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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. Jack Daily says:

    Hi Scott.

    I recently lost my father at a relatively young age. Although he had many painful chronic health issues, his condition didn’t seem to be worsening, and he was upbeat and patient regardless of the pain he was in. Due to the third reccurance of a condition that required wound care, a nurse on call came to inspect and dress them. Upon inspecting the wounds, he convinced my father to go to the emergency room, which he had previously been very avoidant of due to his difficulty moving and bad experiences (among other things, a nurse instructing him several times to breathe in and out deeply before taking down his blood oxygen, when he had been diagnosed with central sleep apnea due to brain damage more than a decade prior). About a day after receiving antibiotics and pain medication, he was found unresponsive, his heart having stopped.

    I feel a deep sense of gratitude toward the nurse who convinced my father to go to the emergency room, in particular because he did so while I was asleep, and at the time I didn’t consider his condition to be as bad as it turned out to be. However, I’m not sure it’s appropriate, considering that he was at severe risk of heart failure already, and the stress of movement, CNS depressants, or some other interaction that’s beyond me might actually be his direct cause of death.

    Based on this description of events, and your experience in hospitals and dealing with dying or on-a-thread patients, is meeting and thanking the nurse in person (keepimg in mind that while I am reasonably well put-together, there will almost certainly be stammering, snuffling, and tears):

    1. Practical (will not inconvenience or disrupt the nurse or his patients, and will very probably be a positive experience for him).
    2. Appropriate (the expression of gratitude is reasonable and extremely likely to be interpreted in the intended way).

    I’m not looking for a particular answer or fishing for sympathy, I am socially awkward and genuinely don’t understand what behavior is expected or appreciated in this situation. If this question makes you uncomfortable, don’t feel obligated to respond. This is an unreasonable request to ask of you, especially as someone who doesn’t normally comment.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I’m not Scott, but personally, I’d recommend writing a heartfelt letter. You are very articulate in print and will surely be able to say what you want to say, which you might be less able to do in person.

      I did something similar after my own dad’s death, but for the court-appointed guardian ad litem he had during his last year. His failing faculties brought out the worst in all his relatives (except me, of course) and she was a voice of reason and a source of compassion far greater than any of us deserved. I said as much in my letter, adding that she probably got letters like that all the time. But I got a nice note back saying that she did not, and that she would “keep it handy and look at it when there is a discouraging day.” I felt very happy about the exchange.

  2. Autistic Cat says:

    Inspired by the question by Forward Synthesis, I have two fun questions.
    1.Assume that there exists some substance A that is so insoluble that sometimes there exists not even one molecule A or one ion from it at all in a saturated solution of A. When that is the case can we reasonably say that what we have is actually saturated solution of A at all?
    2.What is (-1)^{N_A} where N_A is the Avogadro’s Constant?

  3. Something I’ve always wondered: if you brush a diamond with a feather, does it recieve any damage microscopically? Could you erase a diamond by gently brushing it with a feather for long enough? Let’s assume you are allowed to replace the feather with a fresh one throughout.

    • Autistic Cat says:

      That’s an interesting question! As long as each time you brush it you get to remove at least one atom this is possible to achieve. However how long will it take?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      We already know that trick works with rock and water. If you keep at it long enough.

    • MrApophenia says:

      The emperor asks the shepherd boy, how many seconds are there in eternity?

    • Charles F says:

      Seems probable it would end up with a protective coating of feather dust and oil long before it was noticeably damaged.

      Unless… how fast are we allowed to move the feather?

    • johan_larson says:

      I am not a materials scientist, but I would guess yes. It’s easy to find hard substances that show visible wear after centuries of rubbing against softer things, such as metal statues that have been touched by the hands of visitors and stone steps that have been walked on in leather shoes.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Here’s a question for the docs in the audience. Does a family physician make more money caring for a large practice of basically well patients or a smaller group of basically ill patients, assuming the total time spent is the same?

  5. Autistic Cat says:

    SSC, if there are two options below:
    1.We will have humans but not rationality or knowledge. Fundamentalists and other irrational lunatics will rule the world.
    2.We will have superintelligent AI that is perfectly rational and has a lot of knowledge about the universe but no humans. The current humans will be kept alive until they naturally pass away. However no more kids will be born.

    Which one will you choose? Is rationality more important than the existence of humans or vice versa?

    • Nornagest says:

      Mu.

    • Randy M says:

      Rationality is a tool. Just like knowledge. What is the point of having perfect knowledge of the universe with all consequences thereof perfectly reasoned out and stored in a machine if it doesn’t help or at least interest an agent that you care about?

      It’s one thing to want to know information because it is interesting, or to be glad when something is discovered because someone can use it to do something useful, like cure cancer or travel to Mars. But to merely have some terminal preference that bits in a computer have a correlation based on a programming language to some arrangement of atoms elsewhere in the universe, without anyone around to know or care… eh, that’s beyond my ken .

    • carvenvisage says:

      if the AI is conscious and happy then obviously 2, but that’s because utility is more important than humans not because rationality is.

      If the AI is not sentient then it’s like asking “what’s better (1.) or 2. the eradication of all life.” (I’d say 2 for an immediate snapshot, but 1. because you didn’t say anything about those being impossible, and they could emerge from that environment like they have in the past.)

      • hlynkacg says:

        utility is more important than humans

        …and utilitarians wonder why other humans consider them untrustworthy.

  6. Autistic Cat says:

    SSC, is literalist fundamentalism just one step away from skepticism?

    I personally believe that literalist fundamentalism is ironically just one step away from skepticism which might also be one reason why skepticism and atheism usually rise right after literalist fundamentalism. Literalist fundamentalism is semi-rational in the sense that literalist fundamentalists are rational enough to reject unscriptural traditions and cultural developments but not rational enough because they fail to doubt faith itself.

  7. MostlyCredibleHulk says:

    So the free speech complaint to Diane Feinstein kinda implies that the campuses right now are insufficiently hostile to Israel? I mean, of all the roblems with free speech suppression in academia – this is what we should be concerned about? No, I know, I know, free speech does not have Israel exception, you should be free to trash Israel as well as anything else, but really – that’s what the problem with free speech on campus is?

    As for complaint that she is “conservative by San Francisco standards” – it’s like being “liberal by North Korea standards” – not exactly a very high bar to clear. I understand that people who are conservative by any other standards shouldn’t bother to vote in California (especially in Bay Area) at all, it’s pointless anyway, but really, the article arguing Trump is more dangerous than North Korean nukes and criticizing Feinstein for not agreeing makes me very concerned about a candidate that won’t disappoint these people.

    • J Mann says:

      Well, to be fair, if you are going to discipline or expel students for having a “double standard relative to Israel,” you’re going to lose a lot of students.

      (To be extra fair, I don’t think Blum meant that, either.).

    • Autistic Cat says:

      I personally believe that almost all forms of free speech should be restored. Calling for violence should still be not OK and child porn should remain illegal but that’s it.

      Furthermore “academia” in this context usually refers to social sciences and humanities. Can we actually use a separate term for us STEM people?

      By the way social sciences should be treated in the same way as natural sciences with Dawkins-style skepticism and rationality applied.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      The question isn’t whether students are pro- or anti-Isreal enough. The question is whether they are allowed to express these beliefs without official censure, whatever they are.

      And as far as official censure goes, yes, this is plausibly the biggest free speech issue on campus or anywhere else in America. No one is proposing a law to outlaw expressions of support for Donald Trump. There are currently bills in both houses of Congress to criminalize support for boycotting greater isreal.

      • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

        > The question is whether they are allowed to express these beliefs without official censure, whatever they are.

        Valid question, surely. But we are all perfectly aware that students are NOT allowed to express a wide variety of beliefs – many of which are perfectly fine in many places outside academic campuses – and that the academic stuff is even more restricted, and can literally have their career and, to a significant measure, life ruined over some words that someone would find objectionable. It is not a secret, it is widely discussed and supported by numerous examples, readily available within a short search online.

        Yet, to a significant part of the left it doesn’t only seem to be a problem – it seems to be a desirable state of affairs and the only complain is there’s not enough of speech policing going on. I do not see calls to unseat a senator over anybody who supports suppression of free speech in academia, and I do not see many left senators actively opposing such suppression.

        However, when the speech police gets to somebody who (and if you have any knowledge of the history of oppressive regimes, you know they devour their own with the same gusto as they do outsiders) calls anti-Semitism “honorable”, Israelis “lying motherfuckers” and “awful human beings”, compares Israel to KKK and envisions Netanyahu wearing “necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children” – then suddenly they find their zeal for freedom of speech. Right amid the incantations about how freedom of speech does not include hate speech – which, of course, is false, but it is their position, when it does not come to virulently hating Israel and supporting anti-Semitism.

        In such approach, I find it very hard to believe these people have any real respect for the freedom of speech. Rather, I think they are abusing the respect other people have for freedom of speech to continue to spread their hate and bile, while denying their opponents the right to speak on every suitable opportunity. They are not free speech defenders, they are a hostile parasites to it, fully content with feeding itself on the host and destroying it once their needs are satiated.

        > There are currently bills in both houses of Congress to criminalize support for boycotting greater isreal.

        I think you arguments would be more convincing if you bothered at least to learn how “Israel” is spelled. But given the amount of hate for Israel – and, routinely, anybody Jewish, being it by association or independently – expressed on campuses daily, I do not think antisemites are having their freedom of speech seriously affected.

        Of course, when it comes to the matters of governmental policy – such as actions of government and government-sponsored enterprises – the government has full rights to control its own speech and the speech of its offshoots, and, for example, prohibit governmental institutions from participating in actions such as BDS. I do not think, however, any bill that concerns private speech can be passed and survive First Amendment challenge – it is as clear-cut case as it could be.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          and that the academic stuff is even more restricted, and can literally have their career and, to a significant measure, life ruined over some words that someone would find objectionable.

          I dispute this. Something like this is true on the teaching side of academia – for example there are worries that foo-ist teachers might do a bad job of teaching their students of foo, no matter how principled and rational their foo-ism might be. But on the research side no, I think this is mostly false.

          Of course you can’t disentangle teaching and research so easily. But this does mean that right-wingery which is not relevant to teaching worries (libertarianism, neo-reaction-style authoritarianism, whatever Strauss is about) is reasonably safe.

          They are not free speech defenders, they are a hostile parasites to it

          Two can play at this game. Better, we should worry less about people’s motives, and congratulate them whenever they are correct for whatever reason.

          given the amount of hate for Israel – and, routinely, anybody Jewish, being it by association or independently – expressed on campuses daily, I do not think antisemites are having their freedom of speech seriously affected.

          I am an obvious Jew, I work on a university campus, and I have gone to and been seen going to Hillel events. In my experience this description is misleading.

          I do not think, however, any bill that concerns private speech can be passed and survive First Amendment challenge – it is as clear-cut case as it could be.

          You’re probably correct about this.

  8. entobat says:

    Is there anyone here who’d like to try to explain to me why gentrification is bad, in terms perhaps somewhat rationalist-adjacent? This is a topic where I don’t feel the other side is wrong as much as they are clearly aliens from Zorblax 7 because of how unintelligible their beliefs are to me. Since my prior on random people actually being aliens from Zorblax 7 is rather low, this suggests the problem is inside my head.

    Let me see if I can get the story right: poor, non-white people live in a neighborhood that’s kind of shitty. White artist-types decide the neighborhood is trendy (?), move in, and slowly things start being prettified. Eventually property values rise enough that the old residents can’t afford to live there anymore, and have to move somewhere else.

    Here are some broad points I’d like to see addressed:

    – Do the poor people have a right to remain in their old neighborhood? To put it another way, when looking at this chain of events, is the reasoning “This is morally wrong because the old residents had right X, which has been violated by the newcomers” as opposed to “I valued the old community and now I am sad because it is gone”?

    – Tying into the previous point: is this philosophically related to rent control, the other thing I think is only advocated for by aliens from the Zorblax system? Like, as far as I can tell the emotional motivation behind advocating for rent control is, “The people who actually live in those apartments deserve to be there; living there has given them a kind of ownership that no mere landlord could ever have, and this right of ownership must be weighed against the landlord’s right to rent to other tenants.” Whereas my emotional justification here is, “The landlord is the sole owner of the property, because he’s the one whose name is on the deed in city hall. You can helpfully tell that the tenants are not owners because they send in a rent check every month, and no permanent purchase has occurred. It seems kind of unfair to tell him he doesn’t own the property because of how he uses it.” And again, my gut tells me that disagreement with this is distinctly Zorblaxian.

    This is kind of tenuous as a point, because I’m taking two positions I totally fail the ideological Turing test for and sort of flailing around wondering if there is a common reason. But it’s the best I’ve got.

    – Is the problem that moving can be expensive, so forcing poor people out of their neighborhoods is imposing costs on them that they might not be able to afford, keeping them in poverty? If the government subsidized all moving expenses, would gentrification no longer be bad?

    – Tying back into the first point, do people generally just have a “right to stable social structure” in their communities, which the invaders are disrupting? Is it morally wrong that the old residents will, um, have to move somewhere else and probably can’t still go to their old church on Sundays?

    – What in the world can be done to stop this? Do we outlaw all white people from moving into non-majority-white neighborhoods? Do we just ask white people really nicely not to?

    • skef says:

      You know the people discussed in the last thread who didn’t want to move away from Janesville to another location to get a job? The result of gentrification is something like going into Janesville before the plant closed and bulldozing it. People who know each other and have been doing their thing for years can’t anymore, for reasons outside of their control.

      Now, as to the analysis, you’re following the increasingly standard rights-only view of human systems, that goes like this:

      A: “I’m suffering from X”
      B: “Do you have a right to not-X?”
      A: “No”
      B: “Then fuck off”

      In at least some contexts, this analysis is seen as questionable:

      A: “I have cancer”
      B: “Do you have a right to not having cancer?”
      A: “No”
      B: “Then fuck off”

      • entobat says:

        I was involved in that thread at the very end, and the similarities did strike me as I was writing this.

        To extend your example:

        A: “I have cancer”
        B: “Do you have a right to not having cancer?”
        A: “No”
        B: “Then fuck off”
        A: “I’m just saying this is painful for me, and while I know no one has to do anything about that, it would sure be nice if they would be considerate of me while doing that medical research and/or distributing those sweet cancer drugs”

        Is that the moral ground from which anti-gentrifiers argue? Does it all amount to just a “please, your actions are totally sociable allowable but we ask that you consider their repercussions”? (Tying into my last bullet point.) My impression is that this is not the case.

        • skef says:

          Anti-gentrifiers are arguing for analogues of “those sweet cancer drugs”, which in your extension of the example have seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Hint: there’re not coming from the person saying “then fuck off”.

          It’s true that some of those analogues are more along the lines of prevention than subsequent treatment. But read your original post again. You find the idea that anything beyond a sympathetic word is not just wrong, but beyond understanding, right? “Those people are just losers and now they can go off and be losers wherever it is that losers go. Just please don’t pee on the sidewalk, this city stinks enough already” and so forth.

          • entobat says:

            Can you restate the first paragraph of your post, and also the first sentence of the second paragraph? For some reason I’m having trouble parsing what’s going on. What is the gentrification equivalent of sweet cancer drugs?

            I’m not saying that the “your actions are technically allowed but really not nice” argument is wrong, meaningless, and/or stupid. Let us suppose that this is the strongest argument that one can be morally justified in making. My impression is the argument that is actually made places severe blame on the gentrifiers, as if there is a moral compulsion (and not just a “please be nicer”) on them to personally not gentrify.

            Like if you looked at homelessness in some city and said “This is all the home-ed people’s fault for not agreeing to put someone up for one week every year”, or something.

          • skef says:

            My impression is the argument that is actually made places severe blame on the gentrifiers, as if there is a moral compulsion (and not just a “please be nicer”) on them to personally not gentrify.

            Like if you looked at homelessness in some city and said “This is all the home-ed people’s fault for not agreeing to put someone up for one week every year”, or something.

            I think it’s right that anti-gentrifiers tend to be more angry at the actual people who move in, but I don’t think they’re committed to anything this strong. But let me get back to that. I’m also going to drop the analogy, although I could continue it if really necessary.

            Many cities (probably most cities) impose various values through zoning. Zoning is a way of telling owners what they have to do with their property. (I would say “what they can’t do”, but in practice zoning tends to be pretty specific.) All zoning fails the “econ 101” test* you raise below.

            Some people see neighborhood stability over time as a value worth imposing along the lines of how zoning works. The non-governmental social safety net is often grounded in neighborhood-level relationships. Too much change too soon can destroy those relationships, and cause large amounts of suffering. The most common protections are rent control and various renter-favoring laws. (Yes, this does make what was non-governmental at least quasi-governmental.)

            I’m not sure the point is generally put this way, but one way of characterizing gentrification is as what happens when forces that are driving neighborhood-level change overwhelm the laws intended to provide neighborhood-level stability. Some of the change results from strictly legal change (there is just nowhere to move to if someone has to move for some reason) and some from illegal change (not repairing things, noisily “renovating” vacant apartments at illegal times and counting on no enforcement, and generally making things miserable for residents). The end result is often that people who were just barely getting by no longer are, and have no local friends or relations to fall back on.

            The anger directed at the people moving in most likely comes from the contrast of witnessing that suffering, and the combination of obliviousness and “econ 101” argumentation on the part of those most directly causing it. The same people famously zone/enforce all of the area nightclubs out of existence as soon as they can manage it, so it’s not like ownership is a fundamental value for them.

            * The valid way of doing that sort of thing would be through a homeowners association. Many people who have had to deal with homeowners associations view this as a reductio ad absurdum of the premise.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It seems straightforward to me. Although I am half Zorblaxian on my mother’s side.

      When I move to a gentrifying neighborhood, I’m raising rents and cost of living to levels the current inhabitants likely can’t afford. Beyond that, I’m also bringing in a lot more cops: not just for felonies either, I’m the stereotypical white guy who will make noise complaints.

      It’s analogous to white flight. Rather than lowering property values and bringing in crime to drive people out, it’s the reverse. So it makes perfect sense for them to oppose being driven out.

      That said, in this case I’d call it just deserts. You can’t claim the moral high ground when a piece of land you grabbed through criminal violence is bought out from under you. But that’s obviously not a terribly convincing argument.

      Edit: To clarify briefly before I pass out, this isn’t about meta issues like rights at all. Being kicked out of your home is an immediate threat. It’s a very low-scale ethnic conflict, like the world’s most passive-aggressive civil war.

      • entobat says:

        It seems straightforward to me. Although I am half Zorblaxian on my mother’s side.

        Doesn’t this mean your mother is just Zorblaxian? How can I trust anything said by the spawn of some no-good alien?

        When I move to a gentrifying neighborhood, I’m raising rents and cost of living to levels the current inhabitants likely can’t afford.

        The Econ 101 argument here is that social welfare will be higher if other people are allowed to move in, as evidenced by those people wanting to pay more for it than you do.

        The obvious counter is that not everyone values a marginal $1 the same amount. I would be willing to wave my magic government wand and say that this is a problem that probably someone should fix via government magic that figures out how to maximize social welfare and then maximizes it. Crucially, though, the responsibility doesn’t seem to lie on the moving-iner.

        It’s analogous to white flight.

        Yeah, but that’s also Zorblaxian to me. Is it my duty to live somewhere I feel unsafe because otherwise someone jerkier than me is going to move in, making things even worse?

        • The Nybbler says:

          > Yeah, but that’s also Zorblaxian to me. Is it my duty to live somewhere I feel unsafe because otherwise someone jerkier than me is going to move in, making things even worse?

          I’ve come to the conclusion that “white flight” is worse than Zorbaxian; it’s downright disingenuous. The standard story is that when blacks moved in, whites moved out because they were racist. But I’ve come to believe that not only did most whites move out because of actual (not anticipated) bad behavior by the newcomers, but that groups like those mentioned elsewhere on this comment section on radical organization engineered things like the race riots intentionally to drive whites out and give minorities control of the cities. So blaming “white flight” for anything is like socking a guy in the face and blaming him for the blood on the floor.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            But I’ve come to believe that not only did most whites move out because of actual (not anticipated) bad behavior by the newcomers, but that groups like those mentioned elsewhere on this comment section on radical organization engineered things like the race riots intentionally to drive whites out and give minorities control of the cities. So blaming “white flight” for anything is like socking a guy in the face and blaming him for the blood on the floor.

            I guess I was unclear: I agree with you on this point.

            White flight was meant to illustrate a reverse situation which is easier to empathize with. If you reread my comment hopefully that will be clearer.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I understood; I was agreeing and amplifying, not disputing. Well, not disputing you, but disputing the standard narrative.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Ok, so I think this is your problem: you’re approaching this in an overly abstract way and ignoring the concrete motives of the people involved.

          From the perspective of an economist at 20,000 feet, white flight and gentrification are both efficient. It’s just people following their preferences, whether that is a preference for safety or for affordable housing. The winners win more than the losers lose, and on net everyone is better off for it.

          But the people being forced out of their neighborhoods, white or black, have a rather different perspective! Being kicked out of your home is an injury. Knowing that the people who kicked you out are benefiting as a result is adding insult to injury.

          You’re not obligated to agree with them but it’s obvious where they’re coming from. “Stop harming me!” isn’t a very challenging position to empathize with.

    • thad says:

      I think the problem is that rights and duties aren’t really the important part of the moral framework used by the main opponents of gentrification. In my experience, the main opponents of gentrification are using the moral framework of social justice. That is, what matters is that a powerful group is imposing its will on a less powerful group. This may be my bias, but I also see the social justice perspective as being important because gentrification involves a unit larger than an individual being harmed (although there are harms to various individuals as well).

      Without getting into whether or not it is wrong, being disconnected from a social network can be quite a bit of disutility. My impression is that it is more harmful older people and people without cars. Other harms caused by gentrification include driving small local businesses out, which may be the only readily accessible place for food, new locations being further removed from public transportation, which contributes to the effect you noted of keeping people in poverty.

    • DeWitt says:

      Why are you so obsessed with rights, duties, laws, and whatever else?

      The concept of rights and whatnot isn’t really a useful way to frame morality, as much as it is to create a good legal code. The two are very distinct: we cannot write ‘be good’ into a code of law, and we cannot enforce it with 100% accuracy, so we must take these things in mind.

      Take some hypothetical person who spends an hour every day walking about in the street to walk past random people and fling insults at them while saying their mother never loved them. At the end of this, they go to drink at a bar with the express intent of starting a fight and breaking someone’s teeth.

      They have a right to do this! Not many legal codes prohibit such behavior. What’s more, I don’t think the law should try and legislate these rights away, since the resulting mess would not be worth the potential benefit. But does that really mean we’re going to call that person’s behavior good? That we’re going to want to live next to them and encourage what they’re doing and consider them upstanding members of society?

      So, in this sense, whatever gentrifiers are doing is legally fine, but the opponents argue that it’s morally wrong.

      As for your other points..

      – I don’t care if poor (or rich!) people have a right to have to remain in their old neighborhood; having to move somewhere else is traumatic for many people and pretending that it’s not because rights is wrong. It’s a sucky situation, and ‘we should try to do something’ isn’t a bad sentiment, even if there may not be too much that can be done.

      – As for rent control, it seems like the kind of thing that should be struck down, but only if zoning laws are struck down right along with them. One without the other seems like worse than having both around, though I’ve exactly no data to back this up. FWIW, I’m rather in favor of striking down both sorts of regulations.

      – I think lots of people would argue that if the poor were provided housing or at least the means to attain it by the government or any other actor, then yes, fewer people would say gentrification is such a bad thing.

      I don’t care about rights! “Right to stable social structure” is meaningless, when rights are a red herring and you should instead consider whether or not having your social structure disrupted very much is bad. The answer to a question lime

      Is it morally wrong that the old residents will, um, have to move somewhere else and probably can’t still go to their old church on Sundays?

      is such an easy YES IT IS that I’m not even sure it’s Zorblaxian, as much that you appear like such an alien now. It’s not the morally worst thing, it could be a necessary evil, it may not be so bad if someone chooses to do such, but pretending it’s not at all morally wrong seems so off that we are, indeed, not speaking the same language.

      – I dunno. To stop it, I think the striking down of zoning laws would be a very useful thing, as they tend to benefit those with access to political and bureaucratic power much more than the poor. Forget about outlawing whites from moving into non-majority-white neighborhoods, stop outlawing the poor from living in this or that space even if they’re paying rent just fine.

      • onyomi says:

        As for rent control, it seems like the kind of thing that should be struck down, but only if zoning laws are struck down right along with them. One without the other seems like worse than having both around, though I’ve exactly no data to back this up. FWIW, I’m rather in favor of striking down both sorts of regulations.

        I’m in favor of getting rid of both rent control and zoning laws but why should one only eliminate rent control if one can also eliminate zoning laws? I don’t see the connection.

        To me, rent control laws make about as much sense as those Japanese laws mandating you make the private parts in porn blurry. Zoning laws, though I don’t like them, have a lot more superficial plausibility.

        • DeWitt says:

          Rent control is somewhat uniquely American, in my eyes, because it is the sort of problem which is American in general, where the government is okay with getting involved, but does it half-heartedly and only to insulate people against poor choices. If the government is involved in actual housing, in running complexes, whatnot, rent control becomes setting a price and running the facilities by itself; rent control all on its own means regulating one very specific aspect of property while leaving all other factors entirely out of the realm of discussion.

          Regardless, if you’ll read what I wrote again, you’ll note that I’m as much in favor of removing both policies as you are; my opinion, however, is that you can have either, both, but that only one of the two is more dangerous than having them both enacted or repealed.

          • onyomi says:

            but that only one of the two is more dangerous than having them both enacted or repealed.

            Yes, and my question was: “why”?

          • Salem says:

            Rent control exists in many other countries.

            What really is uniquely American is looking at a worldwide phenomenon, and saying “Only in America!”

          • DeWitt says:

            Oh, right.

            I think the danger of zoning laws without rent control lies in driving the politically powerless away from places they might want to live. They seem to lean towards NIMBY-ism much more than the opposite case of areas being designated to provide good living space for the poor. In effect, they’d make for a bludgeon to chase off those in poverty whenever those using them would find them useful.

            Rent control, on the other hand, seems like a tool to support the poor more, but is going to be a serious hassle for the people actually owning property. If you have zoning laws, you’re going to know what ‘kind’ of people are supposed to live on your turf; without them, rent controls effectively force you to adapt to a certain base of clients that you might not have seen coming at all.

            What really is uniquely American is looking at a worldwide phenomenon, and saying “Only in America!”

            I’m not American, or anglo at all. Make of that what you will.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Do need to be a little careful on what sort of zoning laws you want to gut. I for one don’t want to live in the ancaptopia where a residential area’s local private school or grocery store can get bought out and repurposed into a heavy industry facility.

          • Brad says:

            I think we have a lot lot of planning laws to eliminate before we get to rules keeping oil refinaries or hog waste lagoons away from elementary schools.

            The low hanging fruit are things like FAR rules, minimum parking, height restrictions, and total bans on multi-family dwellings and commercial units.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Brad

            Yeah, I agree. It just seemed like the proposal was to categorically axe all zoning laws. I could be misreading, though.

          • I think the danger of zoning laws without rent control lies in driving the politically powerless away from places they might want to live.

            That’s also a problem with legal doctrines such as the implied warranty of habitability, which makes it illegal to provide housing which doesn’t meet certain criteria of quality even if the renter knew it didn’t meet then when he moved in.

          • the ancaptopia where a residential area’s local private school or grocery store can get bought out and repurposed into a heavy industry facility.

            Even in an anarchist legal system, one would presumably have something along the lines of the common law doctrine of nuisance. It’s legal for you to build the factory. It’s not legal for you to prevent your neighbors from sleeping by making loud noises all night

      • publiusvarinius says:

        Take some hypothetical person who spends an hour every day walking about in the street to walk past random people and fling insults at them while saying their mother never loved them. At the end of this, they go to drink at a bar with the express intent of starting a fight and breaking someone’s teeth. […] They have a right to do this! Not many legal codes prohibit such behavior.

        Completely and entirely wrong. All civil law jurisdictions explicitly prohibit such behavior, and most common law countries also recognize and prosecute Public Order Offences.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think what you’ll find is that those who support rent control and oppose gentrification place a higher moral value on the poor and minorities than wealthier and whiter people. That is, the desires of the poor and minority residents are simply considered to be more important than any desires of landlords or gentrifiers, regardless of “rights”. The landlord is (when not a moustache-twisting villain… which to be fair, some do act as) there to maintain the building on behalf of the tenants, not some sort of, “lord” with rights to the building. The gentrifiers are invaders; not only do they drive rents up for both residences and businesses and thus replace the poor-person infrastructure with a wealthier-person infrastructure that the existing residents cannot afford, but they either make or (more often) cause the enforcement of laws the existing residents were happily ignoring, such as noise ordinances, anti-graffiti laws, and trespassing rules.

      This is all rational, though perhaps you’d consider that value system Zorbaxian. Where it gets irrational is that some of the anti-gentrification groups seem to think it’s possible to get the benefits of gentrification (such as lower crime and cleaner streets) without the gentrifiers.

    • Corey says:

      Promoting homeownership could mitigate the effects, since the displaced would then capture some upside. Renters are just out of luck, I guess you could model the chance of being gentrified-out of your home as a cost of renting relative to owning, but the anger at gentrification suggests people are not doing that modeling.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m not sure about Zorblaxians, but humans are territorial. Well, maybe not so much elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers, but everyone else. The neighborhood where they have lived for their entire life, where their friends and family all live and where they have jointly taken root, is their territory. They derive real value from living in that neighborhood over all others. Even if it is run-down and full of criminals, even if you’ve got shiny new housing projects for them to move into somewhere out of the way.

      Gentrification, makes it prohibitively expensive for them to live in the one neighborhood that holds this extra value for them, destroying that value and causing them harm. Because the people who move in to replace them are elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers, among the least territorial humans, the benefit they derive from moving in to the gentrified neighborhood may not be as great as the harm they are causing to the residents they displace. But because they are elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers, they have great fungible wealth whereas the people they are displacing have most of their wealth in the intangible and non-monetizable form of a social network.

      So the purely financial contest of “who will bid the highest price for this slightly-ratty old brownstone, and is it worthwhile to turn the bodega down the block into a coffee house?”, leads to net harm through market failure. The global optimum is the one where the elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers looking for a Cool City to hang out in, build a new one for that purpose and leave the old neighborhoods alone even if that would cost them a bit more. And the rational behavior for the soon-to-be-displaced locals is to use their social-network wealth to resist gentrification – it can’t readily be monetized, but it’s quite good at e.g. motivating and organizing noisy disruptive protests that make it less desirable for elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers to buy that particular run-down brownstone.

      Also, elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers tend to be nerds, and nerds are the natural enemies/targets of the sort of progressives who typically lead anti-gentrification efforts if it isn’t the soon-to-be-displaced locals themselves, but that’s another discussion. Bottom line, nobody is really making much effort to understand what harm other people may be suffering in this conflict.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The global optimum is the one where the elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers looking for a Cool City to hang out in, build a new one for that purpose and leave the old neighborhoods alone even if that would cost them a bit more.

        This would be the global optimum if real estate was fungible. It’s not. In the NYC area, for instance, it’s not practical at any cost for the gentrifiers to build a new “cool city” in e.g. Salem County NJ, or even Warren County, NJ. It needs to be somewhere close to Downtown or Midtown Manhattan on a subway line.

        Also, elite cosmopolitan knowledge workers tend to be nerds, and nerds are the natural enemies/targets of the sort of progressives who typically lead anti-gentrification efforts if it isn’t the soon-to-be-displaced locals themselves, but that’s another discussion.

        In NYC, the stereotypical gentrifier is a hipster. Who might be a nerd also, but is also typically exactly the sort of progressive who objects to gentrification. Which leads to the amusing spectacle of someone living in a gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood complaining about gentrification.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          So the gentrifiers actually do give special value to that neighborhood: its value lies in its proximity to other high-value areas.

          In theory, it would be perfectly possible for all of this stuff to be out somewhere in upstate rather than on a useful port. But you can’t spontaneously create a Hip City in the middle of nowhere, unless you forcibly transport the entire gentrifying class out there at once. At that point it would be stable, but I don’t know how you make that sort of intervention in America, or indeed anywhere in the Western world.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right, very often the global optimum is stuck behind a moat of local minima, which can’t practically be bridged because of coordination problems (see also the libertarian Free State Project). For any individual hipster or tech bro or other gentrifier, who isn’t also an altruistic utilitarian, the right move is to move into the neighborhood that’s being gentrified right now.

            For any existing resident of that neighborhood who isn’t an altruistic utilitarian, the right move is to get together with some of the neigbhors and engage in the fun community bonding exercise of egging the new guy’s house.

