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Links 7/17: URL of Sandwich

Did you know: medieval Christians who didn’t understand Islam imagined Muslims as worshiping a god named Termagant; through a weird chain of events this became the modern word for an argumentative woman.

The fantastic Hungarian architecture of Imre Makovecz. Also: the Cologne Central Mosque and Michiel Schrijver’s cityscapes.

I was previously pretty convinced that lithium in drinking water was having a significant (and positive) effect on populations, but the most recent study is skeptical.

Ancient people believed the kidney was involved in conscience and deliberation, and according to the Talmud “one of the two kidneys counsels what is good, and the other evil”. What would they think of kidney donors? (h/t Elissa)

You know what nobody hates each other over yet? Quilting.

Study on economic vs. social politics finds that economically-conservative-socially-liberal people (libertarians?) are rarest, economically-liberal-socially-conservative people (populists?) are much more common than expected.

Another highly positive study on the connection between lead and crime, this one almost a true experiment. Children placed in a lead-reduction program, compared to children just over the cutoff for qualifying for the program, saw their risk of violent crime as adults drop by 66%! The reduction of lead in the experimental group of this study was about the same as the society-wide reduction over the past twenty years.

Vice presents a counter-narrative about the opioid crisis: pain patients prescribed opiates rarely get addicted, most addicts happen when the pills get diverted away from real patients. Haven’t really evaluated this to see how true it is but I agree with them that some of the statistics going around about how every single person prescribed a painkiller is at high risk of addiction are a little overblown.

Among the latest attempts to cut federal bureaucracy: ordering agencies to stop providing updates on their preparations for the Y2K bug.

That time Pepsi bought 17 submarines, a cruiser, and a destroyer from the Soviet Union as part of the Cola Wars.

Some context for Jon Ossoff’s loss in the recent Georgia special election: was the last Democratic candidate for that seat even a real person?

Daniel Lakens: Impossibly Hungry Judges. That famous study showing judges are more likely to convict just before lunch has such a high effect size that it can’t possibly make sense. Also a link to a more thorough critique of the study suggesting that courts schedule defendants without representation just before lunch, providing a more likely explanation than judges’ hunger.

Elizabeth Warren as synthesis of the Hillary/Bernie dialectic. I think she’s probably the Democrat closest to my own views right now.

Someone responded to my post using “murderism” as a reductio ad absurdum by pointing out the controversial police training classes by Dave Grossman, “the world’s sole authority on killology”.

Jonathan Kay discusses mob culture and attacks on free speech, but focuses on something important that isn’t mentioned enough. Yes, the PC-left are doing most of the attacking, but the PC-left is also most of the victims. Non-leftists can occasionally get in trouble if they’re Charles-Murray-level good targets, but generally escape unscathed (Murray’s conservative think tank unsurprisingly continues to support him). Leftists live in constant fear because they’re in social circles where this happens all the time and where all their friends will automatically side with the accusers. This isn’t just mean, it’s really bad strategy if you want people to stay on the left. I wonder if part of the success of the Bernie Sanders/socialist left is about it being a leftist space which is safe(r) from this kind of thing.

How much of effective altruism is about doing things directly, versus acting as a living advertisement to attract the attention of rich people with a thousand times more money available than everyone else? I think this is an important question insofar as it challenges the philosophy that doing good is always more important than looking good. Some form of weirdness which raises effectiveness 10% but turns off one otherwise-recruitable billionaire ends up being pretty costly.

Center For A Stateless Society has probably the best response to my cost disease post I’ve seen so far, which suggests the problem is something like oligopolies, plus weird accounting rules that treat “costs” and “revenues” in confusing and inappropriate ways.

Political Regime Type And Warfare: Evidence From 600 Years Of European History. Between 1200 and 1800, parliamentary regimes were more likely to get involved in wars than absolutist ones.

What Democrats mean when they say that AHCA is being “rammed through” Congress (compared to Obamacare).

Milton Friedman on how to change the world; relevant for almost everybody.

Vox on the sordid history of the COEXIST bumper sticker. Spoiler: the various people with financial stakes in the design aren’t very good at coexisting.

Washington Post: No One Is Paying Attention To The Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since World War II: “the danger [is] that about 20?million people in four countries will suffer famine in the coming months, and that hundreds of thousands of children will starve to death.”

