          It was just a figurative exaggeration for the purposes of discussion. Your GDP comment assumes equal distribution. If the GDP increases 5% but the benefits only go to the upper classes then the GDP growth is effectively zero for the lower classes and the government hasn’t provided anything for them. It’s more complicated of course with second order effects and so forth but there is no economic law that say the upper classes can’t construct a society where they keep most of the economic benefits and screw things up. Case in point: 2008 financial crisis. Who recovered and who didn’t?

          From the social upheaval perspective the numbers aren’t important, it is what society perceives that matters. Decline in institutional trust means that simple assertions that the economy is being managed competently (it may very well be) are beginning to be ignored. The reaction from the establishment has been to pour gas on that fire in my opinion (morons, racists, deplorables, etc.). This isn’t helping trust in institutions amazingly enough. The inmates can very easily run the asylum in a democracy. It’s not wise to invite them to do so out of spite.

          Are we now looking at something different than we had in the past? I suspect the answer is yes, but I could easily be wrong and the lower classes have plenty enough doughnuts to satisfy them. Are Brexit, Sanders, and Trump blips on the timeline or the canary in the coalmine? If this thing explodes then everyone is going to kick themselves for ignoring obvious signs.

        • The Nybbler says:

          And as a result there are more and more people whose marginal product of labor gets closer and closer to 0. That’s a pretty big problem to solve, but redistribution and nativity economic policies simply will not be enough. We need to grow the economy. We need more positive technology shocks. And we need to help people acquire greater and greater amounts of human capital.

          How do “positive technology shocks” and growing the economy help people whose marginal product of labor is less than the cost of their survival (or more practically, their survival at First World standards?)

        • baconbacon says:

          Our big problem is that the advance of technology has meant that automation can do a lot of things that people use to have to do. And as a result there are more and more people whose marginal product of labor gets closer and closer to 0

          This statement needs a hell of a lot of support because throughout history capital + human labor = an increase in the marginal value of labor, and if people’s marginal product is falling to zero why were we at record highs in LFP in 2007?

          • James Miller says:

            It’s not that the marginal product of labor has fallen to zero, it’s that it has fallen below what the government will pay you if you are poor.

        • j r says:

          @tscharf

          It was just a figurative exaggeration for the purposes of discussion. Your GDP comment assumes equal distribution. If the GDP increases 5% but the benefits only go to the upper classes then the GDP growth is effectively zero for the lower classes and the government hasn’t provided anything for them.

          There are a lot of figurative exaggerations about the economy. And that is one of the problems. The nativists exaggerate the impact of immigration and trade on the economy to make themselves look like victims of globalization. The Bernie supporters exaggerate the impact of to make themselves look like victims of the “billionaire class.”

          And your description of GDP growth doesn’t capture what it means for the economy and for all the people in the economy. If you have an economy that is built on some commodity that can be easily controlled by some small elite then it’s very easy for that elite to capture most of the wealth and maintain control by letting a little bit trickle down. Saudi Arabia is a good example. But in a big, diverse economy driven by domestic demand, these effects reverberate through the economy. Internet millionaires don’t just take their money, buy yachts and hang out on the French Riviera doing foul things to Instagram “models.” I’m sure some of them do, but they also buy Tesla’s and buy houses and eat at restaurants and invest in other companies, all of which helps create jobs.

          If economic growth dropped to negative territory or stagnated for a long period of time, I guarantee you the lower classes would feel it. For one thing, the amount of tax revenue the government takes in is a function of how much economic activity (ie GDP growth) there is. I guarantee you that it’s much harder to maintain institutional trust or any kind of sustained policy intervention to help the poor when government revenues start drying up.
          Bottom line: when the pie gets bigger, it’s much easier to talk about how to split it; when the pie starts shrinking, people are much more likely to be at each other’s throats.

          @TheNybbler

          How do “positive technology shocks” and growing the economy help people whose marginal product of labor is less than the cost of their survival …

          Think about the history of the United States, and most of the developed world. At one time, most people were employed in agricultural work. What happened? The Industrial Revolution (i.e. a series of positive technology shocks). And that changed two things. One, it meant that it was more productive to have a few people with machines working a farm than a bunch of people with animals and pre-industrial tools. Farms still use some low skilled labor to pick produce that machines will damage, but give it a few years and the machines will be able to do that as well. The other things that happened was that the manufacturing sector took off. So, a lot of those people who would have been working in the fields got jobs in factories. And since the technology shock made us all richer (i.e. we could produce more things) all those factory workers could consume more, which spurred up a bunch of other sectors like construction and services and leisure.