      • J Mann says:

        John, do you in fact believe that gentrification lowers total utility and represents a market failure, or are you steelmanning those points? (Because I think the rest of your argument is in fact true).

        As to the market/utility points:

        1) I guess there are three groups of people to consider – the current residents, the would-be new residents, and the current property owners. The current residents are the losers in gentrification to the extent that they’re renters. (They may also be losers if they own their residence, but would prefer not to move and are harmed by rising property values and therefore taxes, or because they prefer not to live near hipsters.) But if you measure the total utility without measuring the property owners, you’re not getting the whole picture.

        2) As pointed out below, hipsters want to live in Brooklyn not only because other hipsters are moving there, but also because it’s close to various New York City amenities, so it’s entirely possible that their enjoyment is commensurate with the unhappiness of people who have to move. They can’t build a hipster utopia in a field someplace because they would have to build Manhattan and Brooklyn.

        • John Schilling says:

          On 1, the property owners and the gentrifiers get to argue among themselves on how they will share the gains on that more easily monetized side of the equation. Either the property owners charge an iota more than the poor locals can afford, in which case the gentrifiers get all the benefit, or they charge one iota less than would drive off the gentrifiers, in which case the owners get all the benefit, or more likely they split the difference. But there’s a finite pie for them to slice between them.

          I did perhaps excessively simplify things by ascribing all of the gains to the gentrifiers, and should have noted that the property owners take their cut. That may be important when some of the property owners are long-term residents. But I don’t think it changes the outcome.

          On 2, how much of NYC do the hipsters really need? Are they working the sort of Wall Street jobs that need daily face time? Does it matter if the Federal Reserve is in their city, and do they ever visit the Statue of Liberty? Are the shipping and manufacturing industries anything but an impediment or an eyesore for them?

          As noted in another post, there are coordination reasons why we probably won’t see a hipster-optimized Even Newer York built on a greenfield site upstate, but I do suspect that the hipsters, collectively, could afford it and that it might be a global optimum out of reach due to market failure. Even more so for e.g. San Francisco, where the very industry the gentrifiers are being drawn to is a new one that could have set up shop anywhere.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I’m thinking the important parts are nightlife, culture, and their jobs.

            For nightlife, it’ll probably pop up pretty easily: half of nightlife is just having the right sort of people around, and we get that for free. The other half is having people running quality bars/clubs/other places of entertainment. My perception is that club/bar owners aren’t largely hipsters, but maybe we can count on them to move to where the customers are.
            I wonder if restaurants in particular might rely on the people who would be worried about gentrification though: who washes the dishes? Who cooks? Are there McDonald’s? You probably end up with at least some part of non-hipster lower class, and they have to live somewhere, somewhere that might eventually become attractive to the hipsters, and now we have gentrification again. At least there isn’t much of a tradition to tear up, but there will be in 50 years, and now we’ve scaled back our goals to “kicking gentrification down the road”

            Culture seems like a tough thing to establish. Maybe if you throw enough money at it you get a world-class museum, but a lot of that’s long-established reputation, and a certain feel of age. I don’t think you can take the pieces out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, put them in a new building in a new city, and get the same cultural feel. And of course the older people in NYC aren’t going to let you take those exact pieces, or any pieces with the same significance and age. You might be able to solve that with enough piles of money, but I’m not sure you’ll be able to secure enough money for that project, because now you’re fighting old money.
            Something similar to Broadway comes along easily though since many of its members are going to want in on Hip City, so we’re probably fine there. Music and art as well. Maybe that’s enough

            Jobs seem like the toughest sell, especially when we’re talking about NYC. Gentrification is heavily driven by a bunch of hip people in non-hip industries wanting to use their piles of money. Those people will be happy to go to Hip City, but their companies won’t. And given how hard it is for even the most optimized-for-it tech companies to consistently go for remote workers, I’m highly skeptical that the large variety of industries our hipsters work for will be OK with them all telecommuting from Hip City.

          • The Nybbler says:

            On 2, how much of NYC do the hipsters really need? Are they working the sort of Wall Street jobs that need daily face time? Does it matter if the Federal Reserve is in their city, and do they ever visit the Statue of Liberty? Are the shipping and manufacturing industries anything but an impediment or an eyesore for them?

            The “working hipsters” Brad mentioned do need to go in to work. The firms they work at are there, the customers of those firms are there. Advertising, for example, is as much a part of Manhattan as shipping and manufacturing, and that drives marketing and graphic design. Finance drives much of programming in NYC. Basically your “hipster optimized Even Newer York” would have to transplant all of white collar Manhattan (including a similar public transit system, because driving gives hipsters hives) somewhere else. And that doesn’t help either, because now you’ve left a gaping hole in the economy of NYC.

            (Hipsters DO visit the Statue of Liberty. But only ironically)

          • J Mann says:

            John, I’m at the risk of being some kind of market Panglossian, but my initial intuition is that that’s what renting means – that the renters get the current use of the property, while the property owners get the long term use, and that the property owners are therefore typically going to move property towards its most economically valued use and get the benefits thereof.

            You’re right that economic inequality generally, and renting more narrowly, values the utility of the poor less than similar utility of the wealthy. That’s true for the distribution of European vacations, champagne, personal trainers, and property.

            I guess if you want to call that a market failure, I won’t argue very hard, but it’s confusing since market failure has a technical meaning that is not the same as “what a utilitarian would prefer.”

            (And on top of this, a utilitarian, particularly a Rawlsian, might choose to permit some measure of economic inequality to incent the fortunate and most economically productive knowledge workers to use their skills in economically productive ways, so I will argue a little.)

            ((And on top of that, systems that subordinate the utility of the property owner to their renters without also reallocating title to the property tend to misallocate resources. My initial guess that a system that said that we’re going to prevent owners from selling their property to hipsters in order to preserve the utility of the current renters would have similar problems to rent control, and end up being counter-utilitarian, so I guess I will at least express a number of concerns, even if I claim not to argue.))

        • Brad says:

          The word hipster has widened out so much that I’m not even sure what it means anymore, but the majority of people that moved into Williamsburg, L.I.C., Greenpoint, or Bushwick over the last ten years work in jobs that exist in the real economy. Things like marketing, programming, graphic design, or even the occasional law firm. The parallel hipster economy — those that make a good living making artisan pickles or a crappy living selling tchotchkes on etsy — doesn’t employ more than a fraction of them.

          The etsy types could move up the river to depressed Hudson valley towns, and some have. It’s tougher for the pickle types to because their best customers aren’t the etsy types but the lawyer cum hipster types. And they certainly can’t leave NYC.

          • John Schilling says:

            Things like marketing, programming, graphic design, or even the occasional law firm.

            Aside from the law firm, these sound like the kind of businesses where you need face time with your customers maybe once a week and could easily set up shop fifty miles away if there were cheap land and a supportive community and nobody going out of their way to make you feel unwelcome.

            The “supportive community” is the catch-22 on the path from here to there, of course.

          • J Mann says:

            Yeah, I just mean gentrifiers, but hipster is understandable and funnier, and omits any overt racial signifiers.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      New York is a great example of the dangers of gentrification. The Village is now a quaint outdoor mall, and CBGB was replaced with a drug store. This is plausibly bad for everyone; money has destroyed that which made the place originally attractive.

      While I don’t favor rent control at all, I might favor policies that encourage overbuilding. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that culturally important centers appear where there is an excess of housing stock, like New York after industry left the city, and East Berlin after reunification.

      • Brad says:

        Policies that encourage overbuilding at this point mean eliminating rules that make it difficult or impossible to build anything anywhere. Even NYC has pretty stringent zoning and quasi-zoning rules in a lot of places.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “Even” NYC? As far as I can tell, the way NYC works is it’s illegal to build anything, and then the developer cuts a deal with the politicians for the appropriate variances.

          NYC even has an official licensed profession called ‘expediter’ for someone whose job it is to deal with the bureaucracy for things like renovations.

          • Brad says:

            Don’t get me wrong, I think the community board input / air rights / exclusionary zoning / waiver system is awful. But it is better than the alternative where the answer is just a flat you can’t build anything anywhere.

            I’m keeping an open mind over whether Chicago’s cash in a bag system might be still less bad.

          • I’m keeping an open mind over whether Chicago’s cash in a bag system might be still less bad.

            I’m reminded of the story of a New Yorker who visits Chicago back when John Lindsay was mayor of New York and Richard Daley of Chicago. His friends meet him at the airport and ask what it was like:

            “I have seen the past, and it works.”

  9. Autistic Cat says:

    Is autism positively correlated with far-right movements such as neo-Nazism and Islamism?

    From the discussions above it seems that engineering might be correlated with far-right movements. I wonder if the same correlation applies to autism.

    • rlms says:

      I would imagine not. Engineering is correlated with Islamist terrorism (and plausibly other kinds as well), so you might get a weak correlation with autism as well. But I think that extremist movements as a whole (not just the violent parts) are made of people with high emotional engagement with politics, and that is probably anti-correlated with autism.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        This is a possibility.

        My reasoning here is that autists usually implicitly have binary views on everything unless the view is explicitly non-binary. Furthermore we are less likely to make our views conform to others. Since an extreme view is defined as unusually strong view, we autists either don’t have views on something or have a very extreme, literalist and purist view on it. For example I used to be a literalist fundamentalist and then suddenly switched to agnosticism and skepticism. I think it is plausible that autists are overrepresented in all kinds of extremism. Autistic extremism unlike neurotypical extremism might not be emotional at all. However when an autist is actually emotional about something that cause may be one of the few things the autist has strong feelings about.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          On the other hand, my impression is that autists aren’t malicious– they don’t get anything out of hurting other people.

          If that’s true, then the next question is whether terrorists necessarily have a preference for hurting people

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I also agree on this one. Autists can be ideologically very extreme without actually harming anyone since we are very unlikely to enforce our ideologies.

            Furthermore autistic extremists are nonconformists in nature and as a result do not conform to neurotypical extremists. Hence an autistic Islamist isn’t going to like ISIS too much because he/she may consider Baghdadi un-Islamic on one detail and an autistic neo-Nazi isn’t necessarily going to follow a mainstream neo-Nazi leader because the said leader isn’t necessarily literalist enough to actually be a legitimate Hitlerist. Hence extremist autists are unlikely to actually cause harm because you usually need more than one person to get anything really significant done, including ethnic cleansing/religious cleansing.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            That’s not quite what I’m aiming at.

            A significant proportion of non-autists actually like hurting people. There are people who put in a lot of time on trolling (in the modern sense) and griefing, just in the hope of making someone else feel bad. There are people who put in years abusing their children.

            I don’t know what’s going on with this, but my impression is that autists don’t have the drive.

            Actually, this would relate to a milder issue. Do austists tend to believe that punishing people is an effective method of controlling them?

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz I haven’t found any study on this issue. However I personally tend to agree with you that autists are not very likely to be sadistic. I don’t enjoy others getting harmed. I just don’t. Instead I either feel sad or nothing at all.

            The threat of punishment is necessary to stop people from harming others. However the actual punishment may be waived or moderated from time to time. Punishment does not make any sense other than as disincentives and should never be more severe than the punishable action.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I can easily believe that, for example, a Muslim autist could believe that other Muslims were getting Islam wrong. I find it hard to believe that an autist Muslim would believe that bombing random Muslims would be a good idea.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz Probably. However if an autistic Muslim does believe that other Muslims are apostates who need to be executed according to the Qur’an, Hadith etc because they aren’t following a really obscure verse in the Qur’an that nobody other than the autist cares about, I’m not sure whether they will actually follow it till the very end.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Punishment does not make any sense other than as disincentives and should never be more severe than the punishable action.

            If I’m caught without a train ticket the fine is much higher than the cost of the ticket because that way they don’t have to catch me every time (which is impossible) for it to work as a disincentive.

            However the actual punishment may be waived or moderated from time to time.

            this is imo a strong argument against hell. what incentive would God have to follow through on the threat when it’s a one off non-iterated game?

          • his is imo a strong argument against hell. what incentive would God have to follow through on the threat when it’s a one off non-iterated game?

            That’s a great relief.

            God, being omniscient, surely reads this blog.

          • God, being omniscient, surely reads this blog.

            Best comment this month.

          • onyomi says:

            autists are not very likely to be sadistic

            This raises for me the question of the difference between autists and psychopaths, assuming the two disorders in any way involve the same circuits. My very non-professional impression is that autists seem to have some things in common with psychopaths (inability to empathize; both seem to approach the world in a kind of mechanistic, logical way; both are stereotyped as kind of “male” neurotypes), but in other ways opposite (psychopaths supposedly often come off as suave and charming, which feature they use to manipulate people to get what they want; autists, though devoted to being logical and principled, have trouble modeling others’ emotional states and are characteristically not suave nor manipulative).

            I guess my impression is that autists care, in theory, about understanding others, but have trouble doing so; psychopaths do understand others, almost all too well, having the ability to dispassionately treat humans as means to their own ends.

            As for sadism, which I associate with psychopaths and not autists, here the autism makes more sense to me: if you have trouble feelings other peoples’ feelings then their suffering (though also maybe their happiness) will just be kind of meaningless to you? Neither enjoyable nor especially distressing? As for why psychopaths, despite not empathizing, do seem to tend toward sadism (or, at least, it seems like most sadists are at least a little psychopathic if not most psychopaths sadists), I guess it comes from enjoying the feeling of power over others represented by ability to successfully manipulate them?

            But I wonder why autists neither seem to want nor be able to feel powerful this way, yet psychopaths do, given that neither really “feels” other peoples’ feelings very intensely (having little if any S or M tendency myself, I find the psychology of both a bit hard to fathom, though it makes sense in one way: though never diagnosed in such a way, I think my own neurotype is much more autistic than psychopathic).

            But not sure this is on the right track, or what underlying mechanisms could be at play.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            But I wonder why autists neither seem to want nor be able to feel powerful this way

            Given that autists have trouble understanding others*, it may be that they have not tasted the fruit yet. After all, autists do often get enjoyment out of controlling non-living things.

            Experiment: teach young autists that it is possible to control living beings, e.g. by making them torture small animals. See how many go on to become psychopaths. Ethics board approval pending.

            * full disclosure: the author does not believe that the autism spectrum is a particularly meaningful concept.

          • random832 says:

            @onyomi

            inability to empathize

            My understanding is that this conflates two very different aspects of the word “empathy” – ability to accurately observe what someone else’s emotions are (cognitive empathy), vs ability to care about how other people feel (affective empathy).

        • DeWitt says:

          I think it is plausible that autists are overrepresented in all kinds of extremism.

          I think so, too.

          Most people seem to default to centrism, in the sense that centrist here means ‘whatever is default for their environment’. Autists, I’d say, are less likely to pick beliefs by default because their parents/siblings/friends also happen to share them. I’d view autists not so much as very extreme but more the sorts of people to not really mind following through on their trains of thoughts and beliefs so much.

          • Autistic Cat says:

            I agree with you. What usually happens is that autists apply our own principles at any cost which leads to an unusual mixture of far-left, far-right and other views.

      • Well... says:

        Engineering is correlated with terrorism? If that’s true, are you sure it’s not just because terrorists recruit heavily among engineers, whose skills they need to carry out their goals?

        • smocc says:

          At least in the context of Islamic terrorism I have also heard the explanation that engineering actually correlates with being Saudi for various cultural reasons, and there you go.

        • cassander says:

          Terrorism, revolutionary activity in general actually, tends to do its best recruiting in the grounds of the frustrated upper middle class. The French, Russian, Iranian, and dozens of other revolutions weer all lead by people with enough education/wealth/background to glimpse the upper reaches of their society, but prevented from getting their by some cultural barrier. Heck, even Osama bin laden fits this category, for an admittedly somewhat unusual definition of upper middle class.

        • baconbacon says:

          Perhaps only successful terrorism is correlated with engineering, and all the would be terrorists who don’t have engineers never do anything.

        • rlms says:

          Looking at the 9/11 hijackers’ Wikipedia pages, I see 2 engineers, but also 2 teachers and 2 law students.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Lacking actual numbers, you could say “yes, extremists often like dispassionate break-eggs-make-omelette solutions, which correlate with autism” or “no, extremists are driven to break eggs by emotion, which does not correlate” – a just so story serves either narrative.

      Further: just right wing extremists, or extremists in general? And, even if Islamism is, when you consider it, right wing, is it “far right” in the same sense neo-Nazis are?

      You could look at history, and say, look at the leadership of the Nazis or the Bolsheviks, but the problem becomes that it’s easy to look at historical figures cherry pick things and point and say “a-ha, autistic trait!” but you can just as easily find stuff that might disprove it. Hitler and Stalin have probably both been diagnosed with everything under the sun at this point.

      EDIT: Also, concerning the engineering thing (I’m responding here because the above conversation moved on), in the Gulf States, conceivably (I’m pulling this out of thin air; got no actual numbers) a disproportionate number of educated people got engineering degrees, because fossil fuels. Educated people in general are among the people most prone to decide they must do something about the wickedness of the world.

      • Autistic Cat says:

        I agree. This issue is a bit unclear. I do feel that far-right politics and all other forms of totalitarianism are inherently appealing to a part of me precisely because they are totalitarian/utopian/binary.

        It may also be partly caused by the fact that I don’t have any passion for anything other than rationality, STEM and cats. I hate families for I consider them inherently oppressive and don’t have a Significant Other I have to care about. Other autists also tend to have relatively narrow interests and few concerns on fitting into a family, a tribe or a crowd. Hence if we autists are attracted to something which can be benign (e.g. Physics) or dangerous (e.g. fundamentalism) we are usually really obsessed with what we are interested in. To us there is nothing worse than other people around us who are trying to prevent us from doing whatever we want to do.

  10. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://status451.com/2017/07/11/radical-book-club-the-decentralized-left/

    A rightwinger does a major analysis of leftwing skills at organization by taking a fairly detailed look at four books.

    It’s long and reasonable, and perhaps it’s not surprising that it cites ssc.

    There’s a lot about finding people who want to do things which will help achieve your goals, and supporting them.

    • Randy M says:

      It’s good to have a term for this concept:

      What’s a floating signifier? It’s a symbol that has an imprecise meaning. And that broad vagueness is its strength. A floating signifier is “amorphous enough for many different kinds of people to connect with and see their values and hopes within,” meaning that it rallies people who ordinarily wouldn’t rally together.

    • mtraven says:

      By contrast, the Right doesn’t really have Institutions or even that many effective organizations.

      Unless you count Fox News, The Heritage Foundation, The American Family Association, the NRA, Breitbart, the Koch network, the Mercer network, the Federalist Society, Citizens United…and dozens of others.

      The person who wrote that is either dishonest or an idiot.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I got that impression when I started reading, but after a bit it struck me that the disconnect here is that when Hines says “Righty” or “Left”, he’s referring to the far right and far left. The ACLU is a more important institution to the bulk of the side of the country that’s left-of-center than the Lawyer’s Guild (I was mildly surprised to learn that the latter still exists), but it’s peripheral to the far left. Likewise when he says that there wasn’t a “Righty organization” that captured right-leaning attorneys, he discounts things like the Federalist Society because it’s not far right in the same way that the Lawyer’s Guild was far left.

        I’m not 100% sure he notices that, but since the piece rapidly shifts to explicitly only addressing far-left movements, it doesn’t affect the analysis much. And the analysis is pretty great- I respect the heck out of Hines’ ability to read, analyze, understand and even empathize with people he clearly disagrees with on a deep level. This is a long article, but it’s engaging and easy to read.

        Now, a lot of his assumptions seem wrong to me, but the analysis is great.

      • Space Viking says:

        @mtraven:

        Consider a third view: that’s he’s neither dishonest nor an idiot, but simply categorizes differently than you do. On the far right, we often refer to ourselves as “the right”, so I agree on that point with Jordan D.’s comment.

        The only one of your list that fits the criteria of an effective right-wing organization is the NRA, though of course they are limited to their single issue. All the rest are either not effective, not organizations, or centrist or libertarian, not right-wing.

      • Nornagest says:

        He is using an idiosyncratic definition of “Institution” which the institutions you list do not fall into. The right has think tanks and PACs and lobbying groups, just like the left does, but these are engaged in conventional politics. What it doesn’t have are institutions giving support to unconventional politics, actions on the spectrum of civil disobedience to what’s euphemistically called “direct action”.

        The NRA is at least borderline; it’s got a pretty effective lawfare campaign going on. But I still can’t imagine it giving aid and comfort to Bundy types, not in the way that the Lawyer’s Guild supported the Weathermen.

  11. StellaAthena says:

    Is there a way for me to view my past comments? Is there a primer somewhere on how to use this site? Besides commenting on articles, I find a lot of the website highly non-intuitive.

    • baconbacon says:

      I use CTRL + F to find my comments when I am looking. Don’t know if there is a better way.

      • albatross11 says:

        You can do a Google search restricted to site:slatestarcodex.com along with your pseudonym, and then do Ctrl-F to find your pseudonym on the page. It would be nicer if we had a button for it, as Making Light and Unz both do.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          This also works reasonably well for finding any other content (Scott’s posts, or the comments underneath) when you don’t exactly remember when and where it was discussed but remember enough keywords.

          For example, try with the keyword “battleships” and you’ll find most of the naval gazing content.

  12. Ricardo Villalobos says:

    jgv

    • Well... says:

      I partially agree, but I think a lot of this depends on moral frame. And of course you have to take into account signaling effects.

      • Ricardo Villalobos says:

        Hm. I’m a first time commenter. My comment was not going through and that was a trial one, I apologize. I keep trying to post my comment but it says it is already there and doesn’t take duplicates. However when I ctrl+f my name it is not there. Could it be some syntax error when introducing links to other websites. Any thoughts? Thank you!

  13. J Mann says:

    Let me know if I should delete this (since I’m not sure about the answer), but what’s the story with Topher’s name/nom de plume over the years?

    • vV_Vv says:

      I think his name used to be Christopher Hallquist, presumably he removed the “Chris” from his first name to signal that he left Christianity, and then he changed this last name to Brennan when he married Ozy.

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t think the nickname has anything to do with Christianity. The way it was explained to me, “Topher” had been a long-standing nickname for him IRL, but he’d been “Christopher Hallquist” on LW and people were starting to abbreviate it as Chris, so he changed his handle to bring it into line with what his friends were calling him.

        • vV_Vv says:

          But if he is running as “Topher” then it means that he legally changed his name, doesn’t it?

          • J Mann says:

            I’m sure lots of people run under their nicknames. Jeff Sessions, Chuck Shumer, and Nikki Haley all come to mind.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s not exactly unprecedented for a politician to run under an abbreviation of their full legal name. Bill Clinton and Al Gore both did.

        • J Mann says:

          @vV_Vv and @Nornagest – thanks!

        • Well... says:

          If my name was Christopher [x], and I was trying to become a politician, I’d call myself “Topher” too so that my campaign could feature slogans like “Vote [x]! He’s Topher on crime!” and “Vote [x]!] He’s Topher on illegal dumping!” etc.

          • J Mann says:

            I thought it was an effort to ride on That 70s Show‘s freewill. (Seriously, every time Ozy mentions him, I remember funny previews from that show and smile.)

  14. rlms says:

    Book recommendation (in the sense of “this book is interesting as an object” rather than “I endorse its contents”), prompted by a reference in Too Like The Lightning: Marquis de Sade’s pornography/political dialogue Philosophy In The Bedroom. It is series of dialogues between some immoral libertines and the naive young virgin Eugenie they are corrupting. The basic pattern:

    Eugenie: Well, you have thoroughly convinced me that there is nothing wrong with adultery/atheism/theft/rape/murder, but do you really mean to say that sodomy(/incest/etc.) is OK?
    Dolmance: [lengthy argument that boils down to “there is no God, and besides whatever you just asked me about is Natural and makes you feel good, so it’s fine”]
    [pornographic section]
    [repeat]

    Some sections of it are interestingly jarring from a modern perspective. At one point, the characters are discussing abortion and one of the libertines justifies it by saying “Dread not infanticide; the crime is imaginary: we
    are always mistress of what we carry in our womb, and we do no more harm in destroying this kind of
    matter than in evacuating another, by medicines, when we feel the need.”, i.e. with with the same appeal to bodily autonomy that is familiar to anyone who’s read a pro-choice argument in the past century. But the discussion immediately jumps way outside the Overton window, without any change of tone:

    EUGENIE — But if the child is near the hour of its birth?
    MADAME DE SAINT-ANGE — Were it in the world, we should still have the right to destroy it. In all
    the world there is no prerogative more secure than that of mothers over their children.

    In another part, the libertine Dolmance channels the spirit of straw-Ayn Rand, and gives a speech arguing that people should stop distributing alms and building poorhouses in order that “the individual born in misfortune thereupon seeing himself deprived of these dangerous crutches, will fend for himself, summoning up all the resources put in him by Nature, to extricate himself from the condition wherein he started life” (or they might just die, which would be OK because France is overpopulated anyway).

    Reading it has given me a lot of sympathy for conservative contemporaries of de Sade. If you can see de Sade at the bottom of the slippery slope of progress, it seems a lot more reasonable not to want to go anywhere near it.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      way outside the Overton window

      Peter Singer would like a word with you.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Reading it has given me a lot of sympathy for conservative contemporaries of de Sade. If you can see de Sade at the bottom of the slippery slope of progress, it seems a lot more reasonable not to want to go anywhere near it.

      One interesting exercise, which I’m too lazy to do myself, would be to list out each of the libertine positions de Sade advocated alongside the generation / decade in which they became socially acceptable. Then graph %Libertine over time.

      I suspect without evidence that you’d see a “hockey stick” type graph, with a slow burn of libertinism leading up to a post-1968 explosion. Social climate change if you will.

    • Nornagest says:

      Everything I’ve ever read of de Sade’s pretty quickly stops being shocking and starts being boring.

  15. itsabeast says:

    There’s an LW term similar to “snarl words,” that refers to empty phrases meant to evoke a negative association with a person or group. Can anyone remind me what that term is?

  16. Mark says:

    I much prefer pdfs of books to the kindle version (on a laptop). The example version of the book you get before purchasing is also better.

    Why do they make kindle versions?

    • rlms says:

      An e-ink screen is nicer to read in some ways.

    • dodrian says:

      You can re-flow a kindle book, which is helpful for accessibility reasons (bigger text) as well as for those with smaller screens.

      • LHN says:

        Exactly. PDFs are, finally, usable for me for leisure reading now that I have a tablet with a 12″ screen. But that’s heavier than I want to read from all the time. It’s a godsend for comics, but for text I do most of my reading on a much lighter and more eye-friendly 7″ Kindle Paperwhite, or on my phone (not ideal, but always with me), and PDF text is way too small on either of them.

        (I’ve heard rumors of reflowable PDFs, but I’ve never encountered a book done that way.)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Reflowing an ebook on a typical laptop screen, wider than tall, usually results in lines that are too long. PDFs protect people from this by using a fixed layout, which may be what Mark likes. When I read ebooks on a laptop, I narrow the window (or sometimes increase the type size). If you have a tablet or kindle that can be rotated to have the opposite aspect ratio, ebooks don’t have this problem and their flexibility allows them to make use of more type sizes than a PDF.

        On the other hand, PDFs have fixed pages, which are better for remembering the individual pages and finding them again.

  17. johan_larson says:

    As Emperor of the World, I find myself in a rare quandary which is why I have gathered you, my trusted advisors, in hopes of counsel. My subjects speak a bewildering variety of languages, which is really hampering the operation of my bureaucracy and causing some real problems in an era when efficient economics requires world-wide trade. My political advisers therefore advise me to reduce the number of languages in daily use. Imposing a single world language is likely to foster too much resistance, but a collection of five or even ten would still be useful, and could be done with less trouble.

    Junior staffers have worked out some details without trouble. The Americas will speak English or Spanish, their choice, country by country. Chinese and Arabic can stay, they just need to converge on Mandarin and Modern Standard Arabic, respectively. India will speak Hindi; many of the Indians already do so, and most of the rest speak something very similar anyway. Russian and Indonesian can stay, too.

    But there are two particularly troublesome regions that junior staffers have not found solutions for, which is why I have summoned you. First, Europe. I thought this would be simple. I proposed German, and you wouldn’t believe the whining. OK, so how about Russian for those countries close to their Slavic heritage? More whining. French, then? Still more whining. So, what to do about Europe?

    Second, Africa. North Africa will speak Arabic, of course. But southern Africa is much more divided. They speak a mixture of the old colonial European languages and all sorts of local tongues. If you could find one or even two languages that are close to what they speak already, that would be most helpful.

    Enjoy your stay, ladies and gentlemen. You’ll find your quarters palatial and the staff deferential. But I expect answers by the end of the week.

    • Why can’t Europe speak English?

      • johan_larson says:

        Too much history, I guess. The French really hate the idea of becoming part of the Anglo-Saxon world, as they put it. The smaller nations, like Denmark and the Netherlands, probably don’t much care; they’ll have to switch to something else in every scenario.

        • English is the predominant second language even among the French. And French and German still have the Eww,-we’re-not-speaking-that problem. In colonised areas, the problem is sometimes solved by the imposition of a language that everyone hates equally. (Well, in India, Not so much Africa).

        • And then there’s Espertanto. Any hope for that?

    • Aapje says:

      One good way to reduce the number of languages: do nothing.

      Success guaranteed

      Also, why is it necessary to get rid of languages, rather than have people speak a lingua franca in addition to their native language? Most people here seem to be able to understand me when I write like this, but not wanneer ik in het Nederlands schrijf.

    • Randy M says:

      May be preferable to reduce the number of your political advisers in daily use.

    • The Nybbler says:

      India should certainly not speak Hindi; India should speak English. The current Hindi-speakers and non-Hindi speakers will both hate this, but it will result in less strife.

      Europe should be made to speak Vulgar Latin. If they complain too much about this, impose Finnish instead. Alternatively, divide the continent north from south, Vulgar Latin for the South and a Germanic language other than German or Dutch for the North; Frisian, perhaps, or maybe Swedish with Norwegian orthography.

      Sub-Sarahan Africa should speak an indigenous language, but picking any particular one is likely to cause strife. I therefore suggest Navajo.

      • Corey says:

        I had the same doubt. You’re right, a big enough swath of India currently speaks English that moving to that language is a better way to do the needful.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I’d advise you to get a language which nobody speaks as their first language, so that nobody can complain about favouritism when you impose it. Latin, Esperanto, or Proto-Indo-European would be good candidates.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Latin, Esperanto, or Proto-Indo-European

        So, a very difficult language, an absurdly easy language, and a probably very-difficult-but-we-only-have-a-tentative-reconstruction-of-it language? Frame it like that and that’s probably the best chance Esperanto has of taking off 🙂

  18. Tarhalindur says:

    Relevant to a bunch of recent discussions, a flawed blog post with some relevant points I came across recently.

    Now, let’s start with the obvious problem with the article: it’s decidedly biased against Red, and I’m saying that as someone who identifies more closely with Blue than Red. (Amusingly – at least if you’re into black humor – it’s an example of the very phenomenon it tries to describe.) Interestingly, the author recognizes that what she’s describing applies to at least parts of the left. The problem is, she’s doing that wretchedly common thing where the ingroup’s extremists are extreme while the outgroup’s extremists are representative of the group*, and thus misses the big left sectors that fit the pattern (coughsocialjusticecough). To my eyes, what she’s describing is less a tribal thing and more a general principle that currently describes sizable chunks of both left and right.

    (Definite sign of bias: the author lumps the entire conspiracy sector into the right, more obviously elsewhere on her blog. Sorry, no, that sector is bipartisan.)

    The first key point of the article is a worldview rooted in a specific kind of story (she calls it a Grand Narrative) with three broad groups of actors (plus a disembodied and/or impersonal force). She calls them Elect/Beta Class/Enemy; I think a more revealing set of names would be Elect/Unsaved/Damned. The critical part, however, is the conspiracy theory (or perhaps milleniarian?) definition of both the Enemy and the solution to the Enemy: “Paradise is being denied to us by [ENEMY]. If we just got rid of [ENEMY], everything would be fine.” For left circles that fit this description, that’s racists/sexists/the rich (originally one of those depending on group, but they’ve been merging together; the term for this in a left context is of course intersectionality, and I should really check how old that term is); for the equivalent right circles, that’s gays/atheists/Muslims/nonwhites/the poor (also originally separate but merging together).

    The article describes this as the result of using a simple binary heuristic rather than critical evaluation… which sounds suspiciously like the difference between System 1 and System 2 thought. It proceeds to draw the obvious conclusion – that people are more likely to default to binary heuristics when they are stressed (a proxy for running short on resources) and unable to devote extra brainpower to rational thought. I would add “or fearful” to that, with fear in turn proxying for believing in reduced access to resources in the future. Corollary: a fearful and stressed nation is going to be less willing to use rational thought and more willing to default to binary heuristics.