Lots of discussion about the recent study finding that Seattle’s minimum wage increase backfired and hurt poor workers. The argument in favor of the study, as presented by the Foundation for Economic Education; the argument against, as presented by the Economic Policies Institute. But also, see the Seattle Weekly on how the city tried to cover up/muddy the waters on the incriminating data, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on how St. Louis’ minimum wage is decreasing, Marginal Revolution on potentially relevant evidence from Denmark, Megan McArdle and Noah Smith‘s analyses, and Zvi (1, 2) on some ways the Seattle data don’t really add up. Luckily, there are enough other cities making large minimum wage increases (and Seattle plans to increase it further) that we should have much more evidence on this pretty soon.

Related: Maine Tried To Raise Its Minimum Wage; Restaurant Workers Didn’t Want It. “Some cried with relief, Buckwalter said, when the final vote ended at 110 to 37 — overwhelmingly [in favor of lowering their wages]”.

Popehat: “There are many very stupid ideas about free speech in academia. Perhaps the stupidest is this: free speech is a legal norm used to protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless, but exceptions to free speech will benefit the powerless. Nobody with a passing knowledge of the history of free speech takes this seriously.” Related (albeit old): Why I Think XKCD Is Wrong About Free Speech.

Related: Data On Campus Free Speech Cases. “Of the 77 cases, I coded 20 (26%) as censorship of liberals, 40 (52%) as censorship of conservatives, and 17 (22%) as apolitical censorship.”

Something I didn’t expect to see a serious argument for today: “The entire edifice of Western civilization – all the cultural, social, and philosophical structures that define the world in which we live today – can be traced back to a stupid loophole in Roman inheritance law.”

2,100 Australian public servants participate in a gigantic resume experiment to assess unconscious bias against women and minorities; finds that there is in fact bias in favor of women and minorities, and that gender-blind or race-blind assessments cause more whites and men to be hired. Concludes that this indicates “need for caution when moving towards blind recruitment processes”.

Everything about economics in India sounds like a mess, but there’s been at least one small step forward with the passage of a national sales tax. “The official schedule of rates runs to 213 pages and has undergone repeated changes, some taking place as late as on Friday evening…Adding to the complexity, businesses with pan-India operations face filing over 1,000 digital returns a year.”

Example-Based Synthesis Of Stylized Facial Animations, the movie – watch an AI convert a video to different artistic styles on the fly.

The US government can borrow money at about 1% per year. The stock market earns about 4% per year. “I expect the government should own a bunch of stuff.”

Roman concrete does outlast modern concrete, but it’s not a simple story about ancient wisdom so much as different solutions for different problems.

A very very thorough study not only finds no effect of birth order, but demonstrates some of the ways other studies that did claim to find an effect could have gone wrong. The only exception is a small effect on “intellect”, defined as whether people self-report as being “eager for knowledge”. Possibly related to this study on firstborn IQ and the very strong birth order effects on the LW survey?

NYT: How To Make Congress Bipartisan. Described by Jonathan Haidt as “the best single idea I’ve seen to reduce political polarization and dysfunction”. Make larger districts with proportional representation, so that there’s an actual fight between Democrats and Republicans everywhere, and nobody is more afraid of being primaried than of the general election.

Neural networks generate Harry Potter fan fiction.

New from OpenAI: Deep reinforcement learning from human preferences. Obvious AI safety implications.

Latest study in growth mindset shows decent effect sizes, persistence at least three weeks.

More evidence against corporate campaign contributions mattering: “We find no evidence that corporations benefit from electing their favored candidate, and we can statistically reject effect sizes greater than 0.4 percent of firm value…corporate campaign contributions do not appear to but significant political favors.”

Detecting polygenic adaptation in admixture graphs. Genes linked to educational attainment show signs of differential recent selection in different populations. Except if I’m reading it right, the only populations that show selection are East Asians and Peruvians, which is kind of a weird grab bag of groups. And the East Asian selection seems to have happened very early (10,000+ years ago?), which rules out explanations based on the Chinese civil service exams or any other historical selection pressures. Overall not sure what to think about this. [EDIT: See discussion in the comments]

Someone commenting on my perception/cognition post found me this paper, which tries the same thing and not only finds very little connection between illusion perception and personality, but even very little correlation between perception of different illusions. “The findings suggest that vision is highly specific; ie there is no common factor”.

What will football be like in the future?