          Our problem right now is that a lot of the employment that has sprang up to replace semi-skilled manufacturing work is low-paying service sector jobs. But that is being driven by supply-side factors as well as by the demand side. In other words, there’s a bunch of folks with relatively low levels of human capital who decide it makes more sense to sit at home and collect SSI than to bother showing up for a job at Walmart. And the folks who do show up at Walmart get low wages and not enough hours to qualify for benefits.

          At the same time though, when was the last time you tried to find reasonably-priced, well made furniture or tried to get a plumber to your house on short notice? Or Google “skilled manufacturing worker shortage” and see how many factories are looking to fill jobs that don’t require a degree, but do require some specialized skills. There is a whole swath of relatively well-paying trade and skilled manufacturing work that goes under-supplied, because the folks with the Masters in Comp Lit feels they are above and the folks working at Walmart don’t know how to get. That’s why I said that we have a human capital problem. Personally, I think one of the best things we could be doing is to spend less effort pushing everyone into college and spend more effort improving the quality of secondary education.

      • pontifex says:

        We are progressively (ha ha) getting closer to a social revolt on inequality. One word, Trump. Even if the market is working perfectly, it is not socially acceptable to pay an engineer 1000x of a garbage man. This may be the true economic value of a garbage man, but the equation changes when the garbage men burn down Google et. al.

        Do you have to phrase this in such an inflammatory way? As other people in the thread already pointed out, an engineer does not make 1000x a garbage man. An engineer makes about 1x to 5x what a garbage man makes.
        And did Tuesday really change the narrative? If Hillary had won, you’d probably be busy reading Deep Meanings into that. I don’t remember anyone threatening to burn down Google. And Trump himself is a rich man.

        I agree that we are not generating good jobs for people without college degrees. And that’s a problem. But it’s not clear to me what the solution should be.

        I’m surprised there isn’t a big Basic Income fan club on SSC. Isn’t there anyone excited about a future without work, rather than trying to keep people toiling in the stinky old industries? Or is it all doom and gloom about paperclip maximizers here?

        • Randy M says:

          I’m surprised there isn’t a big Basic Income fan club on SSC.

          There is. Scott is a member, and I believe David Friedman and Onyomi are, as well as probably Brad or other lefties. I’m not even adverse to it, despite having worries about what would happen given that human nature seems evolved to flourish under struggle rather than satiation.

          • onyomi says:

            I wouldn’t call myself a fan, as I’m skeptical it can be generous enough to be useful without being ludicrously expensive and am also skeptical that, if implemented, it would truly be as part of the compromise I hope to see with it–e.g. as a replacement for, not an addition to, all the other transfer payments and in-kind benefits.

            The government gets too much power from controlling who gets what, when, how much; they’re not going to trade away all that for a simple program for the same reason they don’t want a simple tax system.

            But, in theory, it’s the sort of thing where I’d be very happy, in the abstract, to “trade” defenders of transfer payment programs.

            As for being excited about the future robot world in which nobody has to work, I am excited about that, but don’t think an UBI is a crucial part of bringing it about. We can expect people to start working 30 hours a week and 20 hours a week and 10 hours a week for the same reasons people now work 40 hours a week when they used to work 60 or more. I don’t accept the premise that there will be a large number of people whose labor is literally worthless in the robot future, so I don’t think the UBI is necessary to take care of them in this robot future where everything is ludicrously cheap and you can afford a month’s rent on one hour of work.

          • I’m not a member of the fan club. There are obviously arguments for a basic income and arguments against.

            Converting everything currently justified as helping the poor into a modest basic income would probably be a plus, but there are two problems. The basic income would still be too modest to satisfy people on the left who see all problems as linked to inequality, since it would be much less than they feel they could reasonably live on. And it would be difficult, probably impossible, to make the deal in which everything justified as a solution to poverty, from Social Security to the Farm Program, got abolished.

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            Keynes thought that improved productivity would lead to people being happy with a certain level of income and choosing to work 15 hour work weeks. That didn’t happen. I find it hard to believe that it suddenly would.

            In any case, it would require a cultural change of what we value / the status hierarchy.