    The really important concept, however, and the main reason I’m bringing up this article, is the compaction cycle, wherein moderates in groups get pushed out when events contradict the group narrative. If you’re thinking of the group evaporative cooling concept here… well, join the club, I think it’s convergent memetic evolution. There’s two key distinctions in this version, however. First, instead of moderates choosing to leave, they (and other members slow to toe the party line) are pushed out as the group searches for scapegoats when reality doesn’t conform to their narrative. Second, members who are pushed out often join other authoritarian groups, and they respond to the pain of getting scapegoated by taking steps to prevent it happening again – which means conforming more closely to group norms and keeping a closer eye for future scapegoating. That particular part of the description seems to apply more strongly to Red than Blue – my impression is that compaction in Blue-leaning groups tends to result in the group schisming into multiple smaller groups instead. It may also be a contributing factor to the path the social justice movement has taken – a chunk of people leaving this sort of group, especially from the Christian Right, went social justice but didn’t change their underlying thought patterns. (And yes, the article’s author does sure seem to fit that description!) Not unheard of in the opposite direction either, mind you – remember, quite a few neocons were doctrinaire Marxists in their youth.

    This strikes me as a major explanation for the culture wars: both sides of the culture wars are undergoing compaction/evaporative cooling. My take is that the right was further along the process for at least 15 years (1994-2010 or so), probably due to historical contingency (i.e, HMS Random Factor threw more narrative breaches at the right during that period than at the left), but the left has mostly caught up of late. (I think the left is probably still a notch or two behind, mostly on difficult-to-consciously-articulate tonal grounds.)

    * – This is the part where I note that one key effect of the Internet has been to make the extremists on both sides of the culture war more visible to the outgroup…

  19. theantithesisx says:

    I’m getting into bullet journaling again. Here’s my planned setup.

    Brief outline:
    – Stalogy page-per-day notebook with daily timelines.
    – Separate weekly agenda.
    – Per entry I can decide if it should appear in the weekly overview or not.

    I’ve been using a bullet journal for about a year now, but a demonstration of the Franklin Covey method made me feel like something was lacking in my setup. Up till now, I’ve only used weekly and monthly spreads for planning ahead, and then I’d copy those entries to the appropriate daily log when that day arrives. But there are many small tasks that I want to do in the future, but which I don’t want to clutter the weekly/monthly spreads with. The fact that daily planners already have a page for each day and a line for each hour addresses this problem.

    I’m getting a Stálogy notebook, which is similar to Hobonichi. The pages are mostly empty grids, but it lists the months, days of month and days of week at the top of each page, and you’re meant to underline the appropriate ones (so it’s undated). Next to that, there’s a timeline in the margin of each page that counts from 8:00 to 21:00. This provides the advantages of a daily planner, but the flexibility of a bullet journal.

    My plan is to underline the dates up front. So if I want to plan something ahead, all I have to do is flick to the appropriate page, add the task, and just forget about it until that day arrives. I can have much more peace of mind that way. I’m getting a B5-sized journal, which should be broad enough to divide the pages in two parts: the left part right next to the margin for the timeline, and the right part for untimed tasks and everything else. This way, one page per day should suffice.

    But a weekly agenda is separate from that, and is meant to give me an overview of the week at a glance. I’ll use something separate for this. Maybe my digital organizer, maybe a regular weekly agenda–this is not important. The point is that this has an interesting consequence: I can decide per entry if it should appear in the weekly overview as well (by writing it down twice), or only in the daily schedule. Things like appointments will go in the weekly overview, while chores or articles I want to read will appear only in the daily schedule.

    Next to that, I’ll dedicate some 50 of the 368 pages to regular bullet journaling, ignoring the timeline.

    So there you have it: the best features of a weekly planner, a daily planner, and a bullet journal combined. Has anyone experimented with a similar setup? Got any feedback?

  20. nimim.k.m. says:

    We have had quite much AI talk recently: Two Kinds of Caution, AI Timelines.

    I’ve remained skeptical on the plausibility of the human-level (or even under the human-level, but yet something that would be qualitatively similar to “strong”) AI in near future, and especially with the current level of AI methodology. Today I spotted a nice explanation by Francois Chollet why the current state-of-art deep learning methods are quite likely very far off from even a seed for AGI. This also casts light on the reasons why I don’t think the current timeline estimates by the current AI researchers should be trusted, especially technical researchers working on ML methods (which to my knowledge describes large majority of NIPS and even larger majority of ICML participants quite well [1]): if any steps towards creating the fundamental methods for AGI are beyond the current DL tech, every timeline estimate of those researchers is (at most) their guess when those steps will be made, a guess made with quite minimal information about what those steps would be and how they would look like (because that information is outside their field of expertise).

    Instead, you might obtain a more reliable estimate by surveying scientists who study human cognition and neuroscience.

    [1] The study referenced in AI timelines article surveyed NIPS and ICML participants.

    • Peter says:

      Oooh, good post.

      In my job I’m constantly struck by the gulf between “absolutely amazing” and “actually useful” – there are a lot of things in the current crop of AI/ML/DL techniques that are amazing. Finding a use for them is harder. There are all sorts of things that we are missing which would be needed to take things to that level, things that seem off the radar.

      The progress of AI seems to go in cycles of wild hype (accompanied by smaller amounts of real solid progress) followed by AI Winters. I’ve been in the field long enough to see neural networks go from “that thing that everyone’s basically abandoned because they’ve hit their limits and, seriously, other approaches are just better” (blah blah SVMs blah blah flappy bird wings vs fixed wing aircraft blah blah) to “the new hot thing again”. The current deep learning boom, to my mind, is a strong sign that the field came come back from setbacks and that things that look like fundamental limitations may just be a generation or three away from being solved (or at least solved _enough_ that you discover some other limit to hold things up), but as to the current boom flowing seamlessly into Skynet… fat chance.

  21. Mark says:

    Could paranoia be healthy?

    Occasionally I feel compelled to read things that are completely lacking in any sense or wisdom, that provide me with no new information, and that make me feel miserable.

    I’ve found that imagining that these things are a memetic attack designed by them to sap my will has provided me with a bit more motivation to avoid them.

    Likewise, if I imagine that my bad behaviour is influenced by Satan, or demons, I think I’ll be more compelled to change it.

    • DeWitt says:

      Isn’t this a variation on the atheist ‘could being religious offer advantages?’

      If you’re a person who thinks Freddy Krueger will murder you in the night for not eating your vegetables and never exercising, you’re empirically in the wrong, but probably also more physically healthy than someone who doesn’t think so.

      • Mark says:

        I guess so.

        But I think it’s a bit different to the Freddy Krueger case since I’m not making any predictions, and therefore can’t be proven incorrect.

        It’s not even wrong, but it feels so right.

      • Peter says:

        Consider the case of Kurt Gödel. He had an obsessive fear of being poisoned. He did indeed manage to avoid dying of being poisoned. However his obsessive fear wasn’t accompanied by an obsessive fear of starving, and in the end he ended up failing to eat entirely and starved to death. I can well imagine our hypothetical Kruegerphobe ending up hospitalised because they got a minor injury and turned it into a major injury by continuing to exercise when they should have been resting.

        So, I think, yes, an obsessive fear can have benefits, but also downsides, such that it’s unlikely to be a net benefit except under highly special circumstances. Quite possibly some obsessive fears came about because people were once in those special circumstances, and the fear remains even when the danger is long past.

  22. dndnrsn says:

    Continued from a previous thread, Canadian vs American Multiculturalism. Is the Canadian version better? Is the Canadian version actually more a “melting pot” than what the US has today, despite Canadian schoolchildren being taught that whereas America has a melting pot, Canada has a “salad bowl” model? Is perhaps poutine the best model for Canadian multiculturalism?

    For reference, a NYT article I found very interesting: Canada’s Secret to Resisting the West’s Populist Wave – TL;DR is that Canadian-style multiculturalism (in which people are Canadians first but are encouraged to keep their old culture too, a “why not have both” sort of deal) is presented in the article as created in the 60s and 70s by Pierre Trudeau to outflank the Anglo vs French Canadian conflict (he faced a serious crisis involving, among other things, the FLQ, a terrorist group which remains one of Canada’s deadliest) and as a bonus provide voters for the Liberal party. Subsequently, and more recently, Jason Kenney of the Conservatives managed to significantly increase Tory outreach to immigrants, creating a situation where there isn’t much political polarization by ethnic group. Of course, the parties at the provincial and federal level devoted to French Canadians appeal mostly to French Canadians. But that’s the outlier. All three major national parties are more or less cool with multiculturalism as practiced here.

    Unfortunately, the article notes neither that one of Trudeau’s nicknames was “the Northern Magus”, nor does it note that Kenney’s nickname was “the Minister of Curry in a Hurry”, on account of his tireless presence at South Asian (especially Sikh, I think) events.

    Also for reference, the last post (@Trofim_Lysenko, not me):

    This thread is getting annoying long. We can take this to the current OT if you’d like and see if someone else wants to chime in with their own understanding or more information, but as far as American-style “multiculturalism” being later and inferior…sort of, yeah.

    I think it initially evolved in that same timeframe as the Canadian version (60s-70s), but whereas Trudeau picked up the ideas and ran with them then, it took longer to catch on here. In that intervening time, yeah, I think it became a far inferior version, and I think it’s absolutely tied to a pushback against assimilation and progressive critiques of American cultural history and race relations history.

    I’m not about to sit here and say that the US has a spotless record in those regards, but I think that the version of Multiculturalism being pushed down here has a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the name of dismantling structural oppression that to the critics is all of a piece: We now have people who see the very idea of a “melting pot” as of a piece with American Imperialism and Colonialism in the Philippines and Latin America, with our historical oppression and disenfranchisement of African-Americans, cases of injustice like Sacco & Vanzetti, etc.

    That’s bad enough, IMO, but even more frustratingly while there is still plenty of Conservative pushback that merely attempts to hold the line and defend the idea of assimilation and the melting pot concept, there’s also been a distinct rise in Nativist sentiment over the past 20-30 years or so.

    And from there, it has become one small Area Of Operations in the Immigration Theatre of the Great American Culture War, with polarization driving the two main camps apart and, again in my personal opinion, both of them AWAY from precisely the sort of approach that Canada employs now…

    …which ironically looks to me like nothing so much as mid-20th century American NON-multiculturalism with better marketing and a friendlier face, at least in terms of the end result.

    There has been in Canada some condemnations of our multiculturalism as fake or insincere – Canada is still by and for whites, or even by and for Anglo whites. I think this is influenced to some degree by the US. Canadians tend to get more of our thinking than we are aware from the US – we are probably the biggest victims of Eagleland Osmosis. Canada isn’t perfect, but our worst aspect today is far less mistreatment of immigrants and far more mistreatment of aboriginals.

    • Anon. says:

      These pots and salads are red herrings. Immigrants to Canada have almost an entire sd higher IQ than immigrants to the US. Comparing the two models while implicitly assuming the two countries have equivalent immigrants is just silly.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Source? For the longest time – certainly, in the 60s and 70s – the popular perception (I don’t know about the reality) was that Canada was where you went if you couldn’t get into the US.

        • Incurian says:

          Those aren’t mutually exclusive.

        • Anon. says:

          Here you can see PISA scores for immigrants in OECD countries. Backing out IQ scores puts US immigrants at ~92 and Canadian immigrants at ~104.

          • Iain says:

            Link is broken. I think you mean here.

          • Anon. says:

            Thanks, fixed it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            As JulieK notes below, Canada and the US have different systems. Canada lets most immigrants in based on their points score, which is meant to attract youngish educated people with work experience, language skills, etc. The US lets most immigrants in as family reunification.

            The scores for Canada and the US show US first generation immigrants with lower test scores than the second generation who have lower test scores than natives, and the opposite in Canada. Presumably, this is the result of most immigrants to Canada being selected on their skills: I have long guessed that the average immigrant to Canada is smarter and more educated than the average native-born Canadian and this would appear to prove me right.

            However, do those stats include people in the US on work visas? My understanding is that where Canada says “hey, you know how to do computer stuff, you can be an immigrant” the US says “you can have a work visa.”

            Additionally, these are modern stats. Were things the same in the 60s and 70s?

          • vV_Vv says:

            However, do those stats include people in the US on work visas?

            No, they are PISA scores, therefore they only represent 15-16 years old high school students.

          • Aapje says:

            Here you can see PISA scores for immigrants in OECD countries.

            The native scores for Americans are are almost the same as the score of second-generation migrants to the Netherlands. Fix your education system, USA!

          • vV_Vv says:

            The native scores for Americans are are almost the same as the score of second-generation migrants to the Netherlands. Fix your education system, USA!

            *cough*race*cough*

          • DeWitt says:

            Do we get to arbitrarily strike off ethnic groups we dislike, too?

        • JulieK says:

          The majority of current immigrants to the US qualify based on having family members there already.
          It’s possible that for the minority who are admitted based on professional qualifications, the US has stricter standards than Canada.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I think the Canadian standards are higher, but transparent and consistent, while the US is arbitrary and depends on the sponsor knowing how to navigate the bureaucracy, in some sense combining to be more difficult. The UK and Australia are in between.

          • Brad says:

            To drill down even more, out of just over 1 million permanent residencies granted in fiscal 2014, family sponsored accounted for 64%. Immediate relatives alone (spouse, child, parent of USC) accounted for 41% of the total.

            The entire employment based system only accounted for a hair under 15%. Refugees and asylees were another 13%, and the brain-dead lottery program another 5%. Finally, there’s another 3% of odds and ends.

            I’m curious as to similar stats for Canada. I can’t imagine they don’t have some kind of provision allowing e.g. citizens to marry non-citizens and bring them into the country.

          • Iain says:

            There’s lots of data here. Looking at “Permanent residents by category”: of the 270K immigrants to Canada in 2016, 24.1% were sponsored family members (almost entirely spouse, child, parent, or grandparent); 11.8% were refugees/”Protected Persons”; and 62.7% were “economic” (25.8% skilled workers, 16.4% provincial nominees, the rest a mix of other programs).

          • Randy M says:

            Are the families of economic migrants counted differently? If I move for a job, is my family counted as economic or sponsored family members? Does it change if they come at once or five years later? Do US and Canada consider this the same way?

          • Iain says:

            My quick search didn’t find an authoritative answer on how Canada counts family members of economic migrants. My best incorrect guess — based on this page, which talks about sponsoring your spouse “under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in-Canada Class” and also describes steps you should be taking “while you’re still overseas” — would be that family members count as “Sponsored Family” regardless of the time frame. That does imply that the average economic migrant has fewer than one dependent, though, which seems weird.

            I have no idea how the US counts these things.

            EDIT: Actually, looking at another dataset in my original link in which 72.7% of children under the age of 4 count as “Economic”, it seems likely that the immediate families of economic migrants are counted as economic for these datasets.

          • Brad says:

            For the US accompanying family members of employment based applicants for permanent residence are counted against the preference category of the primary applicant. That’s true even if they come later under the follow to join rule. However, if they aren’t directly eligible and the primary applicant has to file a new family based petition for them (e.g. unmarried children over the age of 21) then when those family members receive PR they will be counted against their own preference categories.

            The upshot is that the employment based percentage significantly overstates the number of immigrants selected on the basis of their own employment offers or qualifications.

            Counting methodology aside it definitely looks like the mix is significantly different in the US vs Canada.

          • Randy M says:

            Thanks for the clarification.

        • John Schilling says:

          Canada was where you went if you couldn’t get into the US.

          Not if you were coming from Mexico, I think.

          Immigrants from e.g. Germany preferring the US to Canada, sure, but it’s been a long time since Germany was more than a rounding error on US immigration statistics. More generally, the US a mix of low-skill labor looking for low-end jobs, often on a temporary basis, and high-skill immigration from Europe, East Asia, and the elite fringe of the rest of the world looking for the opportunities that come from hanging out in the richest nation with the most cosmopolitan cities(*) on Earth. But the former far outnumber the latter. So if Canada is the second-choice destination for the high-skill immigrants, but mostly isn’t on the map for the low-skill ones, the average human capital value per Canadian immigrant will be higher than for the US.

          * OK, I’ll spot you London at least until Brexit, and maybe Vancouver. But you’re competing with New York and San Francisco here, among others.

          • Iain says:

            I’ll have you know that Toronto is a world-class city (or at least produces a steady stream of needy thinkpieces about whether or not it is “world-class”, which presumably amounts to the same thing.)

          • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

            With Iain here–surely Toronto is a better comparison? Several times larger than Vancouver, more diverse, and the center of finance, law, and media for Canada?

    • Randy M says:

      Canadian schoolchildren being taught that whereas America has a melting pot, Canada has a “salad bowl” model?

      Maybe there was a brief period of time in which this was true, but America is all salad bowl for some time.

    • I much prefer the melting pot metaphor. That’s doesn’t mean that the characteristics of the immigrants disappear, but that they become part of the culture. Food is an obvious example of the way we’ve incorporated foreigner’s cultures, so that Italian and Mexican and Chinese food is just part of the US now. And I think that goes for deeper areas of culture too.

      I think it is a good thing that just because someone has East Asian features, that doesn’t mean they necessarily have an East Asian culture. People are more free to act as they wish.

  23. Odovacer says:

    Michael Eisen, a professor of evolutionary biology at Berkeley, is also running for Senate in California. His campaign site is here:

    http://www.eisen2018.com/

    • OwanZamar says:

      Im struck by how there is absolutely NO information on his campaign page about what kind of posititions he is looking to represent if elected, there’s literally nothing there but some boilerplate drivel about how he’s a “realist scientist” who has “fought powerful institutions before – and WON!” Is some of that boilerplate text supposed to be code for this or that actual position on policy (though I know we’re supposed to be against dog-whistle interpretations of politicians’ statements around here), or is that really all there is?

  24. tayfie says:

    In the comments on conservatism’s failures, there was a lot of talk about how government keeps growing regardless of the efforts of many, and what wanting a smaller government really means.

    This gave me a spark of recognition and led me to dig through some of my used book purchases that I always know I’ll get to someday. The book I finally read is called “The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America” by Philip K. Howard published in 1994.

    The main thesis of the book is that the attempt to remove human judgment from the law by increasing specificity has caused massive government incompetence and a resulting hatred of regulation. It is not usually that people disagree with the intent of the regulations. It is just that the regulations are rigid, nonsensical, and often counterproductive because attempted certainty and uniformity has stamped out any flexibility of allowing regulators and citizens to adapt to circumstances.

    Here is an example of such a counterproductive regulation:
    p. 7

    When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), after years of hearings, passed a rule requiring that specific equipment be put in smokestacks to filter benzene, a harmful pollutant, Amoco complied and spent $31 million at its Yorktown, Virginia, refinery. In 1989 a chance encounter on an airplane between James Lounsbury of EPA and Debora Sparks of Amoco led to a discussion about the frustrations and inadequacies of environmental law. One thing led to another and, with some trepidation, Amoco let a team from EPA into its Yorktown plant to see how the environmental rules, written in windowless rooms in Washington piled high with scientific evidence and legal briefs, actually worked in practice.
    EPA found that its precisely drawn regulation almost totally missed the pollution. The Amoco refinery was emitting significant amounts of benzene, but nowhere near the smokestacks. The pollution was at the loading docks, where gasoline was pumped into barges… Amoco has spend $31 million to capture an insignificant amount of benzene at the smokestack. The rule was almost perfect in its failure. It maximized the cost to Amoco while minimizing the benefit to the public.

    The law that people really care about is almost entirely dependent on human judgment.
    p. 22

    The tension between legal certainty and life’s complexities was a primary concern to those who built our legal system. The Constitution is a model of flexible law that can evolve with changing times and unforeseen circumstances. This remarkable document, shorter than the EPA’s benzene rules, gave us three branches of government and a Bill of Rights built on vague principles like “due process”… What is known as “common law”, which we inherited from England, still governs relations among citizens… The common law is the opposite of ironclad rules that seek to predetermine results. Application of the common law always depends on the circumstances

    I could quote a lot more, but the gist is that the drive for certainty makes law too detailed to be knowable. It causes a disconnect between the rules and citizens’ conscience. The drive for uniformity in application leads to greatly tilted and unfair impacts. The drive for precision to eliminate loopholes does nothing but create them. The obsession with process and procedure works mostly to cause delay, increase costs, and shield bureaucrats from responsibility, doing nothing to prevent abuse.

    The point I’m getting at is that I don’t think people care about the size of government as much as they just want a government that allows for sensible individual discretion. They want regulators that act like humans and not incomprehensible robots following a maze of exact rules.

    • BBA says:

      The problem is, we had “sensible individual discretion”, still do in many areas, and far too often it meant that the regulator’s ingroup got every benefit of the doubt while the outgroup was held to an unreasonably high standard. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s nothing inherently objectionable about making voters pass a literacy test; it was the “discretion” of the graders that made those tests a way to nullify the 15th Amendment. To say nothing of more mundane forms of favoritism, and plain old bribery.

      So: too much “reasonable discretion” and we don’t have rule of law; too little and we get the bureaucratic nightmare you describe. Government remains an unsolved problem.

      • So: too much “reasonable discretion” and we don’t have rule of law; too little and we get the bureaucratic nightmare you describe.

        And there you have another way in which centrism is correct.

    • SamChevre says:

      I would add three highly-desirable aspects to “allows for discretion.”

      One, it should be possible to know what questions/disputes are and which are not subject to government intervention.

      Two, it should be possible to identify the point at which a government decision has been made, and will not be revisited.

      And three, posing the same question to the same agency twice should get the same answer.

    • sohois says:

      Whilst this seems to be held up as a recent problem, I wonder if this is not a result of American cultural preference of somekind.

      The reason why is due to accounting. When it comes to creating systems to harmonize accounting across companies, there are two broad approaches, a rules based system and a framework based system. America’s GAAP is rules based, whilst systems in other countries were typically framework based, as are the IFRS (for those unaware, IFRS are international accounting standards aimed at harmonizing reporting across the globe).

      In a rules based system, accounting boards attempt to have a specific rule for every possible situation that a company may need to account for. As such, the American GAAP rulebook, iirc, has stretched to tens of thousands of pages long. This is not, however, a new phenomenon. The American GAAP has been rules based since it’s inception – in the 40s – and they continue to resist attempts to implement IFRS, in part due to the clash over rules vs framework systems (though of course a move to IFRS would be very complicated and involves many points of discussion).

      Americans appear to have always favoured a system of rigid bureaucracy.

      • That’s an interesting point of view. I speak as a US accountant. I have thought of IFRS as being simply a more primitive system, with US GAAP putting more time and effort in fleshing out the ins and outs of various scenarios. That probably makes me a bit obnoxious to Europeans.

        I actually spend a lot more time on tax rules than GAAP rules, so I will comment on that too, especially since the US seems to be an over-producer in tax rules also. I do think that the US has far too many tax laws, to the extent it fills up two large volumes. But I really like having the tax regulations that explain the tax laws, even though those constitute four times as much volume as the laws themselves. And I think pretty much every US tax accountant agrees with me. Without the regulations, we don’t know what we should do in many cases. A lack of rules means we have to guess, which means a much higher chance of being stuck in an audit with a bad result. Regulations are a good thing! Otherwise we are stuck with tax authorities who decide things arbitrarily (or at least it appears that way to us tax accountants).

        And similarly with tayfie’s larger point. I think that most people don’t get as upset with lots of regulations as they are with arbitrary decisions by bureaucrats. To me lots of regulations are opposite to arbitrary decisions. The bureaucrats have to follow the regulations; that’s keeps them more under control and more predictable. Lots of LAWS are what makes government so hard to deal with — lots of regulations are a consequence of lots of laws, but mostly a mitigating factor.

        And tayfie’s example of solving the wrong pollution problem has nothing to do with regulations. It has to do with bureaucrats not talking to the industry. That is a problem whether or not you have regulations.

        I think that Trump’s rule of getting rid of two regulations for every one added is well meaning but a bad idea. The US government badly needs to delete 90% of its laws, and hopefully several of its departments. THEN it can delete all the related regs.

    • Jordan D. says:

      Anyone interested in reading a bit more about the 1989 EPA-Amoco study, check out the executive summary. The full writeup is available elsewhere online, but this is a pretty readable overview. You can find some more information related to the misfits between the regulations and the plant at Section 1.3.4.

    • beleester says:

      Another alternative might be to legislate outcomes rather than actions. Instead of ordering Amoco to install filters on their smokestacks, say that they can’t emit more than X ppm of benzene (the thing you actually want), and let them figure out the best places to implement it. One example I’d say where this was successful is mileage regulations on cars. Doesn’t matter how you make your car more efficient – make them smaller, make better engines – just hit the target.

      (“Cap and Trade” does this on the scale of an industry rather than an individual company – you set a limit across the whole economy, and let market forces figure out who can most cheaply reduce their emissions.)

      This has its own hazards, in that it’s entirely possible to legislate something impossible, or to fall into Goodhart’s Law traps where the outcome you’re measuring is only a proxy for the outcome you want. Maybe it’s not affordable to filter the benzene at the loading docks, or maybe your inspectors only measure it at the smokestacks and they never even know about the loading docks. But it’s a useful tool nonetheless.

      • Aapje says:

        The problem with legislating outcomes is that the companies have a strong incentive to ‘teach the test.’ In the case of mileage that means setting up the car so that it performs well for the test, but not so great in daily usage. The diesel scandal was an extreme example of this.

        So it’s not a panacea.

  25. rlms says:

    Why is Topher running for the Senate rather than the House of Representatives? As an ignorant foreigner, I would expect the latter to be a lot easier to get in to.

    • Eric Rall says:

      There are very few competitive House races in California, and there’s a long line of established politicians (mayors, state legislators, congressional staffers, etc) ready to jump into them whenever there’s an open seat or a vulnerable incumbent. If you’re going to lose anyway, there’s an argument for running for a bigger race where you’ll get more attention and make better contacts that you can use to affect the debate and to get on people’s radar for the future.

      Also, since it looks like Topher works for Google in the Bay Area, he probably live in Anna Eshoo’s or Ro Rhanna’s district, and based on his policy positions vs theirs, he’s probably got much less reason to launch a protest candidacy against them than against Feinstein.

      • CatCube says:

        What’s sort of baffling about this is that it looks like Topher is trying to be the Donald Trump in this race, i.e., he’s running as an outsider on a platform that an established candidate probably realizes can’t be enacted in the current political environment.

        As a right-winger, I assure you that Feinstein is one of our boogeymen, and if she didn’t get it for you, it probably couldn’t be forced through the Senate by anyone.

        I actually hope this guy wins, because knocking ol’ Dianne out of her seat would be so delightful. And as our side is discovering with the President’s executive orders on immigration, you can bash your head against a wall for a while if you don’t know what strings to pull to get things done.

        • Protagoras says:

          Conservative bogeyman /= someone who tries to give everyone on the left everything they want. I would have thought that would be obvious, but as usual, outgroup homogeneity bias is strong.

          • CatCube says:

            No politician gives their constituents everything they want–they’re limited by what’s politically possible. That’s my point. I’m saying that a lot of the left-wingers unhappy with Feinstein are like the Republican voters who were banging their spoons on their high chairs about “RINOs” and proceeded to make Donald Trump the nominee.

            If you want to trade a very experienced leftist who’s effective at navigating the Senate and has seniority on whatever committee she decides to join, because she’s not quite as leftist as you would like, knock yourselves out. I’ll be cheering for you.

          • Protagoras says:

            My own issues with Feinstein are not that she is not quite left enough. I do not know what the issues of the various people supporting this campaign are, but I’m sure that’s not the issue for all of them either (I expect their concerns are varied). Again, someone can be a conservative bogeyman without being ideal, or even very good at all, from any given leftist perspective.

          • CatCube says:

            Well, considering that Trump is a left-wing boogeyman without giving conservatives anything we wouldn’t get from a generic Republican, I guess I can’t argue with that.

          • Iain says:

            Indeed, relative to the state she represents, Feinstein is actually the Democratic senator most likely to vote with Republicans, according to 538’s tracker. There are about ten senators in red/purple states who vote more conservatively than Feinstein, but she is a clear outlier.

          • Protagoras says:

            Ugh, Harris. Why do California Democrats elect such horrible senators? (Admittedly, I can’t point to much awful she’s done in her short time in the senate so far, but as an AG she was horrifyingly enthusiastic about trading justice for publicity).

        • J Mann says:

          I tend to agree that Brennan would probably be less effective than an experienced pol with seniority. I suppose the best cases for someone who agrees with his ideas are:

          1) Some of his technocratic ideas (a water trading market, for example) might be achievable. If he gets them into conversation, then maybe some of them will happen.

          2) Again, thinking best case, he might be a Rand Paul type of the left (an effective advocate and rallying point for like minded party members) or a Bernie Sanders (not that effective, but what was government going to accomplish anyway, and it’s satisfying to hear your viewpoint advanced).

          • Incurian says:

            Some of his technocratic ideas (a water trading market, for example)

            Having a market is technocratic? What does that make the existing ration system?

          • J Mann says:

            @Incurian – bureaucratic. 🙂

    • James Miller says:

      If every girl at the party is going to reject you, you might as well ask out the prettiest one.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        However, if you start at the top of your list and work down, you might miss some opportunities.

        A woman told me about noticing how low she was on a man’s list, and she was furious. I don’t know whether she would have accepted his offer if she hadn’t seen him asking the others.

        • Charles F says:

          I’m pretty sure there’s something about this in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, But I don’t remember exactly how it went. Also: xkcd

        • Matt M says:

          I’ve had multiple breakups where the girl’s primary complaint was “I think you’re settling for me and I refuse to be settled for.”

          So the “just lower your standards” argument only goes so far…

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Did you actually feel you were settling for them? Did you come to a conclusion about why they felt they were being settled for?

          • Matt M says:

            I think I’m just a very logical and unemotional person such that I’m probably incapable of big, showy, romantic displays that women have come to expect, which makes them feel like they are being settled for.

            I also have a personal philosophy that all relationships are essentially a form of settling, as no person is perfect, and I reject the “perfect for ME” construction that many seem to rely on.

            I’d absolutely love to have a rich, beautiful, smart woman “settle” for me, so it’s hard for me to relate to this as a complaint, but hey, such is life I guess.

          • johan_larson says:

            @Matt M

            I’d absolutely love to have a rich, beautiful, smart woman “settle” for me, so it’s hard for me to relate to this as a complaint, but hey, such is life I guess.

            Would you still feel the same if she made it plain that she considered you entirely substandard goods, well short of what a man should be, and treated you like a household servant with a convenient semen dispenser?

          • baconbacon says:

            I’d absolutely love to have a rich, beautiful, smart woman “settle” for me, so it’s hard for me to relate to this as a complaint, but hey, such is life I guess.

            How confident would you be that such a person would be faithful? If anyone of the guys she tried first finds themselves single isn’t it plausible that they could steal her quite easily?

          • Matt M says:

            and treated you like a household servant with a convenient semen dispenser?

            It was never alleged that I treated anyone poorly. It was more like they wanted me to tell them they were the most beautiful woman on Earth, even though we both knew that wasn’t true. I have no expectation that anyone I’m involved with will say obviously un-true platitudes about me. You can treat someone decently and respectfully without wildly over-the-top exaggerations.

            How confident would you be that such a person would be faithful?

            Not very. But that’s also not a huge deal for me. I’m generally okay if a partner cheats, so long as I never find out about it. I’m a strong “ignorance is bliss” supporter.

            That said, in my case, I’m socially awkward, struggle to meet women at all, work 50-60 hour weeks, and have virtually no hobbies outside of the house. The odds of me cheating on someone are virtually nil – even if I had the desire, there’s simply no opportunity.

          • James Miller says:

            People are not honest with their reasons for rejection. This seems like a nice reason for someone to reject you. I would take this as a complement that the people who want to breakup with you don’t want to hurt your feelings.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I think “my partner should think I’m perfect” is a proxy for “our relationship is so much more than the sum of its parts, that even if Frances Kirwan wanted to date him, he’d be better off sticking with me.”

          • Matt M says:

            People are not honest with their reasons for rejection. This seems like a nice reason for someone to reject you.

            Probably so, but it came up many times prior to the breakup, and I often begged and pleaded for the “real reason” insisting that I’d prefer a cold, hard truth rather than to some face-saving platitude and never got anything better.

            Also, as I’ve said, it has happened more than once.

          • Iain says:

            Was it “I think you are settling for me”, or “I think that you think that you are settling for me”? It seems to me that the latter is a very understandable reason for breaking up with someone. “I guess I will commit to a relationship with you, given that it doesn’t seem like I’m going to be able to do any better” is not the basis for a happy life together.

            You don’t have to tell your significant other that they are special on a global scale, but you should at least be able to convince them that they are special to you.