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731 Responses to Links 7/17: URL of Sandwich

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    No one else is going to comment on Termagant?
    To the best of my knowledge, the original source is The Song of Roland (anonymous Anglo-Norman “epic” of 4,000 verses, circa 1066). This poem founded a genre called chanson de geste (song of deeds) which we have in French dialects and Middle English. The subject matter, the adventures of Charlemagne and his paladins (origin of the term, RPG fans) against the Musselmen, was taken up in the late 15th century by aspiring epic poets of Italy who poured in into the mold/tropes of Virgil and Ovid, introducing female warriors and villains, other ethnic groups (the main female villain is the dubiously-named Princess Angelica of China), and making the setting’s backstory the Matter of Britain.
    In the stories I’ve read, the Song of Roland, Orlando innamorato & Orlando furioso, Termagant is not a character, only a name the “Muslims” swear by. I’ve never read a medieval mystery play, but I’m curious if we know which one introduced him.

    • the main female villain is the dubiously-named Princess Angelica of China

      I don’t think that’s a fair description of Angelica. Main plot device, possibly.

      My daughter argues that she is a villainess as of the beginning of the Innamorato, goes back and forth between villain and hero thereafter.

      Warning: When wondering around the world of the Orlandos, do not drink from random sources of water.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Heh, “main plot device”.

        I would argue that your daughter argues correctly. She’s introduced as a spy for her father, trying to get Charlemagne’s high-level companions infighting so they can steal their most valuable stuff (which includes Charlemagne’s sword and an intelligent horse if I remember right), but goes on to fill other roles including heroine and consensually distressed damsel.

        And yes, the very title of the innamorato comes from the consequences of drinking strange fountain water.
        The title of the furioso comes from almost exactly halfway in, when Orlando finds out that Angelica is marrying someone else and goes into a rage that involves stripping, beating peasants to death with their own donkey and swimming the straits of Gibraltar. The paladin Astolfo goes on a quest to the Moon to retrieve the lost bottle of Orlando’s sanity… and no one who hasn’t read it could guess how he gets off Earth.
        Then there’s the Morgante, whose hero is a giant who eventually SPOILER: laughs to death at the sight of a monkey wearing boots.

    • Deiseach says:

      Speaking of “Orlando Furioso”, back in 2008 a since-defunct blog I used to hang around had a few posts discussing it, sample one below:

      Orlando ETA – Blame Ariosto for “death by snoo-snoo”

      Yup, maybe there’s an earlier version, but I don’t know of it: in keeping with the whole theme of Updating The Classics For A Contemporary Audience, he has another group, five Paladins (again, mixed-gender and ethno-religiously diverse) en route home from the international tournament circuit, get shipwrecked in the Land of the Amazons – where they are given the choice of being slaves, or the chance to fight not only for their freedom but for the throne of Amazonia as well.

      The kicker is, their champion has to not only fight ten warriors in battle and win, (the only males the Amazons allow to bear arms and fight) – he also has to then “satisfie” ten of their women.* If he succeeds, then he gets to be king (of a sort) with all of them for wives. If he isn’t strong enough to beat all ten warriors, or doesn’t have enough, ah, “force” left to “please” all ten women in the “act of generation,” then he gets the chop and the rest of the crew are enslaved.**

      So of course the short straw falls to Queen Marfisa of India – who is definitely NOT The Chick in this five-man band – to beat all the enemy dudes (well, of course, since she rocked the lists so hard in Damascus, and is such a famous knight that for her to say her name anywhere in the Mediterranean is to have total strangers go “Ohshit we’re DOOMED”) even though she does snarkily acknowledge that she won’t be able to fulfill the second part of the test, she says that her sword will change the laws here, and sweeps through 9 of the 10 warriors “like chainshot”, but the last guy (a Black Knight, no less) is so good that they fight all day long, until he being a right courteous knight for all his country’s cruel customs, offers to give them hospitality and safeguard against the 90 vengeful widows of the men Marfisa killed, so that they can fight again in the morning…

      …and then she takes off her helmet and lets her hair down and WHOA UR A GIRL!!!

      Yeah, Ariosto has a lot to answer for!

      * Where Shakespeare’s contemporary Harington uses “force,” late-Regency/early-Victorian Rose euphemises with “breath”. Ariosto just says “appetito”.

      **He does, however, give a motive and a sympathetic backstory for the customs of the Amazons, along with all the “so, how does this work? How can they stand the sexual frustration?” snickering – they’re the descendents of the dumped girlfriends of the exiled bastards of the Greek kings come home from Troy…

  2. Jaskologist says:

    I wonder if part of the success of the Bernie Sanders/socialist left is about it being a leftist space which is safe(r) from this kind of thing.