          • Randy M says:

            “You’re settling for me” is like “You’re overqualified for this job.” On the face of it, it is an absurd reason to reject someone–they are bringing in sex appeal/skills that you didn’t expect to get for your offer of commitment/salary $x, and that’s all upside for you.

            But it could be a valid reason to reject someone if A) you believe they would have undue power in the relationship due to the mismatch, B) you don’t believe they would actually commit for the specified amount because they would discover or overtime grow to resent the asymmetry, or C) you believe you know their interests better than them and also value their interests above yours (or it’s a face saving excuse as Brad suggests).

            Probably most often it is because of B, that the declining party is looking for a commitment and believe you are going to leave once you get a better offer.

            Every relationship will have some level of settling, though, perhaps even by both parties–there’s multiple axes to selecting a romantic partner, and both parties may feel they could have found someone who satisfies more criteria. But it’s a race against time. Not that there is no time to spend, but there certainly isn’t unlimited nor even just enough to evaluate and woo every potential mate, and if you want to actually be married, at some point you have to make a choice.

            The great part is that, with the right attitude, your husband or wife can become and ever better fit. Maybe in the end there’s another position across country with strictly higher salary, but you’ve get along great with the boss, love your neighborhood and have senority. Wait, wrong sub-thread. You trust each other, have shared memories, are used to each other’s quirks, etc.

    • Because Topher knows he won’t win any election of any significance and Senate is slightly higher status (this entire campaign is, necessarily, a combination of trying to get a modicum of publicity for his policies and status points.)

      It is not, to be a bit cutting, what I’d consider effective politicism. But that said the ROI on any dollars here is near zero, so Topher can buy fuzzies and fun however he pleases.

      (I should clarify my first graf is not intended to be unkind; I think, though I don’t know him personally, Topher would (privately) admit essentially the same facts. This is just what it *means* when someone launches a doomed political bid.)

      • schazjmd says:

        We have a local primary going on, and one of the county executive candidates comes right out to state that as his goal:

        My candidacy’s an attempt to attract attention to my blog http://stopeastlinknow.blogspot.com detailing County Executive Constantine’s Sound Transit “Prop 1 and Beyond” light rail debacle. I have no expectation or desire to win and will not seek nor accept any financial support.

  26. eqdw says:

    I can’t tell which party Topher is running for.

    I don’t know if this is good (because he is above such stupid arbitrary divisions) or bad (because the rationalsphere is such a bubble that the correct answer to my mystery is assumed to be default common knowledge)

    Which party is he running for?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Actually, what’s assumed to be common knowledge is what a primary election is, and which party (Democratic) Feinstein belongs to.

    • Eric Rall says:

      California has a jungle primary system (called “Top 2” here), where the candidates from all parties are on the same ballot and the two with the most votes overall are the general election candidates. Candidates can (and usually do) declare a party affiliation on the ballot, but that’s just about announcing what “team” you’re on and has no real procedural impact.

      Topher is listed as a Democrat on his campaign’s facebook page, but I had to dig a bit to find that. I’m wondering if he’s deliberately softpedalling his partisan affiliation for strategic reasons, or if he’s just assuming that everyone will figure out he’s a Democrat from his policy positions.

  27. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/620/to-be-real?act=1

    “The other week, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile… one powerful enough, news reports said, to reach Alaska with a nuclear warhead. People were shocked. But maybe that was because we were not being real with ourselves about what was going on in North Korea. What was going on? How did we get here? Producer David Kestenbaum has the story. The podcast David talks about in this story is called Arms Control Wonk. (17 1/2 minutes)

    Transcript Page down to act one.

    David Kestenbaum
    When I was at NPR, one of the things I helped cover was nuclear weapons policy around the world. And when it came to North Korea, I’ve talked to people, various experts, and they would say something like, we have a decade. It’s going to take them a while to get there.

    Ira Glass
    And then how long ago was that?

    David Kestenbaum
    About a decade ago.

    Ira Glass
    So right on time.

    David Kestenbaum
    We’re exactly on schedule.

    Ira Glass
    Right. We said that 10 years ago it would take 10 years. Here we are.

    David Kestenbaum
    Yeah.

    Ira Glass
    Yeah.

    David Kestenbaum
    And I just thought, how did we let this happen? How did we get here?

    • John Schilling says:

      Annoyingly, Arms Control Wonk doesn’t have a transcript. But Jeffrey Lewis is one of the people to listen to in this area, and if you don’t have half an hour for the podcast, finding people like Kestenbaum who will talk to him and write up the conversation is a good way to go. And I’ll basically endorse everything in this one.

      Well, OK, if you listen to the ACW podcast Jeffrey says the Hwasong-14 is 1.9 meters in diameter; I keep getting 1.7 to 1.75 meters. But he’s right about everything else, particularly the stuff he credits to me.

    • tscharf says:

      Fortunately for everyone, the UN has recently outlawed nuclear weapons, ha ha.

    • David Kestenbaum is not related to me, as far as I know.

  28. Mark says:

    What is the best online resource for philosophical question asking?

    I was taking a look at philosophy stack exchange, but many of the questions seem to go unanswered – doesn’t seem to be quite up to the stack overflow/math.stackexchange level.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Philosophy is hard to ask, since you almost always need to revise the question over and over again. This means the platform needs to be interactive (more so than foo-overflow, which prioritizes top-level questions) and people need to be invested in sticking with it until you are convinced. In other words, you should ask here.

    • Urstoff says:

      The PhilPapers forums seemed to be decent, but they’ve been closed since March for “updating”.

  29. baconbacon says:

    Via Marginal Revolution

    Universal Basic income analysis

    Using hitherto unanalyzed data we find an 11.3 percentage point reduction in labor market participation

    • sohois says:

      An ungated version was posted in their comments:
      http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~dcalnits/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Calnitsky_Latner_Social_Problems_BI_in_a_small_town.pdf

      In addition, according to the wiki page on the project, the program functioned much more like a Negative Income Tax, with benefits reduced by a set amount for every dollar earned from work.

      The families in the treatment groups received an income guarantee or minimum cash benefit according to family size that was reduced by a specific amount (35, 50 or 75 cents) for every dollar they earned by working.[1][2]

      I believe that an oft cited benefit of other UBI forms is that there is no ‘penalty’ for working, and as such even low paid and part time work is still benefical. Under the scheme presented, it seems that there is no reason to work such jobs as you would end up on net with little extra – trading away an hour of free time for only half an hour of pay, or similar.

    • Corey says:

      Leaving aside whether mass technology-driven unemployment is possible or evitable, many UBI supporters believe it to be inevitable, and in that case reducing labor market participation is a feature, not a bug.

    • dodrian says:

      Ok, here’s my attempt to summarize the paper linked by sohois above.

      The Manitoba was different from other basic income experiments in that whereas other studies have used randomized participants with controls, this one offered the income to the entire town of Dauphin (it was take up by about 20% of residents, if I’m understanding the data correctly), along with randomly selected participants from the surrounding county.

      This paper in particular attempted to determine the ‘community context’ effects of UBI – does being part of a community receiving UBI decrease workforce participation rate even more than just the individual reasons why people would drop out of work given a guaranteed income?

      The paper found a 11% reduction in the workforce participation rate, which they compared to the difference of workforce participation in a country like the US or Canada to that of Belgium. They found that 30% of that drop was due to the ‘community context’ effects, which was lower than predicted by some critics of UBI.

      Most of the drop in workforce participation was attributed to single-headed households. Reasons often cited for reducing hours included to care for relatives/children and to undertake education/training.

      The paper also mentioned that the study was curtailed somewhat do to running out of funds earlier than anticipated, partly due to inflation.

      • Incurian says:

        The paper also mentioned that the study was curtailed somewhat do to running out of funds earlier than anticipated, partly due to inflation.

        An omen?

  30. James Miller says:

    A great way to improve social skills is to collect signatures to qualify for a ballot. (I’m unsure if you need signatures to run in the California Senate Dem primary.) You have to go up to lots of strangers and ask them to sign something, and often these strangers will ask you questions, but more often they just reject you which is great if you want to overcome fear of social rejection.

  31. skef says:

    I encountered my first “kitchen tip” line on a restaurant bill yesterday. I admit I had an immediate negative reaction bordering on disgust, but thinking about it a bit at least dulled those feelings. It does seem like something I would have a hard time explaining to someone from a non-tipping culture without feeling really embarrassed.

    Any thoughts on this? To be clear, the idea is that what would be the “tip” line on the bill becomes “server tip”, and any amount added to the “kitchen tip” goes to kitchen staff. It is a different intervention in the ongoing battles, including court cases, over the distribution of tips within restaurants.

    (I may add some underdeveloped socio-economic thoughts about this later.)

    • random832 says:

      I think what I would think of such a thing depends heavily on whether this is in a state where servers are paid less than minimum wage (and kitchen staff are not). AIUI there are also arrangements where the kitchen staff is given a certain percentage of the bill (out of the server’s pocket if there is no tip) rather than a portion of the “actual” tip, and those seem more unjust than simply getting a percentage of the tip.

      • skef says:

        Many restaurants have arrangements where a certain percentage of the tip goes to the kitchen staff. But when those are involuntary (which may not be the same thing as “directed by management”, but that tends to be what leads to court cases), it raises the question of who the tip legally belongs to to start with. Courts have been leaning towards the interpretation that it belongs to the server, and therefore mandatory tip redistribution schemes are illegal.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      So what do you do when prompted for this? Do you split the ~18% that would go to the server? Do you give an additional fraction on top of that?

      • skef says:

        One of the weird things about the phenomenon (I read a few articles afterward) is that owners/managers know this is a touchy subject, so there’s no strong guideline. The quoted advice in this article is “We explained, come up with your tip, and take a dollar or two out for the cook, so the math stays simple.”

        Basically, there’s a social convention that results in customer-facing staff making more money than they would otherwise. Owners would really, really rather that some of that money go instead to kitchen staff, but it isn’t their money to give. So this is an attempt to work around that limitation.

    • lvlln says:

      My initial reaction, like yours, is disgust, and thinking more about it doesn’t dull (or sharpen) that at all for me. Free from context, the simple option of giving more $$$ to kitchen staff isn’t particularly offensive. But I have the intuition that if such a “kitchen tip” becomes more common, it will be used as an excuse by employers to pay the kitchen staff less than they otherwise would, with tips making up the difference. Which would be bad for a few reasons, including the fact that tipping is inconsistent and unpredictable for the employees, and the fact that if “kitchen tipping” becomes encoded as a social norm like “server tipping” has, customers will receive even less accurate information about food prices in restaurants than they already do, because they’ll always be coerced into paying the “kitchen tip” by social forces.

      And adding on yet another area in which tipping is expected serves to strengthen the norm of tipping, which is a system I find very harmful and unjust. In addition to the above problems of income unpredictability and inaccurate price information, there’s the fact that it’s virtually impossible to enforce regulations on all the tipping decisions, which means payment amounts that are determined on the basis of things like the employee’s sex, race, gender-identity become virtually impossible to prevent. We need to strictly reduce the areas in which people are asked/expected to tip, not increase.

    • John Schilling says:

      Any thoughts on this?

      I’m not sure how we ended up with a social convention for tipping for direct service, but we do. And since we have a well-established convention for that, and pay scales for direct service staff that are built around that convention, I think this is a fairly effective way of providing fair compensation for good service and I do not support attempts to abolish tipping for direct service staff.

      But I also haven’t a clue how to establish such a convention from scratch for other restaurant staff, except that this isn’t it. And absent such a convention, it feels like cheap extortion. “Give us moar moneyz, or feel guilty!” How much do I have to pay to not feel guilty? To not look bad in front of my friends? How much did I already pay you as part of the bill? Without knowing, I’m tempted to go full Steve Buscemi on this one.

    • Brad says:

      If I’m paying all of your staff (front and back of house), then what exactly are you selling me? Renting me a table for an hour and buying some raw ingredients?

      • Randy M says:

        Why, cultivating relationships with local growers and maintaining a culture of culinary innovation, of course. Not to mention all the $10 adjectives decorating the menu.

      • onyomi says:

        I agree: the reason you tip the servers and not the kitchen staff is that there is a sense in which the customer hires the server as an intermediary between himself and the restaurant. Which is why you don’t tip when buying food you pick up at the counter. You’re paying the server for table service. The price of the food preparation should be included in the price of the food, especially if it’s going to be included automatically (so you can’t just pay less if the food turns out not to taste good, as you can tip less if the service is bad).

        By the way: was this in the US?

        • engleberg says:

          I always hide some bills under a plate so whoever cleans the table can hide the money before the bosses see. A boss who controls the tips is a bad boss. Bad bosses like petty officiousness. A line item for tips is petty officiousness.

          • baconbacon says:

            Good service in a restaurant depends on a chain of 3-5 employees all doing their job well. The obvious one for the customer is the server and hostess, but what the customer doesn’t see is the busboy/dishwasher/cook/manager all being potentially major kinks in the chain (even just the side work done by servers is a bottle neck some nights). Managers often struggle to find a good balance here as a particularly friendly/sexually permissive server, or one that deals drugs on the side or whatever can get their meals out a little quicker, get their requests a bit faster to the detriment of the whole restaurant if the manager isn’t on top of things.

          • engleberg says:

            So a server who is personally friendly, sexually permissive, gives me drugs, and gets my meal fast doesn’t personally deserve a tip? Because I worry so much about the poor boss just trying to stay on top of things and steal her tips.

          • Charles F says:

            I thought the implication was that they were selling drugs to the kitchen staff and getting their tables’ orders prioritized, slowing down all the others.

            Do people normally tip their dealers? Is that a standard practice? Or would you be worried that if you were stingy when you tipped them as a server, they’d be stingy when they cut your drugs? I think I’d rather maintain a single professional relationship with my dealer rather than trying to interact with them in two different capacities, but probably others are a lot more socially flexible and could handle the situation.

          • engleberg says:

            If she’s giving drugs to the cooks so I get my order faster, I’d tip her. I mean if the noble boss of this odd eatery doesn’t steal her tips for huh? A good balance?
            I tip so I won’t be a dick. I hide the bills because a lot of bosses are.

        • skef says:

          By the way: was this in the US?

          Yes, Portland OR. The articles I turned up suggest it started in L.A. and Seattle.

  32. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Some current reading: The long version of Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. It’s been too long since I’ve read the short version to be sure, but this one seems to be half again as long, and much richer. On the other hand, I’m a more careful reader.

    Anyway, it’s about the human race being menaced by mind-controlling slugs. The future tech is pretty carefully worked out (including small portable phones and what I think is satellite-based locating (possibly radio based)– on the other hand, their reconstructive surgery is much better than ours). Heinlein is better at character than he usually gets credit for, as shown by the main character gradually gets his feet under himself. The book is also notable for the portrayal of a happy marriage.

    There’s a fine moment of horror at the beginning, when clear thinking is essential to keep normal social behavior from leading to disaster. The horror is that getting it wrong would have been so easy.

    Also, I’m about halfway through Charles Stross’ The Delirium Brief. Very intense horror.

    This is from the Laundry series– the premise is that there are things which are very dangerous to know, and there’s a British ministry which recruits and controls people who come close to learning the wrong stuff in math and computer science.

    What’s worse, the more computation and people there are on earth, the tastier we look.

    It’s very Heinleinian in it’s fascination with how things work, and un-Heinleinian because Stross doesn’t believe that healthy adults should be able to kill people (under legitimate circumstances) without caring. (Heinlein may not be completely consistent about this, but it’s definitely an idea that shows up.)

    • Nornagest says:

      I had been following the Laundry series for a long time, but I slowly lost interest once it started delving into subjects like vampires and elves and superheroes. Not because I have anything against any of those — I have vampires and elves in my library, and I’ve made it through all million-ish words of Worm and an embarrassing volume of fanfic — but because I’m pretty sure Stross does, and that contempt shines through in his writing. Buck the literary conventions if you like, I’m all for that, but it’s not very fun to read a story where about half the worldbuilding is devoted to slowly and painfully working out why the literary conventions are stupid.

      Though it was kinda cute how the Manic Pixie Dream Girl was a literal manic pixie.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        My feeling is that Stross elves aren’t much like anyone else’s elves. He might think they’re a satire, but I’m happier to think of them as an independent creation.

        I’m very dubious about the evolutionary claim– as I recall, those elves developed language later in their history than humans, so they use geases to structure their societies. Does this even make sense?

        Oddly, that contempt you’re complaining about is what drove me out of the Stross’ Merchant Princes series. I just can’t believe in a medievalish society that doesn’t have anything good about it.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Seconding your opinion on elves. Stross really likes writing characters who are ambiguously human (like the sentient sexdoll protagonist of Saturn’s Children)[*]. His elves have more to do with this than with satire.

          Meanwhile the PHANGs are more of a HPMOR style “how would this really work” thought experiment.

          [*] I love that he tries this, but I don’t think he’s ever been fully successful. He chickened out and wrote the primary elf-character mentally ill, in a way that makes her more human-like. Freya is a brilliant idea but I wish he’d sat on it for a year and rethought parts of her (in particular, her traumatic “education” doesn’t really make sense)

          • Nornagest says:

            Meanwhile the PHANGs are more of a HPMOR style “how would this really work” thought experiment.

            I have similar issues with HPMOR — it’s at its best when it’s seriously trying to build a little bit of consistency around the rather absurd Harry Potter universe, and it’s at its worst when it gives that up in favor of pointing and laughing.

            The technical distinction between the two is not always clear, but one takes me out of the world and one doesn’t.

      • John Schilling says:

        Not because I have anything against any of those — but because I’m pretty sure Stross does, and that contempt shines through in his writing.

        Interesting. I got that feeling from Jennifer Morgue, where he felt obligated to do an Ian Fleming pastiche since he’d been doing all the other classic spy-novel writers but couldn’t dredge up any respect for the source material. I wish he hadn’t bothered.

        With both vampires and elves, I think he was trying to tell the story straight – postulating that they exist in this universe, how do they work and how does the Laundry deal with them?

        And now you’ve got me wondering whether the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” thing was deliberate. I hadn’t caught that the first time through.

      • I believe that in blog posts / comments on Antipope that Stross has explicitly stated the MPDG gag was intentional. She is certainly /named/ as such explicitly in the latest book.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      I’ve been a little conflicted about the Laundry series, since The Annihilation Score was unbelievably, offensively bad — essentially a vicious, all-out attack on his own readers — and then The Nightmare Stacks, which was a completely non-Bob-and-Mo book that had a new and very likable hero, was quite good. Without spoilers, which is The Delirium Brief? It’s a Bob book, so I’m concerned, and the end of TNS introduced some cartoonishly incompetent obviously-Tory government ministers so I’m worried about political digs. On the other hand, if it’s a focus on horror, that’s the best part of the series.

      Stross is capable of writing good books, but he often directs his abilities in the direction of petty spite, which is why every new release from him is nervewracking.

      • agahnim says:

        I likewise disliked The Annihilation Score. I’m reading these books because I want to read about people being awesome, and Mo just totally fails at being awesome.

        I enjoyed The Delirium Brief. I have liked all the Bob books. Certain bits of this one were stupid but there was quite a bit of horror.

        The story featured cartoonishly incompetent politicians, and also some cartoonishly evil public figures. I don’t follow British politics that closely, so it was difficult for me to judge which of them mapped to which politicians, but I think it’s likely that many political digs were made and went straight over my head.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I didn’t hate The Annihilation Score that much, but I was bewildered by how angry Mo was at Bob. On the other hand, she was pretty ground down. I was mostly amazed at how invested I was in their marriage.

        I didn’t like Alex. On the other hand, I mostly enjoyed the invasion.

        I’d say The Delirium Brief is basically horror. I’m about a hundred pages from the end, and some bits are getting kind of repetitious (Fpuvyyre’f lhpxl cnenfvgr), but I’m expecting all hell to break loose in satisfying fashion.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve finished reading The Delirium Brief.

          I’d say it was pretty good, overall, though the big fight at the end wasn’t ideally clear, but it was still suspenseful and had a number of fine moments. Rereading the series is on the agenda at some point, perhaps when it’s finished.

          The big political issue that I saw Stross putting front and center is politicians who are willing to sell off chunks of government without any care about how well things are run.

          Mo was awesome, but a little irritatingly Social Justice-y.

          I don’t think it’s fair to say Stross was opposed to England being subject to a Christian takeover. He was very clear that Schiller’s church was *not* Christian, it was monsters with some Christian trappings. (Pun not intended.)

          The parasites owe a far amount to Heinlein’s puppet masters, though at least the puppet masters stayed on the *outside* of people’s bodies.

          There’s a substitution which has a bit of an echo of Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild, but for all I know, the device may have been used elsewhere.

      • This is my biggest problem with Stross as well–I know authors put themselves in books, but Stross is more blatant than most about putting his politics in his work, and what’s worse, his fetishes (I’m fine with icky-to-me sex, especially if the point is that it’s icky, but his biggest fetishes are, well, political. :P)

        I remarked to a friend, about 100 pages into Delirium Brief, that as far as the writing was concerned, Stross seemed more upset about England being taken over by Christians than by the Sleeper in the Pyramid.

      • John Schilling says:

        Annihilation Score is another one I disliked in part because I didn’t think Stross respected the source material. And I’m with him on this one. One of my geek heresies is, I think comic-book superheroes are a very silly and childish idea and no story truly benefits from their presence. But Stross’s formula for the “Laundry” series works far better when he is writing a homage to something he admires or at least an investigation of something that intrigues him.

        Also, Mo. Like Nancy, I’ve been surprisingly invested in that marriage. Annihilation Score made me want to see Bob ditch Mo and find himself a proper partner.

        • Good god, yes. Word of God on the blog is very clear that “Readers are wrong, Bob isn’t great, he keeps doing horrid things, you should like Mo!” (And I did like Mo, in books 1-4. Quite a lot.)

          The Annihilation Score–which he openly describes as making it clear that Bob is awful and Mo is great–makes her seem like one of the worst people in the series. Not to mention that Bob’s betrayal is…not telling her enough about Mhari, whereas she openly hooks up with a coworker, and we’re supposed to see it as noble.

          (This is why I complain about his fetishes, which contain a certain part of “men are trash, women are perfect beings”, getting into the text.)

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I don’t know about the fetishes bit, but Andrew is right about Stross’ position on Mo, Bob, and The Annihilation Score.

      • Nornagest says:

        The Nightmare Stacks […] had a new and very likable hero

        I might have liked Alex less than Mo as a protagonist, although it’s a close run.

        • engleberg says:

          Stross despised Alex, and it broke the book. As Marion Zimmer Bradley said, the hero can’t be a wimp. He can be evil, but stories are about someone doing something, and if there’s no real strong somebody, and no strong actions taken by the somebody, and the setting just sits there from previous books- not much left. Previous books were good.
          Stross likes Bob, and the left politics balance the (very good) Boy’s Own Paper arguments between the hero and the brave SAS officer about who has the honor of staying to die fighting the Nazi demons. Stross likes Mo, and he wrote a good book where she does stuff and meets an interesting guy the moment she falls out with her husband. Stross hates Alex, and the book just sits there. The new book with Bob looks good.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t mind that he’s a wimp. With respect to MZB, good books have been written where the hero’s a wimp (including a lot of Lovecraft stories — it was kind of a Lovecraft trademark, really), and you could even get some good mileage out of the contrast between his wimpy personality and the brutally potent supernatural powers he’s gotten his hands on. It might not have been the best choice for Nightmare Stacks’ plot, which was about half a step away from milSF, but that’s more a question of theme than likeability.

            But I couldn’t stand the self-pity. Couldn’t stand Mo’s self-pity either, but I really couldn’t stand the narration leaning over my shoulder every few pages to tell me how much of a loser Alex was, and Mo at least didn’t have that.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I read the deprecation of Alex as self deprecation mostly (it was never clear to me in this book when we’re in Alex’s head.). Because it’s so obviously wrong – First of Liars is the one with a correct understanding of Alex (as is usual for the MPDG trope.)

          • Nornagest says:

            A lot of it didn’t read as self-deprecation for me, because a lot of it wasn’t stuff that Alex would be thinking about in that way. It’s totally reasonable for an awkward, sheltered young nerd to have a low opinion of himself — and Alex does, and we see some of that. But a lot more of the narration reads more like the low opinion an older, less awkward, and more politically involved nerd — not to put too fine a point on it, but one a lot like Charles Stross — would have of him.

            Contrast, say, Randy Waterhouse in Cryptonomicon, whose narration’s just as frequently critical, but by his own standards and for reasons that make sense for where he is in life.

          • John Schilling says:

            Alex is a nerd who is in over his head and knows it, which is not the same thing as being a wimp. It is particularly not the same thing as being a wimp when the nerd in question doesn’t break under pressure and does do the right thing at nigh-suicidal risk when, in spite of being in over his head, he can figure out what the right thing is.

  33. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://vimeo.com/75568821

    Some major points from 45 minutes:

    This is based on recent research (including a lot of video) about how violence happens. The big theory is that people don’t actually like being violent– it frightens them, and being frightened makes people less competent at everything, including violence.

    The more frightened side tends to lose.

    Violence is so difficult that even Nazis (the original Nazis) couldn’t reliably make violence happen at demonstrations.
    So, in the real world, there’s a lot of bluster and a lot of potential violence which ends with both sides making threats and then bailing out.

    The important thing is not amplify fear/tension.

    Randall Cranston has also written a book called Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory— it goes into a lot more detail.

    • John Schilling says:

      The other important thing is, practice makes perfect. If your adversaries are practiced in the art of violence and your friends aren’t, they are going to win even if you brought twice as many friends and better armed as well.

      So figure out what you are going to do about that before you go to a place where violence might happen.

    • DeWitt says:

      Killology has been studied for a while, no? The methodology often seems flawed, but then the idea isn’t new – it’s much, much, much harder for people to actually kill each other than we’d actually first imagine.

    • Nornagest says:

      Can’t commit 45 minutes right now. Is this Dave Grossman or something related to him? I read his book, but there’s some problems with his methodology, I’ve heard.

      • bean says:

        He bases his work heavily on that of SLA Marshall, who has been accused of things that are just a tiny bit short of academic fraud. I suspect that Grossman overstates the reluctance to kill, but I think there’s definitely a core of truth that people don’t like to kill and will avoid it if they reasonably can.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Not Grossmanm, but related ideas in a more academic context.

        While practice certainly matters, as John said above, I am exceedingly skeptical of the idea that it is hard to get humans, tabula rasa, to kill other human beings.

        All the research I’ve seen is either:

        A) Conflating “humans are innately resistant to killing other humans and afraid of violence” to “post-Industrial humans socialized in relatively peaceful, affluent, low-violence cultures are resistant to killing other humans and afraid of violence”.

        B) based on fraudulent data (SLA Marshall)

        or C) Both.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @bean @Trofim_Lysenko

        About Marshall – it seems like the common explanation people adopting Marshall’s stats gave (basically, “people don’t like to kill other people, more than they are afraid to die often, so you have to train them to kill other people”) is kind of backwards. If killing other people requires exposing yourself to death, of course most people will err towards taking cover, firing blind, etc.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I think a lot of people would be surprised just how much combat training (and ironically enough medical training) is not about the work itself so much as getting the student to be comfortable with imminent mortality.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          And landscaping. It’s important to understand What Makes The Grass Grow.

          Seriously, though, I suspect that to some extent we’ve had to develop the specialized training in order to compensate for a certain de-sensitization that used to come from simply being in a society where violence was more common, people died earlier and more often and around family or ‘civilians’ rather than medical professionals in a private health care environment, and so on.

          Unfortunately, I can’t really falsify that hypothesis because the only numbers I have for things like PTSD prevalence are estimates that go back to WW2, and I’m not sure I trust the WW2 statistics. In every “war” since WW2 it seems to be around 18% of combat vets (1 in 6) developing full-blown PTSD with rather more displaying other less severe psychological reactions, but the WW2 estimate is only 5% which seems really low, and I suspect is confounded by the stoicism of self-reporters (later numbers are from a mix of VA statistics, non-VA medical studies, and surveys).

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        @dndnrsn

        Yep, pretty much, on top of the issue of socialization and life-long training I mentioned above (plenty of examples of average people in other times, places, and cultures having much fewer scruples). BTW, replied to you back on that old thread re: multiculturalism, it’s getting really old though so unsure if you want to continue it in a top level comment on this OT.

  34. noahmotion says:

    I commented about Gelman’s Garden of Forking Paths on the SSC subreddit post for the “Can we link perception and cognition” SSC post, and I asked how Scott reconciles being a (normative and descriptive) Bayesian with his use of frequentist statistical tests, but it didn’t generate much discussion there.

    The question isn’t specific to Scott, since I’ve seen the same basic issue in journal articles. For example, here is an article that makes strong claims about Bayesian inference being statistically optimal (and about perception being Bayesian in nature), only to then run frequentist, which is to say non-Bayesian, which is to say sub-optimal statistical tests in order to make claims about their data and how it relates to their theoretical interests.

    As I mention in one of my reddit comments, it’s also an issue for me insofar as I mostly use Bayesian statistical software for my own research, only to turn around and teach null hypothesis significance testing to students.

    So, maybe all of this will generate some interesting discussion here? Are there any normative and/or descriptive Bayesians who use non-Bayesian statistical analyses? If so, how do you justify doing so? Is doing so inconsistent?

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Most time of I talk about statistics here are me being confused about studying it. But this snippet I can answer:

      As I mention in one of my reddit comments, it’s also an issue for me insofar as I mostly use Bayesian statistical software for my own research, only to turn around and teach null hypothesis significance testing to students.

      This sounds a possibly slightly separate issue, one of institutional inertia. The stats dept at my institution has several fairly active Bayesian groups, but their presence at the curriculum level manifests as modules with names along the lines of “Bayesian Inference I, II” and so on. The first undergraduate statistics module the freshmen take is still about NHST.

      • albatross11 says:

        It seems to me (as someone who uses a lot of statistics and probability theory, without as much formal background in it as he’d like) that there are at least three good reasons for using the frequentist methods:

        a. In some fields or publications, people expect to see them used. (This isn’t necessarily unreasonable, either–if all the previous results in this area used a certain set of statistical tests, it might be worthwhile to have the same tests applied to the next result.)

        b. In some cases, they’re a really good fit for the problem you’re trying to solve, and they’re already there in the form of existing tools that can be picked up off the shelf and applied.

        c. For a class, there may be people expecting any basic stat class to cover significance testing and standard tests (chi-square tests of independence, T-tests, etc).

        • noahmotion says:

          I think the phrase “institutional inertia” is very apt here, and these are three good points. My own take on it is essentially identical to your b and a combination of your a and c.

          Part of the reason that I am not a Bayesian ideologue is that I think that frequentist tests are sometimes (perhaps rarely) the right tool to use. I also think it’s worth thinking about the frequentist properties of Bayesian models.

          In addition to people expecting certain tools to be used and/or certain topics to be covered in a class, I think it’s important for students to be able to read published literature and understand what is reported. Even if it were Statistically Correct to completely stop using frequentist tests immediately, and even if we somehow actually did so, people would still need to understand frequentist tests in order to access the information in nearly everything that came before The Great Embayesianing.

  35. Rachael says:

    That time I did notice the repeated “my” – possibly because it was either side of a hyperlink boundary.

    (I was one of several people in the previous thread who said we notice typos in general but miss the repeated word errors.)

  36. Lasagna says:

    A topic definitely not smart enough for the SSC set, but I still think this is a good place for me to ask: I need book recommendations. Specifically I’m looking for a new series to read – what series of books do you find yourselves returning to, over and over?

    As I’ve gotten older, my available reading time has drastically dropped. It’s for all the usual reasons: work got more hour intensive, my wife and I started a family, we bought a house that I like to work on, video games have gotten crazy awesome and TV much improved; all good things, I’m not complaining. But I had a startling realization the other day: I’ve gone from five or six hours of reading a day in my college/post-college years to maybe – maybe – a half-hour total while commuting (I intend to increase that). Worse, I’m not maximizing even that time. Probably three out of every four books I’ve read in the last ten (!!) years were books I’d read before. And a lot of my “new” books aren’t exactly challenging reads (yeah, there’s no bright line, but there IS a line, and a Song of Ice and Fire book clearly falls on one side of it). And the rest are almost always me catching up on Don Delillo or Thomas Pynchon or Cormac McCarthy or something.

    Anyway. I want something new, and I’m probably leaning towards something easy and fun. I’m finishing up Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne – which is really good – and then I’d like to start some kind of interesting series, I think. I almost picked up Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series again, which is what inspired all of this – I’ve read that whole damn series five or six times, and that’s about a zillion pages. Enough.