    Hell no. Sanders has already succumbed to this.

    I give you Sanders vs Vought (details) (video), where he attacks the nominee for Management and Budget for, in essence, saying that Muslims are not Christians.

    That’s the kind of attack on 1st amendment freedoms which epitomizes all the worst aspects of the modern left. Sanders basically doesn’t believe that Christians with standard orthodox beliefs should be allowed to hold office, at least if they speak them aloud. And I think we can safely assume he applies that only to Christians.

    • Jaskologist says:

      My own personal theory for the success of Sanders: he was the only one on the Democratic side allowed to run against Hillary, because they knew he didn’t have a chance. So everybody in the not-Hillary camp coalesced around him, even if they weren’t necessarily full-blown socialists themselves. And then when Hillary failed he was the only one standing.

      Basically, all an artifact of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Clintons. If Biden had been allowed to run, we’d be talking about the Biden wing.

      • BBA says:

        Martin O’Malley (remember him? two-term governor of Maryland, ring any bells?) was Clinton’s designated token opposition. Sanders didn’t have anyone’s blessings, hell he isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party (something I’ve seen Clintonistas harp on to no end for the past two years).

    • Jiro says:

      I give you Sanders vs Vought (details) (video), where he attacks the nominee for Management and Budget for, in essence, saying that Muslims are not Christians.

      Saying that people not of your religion are condemned is reprehensible. The defense “I believe something reprehensible because my religion teaches this reprehensible thing, and I believe my religion” is not much of a defense. It’s like saying “I shoplifted this because it was on a store shelf, and I shoplift things on store shelves.”

      (Sanders is probably being selective about this with respect to not condemning Muslims who say similar or worse things, but that’s a separate issue.)

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        He was quoting John 3:18. “Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

        And in the context of a piece Vought wrote about an issue at his Christian alma mater, not in any way related to a government position.

        Saying that people not of your religion are condemned is reprehensible. The defense “I believe something reprehensible because my religion teaches this reprehensible thing, and I believe my religion” is not much of a defense.

        So, all believing Christians and Muslims are reprehensible then. I don’t think there are many believing Christians who think you can get to heaven without believing in Jesus, nor are there believing Muslims who think you can get to paradise without acknowledging Allah and Mohammed (and by rejecting the divinity of Christ. To Muslims, God is One, and the Trinity is blasphemy).

        The way we’re supposed to handle this “freedom of religion” thing is to “agree to disagree.” So long as Vought’s not planning to use the Office of Management and Budget to persecute non-Christians I think he’s playing by the rules. It’s Sanders who’s not agreeing to disagree.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Reminds me a bit of a dust-up we’ve had over in the UK where Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, had to resign his position after it turned out that he (privately — his party platform is, AFAIK, fully supportive of all things gay-rights related) thought homosexual sex is a sin. David Laws, another prominent Liberal Democrat politician, wrote an editorial saying “I don’t care if his private beliefs have no impact on the policies he supports, he shouldn’t be holding them in the first place!”

        • Jiro says:

          He was quoting John 3:18.

          That’s the same thing: you’re excusing a reprehensible belief by saying that he got it from his religion. That’s a point against the Bible, not a point in favor of him.

          I don’t think there are many believing Christians who think you can get to heaven without believing in Jesus

          We’ve had at least one.

          • Jaskologist says:

            That’s the same thing: you’re excusing a reprehensible belief by saying that he got it from his religion.

            And therefore…?

            What do you want to do about it? Do you agree with Sanders that standard Christian beliefs should disqualify a person from government office? Because if that’s what religious tolerance is, I’m not sure what good it is.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That’s a misinterpretation of the catechism. “Ignorant of the gospels” is for people who were never exposed to them, not people who heard the Good News and said “nah, screw this.”

            I’m sorry Jiro, but you occupy a planet with lots and lots of reprehensible people. The way I put up with all you reprehensible atheists is by agreeing to disagree with you. How do you deal with us reprehensible Christians?

          • Deiseach says:

            Does Bernie Sanders believe God granted the land of Israel to the Jews and that they had the right to displace the original inhabitants? Then Jews are equally reprehensible for saying they are the one people specifically chosen by God who has a covenant with them alone, and Bernie Sanders should resign and never hold public office again.

            Deuteronomy 7:1-2

            7 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, 2 and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.

            Exodus 19:5-6

            5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

            A “gotcha” question about “do you believe this thing in your religion?” where if you say “no”, you’re a hypocrite and not fit to be trusted for office, and if you say “yes”, you’re a bigot and not fit to be trusted for office is political manoeuvring and the kind of practical tactics to do down an opponent, but it’s not something to judge anyone – either Sanders or Vought – on. Religious tests for office are disallowed, whether that means “you need to belong to one specific religion” or “you need to belong to no religion”.

          • Jiro says:

            He can just say “I’m not a Biblical literalist. The stories of the Jews displacing the inhabitants thousands of years ago are just stories.”

            He doesn’t have to believe everything his religion says. He certainly doesn’t have to believe every literal word from his religion’s holy books, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as what his religion says.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Everybody thinks everybody else’s belief are reprehensible. “You’re allowed to have freedom of belief, provided you don’t use it to believe in any reprehensible things” is functionally indistinguishable from “You’re not allowed to have freedom of belief”.

      • Saying that people not of your religion are condemned is reprehensible.

        Why? It may be false, of course. Do you consider all beliefs that you think false reprehensible? Only the belief that people with the wrong religious views will be punished in the afterlife?

        Suppose I mistakenly conclude, through being fooled by some incompetent statistical analysis, that tall people have shorter life expectancies than short people or (a real example, I think) that people who are somewhat overweight have shorter life expectancies as a result. Is that belief reprehensible? Like the one we are discussing, it’s a mistaken belief about something bad–although not as bad–happening to a large group of people.

        • Jiro says:

          In the context of a supreme being who makes moral decisions, and given the normal connotations of the word “condemned”, saying that people of other religions are condemned implies a moral judgment of those people, and saying that tall people die sooner doesn’t.

          You can try to get technical and say “well, saying they are condemned to Hell is just a purported statement of fact and it isn’t reprehensible to be wrong about a statement of fact”, but human beings don’t screen off words from their connotations and context that way.

          Furthermore, I doubt that many religious believers actually treat such statements as statements of fact without bringing in moral judgments. Going to Hell is not a matter of violating some arbitrary, impersonal, rule like “don’t jump into boiling lava”; going to Hell is about sin.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            So, what, the post-Westphalian systems of religious tolerance are pure horseshit and those ugly believers are just itching for the chance to show those damn dirty heathens what they really think?

          • bean says:

            I can sort of see this making sense under traditional religious systems, but it’s complete nonsense in Christian theology. I’m not going to heaven because I’m better than the people who aren’t. I’m going because Jesus saved me, through no merit of my own. Christianity explicitly rejects the alternative kind of thinking.
            Also, on a practical level, this is a terrible, terrible idea. Seriously, do people read any history at all? This seems like a turbocharged version of attacking the alien machine. Do not mess with machines that have managed to solve age-old human problems with a very good idea of what you’re doing.

          • Randy M says:

            Furthermore, I doubt that many religious believers actually treat such statements as statements of fact without bringing in moral judgments.

            Ever heard the expression “There but for the grace of God go I”?

          • Jiro says:

            So, what, the post-Westphalian systems of religious tolerance are pure horseshit and those ugly believers are just itching for the chance to show those damn dirty heathens what they really think?

            Westphalia provided tolerance among different flavors of Christian, not tolerance of the heathens.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jiro, your objection only holds if it is demonstrable that Vought believes the moral status of non-Christians justifies discriminating against them, e.g. as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget he is going to recommend that office X gets no further funding because the director is not a Christian. Or is an adulterer, or drunkard, or takes drugs, or cheats on their taxes. Because the administration is being run by Donatists and if you’re not in a state of grace you have no right to govern.

            If you or anyone can prove that, then yeah, Russell Vought ought not to be appointed. If, on the other hand, he has discharged his duties up to this point fairly even when dealing with dirty stinkin’ non-believers, then his belief as a Christian in the necessity of salvation through Christ does not bar him from the office.

          • Vojtas says:

            Which objection is that? Looking back, all Jiro’s said so far is that a specific belief is retehensible. I don’t know whether he endorses Sanders’ objection to appointing an official who holds that belief, but he hasn’t said so yet.

  3. jeff daniels says:

    “There are many very stupid ideas about free speech in academia. Perhaps the stupidest is this: free speech is a legal norm used to protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless, but exceptions to free speech will benefit the powerless. Nobody with a passing knowledge of the history of free speech takes this seriously.”