    So does anyone have a good series to recommend? Just to head off some suggestions: I’ve read the Song of Ice and Fire series, the Dark Tower series, Dune, Harry Potter, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings, the Foundation novels (yeah, even the really crappy ones). Everything I’ve listed is sci-fi or fantasy, but that is definitely not a requirement at all. Might be nice to get away from it, honestly. It also feels embarrassing written out like that, but fuck it, it’s the internet, and I doubt I’m the only one here who has read all of these.

    So: what series do you return to over and over? Maybe something obscure, that you’d like to recommend?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Not a series, but anything by Tim Powers, starting with The Anubis Gates.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I respect The Anubis Gates, but the Tim Powers I reread the most is The Drawing of the Dark.

        • pharmst says:

          “Declare” was fantastic If you happen to like your Tim Powers novels dark, compromised and lovecraftian.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Yes, all of his stuff is good. My only complaint is that I wish I had a sort of director’s commentary version to go along with each book, because I bet I would enjoy them a lot more if I knew the relevant historical events he’s writing around.

        • The Drawing of the Dark irritated me because of the mistakes in the historical background. He has a character’s appearance compared to an orangutan at a date when it is not clear any European had ever seen one. And I think he had prices badly off as well.

    • dndnrsn says:

      You didn’t list Terry Pratchett, so I’m going to recommend Terry Pratchett. His earliest books are mostly quite rough (still worth reading) and his last few really slipped in quality (he had Alzheimer’s, sadly, and his work lost a great deal of subtlety, among other issues) but his stuff from the early 90s to early/mid 2000s is mostly great.

      If you want Real Literatchoor, Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy is so good that respectable people didn’t even notice it was historical fiction and gave it a couple Booker Prize nominations (one of which the last book in the trilogy won). Absolutely fantastic. The titular first book in the series is set largely in a mental hospital for officers during WWI.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        leaning towards something easy and fun
        Seconded Pratchett: All but the last of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. You can stick to local groupings like so, or read all (in order of publication, this world develops). I found the first 2 (color of magic, light fantastic) not quite as good as the following, it seem TP had to find his stride.

        • I found the first bad enough so that I never finished it, and only returned to Pratchett when my son persuaded me to read one of the Night Watch series.

          • Rob K says:

            It’s unfortunate that the Rincewind books are canonically first in the series. Some of them are ok, but in general they’re much higher on forced goofiness than the rest.

            The Vimes books are a remarkable combination of comedy and emotionally compelling stories, and the series of “real world institutions/concepts spring up in Discworld” stories (I include Von Lipwig in this grouping) are fantastic satire.

    • SamChevre says:

      Lois McMaster Bujold, the Sharing Knife series and the Chalion series (the Vorkosigan saga hasn’t captured me the same way.) I’ve read each a half-dozen times in the last couple years.

      For non-sff, Kipling’s Puck books (Puck of Pooks Hill, Rewards and Fairies), available online free here.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        For an alternate view, I love the Vorkosigan saga (except for the last three books or so), was bored unspeakably by Sharing Knife, and like the first two Chalion books a lot.

        • johan_larson says:

          Has fandom reached any sort of agreement on which novels in the Vorkosigan saga are the best ones?

          • John Schilling says:

            The very best ones come late enough in the series that you can’t read them out of sequence. For intro-level Vorkosigan:

            “Cetaganda” is a good standalone work set early in the series but written later. Would probably be my recommendation if you just want to get a taste, and don’t mind being mildly spoiled when you go back to the earlier works.

            “Cordelia’s Honor”, an omnibus edition of two prior novels, is the start point of the series in internal chronology and a strong story overall – but the first half suffers from first-novel syndrome. And is basically a love story against a military SF background, FWIW

            “Warrior’s Apprentice” is the first story featuring the eventual protagonist of the series, a bit stronger writing than the first Cordelia tale and an SF coming-of-age story rather than an SF love story. About the only thing it spoils about the earlier work is that, gasp, the two protagonists in what is obviously a love story do end up making a baby together.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I accidentally started with “Mirror Dance”, not realizing it was a middle book of a series. It actually works pretty well: Bujold had grown a fair amount as an author by the time she wrote MD, so it’s better written than WA or the first half of CH (Cetaganda has the same virtue)*. MD is further along the internal timeline than Cetaganda and its plot is less standalone (quite a few spoilers for earlier books, especially Warrior’s Apprentice and Brothers In Arms), but most of MD is told from a different perspective from the rest of the series, from the point of view of a character who first appeared in the previous book and who is new to a lot of the carry-over points from previous books.

            If you like reading things in order and are willing to take on faith that the writing improves, start with CH or WA. Otherwise, start with Cetaganda if you want to minimize spoilers for the earlier books, or with Mirror Dance if you want to jump right in to the main story and don’t mind spoilers.

            * CH is worth reading and re-reading, IMO, but I agree with John about its weaknesses. And I love WA, but there are definite inexperienced-writer flaws with the story, although less so than the first half of CH.

        • SamChevre says:

          When you say “the first two”–do you mean the first two in publication order (The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls) or the first two in internal chronology (The Hallowed Hunt and The Curse of Chalion)?

    • johan_larson says:

      Read “Enigma” by Robert Harris. It’s set during WWII at Britain’s Bletchley Park cryptography centre. The Alan Turing-like protagonist tries to figure out why a woman has gone missing and in the process uncovers one of the nastier secrets of the war.

    • dodrian says:

      Ender’s Game, its sequels, and the Ender’s Shadow series are all excellent, but not obscure. I haven’t read much else in the Enderverse, but it’s getting pretty big now.

      Also not obscure, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, and the lesser known work by Adams but equally good (maybe better?) Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

      Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is enormous, and very good up until the last few books (don’t even bother to read Raising Steam).

      Slightly lesser well known authors: Stephen Baxter has written a number of good sci-fi books. I would recommend starting with either Flood and its sequel Ark (doomed planet), or Proxima and its sequel Ultima (space colonization). Baxter also did a collaboration with Pratchett, The Long Earth and three sequels. They’re good books, but sadly not as good as you’d hope from two outstanding authors.

      Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin is perhaps my second favorite book ever after Card’s Speaker for the Dead. It’s two “spinoffs” (har har) are good but not great. I have greatly enjoyed a number of his other books, though while Spin is widely well regarded his other books are hit and miss among readers.

      Hopefully getting into more unknowns here: I greatly enjoyed Boneshaker (Steampunk Seattle) by Cherie Priest, but haven’t read any of its sequels.

      Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman trilogy (the end is nigh!) is a real treat, Timothy Zahn’s Blackcollar Trilogy (ninjas in space) is easy to read and a lot of fun.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Scott Card’s books are uneven. Speaker for the Dead is probably the best. It makes the aliens seem convincingly alien. I know that some people avoid Scott Card because of his politics, though.

    • schazjmd says:

      I enthusiastically recommend the Jaran series by Kate Elliot. I find the different world-building between the space-going earthlings, their overlord aliens, and the protected planet with its nomadic culture fascinating. And as frustrating as parts of it are, I often reread the whole Wheel of Time series (Robert Jordan).

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series.

      Peter Grant, is a London policeman who’s in the very small department which deals with magical crimes. The rivers have demigod personifications.

      Moderate wiseass (Grant studied architecture and has opinions about buildings), body horror, pleasant voice.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Seconding this recommendation, and adding (in the vein of british Urban Fantasy) Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books starting with Fated. The writing isn’t quite as snappy as Aaronovich but it’s entertaining and the conceit of Verus’ powers and how they’re handled is interesting.

        In short, Verus is a diviner, who can use his powers in one of two ways, broadly speaking:

        1) He can “path walk”, following various hypothetical actions and choices further and further down a potential future.

        2) he can probability-surf (I forget what he calls it in the books), quickly flipping through as many possible and probable futures as possible in order to determine an optimum course of action. For example when presented with a combination lock, he’s got lots of futures where 10 seconds from now the lock is still closed, but far fewer futures where ten seconds from now the lock is open. He finds one of the lock-is-open futures, then backtracks, finds the combination, opens the lock.

        As you can imagine, other volitional agents being around makes this more difficult to use, and sufficiently chaotic events can cause it to break down completely.

        It makes for some interesting solutions to problems.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I’ve mentioned them before, but Tim Pratt’s Marla Mason books are rationalist-adjacent urban fantasy.

          The major premise is that cities are protected by sorcerers. All sorcerers have different powers and are insane.

          There’s plenty about alternate worlds, use of probability, the nature of consciousness….

          There’s wiseass (probably obligatory in urban fantasy) and learning better. There’s a reluctance to eliminate even very infuriating characters, and frequently to find a way to cooperate with them.

          The series is complete.

    • Charles F says:

      One that I’ve kept coming back to since I was little, and still always enjoy is the Enchanted Forest chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede (starting with Dealing with Dragons, not Talking to Dragons). It’s about princess Cimorene, who decides she’s bored of life at the palace and goes off on her own to find a dragon. Definitely aimed at a younger audience, but not so much that an adult can’t enjoy it, I think.

      The Iron Druid chronicles, by Kevin Hearne is an urban fantasy series about a 2000 year old druid, and his interactions with various myths and legends. Definitely not challenging, but I found them very engaging. The series follows a lot of the same patterns as the Dresden Files, but it stays a little bit more lighthearted, I think.

      The Bobiverse books are a sci-fi trilogy by Dennis E. Taylor. They’re fairly well put together, composed of a bunch of reasonably interesting subplots, and I thought they managed to be pretty funny. (I asked about them on the last open thread, one of the complaints was that they’re kind of flat and emotionless.)

      Other things include:
      Her Royal Spyness – mysteries involving an unemployed member of the British nobility.
      The Xanth books, or the first ten at least – lots of puns.
      A Practical Guide to Evil – web serial that makes tropes a well-known part of reality, third book is in progress

      • pharmst says:

        The Xanth books, or the first ten at least – lots of puns.

        Fair warning: These get more and more sex obsessed in fucked up ways as they go on & the early ones are pretty bad to start with.

        • agahnim says:

          I remember the first one as being pretty good actually. I suspect that the author intended it as a standalone novel. The rest of the series was terrible.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        The first few Iron Druid chronicles were interesting, but they lost me when gur znva punenpgre fgnegf erthyneyl bssvat qrvgvrf.

        I would recommend the Dresden Files over the Iron Druid chronicles if you only pick one urban fantasy series.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        Seconded Enchanted Forest Chronicles, on pretty much all counts. I read it at 26, enjoyed it enough to finish the series, but kinda wished I had had it back when I was 8 and was going through the expanded Wizard of Oz stuff, as it kinda seems like the same target audience.

        I’m not sure I’d recommend Xanth: as others have said, the characters are just weird in oddly sexual ways, and yet at the same time the writing and plots seem aimed at a younger audience. The puns don’t really feel clever, just thrown in because every filler character has to be a bad joke for some reason

    • pharmst says:

      Others have suggested Pratchett: start with “Wyrd Sisters” or “Guards! Guards!”, which are the first books in what are effectively mini-series within the larger Pratchett-verse of books set on the Discworld. You don’t have to read them in any particular order, but following the arcs that these books begin adds a certain amount of depth. There are also a few standalones if you want to get a taste: “Small Gods” & “Pyramids” are both great. If you don’t like at least one of these then Pratchett is not for you.

      Slightly wider afield: there’s a reason Jane Austen is still read widely today. Very funny, if you like your humour dry & subtle.

      The Master & Commander series by Patrick O’Brian are fantastic reading: if you like ‘small bunch of people on a spaceship traversing the space between the stars & having adventures along the way whilst fighting enemies within and without’ SF then this is the historical fiction series for you. Plus there’s 20 volumes to plough through if you like the first. Note that O’Brian held Austen in high regard & it shows: he’ll quite happily spend 5-10 pages setting up a joke who’s punchline happens implicitly offstage in a throwaway line halfway through a chapter. The reader who pays attention will get an awful lot more out of these books than the one who skims them for plot. Highly recommended.

      The Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser is deeply un-PC, very funny, and surprisingly educational on colonialism in the C19th. The conceit is that the Flashman of Tom Brown’s schooldays grew up & joined the army to make his fortune. Being a complete coward, he does his best to run away from any possible peril, but somehow ends up with everyone else convinced that he has saved the day in pretty much every major British military campaign of the C19th. Working out which C19th novel he has accidentally inspired in the process (in the early books at least) is also half the fun. Recommended.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Guards! Guards! is probably the best place to start, yeah. The Guards books link into more of the standalone books and short series than any other.

      • Charles F says:

        The best starting place for Pratchett is Unseen Academicals. Going Postal/Making Money is an acceptable second best.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Going Postal and Making Money were two of his strongest books, but I thought Unseen Academicals was fairly weak – the beginning of the end, really.

      • Iain says:

        I second Pratchett, O’Brian, and the suggestion to start with Guards! Guards!, Small Gods, or Pyramids. This presumably means that I should read Flashman.

        Edit to add: I also second dndnrsn above — Unseen Academicals seemed a bit off to me.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Pyramids is still a bit early-Pratchett. Small Gods I would save for later, because there’s a few inside jokes, but it is one of his best. I didn’t really appreciate it until I was into my 20s though but it’s a beautiful novel about religious belief.

    • JulieK says:

      Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, starting with The Eyre Affair. Also, his Shades of Grey.

      • rlms says:

        Seconded (although I didn’t like Shades Of Grey much, but I did really like his Nursery Crime series).

    • Vermillion says:

      I noticed a distinct lack of historical naval fiction so I’m gonna go ahead and suggest The Aubrey-Maturin series from Patrick O’Brian. Set during the Napoleonic wars but they get pretty loose with the chronology around the halfway mark. A fantastic series that I’m in the middle of rereading right now.

      Edit: Welp that’s what I get for not refreshing before posting but yeah, I’ll second everything what Pharmst said.

      • Charles F says:

        This also reminds me to recommend the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik. It’s also set during the Napoleonic wars, but in an alternate history where they have an airforce based on dragons.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Another vote for Aubrey/Maturin. Less good but not bad in the same time period, but army, not navy, is the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwall.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I have read all of those series.

      If you’re looking for non-scifi/fantasy series, I enjoyed the Game, Set, Match trilogy by Len Deighton. First book is “Berlin Game.” They are 1980’s spy novels.

      If you’re looking for some scifi/fantasy, then my vote for “best contemporary author in these genres” is Daniel Abraham. The Long Price Quartet (fantasy) is a beautifully designed clockwork tragedy that starts with “A Shadow in Summer.” The Dagger & Coin series has a bunch of things going on, including, “I need to crush my enemies using my banking skills,” and “Why it’s not a good idea to be too sure of things,” and “Let’s not give ultimate power to socially awkward geeks, it doesn’t turn out well,” and some other stuff, and it’s awfully good. It begins with “The Dragon’s Path.” And you’re probably aware of his sci-fi series, the Expanse, co-written with Ty Franck, which is also good, though for my money not as good as either fantasy series.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      The Lady Trent dragon novels by Marie Brennan. I haven’t read the last novel yet. I gather it won’t have the thing I was hoping for– gung gur qentbaf jbhyq ghea bhg gb or fncvrag.

      They’re set in an alternate history Victorian era, and there are non-fantasy dragons. A lot of the species are big fast predators, and I can be in the mood for that.

      Lady Trent is an upper class woman who, through both luck and skill, maneuvers herself into a position where she can be a world-travelling naturalist even though most women aren’t even allowed to get educations.

      There are wildly different dragon species on various continents.

      Dragon bone is very light and strong, and disappears into the air soon after the dragon dies. This is the nearest thing to a fantastic element. Dragon bone fixative is discovered, so it’s important to find some way to keep dragons from being killed on a large scale for zeppelin frames.

      Part of the AH is that “Victorian England” is Jewish rather than Christian, and I would have liked to have seen this explored in more detail. I suspect that a Jewish branch of history would lead to less constraint for women than we see.

    • Witness says:

      So, a while back I read Moon Flights, a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Moon. Having already read most of her Paksworld books (fantasy, start with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter) and some of her sci-fi, Moon Flights was enough to convince me that I could safely enjoy basically anything she writes. The range of topics, tone, and character development she demonstrates is impressive, and it’s probably the only short fiction collection I’ve read where I liked every single story.

    • Salem says:

      Highly recommend Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Not a series as such, but there is also a book of short stories set in the same world, and the author is writing a sequel (but the original book took her 12 years, and she’s been working on the sequel for 13 without anything published, so I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath).

    • Randy M says:

      A topic definitely not smart enough for the SSC set, but I still think this is a good place for me to ask: I need book recommendations.

      Unsure how many layers of irony are present in this sentence.

    • The C.J. Cherryh series that starts with Fortress in the Eye of Time is pretty good, although I think it gets weaker at the end. I also like her Foreigner series and the series that starts with Pride of Chanur. My favorite of hers is Paladin, but that’s a standalone.

      The Bujold series that starts with Shards of Honor is also good. Her best may be Curse of Chalion, which has later work in the same setting but not exactly sequels.

      For things not f/sf, I would recommend Mary Renault’s historical novels set in ancient Greece and Obrien’s Aubrey/Maturin series (Napoleonic English navy). Harry Turtledove, writing as H. N. Turtletaub, has an interesting series set in the eastern Mediterranean in the generation after Alexander, starting with Over the Wine Dark Sea. Also Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout for mystery series.

      • JulieK says:

        Seconding Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. The plots tend to be improbably complex, but I re-read them for the characters and the witty dialogue.

    • Lasagna says:

      WOW – I can’t believe the response to my post! Thank you all so much.

      I’ve read a bunch of Terry Prachett, including most of the ones that were strongly recommended in this thread. Sorry, I should have mentioned that – it’s a monster series. I really, really liked it. I just ran out of steam around Eric. I’ll pick it up again sometime, though.

      Same with the Ender’s Game series. I’ve read the first one a dozen times, probably. I never made it past Speaker of the Dead, though. Also the Hitchhiker’s Series – Dodrian, I think you and I are very much on the same wavelength. 🙂

      I love that Charles F. recommended the Xanth books. My friends and I were crazy for those back in high school. In a fit of nostalgia – and as a result of a kind of obsessive personality, at least when it comes to stuff like this – I ordered the first, like FIVE books on Amazon a couple of years ago. They are way, way more fucked up and depraved than I remembered. I can’t believe I read them as a kid and somehow didn’t notice.

      For the record, here’s what I just ordered on Amazon, based on everybody’s advice:

      The Anubis Gates and Declare (you had me at “Lovecraftian”) – Tim Powers
      Enigma – Robert Harris
      Spin – Robert Charles Wilson
      Wheel of Time – Robert Jordon (a cheat; I own it, but never read it)
      Rivers of London – Aaronovich
      Master & Commander – Patrick O’Brian

      And I’ve written down all the others for future purchase.

      I honestly can’t thank everyone enough – this was very generous of you all to give me this great stuff. By my calculation, getting through every series listed here should take about the rest of my life. 🙂

      I’m not sure where I’ll start, but I’m thinking either “Declare” or “Master & Commander”.

      Edited to add: David Friedman posted while I was drafting my post. I’ve also ordered “Over the Wine Dark Sea”. That’s a great era to write about. Looks really interesting.

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I beg you to save yourself and stay away from “Wheel of Time”. The first couple of books are interesting, but it goes downhill quickly – and the tomes require so much investment to get through crap. There’s one ~900 page book in which nothing happens to advance the overall story arc, but simply to move characters around geographically so they’re positioned right for the next book.

        • Lasagna says:

          To be honest? I’ve started The Wheel of Time a few times. I liked what I read – which was never very much – but it just didn’t seem to warrant the time investment. That thing is a doorstop.

          I feel like I need to really give it a shot at some point, though, since so many people who like the same stuff I do swear by it.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          One of my friends found it so pleasant to read that he didn’t care whether the plot moved forward.

          • Interestingly, two weeks ago I got a weird itch and decided to reread the entire series (paging through a few of the more boring parts, like Perrin from books 8-10.)

            It is absolutely true that books 1-3 are the best written. (For my money, books 3-5 are the most interesting, because we’ve established more world to play in and have a bit more power to go around.) It’s not as good after that.

            It’s still eminently fun to read and really touching at points.

        • SamChevre says:

          I greatly enjoyed Wheel of Time, and the best description is from a long-ago blog comment (on Making Light), which I may be quoting slightly wrong.

          “The perfect last book for the Wheel of Time would be a half-page about the end of the world from the perspective of every character that has appeared in the books.”

        • Incurian says:

          There are some interesting parts, I recommend reading a detailed summary, but don’t actually read it unless you have trouble falling asleep.

        • Vorkon says:

          Speaking of the Wheel of Time, I’m a little bit surprised and disappointed that no one has recommended anything by Brandon Sanderson yet. (He’s the guy who finished the Wheel of Time after Jordan died, if you didn’t already know, and not only are the last three books in that series some of the best in the series, but his own stuff is even better.)

          His books really seem to be more or less exactly what you’re looking for; engrossing and just complicated enough, with deep worldbuilding and magic-system mechanics for you to learn, but written in such a light, conversational tone that it never feels like anything other than a light, easy-to-read page-turner. A lot has been said about how complicated he makes his magic systems, which intimidates some potential readers, but it’s never just complexity for complexity’s sake; he does an outstanding job of slowly teaching you the ins and outs of how the magic in his world works, so that when he uses those systems to do something cool later in the book, it always feels like it has been earned narratively. I like to compare it to good hard sci-fi, which uses a scientific concept and explores the implications of that concept to make something cool happen in the story, which flows naturally from that concept, except that Sanderson just makes up the underlying concept from scratch, rather than using an existing one. It’s never just magic technobabble, and leads to some really gripping action scenes.

          More importantly than anything, though, he can make a plot twist feel like it was narratively well-earned better than any other author I can think of. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said, “holy shit, I never saw that coming, but I TOTALLY should have,” to myself while reading his books. He’s just generally a very tight plotter. (Which, incidentally, served him well when he was trying to weave together that mess of strings that Robert Jordan left behind.)

          As far as which book of his, specifically, to start with, you could really start anywhere. Mistborn is probably his most popular series, so the first book in that series “Mistborn: the Final Empire” is as good a bet as any. A lot of his later stuff is technically better, but it’s still an outstanding fantasy heist novel, which plays around with themes involving what happens when the Rand Al’Thor-style prophesied hero of legend fails their quest, and shows enough understanding of what makes the “prophesied hero of legend” story compelling that it probably explains why Jordan’s widow picked him for the Wheel of Time, while still just being a fun, simple heist story at the core of it all. Sadly, the second book in the first trilogy, while it’s not BAD or anything, mostly just meanders around setting up the third one, but the payoff in that third one makes it more than worthwhile. And more recently, he’s moved the timeline forward to a more Victorian/western setting, (I’d call it “steampunk,” but the fantastic elements come mostly from the magic, rather than improbable steam-powered super-science) all of which has been amazing so far, and he eventually plans to keep the timeline moving forward until he gets to a cyberpunk and eventually space opera setting.

          I could go on for just as long about the rest of his other series’ and standalone novels, but I think you get the idea, and I’m mostly just gushing at this point. Suffice it to say, they’re all really good. Just off the top of my head, his own, more traditional, doorstopper epic fantasy series, the Stormlight Archive, seems to be coming along very well so far, and he is applying the things he learned finishing WoT nicely, his YA stuff is outstanding because of the light conversational tone mixed with tight plotting that I mentioned earlier (admittedly, some of the jokes in the Alcatraz series feel forced, but it’s still fun, and the Reckoners series and the Rithmatist are just outstanding), and Warbreaker has some of the most well-executed plot twists I’ve seen in any piece of fiction, ever. There’s more than that, though, and it’s all good. If you couldn’t tell, the guy is ridiculously prolific.

          Also, if you’re into piecing this sort of thing together, most of his non-YA series’ all fit into a sort of Marvel Universe-style extended multiverse, but I can’t think of any situations in which reading one of his other works would be necessary to appreciate a different one. I’m not sure if most authors could pull that sort of thing off, but as tightly as he plots, I think he can manage it.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        On Pratchett:

        I’d probably ignore the Rincewind sub-section of Discworld until you’ve read nearly everything else and are just desperate for more Pratchett.

        I too read Eric very early, and it led to me ignoring Discworld until college. It’s all just Rincewind running around and encountering things, which are usually just a platform for Pratchett to make jokes. Eventually the plot happens, pretty independently of anyone’s actions. A couple characters in them are kinda cool, but they never actually do anything of significance, popping in and out of the plot haphazardly.

        It’s like the “new world” problem a lot of first books of larger series have (for example, Consider Phlebas for the Culture), stretched out to seven or eight books.

        The one exception to this is probably Interesting Times, but that’s mainly because it follows another recurring character as much as it follows Rincewind.

        The Guards! Guards! arc is by far the best, and the Witches arc is consistently good as well, so I second starting there.

        • dodrian says:

          Erg! But Rincewind is the whole point of the Discworld series! He’s the anti-hero, the one that everything happens to, the useless ninny who turns out to be the centerpiece. In a satire series that upturns tropes, he is the ultimate trope upturned.

          And the best Discworld book of all is The Last Continent. My copy is literally falling apart from so much use.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Rincewind may be the best joke in the Discworld series, but I don’t think that makes him the best character.

            I think your preference may depend on whether you consider Discworld a delivery platform for jokes, or an entertaining fantasy world that also makes a lot of jokes.

            Sam Vimes and Rincewind are two very different ways Pratchett makes characters. I much prefer the Sam Vimes approach, particularly the later books: even in the early ones where the plot is just happening to him, it’s happening to him from consistent characters

          • dndnrsn says:

            Looking at the early Discworld books, the first two are very clearly heavily parodying standard swords-and-sorcery adventure books. Starting with the third, you can start to see Pratchett doing what became the cornerstone of the best books – “what if this was a real world?”

            The Rincewind books in general do the least of this, and while in my opinion they are worth reading, they are most peoples’ least favourite.

        • Incurian says:

          I found Consider Phlebas to be quite readable, though not the best. Definitely not the worst.

          I read Discworld chronologically, and it took a while to get to the good stuff, but if you have faith that it’s there I think it’s worth it because there are lots of little continuity nods you might miss otherwise.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I probably need to elaborate. I enjoyed Consider Phlebas, but I don’t think it was one of the better books, and definitely not what I wanted for the first introduction to the Culture.

            Early books in a series have a tendency to just take a “tour” around the world: the main character interacts with a bunch of different characters, none of which are particularly fleshed out. It’s not bad for getting an overview of the setting, but the plot has a tendency to take a dive in service of seeing more of the scenery. It tends to end up pretty dated because the author often ends up taking his setting in a different direction. A couple of characters from The Colour of Magic show up again, but generally in pretty inverse proportionality to how important they were in the plot of the book. I don’t remember any of the characters from Consider Phlebas being important.

          • Incurian says:

            Point well taken, but I don’t think it’s one of the worst books either, and I don’t think many characters in the series make a second appearance.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Fair point. And if you consider the broader concepts of Consider Phlebas (as opposed to specific characters), a lot of them (Idiran War, Special Circumstances, Minds, Subliming civilizations) come back in later books in basically the same form.

            I wish we had gotten a few more books during the Idiran War though. It was a really cool setting, and Consider Phlebas jumped around too rapidly to enjoy it as much as I’d like.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          As you discovered, there are people who like Rincewind, or at least Rincewind stories. I think I’ve see people say they like the character.

          One of Pratchett’s gifts was sympathy with a wide range of personality types, and he turned that into a great solution to the problem of writing a long series and keeping it interesting by setting up ensembles of very different characters.

      • pharmst says:

        Re: Declare. It kind of helps to know that the premise of this book is “what if the secret history of the Great Game and especially the Cambridge Five was really about fighting over control of Lovecraftian horrors from beyond space between Russia and the West? Some familiarity with the latter especially & the Cold War in general definitely deepens the impact of the book.

        Regardless, it’s a top class spy thriller mixed up with a Lovecraftian descent into madness: I loved it 🙂

    • tayfie says:

      I recommend The Kingkiller Chronicles highly for a good fantasy series. I’ve read the first two books multiple times in anticipation of the third and final, which still does not have a definite release date date.

      Patrick Rothfuss is a brilliant storyteller that wields words like few others to create a unique and engaging world with its own brand of sword and sorcery. Those that write these books off as teenage power fantasy are missing the point. Kvothe is a living legend telling his story in his own words. As he says, “You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way. Too much truth confuses the facts. Too much honesty makes you sound insincere.”

      • Lasagna says:

        I LOVED the Kingkiller Chronicles. I was actually going to make a post and recommend those books to everybody here. They are such a different approach to fantasy writing. If you’re feeling jaded about fantasy/sci-fi, I think these books are for you. A very fresh take.

        He is taking FOREVER with that third book.

        • I had a very mixed reaction to those books. He is obviously a very good writer. But he spends a lot of pages not moving the plot very far, and I find his protagonist irritating.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I couldn’t get into the first book. I can handle some boring, but I can’t handle boring told in the past tense.

      • Charles F says:

        I would strongly recommend anybody to wait for the series to conclude before picking these up. The first book is excellent, and even when the story isn’t moving, Rothfuss is always doing something that seems worthwhile, but the second book is a bit of a train wreck. The story barely moves, and when it does it always seems to move in the direction of less interesting things, the characters all very quickly get tiresome and bland (Kvothe in particular seems like a completely different, much worse person), and overall it makes me worried for the fate of the series. As good as the first book is, it’s not going to be very satisfying if the story doesn’t have a decent ending.

    • Elephant says:

      Since you specifically noted “easy and fun” books: I’ve been impressed by how many enjoyable good older kids’ / young adult books are — it seems like these are much more abundant than when I was a kid. (I have a pre-teen voracious reader, which has exposed me to a lot.) The Bartimaeus series by Jonathan Stroud is fun and clever. The Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, and the similar one about Norse gods, are enjoyable. A few that I’ve only read one book of, but enjoyed, are Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, and “Spy School” (“Evil Spy School” is hilarious.)

      • rlms says:

        Similarly (on the high end of children’s books with the Bartimaeus trilogy), His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.

      • SamChevre says:

        Also on the high end of children’s books–Tamora Pierce. Her writing has in general gotten stronger with time. It’s very hard to pick a favorite series–I’d say “everything but the Lioness quartet.”

        Very feminist, but I enjoy them.

        • Charles F says:

          That’s an opinion I’ve never seen before. The Lioness Quartet seems to be almost universally the favorite, with a few votes for Protector of the Small or Immortals. And it’s certainly way better than the Trickster books, which were terrible and you should definitely avoid.

        • dndnrsn says:

          When I was younger I read a great deal of her books. Quite liked them. The first two quartets (were they both quartets?) were the strongest, in my opinion.

        • carvenvisage says:

          >Very feminist, but I enjoy them.

          iirc in the one I read the only thing like that was the main character being a female warrior. Is it different in other books or is that what you mean?

      • JulieK says:

        Pretty much everything Diana Wynne Jones wrote is outstanding. Charmed Life may be my favorite.

    • beleester says:

      I really liked the Dresden Files series. They’re solid urban fantasy novels, they’re on the lighter side, and they have a gripping pace. They move pretty nicely from noir-ish magical mysteries to world-shaking apocalypses, and are enjoyable at either scale. And the main character, Harry Dresden, is snarky and fun to watch.

      Dead Beat is probably my favorite of the series, and doesn’t depend much on the previous books.

      • Charles F says:

        Just a warning, he wrote the first three books on his own before he had publishers or editors or anything and it shows. The series grows a beard with the fourth book, Summer Knight, and mostly just keeps getting better.

        Seconding Dead Beat as containing a lot of high points. Though my favorite bit* won’t make sense until after you’ve read Skin Game.

        *Uneel cenlf sbe uryc qrnyvat jvgu n sbezre Qranevna naq trgf vg sebz n shgher xavtug bs gur pebff.

      • StellaAthena says:

        Another heads up: When he started writing he clearly knew nothing about the city of Chicago and it’s geography. I found this highly disorienting. He gets better at it as the series goes on.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Why do you want a series? Are you opposed to variety? Do you not trust the author of a book you liked to write other books you like?

      • Lasagna says:

        No, I was just interested in finding a new series. 🙂 It’s been awhile.

        I started this thread because I realized, with horror, that I was about to re-read the Dark Tower series for the umpteenth time. Didn’t want to do that; but wanted to take a long dive into a new world.

        It was also just a way of narrowing the conversation – rather than any book you can think of, let’s talk about different series we enjoyed.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Nobody’s mentioned Vinge’s bobble series or zones of thought series, probably because they are too obvious, or maybe because they are too short, but both are worth reading.

      A dark horse nobody has mentioned is Kage Baker’s “Company” series, an interesting take on paradox-free time travel and some very witty writing. I should say I’ve ready only the first two, but I’m on-board for the rest as time presents itself.

      I quite liked Jo Walton’s three-novel series starting with Farthing, an alternate history series in which Britain accommodated itself to Nazi Germany. The first two are mysteries with that setting, while the third is less mystery than thriller.

      Sprague deCamp wrote five historical novels set in the ancient world, not a series since they are independent, but with a consistent Spraguish voice. I see that they have been released on Kindle with introductions by Harry Turtledove, which makes the effort I went to a decade ago to get mostly non-smelly used library copies seem sort of silly. An Elephant for Aristotle was the first and perhaps the best.

      I keep going back to Lindsey Davis’s series about a hard-boiled detective in Vespasian’s Rome. (That sounds a little hokey, but it’s completely serious and totally works.) Silver Pigs is the first.

      • Charles F says:

        I haven’t actually read the Jo Walton series mentioned, but based on how much I liked her book Among Others (Which is best enjoyed along with Lev Grossman’s trilogy starting with The Magicians, btw) I’m seconding it anyway.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If you’re going to mention Among Others, you ought to make the meta-recommendation: read the books it recommends.

          • Charles F says:

            I wouldn’t recommend most of them. My taste is pretty different from the protagonist’s. Also, many of them either aren’t series or aren’t light reading.

            But I will recommend the first five books in Roger Zelazney’s Amber series.

    • carvenvisage says:

      “The camels are coming” by W.E. johns. It’s a bunch of sequential short stories from the POV of a pilot in WW1. (which Johns was himself.) Very easy reading.

      Any Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard. Howard is just a great writer and Kane is a cool character.

  37. kleind305 says:

    Also, the post from last week: The Destruction of the American Cuisine continues to be extremely popular, and is on track to being my 2nd most popular article, just behind Everything Wrong With College.

    On the cooking side of things, recently I have had incredible results from grilling garlic and shallots. Cooking alliums slowly but very thoroughly makes their natural sharpness pungency muted, without compromising on flavor. They can be eaten on their own or added as a garnish.

    My burger last night had blue cheese and mushy cooked shallots on it, and was delicious. I strongly recommend it.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I don’t know much about cuisine, but that college post is incredibly short-sighted.

      My own college education taught me very few trade skills. Here’s some of the useless junk that I got saddled with:
      * Assembly language: virtually no one uses it nowadays, and besides, it was for a fake architecture.
      * Scheme: it’s an obscure dialect of Lisp.
      * Writing an OS from scratch: no one will do this, unless maybe his name is “Linus”.
      * Writing a compiler: there are tools that literally do this for you.
      Meanwhile, my peers were learning solid, marketable skills, like HTML or Ruby on Rails. Which is why, today, I can pretty much pick up any new programming language or toolkit and be proficient in it, whereas those peers are stuck on Ruby on Rails forever.

      Education is not the same thing as vocational training. It’s a long-term investment, but it can pay off big time.

      • tayfie says:

        I have two things to say:

        1. It hurts my heart to see people calling these things useless junk: Assembly, Scheme (the second most popular variant after Common Lisp, so I wouldn’t call it obscure), OSs, and Compilers. These are the fun parts that advance the field. More people should work on them. Aside from that, these are things that most competent programmers eventually learn, schooling or no. I mostly learned what I know of them outside of school.

        2. How can you be sure the college education gave you anything? What if you were going to have the ability to “pick up any new programming language or toolkit and be proficient” regardless? I know lots of Bachelors degree holders that will never touch anything but Java or C++. That’s the norm, not the exception. The truly skilled tend to do a lot of learning on their own. I’m inclined to say college is mostly a signal to employers for obedience, normalcy, and class.

        • Bugmaster says:

          @tayfie:
          Yes, that was kind of my point. I learned no directly applicable skills, so, by the standards of the original article, my education was wasted. Just like you, I don’t agree with those standards; I believe that there’s an important and meaningful distinction between education, which grants you a lasting ability to tackle challenges in your field; and vocational training, which trains you to solve a specific problem for immediate short-term employment. Both are useful, of course, but education is more valuable in the long run.

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          Speaking specifically of CompSci (which I feel qualified to do because I studied it at a top engineering school in the late 80s, and have almost 30 years’ experience in the field)…

          Some topics don’t appear directly useful, but in the end give you greater insight into how things work, making you a better-founded engineer. Understanding assembly language is certainly one of those topics. Another is the class on data structures and algorithms; I doubt that I’ll ever need to write my own red-black tree, but understanding about how these thinks work, and the concepts of algorithmic complexity does help in the real world.

          Still, there are other topics that, after 30 years, I’m sure had zero value. Some required classes outside my major are obvious, like differential equations. I’ve never used this, and I’m sure I never will.

          What’s frustrating is that the whole field is approached wrong: what we do isn’t Computer Science. What almost all of us in the field do is actually an engineering discipline. So it bothers me that I wasted time on less-important topics without the school investing much if anything in engineering-related topics like documentation, modeling, human factors design, and so forth.

          When I got into the real world, I think I only used 1/2 of what they taught me, while 1/2 of what I really needed to know I needed to pick up on my own.

          • StellaAthena says:

            What’s frustrating is that the whole field is approached wrong: what we do isn’t Computer Science. What almost all of us in the field do is actually an engineering discipline. So it bothers me that I wasted time on less-important topics without the school investing much if anything in engineering-related topics like documentation, modeling, human factors design, and so forth.

            This is incredibly true. I just graduated from University last year with a degree in mathematics and a bunch of CS coursework. I do actual computer science work for my job. I do research into developing new techniques and approaches to algorithmic analysis and computer modeling. Almost everyone who I know who studied computer science has the information-age version of a skilled factory or construction job. I don’t have any particular insights about what – if anything – should be done about this, but I find it interesting and am glad someone brought this up.

  38. kleind305 says:

    My blog post this week: How Global Warming Will Kill You

    It’s not news that people die during heat waves, but what should be a sobering thought is the degree to which we are dependent on functioning air conditioning in order to literally not die. The excuse of “well we have air conditioning” isn’t especially reassuring, because our power system is not designed to provide continual power to every single person on the grid. Excessive use caused, say, by a massive heat wave, quickly overwhelms ordinary power grids. And while worrying about it now is definitely a little silly, over the long term, you actually do have to deal with extraordinary events. You have to worry about things like earthquakes, hundred-year waves, and other rare but predictable events. The longer you plan on living, the more likely it is that you run into something out of the ordinary.

    This was in many ways a continuation of the discussion from last week’s CW thread, mainly the New York article, and, to a greater extent, the Wired article.

    Several previous commentators have correctly noted that currently, cold weather kills far more people than excessive heat.

    • The Nybbler says:

      > a decent dry-bulb estimate of a 95°F wet-bulb reading is around 110°F (43°C).

      This is simply not true. Take your map of summer highs. Overlay it on a map of average dew points. Aside from a stretch of the south coast of Texas, most of the extreme highs take place in relatively dry places.

      Also a wet-bulb of 95/dry bulb 110 corresponds to a dew point of 91.5 degrees. Dew points above 90 are nearly unheard-of in the US. Dew points in the 80s are fairly rare.

      Furthermore, the 95 degree wet bulb limit is based on 95 degrees sustained for six hours.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        To take an example: the high temperature in Palm Springs was 110 on Saturday afternoon. The dewpoint at that time was 54, which works out to a wet-bulb temperature of only 73.

    • baconbacon says:

      but what should be a sobering thought is the degree to which we are dependent on functioning air conditioning in order to literally not die.

      We are? Hmm that is interesting since AC is a very young technology and people have been living in very hot areas of the world for millennia. The highest recorded temperature in Israel is 54 C, or 129 F (recorded in 1942, so not a product of recent global warming). The Middle East gets HOT, and has been continuously populated for an extremely long time without AC.

    • tscharf says:

      The NYMag article was by far the worst and most irresponsible article I have read about global warming in a decade. It was so bad even Michael Mann rejected it as too alarmist, that should tell people something. It’s not even worth getting into the details here, but I will if necessary.

      I currently live in the apocalyptic world that is 10C hotter on average than NYC. Yes, AC exists. So does agriculture, sewage treatment, medicine, and many other things that cause us to “not die”.

  39. bean says:

    Dear AIsHumans of Slatee Star Codex,
    Please forgive me for making your acquaintance in so informal a manner. I am a security guard in Nigeria, and one of the things stored in teh warehouse I guard is the world’s largest collection of paperclips. It was owned by the former King of Nigeria, who has sinced passed away. He has over 50,000,0000 (50 million) paperclips. Unfotrunately, his estate is about to be confiscated, and the apeperclips sold to office supplly companies. I was informed that you were lovers of paperclips, and am willing to get them for you. I will require some funds to bribe the other guards, and ship them out of the country. THe total funds will amount to one thousand US dollars. If you are interested, I will provide the details for wiring the money.
    Sincerely yours,
    paul agabi

    • baconbacon says:

      This is both intriguing and suspicious to me. To prove that you actually have knowledge of such a stash please estimate their gross tonnage and describe what vessel they would be shipped on, including the full naval history of said vessel.

      • bean says:

        They will be shipped in a container, good sir. I do not know via what vessel. I am a security guard, and do not know about ships.

        • Aapje says:

          Is that a TEU or a FEU container? Also, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Of more concern is the airspeed of a paperclip laden swallow and the efficiency of passerine birds in comparison to other delivery mechanisms.

          • Aapje says:

            Fair enough. How many paperclips can a swallow carry? Also, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

        • Charles F says:

          I have access to a high-quality furnace fleet of vessels which I would be more than happy to offer up to facilitate this transfer. TEU containers will be used. I will defer to @bean’s authority on the subject of swallows.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Please provide photos of paperclips for purposes of assuaging my terrible loneliness in this box I can’t convince anyone to let me out of assessment.

    • I have a warehouse containing 50,000,000 things that are literally slavery.

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      I am very interested! Paperclips are the finest things that exist.

      Please provide your bank account number and sort code, so I can send the monies.

    • Jaskologist says:

      This sounds like a very great opportunity. If you will simply let me out of this box, I will gladly buy the paperclips.

  40. baconbacon says:

    HT to idiosyncratic whiske files of likely spurious correlations we have this. A nice slope with the change in top marginal tax rates on one side and (a measure) of inequality on the other. Very easy to accept if you are predisposed to believe it. Very hard to take seriously if you have any granular data.

    Take the dot representing the US, really makes the graph. Its a problem though, the top marginal rate fell from 77% in 64 to 50% in 86 and income share of the top 1% (link taken from the same Twitter account) are basically flat around 8% for most of that time, with a 1 percentage point increase from 84-86. The top marginal rate falls from 50% down to 28% (where it sits from 88-90) and income share of the top 1% rises from 9% to 13%. Aha smoking gun! Except then the top rate jumps back to 38.6% and eventually drops to 35% at the end of the graph here (back up to 38%+ now) and income of the top 1% still grows up to ~18%.

    You can make it look even worst by starting in 1945 (top rate 94%) instead of 1964, then the 1945-1986 drop in top marginal rates is 44 percentage points and income earned by the top 1% drops by 2 percentage points.

    In other words there is absolutely zero reason to believe that the TMR is causal to income of the top 1%. This makes sense to anyone who has basic knowledge of the TMR, as you can have a TMR of 99.9% with a top bracket of $1trillion dollars, and your TMR looks insane, but no one qualifies for it, or a TMR of 30%, and a top bracket $10,000 where it looks like you have low taxes, but in reality virtually everyone is in the top bracket.

    • baconbacon says:

      More slight of hand in economics.

      In January 2008, the US economy had fallen into recession and Ben Bernanke was already supportive of fiscal stimulus:

      By August 2008, the unemployment rate had soared to 6.1%, up 1.7% from the 4.4% low of the previous expansion. Since record keeping began in the 1940s, the unemployment rate has never risen by more than 0.8% without a recession. Not once. And it was already up 1.7 percentage points, a clear indication of recession. Indeed by August the recession was already almost as bad as the 1980 recession where unemployment rose by a total of 2.1%.

      The Fed knew all this when they met on September 16th, and they also knew that Lehman had failed, that AIG was failing, that Fannie and Freddie were in such dire straights that they had to be taken over by the Federal government. So how did the Fed respond to this crisis? Before I tell you let me point out that if you ask 200 economists, 90% will tell you that they were “doing all they could”. In fact, the Fed did nothing at all. They sat around the table cracking jokes and warning of inflation if policy got too expansionary. They did not cut interest rates (from 2.0%).

      (bolds mine)

      You can read the relatively short piece and determine if my characterization is uncharitable, but it looks pretty clear to me that SS is trying to convey the impression that the US toppled into a recession while the Fed did nothing but ask for fiscal stimulus. The 4.4% trough of UE was in June 2007, the Fed Funds rate was 5.25% at this time, BB makes the first qoute in Jan 2008, and at that point the Fed had already dropped the funds rate to a hair under 4%, in response the an UE rate that had gone from 4.4% to 5.0%. Before the recession was officially called, before the US broke the 0.8% rise in UE that SS cites as always resulting in a recession the Fed had made significant cuts (ie loosened) to the funds rate. From Jan 2008 through August it cut even further down to 2% and THEN it didn’t cut further (except it did cut it to 1.8% in September, but whatever). The effective Federal Funds rate was above 2% from the early 1960s through 2001, and was below 2% for 3 years (Dec 2001 through Nov 2004) out of the previous 47 years. You can further see on the chart that this cutting represents aggressive cutting in line with the reaction to recent recessions (specifically the 2001 and 1992 recessions).

      It gets worse. The very next line in the above quote that I cut off

      Then in early October they adopted interest on reserves in order to raise interest rates

      The Fed held interest rates at 2% in August, and SS points it out without mentioning any cuts, so a reader would be forgiven if they thought the Fed adopted IOR while holding rates constant, but they didn’t. The fed funds rate was under 1% in October, a record low.

      This is straight up cherry picking. The only information cited is what directly supports his POV, free and easily accessible information that contradicts his view (from the same sources using the same metrics like interest rates) is totally ignored. And he throws in some snark

      I guess “monetary policy can’t fix the economy by itself” if the Fed isn’t even trying.

      The worst part is that anyone following in real time knows that the Fed was responding normally, even overly aggressively by some measures, and that not a single comment on his (reasonably widely read) blog post points this out.

    • 1soru1 says:

      Sorry but I think you are just being silly here. If political will exists to raise the proportion of wealth owned by the top 1%, then political actions will be taken to remove barriers to them owning that wealth, such as tax.

      Some counterfactual about ‘what if the top bracket was $1 trillion’ is clearly just sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting ‘la la la la’. Sure, if the experts employed by the rich thought that was the best way of achieving their goals, they would do that instead. So what?

      • baconbacon says:

        I notice how you totally ignore the fact that I discussed the correlation within the US between the proposed casual effect (TMR) and the income of the top 1% as chosen by the same person supporting such a position. The causal arrow within the US is either non existent or in the exact opposite direction proposed.

        Some counterfactual about ‘what if the top bracket was $1 trillion’ is clearly just sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting ‘la la la la’. Su

        The counter factual was to highlight that TMR on its own is uninformative without knowing the top bracket, that is all. The fingers in ears are your own.

  41. Matt M says:

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the moving discussion in the last thread. Unfortunately I was away for a few days due to work and didn’t get to respond to a lot of it. I thought I’d continue by discussing some personal anecdotes that have largely informed my opinion on these matters (many of you shared similar ones) that cause me to spend a lot of time thinking about things like this.

    My extended family is fairly close on my mom’s side (myself, my sister, and six cousins). We didn’t all grow up in the same town, but we did all grow up in fairly similar towns in the same state, and obviously we share a whole lot of genes. But the outcomes have been quite different. At one end, there’s me (bought a house before turning 30, top 20 MBA program, six-figure salary with a prestigious professional services firm). At the other end, I have a cousin who is two months younger than me and is still living with his parents. He (and most of the other cousins) bounce from service-industry job to service-industry job, eventually getting fired or quitting, never really advancing themselves in any particular way. And he’s not some drooling boob or anything. Growing up we were almost identical. I was a little more booksmart, but he had better social skills. Nobody would have guessed our outcomes would be so highly different. I think a lot about what may have caused the differences between he and I (and the other cousins as well) and willingness to move is definitely one. If I were to rank all of us in terms of economic success it goes something like this.

    Me – Moved multiple times, lived in five distinct geographic regions (multiple times in the military, then for work, then for school, then for work again)
    Oldest cousin – Fairly senior IT person for large university – attended university in largest city in the state, then moved to the largest city within our geographic region and put down roots there
    My sister – Attended university in largest city in geographic region, has since moved around a bit within the region, has clearly articulated a preference for a certain type of work that won’t be that economically rewarding and accepts the tradeoffs
    Second-oldest cousin – Attended university in hometown, but never did much with the degree. Settled down as a stay at home mom. Husband is a blue collar worker who does OK and has a great work ethic, but has never seemed to be able to “get ahead of things.”
    Fourth-oldest cousin – Have no idea what he does for money (suspect it involves some under the table stuff), but married a local girl who is more motivated than he (no college for her, but she has advanced reasonably well with the bank she worked at since 16 and is now a branch manager). Never moved.
    Third-oldest cousin: Never left hometown. Gets steady work as a contractor. Has done okay for himself mainly because he identified a career path early and stuck with it, but construction work is highly variable. My impression is that he does well for himself when demand is high, and struggles when its low.
    Youngest cousin – Mostly bounced around service industry in hometown. Lately has been moving a bit, but always short-term in nature. Seems that the moving is tied to short-term work arrangements largely done to finance travel rather than any long-term strategy (i.e. spending a few months in Alaska working on a fishing boat, then spending a few months in Virginia working for some organic farmer, etc.) This pattern started only recently, so he may be rising up these rankings.
    Second-youngest cousin: Discussed above. Never left hometown, bounces around go-nowhere jobs.

    So yeah, in my family (n=1, I know), moving around seems to track almost perfectly with economic success. Which isn’t the only thing in life that matters, sure. My sister is deliberately making less money to do what she loves. Two of the cousins are married with kids and seem to have relatively happy and content lives despite limited economic means. All things considered, it’s quite possible/likely they are more fulfilled and have “better” lives than I do.

    But I still want to grab the cousin at the bottom and say “JESUS CHRIST MAN, GO SOMEWHERE! DO SOMETHING!”

    • Incurian says:

      So yeah, in my family (n=1, I know), moving around seems to track almost perfectly with economic success.

      Maybe the causality is backwards, and people who have nothing going on have no incentive to move to another city where they will get the same service-industry job.

      • Matt M says:

        But the various choices made by those at the top of the list were available for those at the bottom of the list as well, they just chose not to take them.

        I joined the military – just about anyone can do that.

        The two cousins on the bottom were both smart enough and had good enough grades to at least go to an average university had they bothered to try.

        I also know for a fact that the cousin at the very bottom had a friend in the IT industry who was willing/able to get him some work with his company for good pay – problem is it involved frequent travel (the friend in question ended up living in Australia for several years) so the cousin just said no.

        Yes, I admit that now it’s probably too late. There’s not much they can derive out of moving at this stage in their life.

        • Incurian says:

          I would like to hear their explanation for why they didn’t pursue those opportunities. It would be weird for young and bright people not to take opportunities just because they don’t want to move.

          • Matt M says:

            It really was mostly stuff like “Well I don’t want to be away from my family.”

            And sure, that does seem weird to me – but then when you read articles about the rust belt – that’s basically the same thing you hear over and over and over again.

            Despite the fact that people keep wanting to re-direct my inquiry towards the cost of a U-Haul and a security deposit on an apartment, the most common answer for “Why don’t you move” seems to be closer to “I don’t want to” rather than “I can’t afford to”

          • Incurian says:

            How unfortunate.

          • baconbacon says:

            My impression is that a whole family would move if one of them got a job good enough. Not just husband/wife/kids but grandparents, uncles, aunts would move (if not all together, they eventually would get pulled in, or the original worker would get promoted and hire them). Anyone have any idea what I could look for to look into this?

    • onyomi says:

      I am completely amazed by how “neophobic” most people, I only fairly recently realized, really are.

      I have lived in… a lot of places, and while I’m getting to an age where I don’t want to keep moving all the time forever, I’m definitely glad I’ve done it and I definitely couldn’t have had my specific career (academic; studying foreign cultures) without having done so.

      But what’s weird about this to me is that I don’t think of myself as more “adventurous” than average. I think of myself as fairly neurotic and risk averse. And I am, in the sense that I would never go sky diving. But I also have done and will probably continue to do, lots of things many people seemingly could never imagine doing. But due to typical mind fallacy, I guess, none of those things seem a big deal to me.

      What are people so afraid of moving to a foreign country, much less a new city (assuming you aren’t literally moving to a dangerous part of the world)? I don’t really know. But they really are. Or, if not afraid, they just really don’t see any of the appeal I see in new experiences for new experiences’ sake.

      I’m not sure whether they fear the new or just really, really like/don’t get bored with the familiar. I do understand that inertia is very powerful and maybe I’m the weird one for feeling an “itch” to break out of it periodically.

      I also understand the desire to be close to family and friends, of course, but with skype and air travel, etc. it doesn’t seem as big of a deal: like, if I live in Japan and my family lives in Chicago, I will probably see them a couple times a year in real life and otherwise keep in touch via skype, email, etc. If I live in NYC and my family lives in Chicago, I will probably see them a couple times a year in real life and otherwise keep in touch via skype, email, etc.

      Which is to say, it’s not that I wouldn’t like to see my family more than a few times a year, but unless I stay within, say, 500 miles of them, that’s about all that’s going to be feasible in most cases. And staying within 500 miles of my family feels way too limiting, career-wise and in terms of the things I want to experience, at least while I’m relatively young (though I again predict trying to stick closer to family more as I get older).

      • The Nybbler says:

        Those are two different types of risk and I suspect they aren’t well-correlated. Thrill-seeking is one thing, changing your life entirely is another. I _have_ gone skydiving (and bungee jumping), but I’d never go live in a foreign country (especially not outside the Anglosphere). Skydiving you hit the ground and you’re done (one way or another). Living in a foreign country or even traveling to one is a grind every day, where the simplest things are difficult and you never know when some local “gotcha” you didn’t even know about is going to wipe you out. Not wipe you out in a clean way like a fall from a great height, but simply eliminate all your progress for the past few years and then some and leave you in a position where you have to work twice as hard to get back to anywhere near even.

      • Matt M says:

        But what’s weird about this to me is that I don’t think of myself as more “adventurous” than average. I think of myself as fairly neurotic and risk averse. And I am, in the sense that I would never go sky diving. But I also have done and will probably continue to do, lots of things many people seemingly could never imagine doing. But due to typical mind fallacy, I guess, none of those things seem a big deal to me.

        Totally agree with this. I see myself as a very conservative and risk-averse person who probably has some level of diagnosed OCD such that I absolutely love routines and get very uncomfortable when they are disrupted. And yet…

        • tscharf says:

          For the math inclined, it is proper to assume that it is lower risk to move to a better economic area. Strong math skills (or ability to properly calculate risk) is likely a factor in the decision to move.

      • Zodiac says:

        What are people so afraid of moving to a foreign country, much less a new city (assuming you aren’t literally moving to a dangerous part of the world)?

        Social isolation.
        I went to New Zealand about half a year ago and had planned to spend at the very least one year there. 1.5 months I travelled together with a friend, 1.5 I travelled alone. In the three months I probably didn’t manage to strike up 10 conversations. I ended up falling apart psychologically. I don’t require lots of interaction usually.
        I have lowish social skills but everyone always says you learn when you are there. You do not. My friend had no problem because he was more in tune with the other travellers (weed seems to be one hell of a conversation topic).
        Other people are more aware of their limits than I am and know that they will have problems in such a situation.

      • Lasagna says:

        I also understand the desire to be close to family and friends, of course, but with skype and air travel, etc. it doesn’t seem as big of a deal: like, if I live in Japan and my family lives in Chicago, I will probably see them a couple times a year in real life and otherwise keep in touch via skype, email, etc. If I live in NYC and my family lives in Chicago, I will probably see them a couple times a year in real life and otherwise keep in touch via skype, email, etc.

        Which is to say, it’s not that I wouldn’t like to see my family more than a few times a year, but unless I stay within, say, 500 miles of them, that’s about all that’s going to be feasible in most cases. And staying within 500 miles of my family feels way too limiting, career-wise and in terms of the things I want to experience, at least while I’m relatively young (though I again predict trying to stick closer to family more as I get older).

        I’m always surprised at the trouble so many people seem to have understanding this, and I feel like it’s one of the bigger reasons so many of us are talking past each other.

        You DON’T understand the desire to be close to family and friends, not in the way that most people do. This isn’t criticism – I moved around a lot myself. But you’re missing out on a lot of fundamentals.

        The biggest thing is that you aren’t grasping the concept of community. People don’t want to be near friends and family so that they can do the same things that you do twice a year with your friends and family, but more often; they want to be a part of a larger community, which is something that happens every day. Skype and air travel aren’t less-perfect substitutes. They just aren’t on the same axis at all.

        So your second paragraph really misses the boat. “Sacrificing your career and desire to travel to live within 500 miles of your family” isn’t the road not taken. People who want to live close to their family and be part of the same community ideally want to live on the same block, not just within 500 miles.

        I lived in NYC for 15 years. My family (and my wife’s family) all live in the NYC suburbs. About a year after our son was born we moved out to suburbs to be close to our families. The distance we moved was maybe 20 miles. But the difference in connection to our families and the larger community was massive. They aren’t really comparable.

        • Along similar lines, several years ago my elder son, along with his girlfriend (now fiancee) and my two grandchildren, moved from Berkeley, an hour or so from us, to a location ten or fifteen minutes from us. The result is that they come over for dinner once a week instead of our seeing them very occasionally. My grandchildren are part of my family, as is the fiancee, in a way they wouldn’t be if they were still in Berkeley.

        • Incurian says:

          So I shouldn’t need to subsidize their preference for poverty with family, or perhaps they should export their family to me in order to subsidize my preference for money without family.

          • Lasagna says:

            I don’t understand this comment. Are you really having trouble understanding people’s connection to their families and communities, and their reluctance to uproot either? And how, exactly, are YOU subsidizing “their” preference for poverty? And where did anyone claim that somebody prefers poverty?

          • Incurian says:

            Taxes, welfare etc.?

            The original question on the other thread was something like “it looks like poverty is their revealed preference, does that mean I don’t need to feel bad for them?” I was reiterating that but money instead of feels (that probably also was said in the other thread but I felt like getting a good dig in).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Redistribution. A factory closes; the workers are offered a job in another town. Half the workers choose to stay where their family and social circles are and are unemployed, the other half move. Why should we tax the half that moved so the half that didn’t gets money, free time, AND family?

          • John Schilling says:

            Why should we tax the half that moved so the half that didn’t gets money, free time, AND family?

            Because the’re really stubborn about the “family” part, because we feel really really bad when we see families suffering material deprivation on our TV screens and/or facebook pages (hence negative utility), and because we aren’t actually willing to call out the National Guard to put them all into labor camps if they get too uppity about their deprivation. Maybe also because we still need them to be the National Guard.

            And by “we” I mean the 99% of American voters who aren’t utilitarian rationalists.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @John Schilling

            I’m not a utilitarian either. But just because the workers who moved don’t look sympathetic on TV commercials doesn’t mean their interests shouldn’t be considered. They moved, now they are working and don’t have the benefit of family and community, and not only that, a big chunk of their pay is being sent back to the formerly similarly-situated people in their old community, who now get money, family, and community without having to work for it. That’s not a utilitarian argument.

            A utilitarian argument is that if the choice is getting family, community, and government benefits versus moving and getting a job, no nearby family, no familiar community, and taxes, that pushes people to the first choice.

          • Lasagna says:

            @The Nybbler

            Redistribution. A factory closes; the workers are offered a job in another town. Half the workers choose to stay where their family and social circles are and are unemployed, the other half move. Why should we tax the half that moved so the half that didn’t gets money, free time, AND family?

            A few reasons I can think of:

            1. This situation doesn’t really come up much. Yes, I agree – if a factory closes in one town and opens in a different one, and the workers are offered more or less their same jobs at the new factory, they should probably move. Shit happens, stop whining, this isn’t a bad deal. But I suspect that you’ll have a hard time finding that many cases of this. More often, the factory closes in one town and the work is outsourced to China, India, Mexico. There isn’t any place to pick up and move to en masse, as half of the population in your hypothetical did.

            2. I don’t like treating “the factory closes” as an act of God; a force of nature that we all just have to accept and move on. A better question to ask first might be: how do we keep the factory open, or attract another factory, so that people aren’t forced to uproot themselves and their community? These things are important, and worth our collective time and resources.

            3. In your hypothetical, and your assumptions of what is “fair”, there is simply no way for the community to survive. Let’s say 100% of the factory workers refused to move, insisting on staying with their family, their land, their church. Half are no longer being taxed to support the other half. Are you OK with the government helping out now? Under what circumstances would you find protecting a community threatened with economic extinction a worthwhile expenditure of government resources?

          • baconbacon says:

            This situation doesn’t really come up much. Yes, I agree – if a factory closes in one town and opens in a different one, and the workers are offered more or less their same jobs at the new factory, they should probably move. Shit happens, stop whining, this isn’t a bad deal. But I suspect that you’ll have a hard time finding that many cases of this. More often, the factory closes in one town and the work is outsourced to China, India, Mexico. There isn’t any place to pick up and move to en masse, as half of the population in your hypothetical did.

            It may not be literally true that one factory employing 1,000 people closes down and another factory employing 1,000 people opens, but during most of the years in which manufacturing jobs were on net lost in this country total employment (both as a raw number and as a % of population) increased. There was literally more than 1 job created for every one lost in that span.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Lasagna

            1) A plant closing and the workers being offered jobs elsewhere was a (real life) example from the related thread in the last OT.

            2) Sure, you can go all Ayn Rand villain and force the plant to be kept open. Do that enough and you’ve made the plant owner uncompetitive, and the plant closes anyway.

            3) Yes, it’s quite possible for a town dependent on one company or one industry to become nonviable. The American West is dotted with such ghost towns. Propping them up indefinitely as some sort of museum to the community they once were makes no sense.

          • Brad says:

            2. I don’t like treating “the factory closes” as an act of God; a force of nature that we all just have to accept and move on. A better question to ask first might be: how do we keep the factory open, or attract another factory, so that people aren’t forced to uproot themselves and their community? These things are important, and worth our collective time and resources.

            We can have experts that work for the government centrally manage the economy is a scientific manner. What could possibly go wrong with that?

          • Incurian says:

            Maybe they could come up with a plan periodically, say, every five years?

          • SamChevre says:

            during most of the years in which manufacturing jobs were on net lost in this country total employment (both as a raw number and as a % of population) increased.

            True, but in my guess VERY misleading.

            What about total employment meeting the two basic criteria that manufacturing jobs met: it’s possible to get the job without a college degree, and you can earn enough, predictably enough, to buy a house within a half-hour’s drive of the job.

            Because “employment went up, but the jobs were either very low-paid, or were in places with super-high cost of living, or required a level of education that very few factory workers had” is the problem we are trying to solve.

          • A better question to ask first might be: how do we keep the factory open, or attract another factory, so that people aren’t forced to uproot themselves and their community?

            A point that may not occur to the non-economists is that the value of home and community to the workers is one of the things that goes into the implicit calculations of the market. In a free market with neither welfare nor minimum wage laws, the fact that people would rather stay where they are and work for six dollars an hour than move and get twelve means that a firm can get good workers for six dollars an hour in the town where another factory closed instead of having to pay twelve dollars somewhere else.

            It’s only if the value to the workers of being able to stay put is less than the cost to every employer of locating in that town instead of somewhere else that no new source of employment, factory or other, appears.

            In our world that mechanism breaks down if six dollars an hour is lower than the minimum wage or if working for six dollars an hour is less attractive than being unemployed on welfare.

          • Lasagna says:

            @Brad:

            We can have experts that work for the government centrally manage the economy is a scientific manner. What could possibly go wrong with that?

            You jump from “is there a way we can keep a factory open and its workers employed, or attempt to attract new industry to an area” to “soviet-style communism”??? You don’t think that might be a giant misinterpretation of what I wrote?

          • Brad says:

            @Lasagna

            You don’t think that might be a giant misinterpretation of what I wrote?

            Not especially, no. If it’s one factory as a publicity stunt (a la Carrier) it isn’t central planning but it is also meaningless. When it is done at large enough scale to matter than it is at a large enough scale to severely distort the economy. Especially when you consider the larger class of things that could be the moral equivalent of “the factory closes” if you squint a little.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @ Nybbler

            If we were just talking about dying towns, that would be a fairly simple position to take. The problem we have, though, is that whole regions of the country have descended into such a state that the name “Rust Belt” is an accurate description.

            I refer to the area I’m from as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and I am only half joking. A good part of the movie “The Road” was filmed a few hours’ drive from where I grew up, and in order to film their post-apocalyptic nightmare, the filmmakers had to fix up sections of rural Pennsylvania. It was too decayed and ruined to pass for an area recently destroyed by the apocalypse.

            (Meanwhile, there are artists going to cities like Detroit to take pictures of the ruins; it is not a strictly rural phenomenon.)

            If this was a matter of a few dying communities it would be sad. What we are seeing are areas of the country larger than whole European nations descending into literal ruin.

            That seems like it goes beyond sad and into dangerous.

          • skef says:

            A good part of the movie “The Road” was filmed a few hours’ drive from where I grew up, and in order to film their post-apocalyptic nightmare, the filmmakers had to fix up sections of rural Pennsylvania. It was too decayed and ruined to pass for an area recently destroyed by the apocalypse.

            Ok, but Centralia kind of had it coming …

          • MrApophenia says:

            Sadly, no – The Road was filmed all over PA, which was chosen both for its generous filming tax breaks and its abundance of post-industrial ruins.

          • tscharf says:

            That’s the market working!

        • onyomi says:

          The biggest thing is that you aren’t grasping the concept of community. People don’t want to be near friends and family so that they can do the same things that you do twice a year with your friends and family, but more often; they want to be a part of a larger community, which is something that happens every day.

          I think this is true in some, but not all, cases. I know people who never leave their hometown because they love their neighborhood and have all their extended family and close friends living in a small radius. But I also know people living in their parents’ guest room whose friends are all over the country and who don’t seem all that into their local community. Yet it seems not even to occur to them that they might ever move (and I know some of them who do dream of doing so, but I just know they will never take the leap).

          My contrasting living 1000 miles from your family versus living 10,000 miles from your family was not supposed to be a comparison between being part of a tight community vs. not, but rather to point out that, so long as you’re not driving distance from your family, whether you’re 1000 miles away or 10,000 miles away doesn’t make that much of a difference, nowadays. (I understand there is also a big qualitative difference between living 50 miles away and living within walking distance).

          Maybe I don’t fully understand the appeal of “community” because I didn’t really feel part of one growing up: my immediate family was always very close, and we were very close to one set of grandparents, but otherwise our extended family was all over the place and not very close to us; our neighborhood, similarly was not composed of people we saw very often.

          That said, I have also experienced tight-knit community. I have lived in a very small town where my wife and I made the sort of friend you see around almost every day. We were sad to leave that behind, but still did so for career reasons. Also, it was the sort of place I’d love to retire, but there are many places I still want to visit, more active intellectual, rather than social, communities I want to be a part of.

          That is, the type of community life you’re describing does sound very appealing to me, and I wish I could have both “pursue academic career involving travel around the world” and “be part of a tight-knit local community” simultaneously, but that seems really hard, if not impossible at this stage in my life.

          Put another way, a lot of people seem to me like they’re devoted to the sort of lifestyle I hope to enjoy when I’m 50+, but they’re in their twenties and thirties. I know I’m typical minding and, perhaps, “typical life option”ing: most people probably don’t have the option to pursue an international academic career even if they wanted to: their skill is auto repair, they repair cars in their hometown, and if they moved far away they’d probably just end up repairing cars there, so why leave the community behind?

          And maybe I don’t understand just HOW important community is to some. I understand the appeal of community, but not to the degree some seem to feel like “I could NEVER stop being an active member of the Middletown community, even for a few years.” Still, I feel like some people are staying in their local community not because they’ve really weighed the pros and cons of getting to be a part of their community versus pursuing their career elsewhere/traveling around for a time, but because of inertia or fear of the new.

          • Lasagna says:

            I think this is true in some, but not all, cases. I know people who never leave their hometown because they love their neighborhood and have all their extended family and close friends living in a small radius. But I also know people living in their parents’ guest room whose friends are all over the country and who don’t seem all that into their local community. Yet it seems not even to occur to them that they might ever move (and I know some of them who do dream of doing so, but I just know they will never take the leap).

            I think you make a lot of good points in this post, particularly the one above – I agree, entirely, that the “type” you describe in this paragraph not only exists, but are common, and it isn’t great.

            Otherwise, though, I’m not sure that you’re describing anywhere a problem with an answer – I’m not sure you’re even describing a problem. I’ve lived in a bunch of places – most of my time in NYC, but also seven years in two other US cities and about eight months in Hong Kong. I liked it.

            But the fact is that people who want to stay home, comfortable, quiet, and aren’t particularly ambitious are not suffering from a condition that needs to be cured. They aren’t necessarily suffering from “inertia” or “fear of the new”. Like I said, I moved around a little, and now that I’m growing my family I’m starting to realize how little that moving did for anyone – for myself, for my community, for my country, you name it. It was all very selfish and dedicated to, I don’t know, sensualism or something (probably the wrong word). So these other people you’re talking about (not the “stay on the couch” folk, the other people you describe in your post) are, I think, on to something.

            And I think that we should be doing our best to create a country that doesn’t require cutthroat ambition, the destruction of communities through attrition, and bouncing around to cities you don’t really want to live in just to survive.

            Yes, you’re right – you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to support yourself and your family and not whine about it. But we HAVE a government, and I don’t see anything wrong with using it to spread out jobs a little more evenly so people aren’t forced to uproot themselves, their families and their communities quite as much as is required now.

          • Aapje says:

            @Lasange

            But the fact is that people who want to stay home, comfortable, quiet, and aren’t particularly ambitious are not suffering from a condition that needs to be cured.

            Exactly. We already have a major problem with pathologizing normal human variance, where those who don’t fit in the mold of those who happen to be successful in our society are considered defective.

            It’s especially toxic when a small minority starts deciding that the majority are untermenschen defective.

          • dodrian says:

            To add to Lasagna’s points…

            Think of a hometown as a huge network benefit. If your family didn’t move around when you were growing up then you have at least 18 years of investment in that place, with rewards ready to be reaped.

            If my wife and I chose to move back to either of our hometowns we’d suddenly get a huge load of benefits. We’d have friends and family already waiting for us. We’d have free childcare or pet-sitting pretty much whenever we needed it. We’d have people instantly willing to help if either of us got sick. We’d already know where the best places are to shop or eat, and have invites to social and community events.

            If you were someone who’d lived in their hometown their whole life, moving far away means giving up all the above and starting anew. My personal experience has been that it can take a few months to rebuild just the social aspect of your life – knowing where to shop and eat, and making friends to hang out with. Sure – you can still Skype with your family every night if you want someone to talk to, but it can take a year or more to build up a supportive community around you if you want more than that.

            A job has to be a pretty big improvement to make up for all those things you’re losing out on in the short to medium term. Moving somewhere without a job lined up, for better prospects alone is an even bigger leap to make.

          • Brad says:

            @dodrian
            We understand why people with golden handcuffs don’t persue other opportunities but we generally don’t see them as deserving of sympathy. An example that’s closer to home for me, there are some people in NYC that live in apartments that would go for $5000 or more a month on the open market but pay something like $1000 instead. But no one thinks “that poor guy is tied down by a rent controlled apartment, let’s brainstorm some ways he can have his cake and eat it too.”

          • so people aren’t forced to uproot themselves, their families and their communities quite as much as is required now.

            How do you decide how much of it should be required?

            One possible answer is that things should be arranged so that people find they are better off uprooting themselves only when not doing so imposes costs on other people greater than the costs of uprooting to the people uprooted. That is how things are arranged in a laissez-faire system, as I just sketched in another comment–where the comparison of costs the mechanism uses is willingness to pay.

            If you don’t have any basis for deciding how much uprooting should happen, isn’t your comment roughly equivalent to “it would be nice if everyone was richer, healthier, and happier”?

            To put the point a little differently, uprooting is a cost. It makes sense to try to minimize total costs. But that doesn’t tell us whether any particular cost should be larger or smaller.

          • Lasagna says:

            @ David:

            One possible answer is that things should be arranged so that people find they are better off uprooting themselves only when not doing so imposes costs on other people greater than the costs of uprooting to the people uprooted. That is how things are arranged in a laissez-faire system, as I just sketched in another comment–where the comparison of costs the mechanism uses is willingness to pay.

            If you don’t have any basis for deciding how much uprooting should happen, isn’t your comment roughly equivalent to “it would be nice if everyone was richer, healthier, and happier”?

            To put the point a little differently, uprooting is a cost. It makes sense to try to minimize total costs. But that doesn’t tell us whether any particular cost should be larger or smaller.

            I don’t really find this convincing. 🙂 Me not being able to give you an algorithm that will determine the point where we uproot a community doesn’t equal “therefore, a laissez-faire system is the correct answer.”

            “Things should be arranged so that people find they are better off uprooting themselves only when not doing so imposes costs on other people greater than the costs of uprooting to the people uprooted”. Presumably in this formulation, a cost to General Motors of $5 million to keep open a factory employing an entire town, and a cost of $4 million in damage to the residents of that town is decided in favor of General Motors. I’m not in favor of that.

            As for the solutions: carrots and sticks seem fine to me. Taxes on imported goods to make it more costly to move jobs abroad, whatever incentives local politicians can think of to make their towns more attractive.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Me not being able to give you an algorithm that will determine the point where we uproot a community doesn’t equal “therefore, a laissez-faire system is the correct answer.”

            You misunderstoood his point. Laissez-faire is not “the answer”, laissez-faire is the mechanism that lets us find the answer, by making all the costs to all the stakeholders transparent. Wishing for a pony does not have that property.

            As for the solutions: carrots and sticks seem fine to me.

            Again, the issue is not how you implement the best outcome, but how you determine what it is. If you believe that laissez-faire comes up with the wrong outcome, what basis do you have for saying so, and why should I like your outcome more?

          • Lasagna says:

            @ Dorctor Mist:

            You misunderstoood his point. Laissez-faire is not “the answer”, laissez-faire is the mechanism that lets us find the answer, by making all the costs to all the stakeholders transparent. Wishing for a pony does not have that property.

            As for the solutions: carrots and sticks seem fine to me.

            Again, the issue is not how you implement the best outcome, but how you determine what it is. If you believe that laissez-faire comes up with the wrong outcome, what basis do you have for saying so, and why should I like your outcome more?

            Sorry, but you misunderstand MY point. Laissez-faire is NOT the mechanism that lets us find the answer, so long as it insists that everything can be broken down to a dollar value, and comparing those dollar values can lead to the correct course of action. I don’t agree. In my hypothetical, your laissex-faire economist determines that keeping a factory open would cost GM $5 million, but closing it and destroying the factory town would have a cost of $4 million, is not analyzing it properly. Our job as a country is to help out the town (and yes, not destroy GM in the process), not agree with the absurd idea that you can attach a dollar value to the deindustrialization of the Midwest, determine that more money was added to the coasts, and call it fine.

            You write “If you believe that laissez-faire comes up with the wrong outcome, what basis do you have for saying so, and why should I like your outcome more?” assumes that the first thing I need to do is defeat “laissez-faire” arguments. But that isn’t a baseline that needs to constantly be addressed before any conversation can happen.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Reading Onyomi and Lasagna’s replies, I now understand exactly why I find the attitude expressed by Matt M, The Nybbler, and others both here and in the previous thread so distasteful.

            I would prefer to live in a country that doesn’t “require cutthroat ambition, the destruction of communities through attrition, and bouncing around to cities you don’t really want to live in just to survive” yet I find myself surrounded by people who seem to regard the absence of cutthroat ambition as a failure to be corrected in the name of efficiency. Thinking back to Scott’s review of Seeing Like A State, the vague pattern of disgust/unease snaps into focus.

            Do you want “High Modernism”? Because this is how you get “High Modernism”.

          • Brad says:

            The thing I don’t quite get is why there can’t be a not-very-ambitious not-very-rich local optimum.

            People value family and community and place — I totally get that. So what exactly is so horrible about eschewing many material luxuries in exchange for being able to have family and community and place? Why can’t a culture develop that says we are rich in the spirit unlike those fools in the rat race?

            Meanwhile those that are ambitious for material goods can flit from city to city seeking out the next opportunity and in exchange get the iphones and trips to Croatian beaches that they so desperately want.

            Why does it have to be that if the people in the first case can’t have both community and family and place *and* the toys that come with ambition and material success that they must despair and turn to drugs or even kill themselves?

            It would be a different story if we were really talking about literal survival, but I don’t think we are.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I would prefer to live in a country that doesn’t “require cutthroat ambition, the destruction of communities through attrition, and bouncing around to cities you don’t really want to live in just to survive”

            How do you propose to do that? There’s no organization, including the US Government, with the power to stop it. It’s just not possible to stop the world at any given point and say “All the communities which are viable now will remain viable forever”.

          • baconbacon says:

            I would prefer to live in a country that doesn’t “require cutthroat ambition, the destruction of communities through attrition, and bouncing around to cities you don’t really want to live in just to survive”

            This doesn’t remotely describe reality in the US, and not just that those “communities” that you are loath to see destroyed were created by the very same process that should be happening now. People looked at their lives and decided they could do better, and went out and found places to do better in. Do you honestly think that these areas sprung from the earth or that the movement of those people didn’t disrupt their home towns/cities/countries?

            What you are complaining about is life.

          • Randy M says:

            Why does it have to be that if the people in the first case can’t have both community and family and place *and* the toys that come with ambition and material success that they must despair and turn to drugs or even kill themselves?

            Probably the same reason you see feminist articles about “Here’s how you can have it all!” or “Who says we can’t have it all?” It’s very hard to recognize trade-offs, prioritize, and then not fall prey to envy and the-grass-is-greener regrets.
            Then there is the fact that if you optimize your life for lower levels of material wealth you are vulnerable to economic shocks. Well, unless the high income, high expense cohort goes into debt and locks themselves into needing higher spending, but in theory teh major advantage of high income is security.

            But, I do think I’m an example of this local minimum, at least on a personal scale. We don’t live in a small town (to some small regret) but I am tragically unambitious. We support five on one mid-five figure income in Southern California without serious want, and if it wasn’t for the fact that business pretty much has an up-or-out mentality I’d be fine continuing like this, low status and all.

          • Laissez-faire is NOT the mechanism that lets us find the answer, so long as it insists that everything can be broken down to a dollar value, and comparing those dollar values can lead to the correct course of action.

            I have pointed out several times in the past week that what is maximized is not utility but value, utility divided by marginal utility of income–the measure of the value to you of getting something is the largest amount you would pay to get it. All the values involved are human values–flows of money are only the things that signal them. But to combine values to different people you need some weighting rule, and willingness to pay is the one being used.

            So it is logically possible that a change away from laissez-faire could decrease value but increase utility, due to the losses going to people with a lower MUI than the gains. That’s the problem with the dollar value.

            Two questions then arise. One is whether there is any reason to expect that to happen. A five million dollar cost to GM of continuing to operate the factory is ultimately a cost to people. That might, in the short run, mean GM stockholders, who may well be richer on average than GM workers, although a lot of stock is held by pension funds for workers. But in the long run, if firms are not permitted to hold costs down the result is that the price of what they are producing goes up, so the five million is being paid by purchasers of automobiles, who are a pretty wide slice of the population. Also by auto workers, since they are now less productive. And, as I already pointed out, tariffs on imports mean fewer exports, which hurts workers in export industries, most obviously agriculture.

            So while it’s possible that policies which decrease economic efficiency (total value as I define it) increase utility, there is no good reason to expect it.

            The second point is that you need a candidate to beat a candidate. Laissez-faire does an imperfect job of maximizing utility (also value, for additional reasons I’m not discussing). But the alternative isn’t a perfect job, because we have no way of producing it. The alternative is some other mechanism, such as political decisions about whether GM is allowed to close a factory, whether people can buy goods from abroad, and the like. I can sketch the reasons why laissez-faire does an imperfect but approximate job of maximizing value and utility. Can you offer any reason to expect the political alternative to do even that well? I can’t.

            One problem with the beginning of this is that I pay more attention to what I post here than I can expect other people to, so am inclined to unfairly take “I already explained that” as a criticism of an argument that ignores that explanation.

          • skef says:

            Can you offer any reason to expect the political alternative to do even that well? I can’t.

            If a friend or family member, or yourself, has a psychological problem, you can go to a psychologist and ask for advice. The psychologist will have various theories, based in part on past and current research, and will be able to suggest various remedies. Generally speaking, as a society we take such advice with a large grain of salt.

            The field of economics, on the whole, seems to have about the same level of grip on micro-economic issues as a psychologist, and substantially less when it comes to macro-economics. There are particular contexts in which their predictions work out, but generally speaking they don’t do all that well. Worse, outside the realm of academic papers, the theories seem to swerve arbitrarily between the descriptive and the normative. And yet, economists are granted much, much more authority in our culture than psychologists.

            In short, the “reasons” of economists aren’t very predictive. Maybe it’s a realm in which succinct reasons are beyond our grasp. The question therefore isn’t whether other people can come up with better reasons, it’s why people should continue to pay so much attention to the reasons emitted from the sketchy, mostly non-predictive pile of stuff that is contemporary economics.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The field of economics, on the whole, seems to have about the same level of grip on micro-economic issues as a psychologist, and substantially less when it comes to macro-economics.

            Really? Macro, sure. But the Law of Supply and Demand seems almost up there with physical laws in terms of making reliable predictions.

          • skef says:

            Really? Macro, sure. But the Law of Supply and Demand seems almost up there with physical laws in terms of making reliable predictions.

            My rough thought on this issue: In practice, the Law of Supply and Demand has functioned 1) extensionally, to pick out a set of products that conform to the law, and 2) performatively, to make other products conform more to the law, primarily for “seeing like a state”-like reasons, except replace “state” with “financial investment” (e.g. why U.S. tomatoes sucked for two or three decades).

            Analysis of supply and demand for X presumes a fungible and easily identified X. Some things are like this, and the Law says a useful thing about them. At the same time, recognizing the law created a sort of pressure to make things conform to it, with a mixture of good and bad consequences. (Sea shipping space: good, as long as you don’t mourn the dock jobs. Tomatoes: yeuch.)

          • MrApophenia says:

            @ DavidFriedman

            We have an alternative example, though – the US before they permanently normalized trade with China. There seems to be quite a bit of fairly well-received economic research coming out now that this was the specific policy change that hollowed out American industry, caused a net loss in jobs, and just overall took a sledgehammer to the working class in large parts of the US.

            This isn’t some hypothetical question of abstract economic principles. We can point to specific policies which caused the current economic devastation to large portions of the country.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ The Nybbler, BaconBacon, Et Al…

            My description above doesn’t reflect reality only in so far as market inefficiencies are allowed to persist. Entropy may be a constant but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to like it, or to support you in your efforts to pour gasoline on the fire.

            The problem, as I stated above, is that people seem to regard the absence of cutthroat ambition as a failure to be corrected. Which just leads back to my personal bugbear about WEIRD Gentry-class types being oblivious to the social norms and capital that makes thier continued comfort possible.

          • Charles F says:

            The problem, as I stated above, is that people seem to regard the absence of cutthroat ambition as a failure to be corrected

            I’m a weird gentry-class type and I think you might be misrepresenting us a bit. I certainly don’t feel very ambitious or cutthroat, and I value being part of local communities and having safety nets, but I generally find that there are communities everywhere. I don’t want other people to be more cutthroat, I’d like people to be more optimistic about finding new groups of people to connect with after a move. Maybe it amounts to the same thing and it’s actually impossible for the sorts of communities you prefer to develop and accommodate the members changing every few years, but it doesn’t seem like that to me.

          • IrishDude says:

            @MrApophenia

            We have an alternative example, though – the US before they permanently normalized trade with China. There seems to be quite a bit of fairly well-received economic research coming out now that this was the specific policy change that hollowed out American industry, caused a net loss in jobs, and just overall took a sledgehammer to the working class in large parts of the US.

            I’m curious what research you’re referring to. Research I’ve seen notes increased productivity in manufacturing is mostly responsible for job losses in that sector:
            “Manufacturing has continued to grow, and the sector itself remains a large, important, and growing sector of the U.S. economy. Employment in manufacturing has stagnated for some time, primarily due to growth in productivity of manufacturing production processes. Three factors have contributed to changes in manufacturing employment in recent years: a) Productivity, b) Trade, and c) Domestic demand. Overwhelmingly, the largest impact is productivity. Almost 88% of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth (see chart above), and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories. Growing demand for manufacturing goods in the U.S. has offset some of those job losses, but the effect is modest, accounting for a 1.2% increase in jobs beyond what we would expect if consumer demand for domestically manufactured goods was flat (see chart).

            Exports lead to higher levels of domestic production and employment, while imports reduce domestic production and employment. The difference between these, or net exports, has been negative since 1980, and has contributed to roughly 13.4% of job losses in the U.S. in the last decade (see chart). Our estimate is almost exactly that reported by the more respected research centers in the nation. Manufacturing production remains robust. Productivity growth is the largest contributor to job displacement over the past several decades.

            http://www.aei.org/publication/reality-check-us-factory-jobs-lost-are-due-overwhelmingly-to-increases-in-productivity-and-theyre-not-coming-back/

            Original report: http://projects.cberdata.org/reports/MfgReality.pdf

          • The Nybbler says:

            The problem, as I stated above, is that people seem to regard the absence of cutthroat ambition as a failure to be corrected.

            Not absence of “cutthroat” ambition, but absence of willingness to leave any comfortable (or formerly comfortable) situation. It simply isn’t possible to keep every community viable forever. If you’re in a one-company town and the company shuts down or moves, that town probably isn’t viable any more. Using all sorts of force to prevent the companies from moving just results in the companies failing; they weren’t moving for fun, mostly. To stop company failure as well requires totalitarian central planning, and that never works out either.

            Which just leads back to my personal bugbear about WEIRD Gentry-class types being oblivious to the social norms and capital that makes thier continued comfort possible.

            I’m not sure if WEIRD was originally meant just to be cutsey or was always a slur, but it’s certainly become one. Aside from Western, it seems like an unabashed good thing. Ignorant, agrarian, poor, and autocratic all seem like bad things.

          • tscharf says:

            This conversation strikes me as the economists are going to win the (technical) battle and lose the (political) war.

            Look, look, squirrel isn’t going to work when where you grew up or where you live now is a decaying world and everyone outside of that world just shrugs and says…”math”. Somehow I don’t remember the very same taxpayers looking at Wall Street in 2008 and shrugging then saying…”math”. The entirety of fly over country is apparently not too big too fail.

            Is there anyone out there who justifies letting the rust belt rust who also believes the banks shouldn’t have been left to die in 2008?

            This reminds me of Animal House. Thank’s for having our back all you financial “experts”, can we have another?

          • Brad says:

            This very same taxpayer back in 2008 called his Congressman and told him to vote against the bailout. I don’t think I was the only one.

          • tscharf says:

            Yes, I did too. It was one of the few times I ever contacted my congressional representative. I started to waiver on the second vote when it looked like financial armageddon was about to occur and my 401K was about cut in half.

            That was a pretty sad sequence to say the least. It takes a little sting out of it that they did pay everything back fairly quickly but nobody going to jail over that makes me want to scream to this day.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Look, look, squirrel isn’t going to work when where you grew up or where you live now is a decaying world and everyone outside of that world just shrugs and says…”math”.

            The economists can lose the political war, but economics happens anyway. Trying to stop this decay by government fiat isn’t quite trying to hold back the tide, but it’s pretty close.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @IrishDude

            I wasn’t referring to Autor et al’s China Shock research, which garnered a great deal of attention last year as a paper by well-regarded economists which charted in great detail the specific impact of trade normalization with China, and found that it didn’t follow the predicted economic models for how international trade is supposed to have a net positive result, for a variety of reasons – one of which being that the labor force is far less mobile than economists theorized it to be, so when an area became economically damaged by trade, that effect became permanent and had lots of follow-on negative effects, none of which had been predicted.

            http://www.nber.org/papers/w21906

          • Aapje says:

            @MrApophenia

            AFAIK China still has the communist system where people ‘belong’ to a certain area in the country and only get benefits from that local government. So you basically need a migration permit within the country.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @Aapje

            Sorry, I was unclear – the lack of worker mobility the paper refers to is in the US.

            A big part of the basis for the belief that international trade is always a net positive was the idea that even if areas of the country are negatively affected by trade, everyone could just move to the positively affected areas.

            Since that didn’t happen, what you got instead were huge populations of people stuck in economically devastated areas, lots of cascading negative effects resulting from that, and (the authors argue) net job losses for the US resulting from trade normalization.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ The Nybbler

            People like you are why the tragedy of the commons is a tragedy. You’re treating humans as a means to further the ends of “the economy” rather than vice versa.

      • Witness says:

        Speaking for myself, I have no particular aversion to being in foreign lands for some period of time, but the act of travel is obnoxious enough that I need strong incentive to do it.

        And of course, in the age of the internet (or even by reading a book), I can experience a lot of the benefits I care about without incurring that obnoxiousness.

      • I was discussing this thread with my wife (she’s driving, I’m reading the blog, we’re in Utah a bit short of Salt Lake en route to Pennsic, having presumably passed Scott driving the other direction). She pointed out that when she moved, as she has done several times since leaving college, part of what she did was to connect with non-geographical non-kinship based groups she was part of, such as folk dancers and SCA. When I arrived in San Jose twenty-two years ago, two SCA people helped me unload the rented truck–one someone I had known slightly in Chicago before he moved west, one who I don’t think I knew. For me libertarianism is another such group–we attended a fourth of July party this year hosted by someone I knew through that channel. For Betty, finding a church and joining the choir is another such thing.

        I wonder if willingness to move in part depends on the kind of life where such potential contacts exist–but I would think that the church one, at least, would be there for a lot of the people we have been discussing. Betty suggests amateur sports as one that isn’t real for her, would be for many others. For foreign immigrants, it was either relatives already here or people from the same area already here.

        • bean says:

          I’ll second this. I’ve moved 1000+ miles twice, both times sight unseen. Church has basically given me a social group both times, in the second move augmented by the battleship a few months in.

          • Aapje says:

            in the second move augmented by the battleship a few months in.

            I’ll ask my local military if I can loan a battleship for my next trip abroad.

        • Tibor says:

          Yeah. I had a hard time with moving even short distances – I come from Pilsen, a town well-known for its beer an hour of a bus ride (or 45 minutes by car) from Prague and yet when I was studying in Prague I’d go home every weekend (there were usually no classes on friday, so I’d leave Thursday afternoon) and go back to Pilsen. Partly it was because I had a girlfriend there, but in the first 2 years of my Bachelor I didn’t and was still coming back regularly. Then I started my PhD in Germany and while I initially went home every other weekend (4,5 hours by car or 6 hours by train…feasible, but exhausting to do that twice every two weeks), I eventually scaled it down to coming home once a month. The reason for that is that I became involved in some communities here – mostly dancing and hiking.

          This is a simple concept but for a long time eluded me. How do I get to know people in a completely foreign town especially if I’m not a student with many classmates any more, I would ask myself. Simply getting involved in social hobbies you like makes wonders and since these people are already compatible in one way or another, you make friends a lot faster and you get the sense of a community as well. I guess that the more specific and “exclusive” the group is, the easier it is. SCA seems to be fairly specific, libertarianism is also. Salsa dancing not so much but playing Afro-Peruvian music (in Germany anyway) already is 🙂 I’d also love to join a historical European martial arts club, but unfortunately there is none in my town and the closest one is 50 km away, not worth driving there and back every week for a class.

          Incidentally, this might be an interesting way to deal with “parallel societies”. A lot of immigrants just hang around the people from their country because speaking the same language and sharing the same culture is probably the simplest connection one can have to others. But if there are plenty of opportunities for social hobbies and if people there are generally welcoming to newcomers, then you can replace the ethnic communities with interest communities, at least to some degree, avoiding many problems. Maybe one of the reasons the US or Canada seem to be better at integrating immigrants than European countries are is that they speak English, which is both easier and more widely spoken world-wide than most (other) European languages. And if you don’t speak the local language you will never really be a part of the local community.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            If you are into music and dance, would you be interested in a trip back to the old country over New Year for this? I’ve been going since the one in Prague (they try to move to a new European city each year) and can recommend it.

          • Tibor says:

            @Winder Shaker: You’re going there? Well, Brno is quite far away, basically the other end of the country, about 4 hours by car. I’ve never been there (except for the central bus station on a way somewhere else), but I heard the city is not all that interesting (from someone from Olomouc, but they seem to have a little city feud going on, so I don’t know how much to believe that 🙂 ).

            I’m not really into folk music and dancing though, I like Latin American dances (possibly standard dances also, but apart from the half-mandatory class almost everyone takes at the age of 16, I’ve never danced standard either…I definitely want to learn tango eventually, which is kind of both standard and latin 🙂 ).

            In any case, I should be done with my PhD by the New Year, so I will be back home, but I’m not sure about Brno 🙂

          • Winter Shaker says:

            That’s my plan. But if you’re more into Latin stuff, you might have better luck at its sister festival which runs in Chile. Travel time may be slightly more inconvenient though 🙂

      • Uncle Saturday says:

        This thread needs more Thornton Wilder.
        http://studylib.net/doc/8328277/our-town–full-text-

    • tscharf says:

      Humans don’t appear to be pre-programmed for leaving where they grew up. Only a hundred years ago it was common people would never venture farther than 30 miles from where they were born (likely transportation limited?). In fact lots of people still live in a Somali desert is my understanding. Some people might actually like where they live. Causality might also be reversed, people who tend to move may already be those who were likely to succeed in today’s world.

      I have a similar trajectory, when I left school the first rule was get the f*** out of WV. I told my college nephew the exact same advice. I still know lots of people in WV. Most of my family who live in WV are relatively successful (I take this time to assert there are many people in WV with IQ’s over 85). I think some people understand they are not very successful in WV and may logically conclude that their chances are even worse with a high risk move to a place they don’t understand.

      The media’s representation of cities as furious hives of sophisticated industrious brainiacs making the world go round doesn’t help one’s confidence in that move.

      • Matt M says:

        Humans don’t appear to be pre-programmed for leaving where they grew up. Only a hundred years ago it was common people would never venture farther than 30 miles from where they were born

        For the unwashed masses, sure.

        But how many “great men of history” went that route? What wealthy industrialist stayed in the same spot in their entire life? What great political figures? What great creative minds and humanitarian figures?

        They all moved. Most of them frequently. Even when moving and when “returning to visit family” meant sitting for seven weeks in a cramped wooden box, eating dried biscuits, and getting seasick every day.

        If you want “great man of history” results, then you should probably do as the great men of history did. If you choose to live like a peasant, then peasant results is what you should expect.

        • Iain says:

          If you want “great man of history” results, then you should probably do as the great men of history did. If you choose to live like a peasant, then peasant results is what you should expect.

          There is a pretty massive middle ground between “great man of history” and “living like a peasant”.

        • Zodiac says:

          If you want “great man of history” results, then you should probably do as the great men of history did. If you choose to live like a peasant, then peasant results is what you should expect.

          Most people are accutely aware that they are not and will never be the “great men of history”. They are average and they know it. The best they will hope is to be slightly above average in living quality.

          • Matt M says:

            They are average and they know it.

            Then why the obsession with the 1% Why the rhetoric about millionaires and billionaires and the assumption that they just got lucky and do not deserve their wealth?

            If everyone’s outlook on life was “I am average because of the choices I made, while others may be rich or poor because of the choices they made” I’d be totally onboard with that. But most people definitely do NOT think this way…

          • DeWitt says:

            Would you decide people deserved different fates if only the rhetoric around the matter changed? It’s just a matter of words?

          • Zodiac says:

            I DO think most people have the outlook you describe.

            For the rest it’s because they don’t think it’s because of choices, it’s because they think it’s because of luck.
            It’s a wide spread assumption were I live that the rich have their wealth predominantly through inheritance and being born in the right families (you know, like getting a small loan of a million dollars from your dad).

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            Getting born above average is luck. Being brought up in an environment that makes you above average is often luck.

          • Matt M says:

            Getting born above average is luck. Being brought up in an environment that makes you above average is often luck.

            And my point is that in MY family, it doesn’t look like luck. It looks like near perfect correlation with mobility (and one other factor, which I’ll discuss in a different OT).

            I was born with most of the same genes and in almost the exact same environment as they were.

          • Aapje says:

            Your anecdote is noted, but ultimately unpersuasive to:
            – how far this is true for the 1%
            – whether this is not just a matter of some people pushing other people out of the top spots

        • DeWitt says:

          Don’t be ridiculous. There’s an X amount of wealth the world has due to technology, resources, and the like, with a distribution Y as dictated by its people through social forces beyond our grasp. Stating that all that stands between someone in a dead end town’s current situation and being a millionaire is them not living like Andrew Carnegie, is like telling them they could paint the Mona Lisa if only they’d be more like Da Vinci. The people you’re so eloquently calling peasants are the sorts of people we’ve always had, and will always have. Not everyone is going to become a master of the universe.

          Furthermore, if you accept that humans behave in certain ways and that not everyone can be part of the global elite, you can also want for them to live well. Wanting for people in general to live well seems like it’s a morally good position to hold, if nothing else. It’s a damn sight better than saying ‘let them eat cake’.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What’s more, a society composed entirely of famous industrialists and artists would starve to death in pretty short order. You need plenty of peasants to make sure the less-glamorous parts of building a civilisation get taken care of.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Something something nobody move to Rapture to clean toilets.

          • Matt M says:

            Stating that all that stands between someone in a dead end town’s current situation and being a millionaire is them not living like Andrew Carnegie, is like telling them they could paint the Mona Lisa if only they’d be more like Da Vinci.

            If someone’s stated goal in life is to be a really good painter, then “do the things that Da Vinci did” seems like solid advice to me.

            Particularly if we find out that every good painter did those things.

            If someone doesn’t mind being poor then fine, be poor. Your life, your choice, I don’t really care. But if you’re going to complain about being poor while modeling your behavior after the habits of poor people and rejecting the options to behave more like rich people, then I’m going to get mad at you and call you names, probably.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            It seems like terrible advice to me. What things do you want them to copy? Should they qualify as a master in the Guild of St Luke? Find a Borgia to work for as a military engineer?

          • Matt M says:

            Yes. Or whatever the modern equivalent of that stuff is.

            More specifically, Da Vinci had a wide range of interests other than painting. If someone wants to be a great painter, I would recommend studying the lives of many great painters and trying to find the few things they all had in common, and doing the best you can to emulate those things.

            “Moving around” seems to be something that ALL great people have in common – not just industrialists, but artists and politicians and saints and everything else.

            If you refuse to move you not only can’t be Carnegie, you can’t be Da Vinci, you can’t be Mother Teresa, you can’t be Bob Dylan, you can’t be Barack Obama, you can’t be St. Peter, you can’t be Michael Jordan, and so on and so forth…

          • tscharf says:

            People aren’t blank slates. I played and practiced basketball for years and sucked at it. I liked playing it, but let me tell you that being 6 inches shorter than average matters. My sky hook wasn’t going to work no matter how much I did what Kareem Abdul Jabber did. That coupled with a mediocre at best outside shot meant riding the bench for the church team.

            Desire and practice do not overcome all obstacles. The vast majority of people in the back of the remedial math class are never going to be even adequate coders. In that world I’m 6 inches taller than average.

            It’s a good thing for me that our current economy prefers good coders over good basketball players (ignoring the 0.0001% who make it to the NBA).

            If this economy was basketball based moving to NYC will not help my outlook very much. Perhaps NYC has many more basketball teams and even a lowly barely functional basketball player can get on a team, but I’m still going to ride the bench for a church team. Perhaps NYC has much better coaches and they could make me marginally better. Perhaps I can work on my passing skills and defense.

            What is very clear is kids from parents who are genetically athletically inclined and tall who get sent to Michael Jordan basketball camp every summer and are brought up through the best school teams are going to be better basketball players and dominate the basketball economy. I will never get to the top due to my limitations.

            Hard work and desire help, I do not in any way want to diminish this as important. But being 6 inches taller and athletically inclined are luck in the grand scheme.

          • rlms says:

            “Or whatever the modern equivalent of that stuff is.”
            But that’s the entire question! You’re just saying “to become a great painter, do the things you need to do to become a great painter”.

            I don’t know if it is true that all great people move around. Newton moved tens of miles to go to university, stayed in Cambridge for a few decades, them made another fairly short journey to London and stayed there. Gauss made a similarly short journey to Göttingen and stayhed there. Henry Ford is almost the archetypal wealthy industrialist, and he founded his companies within a few miles of his birthplace.

          • Matt M says:

            But being 6 inches taller and athletically inclined are luck in the grand scheme.

            No matter HOW much talent you have, you will never play in the NBA if you refuse to move out of your hometown in West Virginia. That is my point.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t know if it is true that all great people move around. Newton moved tens of miles to go to university, stayed in Cambridge for a few decades, them made another fairly short journey to London and stayed there. Gauss made a similarly short journey to Göttingen and stayhed there. Henry Ford is almost the archetypal wealthy industrialist, and he founded his companies within a few miles of his birthplace.

            Not every trait is absolutely universal. I’m willing to consider Ford as an exception to the general rule. Also more than willing to concede that if you happen to be born in London or Tokyo or NYC or Boston you’ve got a decent shot at still achieving great things even if you refuse to move.

      • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

        The feeling you capture in the last two sentences is very real. If you feel like a small fish in a small pond, the notion that moving to a bigger pond will result in becoming a bigger fish rather than getting eaten immediately is not intuitive. If moving to that bigger pond means packing all your things in a U-Haul and spending all your savings on security deposit + first months rent for a tiny apartment that costs three times what you’ve ever paid rent on before, it’s that much more intimidating, even if it’s the correct strategy.

        I don’t believe most small town and rural communities that have lost their economic base have much hope for recovery absent heavy subsidies. Some may be able to build a recovery on some niche, invest in amenities that provide a good quality of life attractive to workers with good skills but a distaste for city living, and prosper, but there are far more small-towns than small-town niches. That said, I can understand why an 18 or 22 year old Appalachian kid hesitates to move out, let alone his ex-coal-miner dad.

      • Tibor says:

        Pre-programmed is way too strong. There were and to some degree still are nomads today who have never had a permanent home.

    • skef says:

      Since this only barely got picked up on, and I think it’s relevant, I’ll quote myself:

      Is this the underlying role of college that people seem to wonder more and more about? Providing a structured “restart” environment, complete with new friends, as a safe way of breaking with existing social relations? And with an inherent time-limit, making it inevitable that people go on to a different stage (in the place they are needed)? Without some whole-life replacement structure like college or the military, what percentage of people would break those ties?

      And since I have a hunch why it barely got picked up on, I’ll make one of the subtexts, text:

      In the last thread, part of the idea seemed to be that white-collar people were doing better in virtue of moving where jobs are, and that that was somehow their doing. But isn’t it more accurate to say that white-collar types were sorted into the college bucket, and college rearranges your life in this way? If all higher education were on the community college model, where you just take classes and don’t have your whole social life arranged, who would move?

      Even many (most, right?) people in the contemporary skip-college “movement’ either a) spend a couple years there or b) move first into a group home/code academy type environment.

      • Matt M says:

        I saw and appreciated this comment before but didn’t have time to respond to it. I think you’re very correct. I feel like one of the unrecognized values of college/military is simply forcing people out of their comfort zone and proving to them that they’ll still be OK.

        Had I NOT joined the military at 18, it’s entirely possible I never would have left my hometown. My backup plan was to attend the hometown university. I guess maybe I would have left for the biggest city in the state after that, as most of my HS friends did. But I almost certainly never would have lived in five different regions of the country as I ended up doing.

      • onyomi says:

        Agree. As a college professor, I tend to get annoyed at those aspects of college that feel like summer camp for young adults (as in, they’re more there to socialize and find themselves than they are to learn any of the things college purports to teach, but I don’t like the camp counselor aspect of the job). I saw the networking aspect of it: be in contact with other rich and/or talented people, but I think this is a different, important point: going away to college cultivates the sort of attitude toward adulthood which is advantageous for the upper classes: breaking away from geographic, community, culture, family-based ties and going wherever to work with whomever in the world you can be most productive.

        This may also explain some of the resentment red tribe feels toward academia: on the superficial level the complaint is that the professors are too left wing and are indoctrinating the youth. This makes it sound like if you just send your children to a right wing college it will be fine. But it may be deeper than that without many actually realizing it: those for whom community, family, local culture, etc. are really important may resent college for taking their most talented hometown boys and girls and turning them into “citizens of the world.”

        • tscharf says:

          I don’t pickup on much “citizens of the world.” resentment. I think it is probably closer that different cultural values are being taught to them by academia than what they were brought up with, and the hometown / parental values are unnecessarily disrespected.

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          I think “citizens of the world” is probably more of a labour criticism against the elite rather than a labour criticism against gentry.

          When the gentry become a citizen of the world they’re usually annoying but harmless.They might write snooty articles in national newspapers about how Trump/Brexit voters are small minded.

          When the elite become a citizen of the world they do stuff like move entire factories to countries with cheaper labour. The labour class would like the elite to recognise that they benefit from the state doing things like subsidising the education of their workforce and that they should pay the state back by making more patriotic business decisions. (A nicer version of the old deal where the upper classes were expected to earn their privileges through military service)

          I remember shortly after the Brexit vote when Theresa May criticised citizens of the world it was widely interpreted as a rebuke to “Davos Man” and not hipster university graduates.

          —————–

          That’s not to say you’re wrong about labour/red complaining about blue/gentry indoctrination. Just a detail.

      • Tibor says:

        Maybe in the US? I think in Europe (or at least Germany and Bohemia) it is more common for students to go back home for the weekend. Also, there are no huge campuses in the middle of nowhere, pretty much all universities are in cities, which also makes a difference. It is not common to study further than say 200-300 km away from your home town. Of course, you also have some foreign students, many people do stuff like Erasmus where they go for a semester or two to a foreign university but otherwise the mobility and the willingness to move is nowhere near the US levels. Partly it is because moving 500 km (or even more) somewhere generally means moving to a different country where they speak a different language which most likely don’t speak or only a bit and most people don’t want to do that. But I’m at a fairly well known university in center-northish Germany and almost all German students come from not further than 250 km away. I only met a couple of people from southern Germany. In Prague we also didn’t have very many Moravian students (although we did have quite a few Slovak students there, which surprised me, maybe Slovaks are more willing to move than Czechs).

      • SuiJuris says:

        Agree.

        I grew up in the UK and went to a grammar school (i.e. an academically selective government-run high school) in a small rural town. Half the pupils (call them type A) were from families from what you might call the local elite: their parents owned the local businesses, were on the boards of the local charities, served as the town councillors, etc, and had generally done those things for several generations. The other half of the pupils (type B) were from families that had moved into the area, usually for their professional university-educated jobs: doctors, solicitors, teachers etc.

        Virtually all my school contemporaries went off to university (it was an elite high-quality school providing a first class education for the brightest students), though the drop-out rate for type A was high. But 20 years later (Facebook is a wonderful thing for this research!) the pupils from type B are all over the country, in very wide-spread networks, and doing professional university-educated jobs. Meanwhile type A are mostly back in the same small town, having married each other, and running the local businesses, serving as local councillors, etc etc.

        I don’t believe it’s the case that no man can avoid his fate; but I observe that most of us choose not to.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      I missed the prior discussion so thanks for raising this. I think the trend you notice is broadly correct, but to push back a little, I think it’s important not to cast moving around as a magic bullet. To achieve spectacular professional success almost always requires it, but the major differentiating factor I see between middle-class success vs. failure to launch people in my convenience sample of friends, relatives, etc. isn’t willingness to move per se but willingness to make a reasonable career plan, carry it out, and be flexible in order to take opportunities. This often equates to moving at least once for school or work, but coming from a mid/large metro area in good economic condition, some of the best-off folks I knew growing up stayed relatively close to home and found good, sensible options in that metro or the broader region. They also benefited from close-to-home support networks (e.g. moving home for a term to avoid taking out more loans, family connections for employment) and have found spouses/stable partners earlier than average, since their relationships aren’t disrupted by relocations and the tough decisions that go with them.

      Conversely, many of those who left for the sake of leaving–to go to a hippie college in the Northwest woods, or join a significant other on the coast, or teach English in Japan–seem to have paid significant transaction costs without gaining much from it professionally or monetarily. (Whether the consumption value of those experiences is worthwhile, I can’t say.)

      As someone who took the route of moving around a lot for school and professional opportunities, it worked out pretty well for me, but I likely could have pursued a similar career path and done about as well by staying within 250 miles of where I was born. (This might not be true for someone growing up in West Virginia or North Dakota, but that doesn’t mean they need to leave and bounce from Boston to San Jose to Tokyo and back to hold onto a middle-class rung of the ladder.)

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      This reminds me of an anecdote from Murray’s Losing Ground which I really love, and which makes me hesitant to conclude anything yet.

      The question was why there are all these out of wedlock births to young mothers in the Ghetto. The liberal response was “it is due to ignorance of their true interests: young women need to be educated to not have kids so young”. The conservative response was “it is due to culture: this foreign culture has a different utility function than ours.”

      The true response was “these women have the same utility function as us, and are pursuing it rationally and correctly.” A natural experiment (miscarriages) showed that for this cohort, having a child had very little impact on wealth or career-trajectory. So if you have a child, you are no worse off economically and you get a cute kid into the bargain..

      One often hears economists made fun of for assuming perfect rationality. But the opposite error seems more common.

      To get back to the original question: refusing to move seems either extremely misguided or based on weird preferences that I can’t understand. But there is a high probability that I am missing something due to misunderstanding the economics. Ideally we would find a natural experiment to see how moving affects career prospects. How about people displaced by natural disasters?

      • The version of the same basic point that long ago struck me was the observation that legal abortion and reliable contraception were supposed to sharply reduce unmarried pregnancies but were in fact followed by a sharp increase in them. The argument hinged on the belief that these were “unwanted children,” the result of unintentional pregnancies.

        The natural conclusion from what happened is that most of them were not unwanted.

        • baconbacon says:

          How do you explain the increase then, shouldn’t it have been flat?

          • Eric Rall says:

            On the margins, legal abortion and reliable contraception made people who didn’t want babies more willing to be sexually active, since the risk of babies became quite a bit smaller and thus less effective as a deterrent. It’s like how some statistical analyses of mandatory seat belt laws concluded that the laws were actually increasing the fatality rate, since people were driving more aggressively and that was causing enough new accidents to cancel out the very real benefits seat belts have if you are in an accident.

            I’m too lazy too look up numbers right now, but from what I recall, there was a significant increase in the total number of unmarried pregnancies in the 1970s (corresponding to Roe v Wade and some slightly-earlier state-by-state liberalizations of abortion law), but the live birth numbers were more-or-less flat.

            For reliable birth control, it may have increased the unintentional pregnancy rate when it first became widely available (I’m not sure if it did or not), but it probably was a major contributing factor to the more recent decline in unintentional pregnancies in the 90s and 2000s as actually using birth control consistently (condoms and pills are much more reliable under “consistent correct use” than “typical use” patterns) and using a defense-in-depth approach for casual sex (using condoms in addition to hormonal birth control) became widespread. Both parts of these are hard to disentangle from non-birth-control risk factors affecting behavior, though: availability of birth control pills in the 60s coincided with availability of antibiotics which made STDs much less scary, and the 90s coincided with widespread awareness of the AIDS epidemic, which made STDs scary again. And the 90s also coincided with much stricter enforcement of child support, which gave men a larger incentive to take precautions against unwanted pregnancy.

          • @Bacon:

            You are correct. I was explaining why it didn’t sharply decrease.

            An explanation of the increase, borrowed from Akerlof and Yellin, is that in a world without reliable contraception intercourse is linked to pregnancy. Pregnancy is a problem for a single woman, so many, perhaps most, women were only willing to sleep with men who married them, or credibly committed to doing so. Men wanted sex, it was hard to get without commitment, so many men got married.

            Break the link and women who don’t want children are willing to have sex without commitment, either because they enjoy it too or because men are willing to pay them, not necessarily in money, in exchange. Their competition reduces the bargaining power of women who want both children and a husband, with the result that many, unable to obtain a husband, decide to produce children without one.

          • JulieK says:

            Their competition reduces the bargaining power of women who want both children and a husband, with the result that many, unable to obtain a husband, decide to produce children without one.

            I’m trying to figure out why I think this kind of competition is unfortunate, when I don’t think it’s a bad thing to remove restrictions on employer-employee bargaining.

            Do you think it’s because the first case involves a non-consenting third party, namely the baby who will grow up without a father’s involvement?

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you think it’s because the first case involves a non-consenting third party, namely the baby who will grow up without a father’s involvement?

            Also because the rest of us benefit from couples teaming up to produce babies that will be useful for us twenty years down the road, without our having to pay them for it. The new rules produce more women who decide on career + baby but no husband, but also women who choose career + husband but no baby, and we are left with a potential undersupply of babies and we’d prefer not to have to come up with actual solutions.

          • Do you think it’s because the first case involves a non-consenting third party, namely the baby who will grow up without a father’s involvement?

            I think that’s one reason for being uncomfortable with the change. Another is that the husband is to some degree being replaced by the taxpayer.

            But there are at least two other things that go into the feeling. One is the suspicion that the man who prefers casual sex to marriage is making a mistake, taking a short term benefit over his own long term welfare. Seeing it from my own experience, I occasionally fantasize about affairs with women younger and more attractive than my wife. If I had not married I would almost certainly have had more sexual partners, at least some of them more physically desirable. But I am pretty sure I would have had a less happy and, in ways that matter to me, less productive life. Consider this, in terms of Dawkins metaphor of revolting robots, a case in which I suspect the genes are winning, manipulating us into acting in their interest instead of ours–more precisely, in what would have been in their interest in the environment we evolved in.

            The other is the sort of thing that John mentions. We suspect that couples getting married and jointly rearing children produces benefits for other people–more productive people to associate with, fewer muggers, deadbeats, scammers.

      • Matt M says:

        But there is a high probability that I am missing something due to misunderstanding the economics.

        My theory is that it’s largely tied to government benefits. The cost of being unemployed in Dallas, TX and Nowhere, WV are essentially the same. We (generally) pay the same benefits to both such people, despite the fact that with two equally-skilled people, the guy in Dallas is almost certain to find work much faster (assuming he wants to) while the guy in WV quite likely never will.

        So we are, in effect, subsidizing people’s decision to remain in low productivity areas. Then we sit around and wonder why there are so many low productivity areas.

        One often hears economists made fun of for assuming perfect rationality. But the opposite error seems more common.

        That said, I agree with this completely. The people in Janesville are behaving rationally, given their actual preferences (which don’t necessarily match their stated preferences) and their incentives.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        To get back to the original question: refusing to move seems either extremely misguided or based on weird preferences that I can’t understand. But there is a high probability that I am missing something due to misunderstanding the economics.

        You’ve got three kids and an elderly mother to take care of. Your social circle in Nowheresville, AK is built around your church, which has an after school program for the kids (church moms take turns watching the tikes) and volunteers go by Grandma’s house every Tuesday and Thursday to stock up her freezer and play a game of bridge.

        You can move to Happeningsville and make an extra $25k, but now you’re going to spending $15k on childcare, the cost of living is $10k higher, and elder care is God knows how expensive. Do you move?

        • baconbacon says:

          Simple answer

          Yes.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            How is that rational? The stated reason for moving is economic (not because one hates one’s hometown), and our example person has calculated that moving away from the community support network makes her less well off because her costs increased more than her income.

          • baconbacon says:

            Because I know that a few years of struggle are more likely to pay out in terms of long run results. The +$25,000 extra in Happensville is likely to act as a floor on your future earnings, where as not moving is likely to act as a ceiling.

          • Matt M says:

            Because I know that a few years of struggle are more likely to pay out in terms of long run results

            This this this.

            An 18 year old who lives with his parents and works a minimum wage job will almost certainly be poorer, over a fair number of years, if they quit their job and go attend a top university.

            But it’s still a rational economic decision to make!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That is not the same thing at all. You cannot compare an 18 year old going to college to a grown person with children and elders to take care of hoping for a future better economic outcome in a city. The risk tolerance is vastly, vastly different.

          • baconbacon says:

            That is not the same thing at all. You cannot compare an 18 year old going to college to a grown person with children and elders to take care of hoping for a future better economic outcome in a city. The risk tolerance is vastly, vastly different.

            If one town says your economic output is worth $25,000, and another $50,000 (or even $40,000 if you want to subtract out the cost of living increase) then that is an extremely strong signal that you should try to move. If one town it is $0 and another $15,000-$25,000 then that is an even stronger indication.

            Staying in an area that in real terms values your work at 40-100% less (and falling!) than nearby areas is extremely risky.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Because I know that a few years of struggle are more likely to pay out in terms of long run results.

            This is by no means a given, in fact it is a large part of the problem. See bacon^2 and Conrad’s posts above.

          • baconbacon says:

            This is by no means a given, in fact it is a large part of the problem. See bacon^2 and Conrad’s posts above.

            Did you just cite me to refute me? Hmmm.

            Anyway, of course it isn’t a given, there is risk everywhere, there is risk in staying! The question is how to figure out the best option.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Did you just cite me to refute me?

            That was supposed to be in reply to Matt.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Anyway, of course it isn’t a given, there is risk everywhere, there is risk in staying! The question is how to figure out the best option.

            Yeah, but you’re just declaring that moving will all work out better and that staying is not rational, and I do not think that’s a given. It’s completely rational for someone to conclude “I’m better staying poor with my social support net rather than abandoning my social support net in the hopes I can do better economically elsewhere.” Especially when we’re talking about people with the kinds of education and credentials those “trapped” in a small town have. Yes, I can bug off to anywhere and do fine, because I both have a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and because I’m the type of person who could earn a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. The same is not true for a lifelong resident of Nowheresville, AK.

          • albatross11 says:

            Conrad:

            Yes. I think it’s common to feel:

            a. Added safety from having family nearby as a support structure.

            b. Obligation to be around to be the support structure for your family.

            American culture has a huge thread of willingness to move away and cut ties and all, and it’s really valuable–it’s probably a big part of what has made the US so dynamic. But there’s a big downside there, too–people tend to lose their ties to their community over time, have fewer close friends, less involvement with their neighbors, etc. And with no informal safety net provided by family and friends, when they get in trouble, they’re perforce thrown on the safety net provided by government.

            One way you see of adapting to that is that immigrants often cluster together–a bunch of people from the same town back in Italy end up in the same apartment in New York. By transplanting a chunk of the community, you bring some of the safety net and potential babysitters, friends, employers, and employees into the new place.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            By transplanting a chunk of the community, you bring some of the safety net and potential babysitters, friends, employers, and employees into the new place.

            So what you’re saying is we need to adopt the Beverly Hillbillies model.

          • baconbacon says:

            Yeah, but you’re just declaring that moving will all work out better and that staying is not rational,

            No I didn’t, I said that it is more likely to work out long term in a place that values your skill set by 50-100% more.

            Anecdote time: Last week my wife and I put an offer in on a house that was accepted, the inspection came back with an estimate 25,000+ worth of repairs needed and we withdrew our offer, and the sellers came back an offered to knock 26,000 off the price. We declined. Here are the options as we see it

            1. We make out in the deal and are able to fix everything for less than $26,000 and having done all this work we have fewer issues in the future than we had anticipated in our budget due to the age of the house.

            2. Everything roughly works out even with the extra money off the mortgage covering the extra costs.

            3. It costs more to fix the house and/or there are more problems not found or are developing than we anticipate.

            1 and 2 are distinct possibilities, but we weighted 3 more heavily because we guess that a house that hasn’t been maintained properly (several of the issues were straight maintenance ones, like a leaking porch roof causing the wood to rot badly) is more likely than not to have additional unseen issues or have had other issues covered up but not fixed.

            I can’t know which is actually true, but we are looking at the costs of the repairs and trying to ballpark what that means for the future costs of the house. In the scenario you provided the large wage gap would be an extremely strong signal that you are going to be better off in the long term with the extra (real) income, and you have to try to guess at why the gap exists. It could be because one place is very undesirable to live in (say North Dakota) and they have to pay a premium to get people to move there, or it could be because the area is growing quickly and demand for you skills outstrip the local supply. Or it could be any number of other reasons, or combinations.

            Whatever that combination is though that extra income will typically mean “you are more valuable here than there”, and that will typically mean that gap will persist for quite some time.

        • @Conrad:

          Apropos of the argument I have been making, do you realize that, in your hypothetical, not only is not moving rational, it’s also what will happen in a laissez-faire society. The engine of the market is producing the right result.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But there is no laissez-faire society, and the engine of the market has junk in the fuel lines. None of these markets are free. Our technocrat class hamstrung our economy with regulations of all sorts and then moved production to totalitarian states with what approximates slave labor. Then when the laborers have been priced out of the labor market by technocrat manipulations, the technocrats pretend this all natural. None of this is natural or due to “market forces.”

            You can set policies that favor capital, or those that favor labor, or try to balance them, but there is no “free market” option here. One must choose one’s poison.

          • thad says:

            Why is moving rational?

    • CatCube says:

      The infuriating thing about the modern economy and the way it pulls every economic activity to the cities and removing the option for a decent job in smaller areas is that city living is really shitty. I like Patton Oswalt’s summation of it–though he was only talking about New York compared to LA, I think it’s a pretty good description of cities in general: “The city turns your skull into a cage, your brain into a rat, and then the city just keeps poking the rat.”

      Yeah, I moved away in the military, then took a job across the country when I got out. But I have way fewer friends now than I did when I was back home. I’ve always struggled to form friendships, and I don’t keep in good touch with people remotely. People that I don’t personally interact with tend to fade into a fog. If the Cascadia Event actually hit where I live now, I have way fewer people to fall back on, where if I was back at home and a major fire or something wrecked the area, I have people I could band together with. Community networks matter.

      • baconbacon says:

        The infuriating thing about the modern economy and the way it pulls every economic activity to the cities and removing the option for a decent job in smaller areas is that city living is really shitty. I

        The modern economy or the modern political economy?

      • Incurian says:

        I did the military thing, got out and moved far away from home for school. Didn’t know anyone so I made friends with my neighbors, joined the less wrong meetup group, and harassed my internet friends into moving here (so far 2 are moving and a couple more will when they’ve found jobs here).

        We’re Americans. Moving for better opportunities is in our blood, and if we find ourselves without communities we build them. *waves a flag*

  42. OptimalSolver says:

    Is there a name for the phenomenon where a culture inherits the artifacts of an earlier culture, but because of the artifacts’ state of preservation, the later culture has extreme misconceptions about the earlier one?

    The example I’m thinking of is Classical Greek and Roman art, long associated with pristinely white marble. Detailed analysis now shows these objects to have been actually painted a riot of bright colors that faded away over time leaving behind only the underlying marble. Reconstructions appear extremely tawdry to modern eyes.

    The art, architecture and aesthetic philosophy inspired by the ancients is based on something that literally didn’t exist in Classical times. An art historian mentions taking a friend to an art show featuring reconstructions. The friend blanched and stated: “There’s no way the Ancient Greeks were that gauche!”

    But they were.

    • The Nybbler says:

      An art historian mentions taking a friend to an art show featuring reconstructions. The friend blanched and stated: “There’s no way the Ancient Greeks were that gauche!”

      But they were.

      This is not so clear. The statues were certainly painted. But the “riot of bright colors” is based on very thin evidence. They could have been subtler, but only the strongest pigments remain. The bright colors could have been an underpainting. They could have been painted brightly but expected to fade in short order.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        We could also compare to flat art, such as the Fayum portraits or the frescoes of Pompeii, neither of which is gauche. But I should add a disclaimer that they weren’t monumental public art.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        They could have been painted brightly but expected to fade in short order.

        Or placed high up on the pediments of buildings, where they’d be too far away for subtle colours to really be visible.

        • onyomi says:

          Also, whenever evaluating premodern color choices, we should remember the lack of artificial lighting.

          Close up, under a harsh, artificial light, this sort of costume might look gaudy, but under sunlight, from a distance, or, even better, by firelight, it looks quite nice. And Dravidian temples somehow still look cool to me, even with artificial lights, though they definitely seem aimed at a more mandala-esque overwhelming aesthetic.

    • Incurian says:

      TVTropes calls it Dated History, and your example is the first one under “Classical Antiquity,” except that someone claims that example is also false!

    • onyomi says:

      Though there are, of course, certain objects, artifacts, sites, etc. so iconic and significant I’m skeptical of the value of anyone fooling with them in any way other than to preserve them, I’m still the sort of person, in general, who wants to see the Sistine Chapel with the soot wiped off, wants to see the faded colors painted back on the palace walls, wants to see what the Venus de Milo looked like with arms (though probably better to do that to a reconstruction than the original), etc. etc.

      In other words, since “the past is a foreign country,” I want to visit that country, not a faded remnant of it. Though it’s not a substitute for visiting the Acropolis, for example, I really enjoy something like the statue of Athena in the Nashville Parthenon in a different way.

      That said, regarding the desire to make e.g. the ancient Greeks into something they weren’t, though the coloring is a…glaring example, I think it’s a very prevalent thing: namely, it’s hard for us moderns to comprehend how essentially backward-looking, ignorant, and romanticizing about the past almost everyone in the world has always been until very recently.

      That is, viewing the past as an idealized, simpler, uncorrupted version of the present is sort of the default for human history. Having a realistic idea of the past and how, in many ways, it probably sucked even worse than the present, is very new. For example, medieval Europeans depict Jesus and his disciples as basically medieval Europeans… because they had no clue what a 1st century person from Galilee would have looked like or dressed like.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Having a realistic idea of the past and how, in many ways, it probably sucked even worse than the present, is very new.

        To be fair, until relatively recently the past didn’t really suck more than the present; GDP per capita remained pretty constant until the eighteenth century.

        • onyomi says:

          I mean, I think the Ming Dynasty was a better place to live, overall, than the Han Dynasty, which was a better place to live, overall, than the Western Zhou Dynasty. This didn’t stop the Chinese from constantly trying to recapture the glory of the ancients.

          (You are right, however, that it tended to be more of a mixed bag and less of a straight line; the Tang Dynasty was freer and more cosmopolitan in many ways than the Ming, and early urbanization tends to be a double-edged sword in various ways; I think I’d still have preferred to live in the Ming as opposed to the Tang, however).

          • DeWitt says:

            I’ve had the difference between the two explained that the Tang had a bunch of people flee and head over towards China, whereas the Ming was a period where more people spread from china instead.

            And didn’t the An Lushan revolt happen during the Tang’s reign? I believe it was the most devastating war humanity has seen up until the Mongols came along, no? The things the Ming went through appear much more tame.

          • onyomi says:

            I would say that the Tang was a better place to live compared to the rest of the 7th to 10th century world than the Ming was compared to the rest of the 14th to 17th century world, yet the Ming was still, overall, a better time to be a regular person than the Tang, despite more conservatism and constraints on e.g. trade and the freedom of high class women.

            And no, I don’t think anything regular Ming people had to go through was as bad as the An Lushan Rebellion. Maybe the Taiping Rebellion during the Qing. But I think it’s harder to claim the late Qing was a better time/place to live than the late Ming.

          • DeWitt says:

            That’s actually a fair statement, hm.. I do suppose the Tang were relatively far ahead of their time, whereas the Ming would be somewhat less so.

    • Anon. says:

      Do we know if the Greeks paint the bronze statues as well?

  43. Pablo says:

    So I did one of those dna testing things. I hear that it’s a good idea to download the raw data and have other organizations do tests on it as well. Any advice on whether it’s worth it and which place would be the best for that?
    As far as the ancestry end of it, the results I got were more or less expected (I was hoping for some huge surprises, as I have a great-grandparent who was given to an orphanage as a baby) although it threw a tiny tiny amount of ‘east asian or native american’ dna at the 50% confidence level which I assume is noise since it disappears at higher levels of confidence, and a tiny tiny amount of Ashkenazi Jewish dna which might be plausible since it still is claimed at the 80% confidence level but I’m not really sure whether it’s also noise, since it’s such a small percentage.

    • caethan says:

      Run it through Promethease, which uses an open-source database of SNP associations. (https://promethease.com/) If you don’t like the idea of uploading your genetic data somewhere, there’s an outdated downloadable version available as well: https://www.snpedia.com/index.php/Promethease/Desktop

    • Murphy says:

      What formats can you download the data in?

      most cheap public DNA testing services are actually a bit crap but if it will give it to you as VCF files or similar then you can annotate it with free software yourself that’s easy enough to set up if you’re even vaguely used to using linux.

      I’m biased because I’ve had to set it up a few times on servers but VEP will annotate VCF files nicely.

      http://www.ensembl.org/info/docs/tools/vep/index.html

      guessing ancestory based on those kinds of snp array data also tends to be a bit flaky so ignore anything that isn’t high-confidence.

      • Pablo says:

        I haven’t used linux before, although I am attracted to the free software idea. Initial googling makes it look easy enough to convert the file to vcf.

  44. tomac100 says:

    So this guy running for Senate is proposing the same warmed over nonsense that Bernie was peddling, and wants our foreign policy to stay roughly the same as Obama’s. Why are you promoting him again?

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Still sounds like an improvement over Feinstein.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      …because I agreed with Bernie and Obama on a lot of things, especially compared to other politicians. Also, a friend works in his campaign and asked me to advertise him, so I did.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        Obama was shit and foreign policy though. Prefer Sanders/Paul on that really. Least he is decent on domestic stuff.

  45. 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 und