    Scott, I’ve seen things from you that make me think that you might be critiquing a slightly flawed version of the leftist position on free speech. I don’t think Popehat’s reading is correct either, at least from the leftists I know. I wrote a piece to try and explain their position. If you’re willing to read something even longer than my 1500 words, here’s a significantly longer, more sourced, and more vitriolic version: https://ohtarzie.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/white-supremacy-and-magic-paper/

    Disclaimer: there are no doubt people who believe what Popehat is saying, I just don’t think it’s the mainstream left-wing position.

    I. Is Free Speech A Common Good?

    I’ve had some very smart leftists explain their position on free speech to me and I don’t think it’s that free speech is unequivocally bad. It’s more that free speech’s inevitable downsides have a suspicious history of being much worse for far-leftism than for far-rightism.

    The general premise of free speech is that defending someone else’s right to free speech has positive benefits for everyone, including your own political group. This means that if a far-left labor leader sees a white-supremacist-led protest getting attacked by the cops, the union leader’s best response is to condemn the police’s actions and defend the white supremacist’s right to free speech. Then, if police ever attack members of the labor union, the leader can be certain that other sides will join in and defend the union’s right to free speech, even if they disagree politically.

    This system of mutual trust breaks down if you defend other sides’s right to free speech but don’t see commensurate benefits in your own freedom of speech. Let’s say the labor union defends the white supremacists’ right to free speech and everyone admits that we should be a little more tolerant, even towards white supremacists. Now, everyone is a slightly more accepting of white supremacist views, and the white supremacists arrested by police get released quickly due to local pressure.

    But when the labor union gets attacked at protests the following week, the white supremacists condemn the union and call them rabble-rousers who deserve the beatings they received from police. The labor union has helped to make the public newly tolerant of white supremacists, but no more tolerant of radical leftism. Also, the labor union members are languishing in jail before trial; no one pressured the police to release them. The labor union leader is starting to question the decision to publicly defend the white supremacists.

    The stronger form of the leftist free speech critique is that calls for tolerating opposing views will always lead to worse consequences for leftists than for anyone else. The weaker claim is that this is true right now in the US, but maybe not always.

    II. “Free Speech” & Political Expression

    “Free speech” is a nebulous term, so let’s define it a little more rigorously. We can break it down into two broad categories. These two categories will often overlap heavily, but theoretically they affect different areas of your life: the political and the personal.

    The first category is political expression. It consists of efforts to effect political change, almost always on the grassroots level. The simplest example is a group of protestors trying to pressure the government into accommodating their demands.

    Generally speaking, far-left protestors are anti-police. At the very least, nearly all far-leftists believe that the police should have a reduced role in society and be generally less militant. Far-right protestors, on the other hand, tend to be pro law-and-order, and usually support the police’s right to use force on criminals. In lieu of this, claiming that police will tend to be positively biased in favor of far-right protestors and against far-left protestors seems reasonable.

    But the leftist argument is a little more subtle than that. While the police’s object-level goals are to enforce society’s laws, their meta-level goal is, bluntly, threat suppression. If something is threatening society, the job of law enforcement is to suppress the threat and keep society running smoothly. Leftists usually want to enact huge, sweeping reforms that universally involve reduction of police power. Conservatives are less consistent, but generally speaking they’re more concerned with preventing huge societal changes than enacting them. Therefore, you should expect leftists to not just be treated as a larger societal threat than police, but to actually be a larger societal threat.

    Right-wingers would doubtless also point out numerous examples of left-wingers attacking police with questionable provocation. Left-wingers might respond that the FBI has been warning people about the problem of white supremacists infiltrating for 10 years (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/fbi-white-supremacists-in-law-enforcement/), so maybe leftists wanting to duke it out with certain police officers isn’t exactly indicative of evil motives but more long-simmering and justified resentment.

    Either way, the point is that leftists are universally considered a larger threat by police, and their political expression will always be heavily monitored by authoritarian elements in law enforcement. Because leftists are singled out as larger threats, they’re targeted more often and more heavily by police efforts to monitor them/arrest them/generally disrupt their political organizing and political power.

    Don’t get me wrong, talking about how those leftists should have a right to free speech is very nice and all. But in reality, leftists are targeted more often and suppressed more actively by police. Look at Occupy Wall Street. Powerful people wanted the protestors out, so the police came in and rounded people up, leading to this infamous image of docile protestors getting casually pepper sprayed by a policeman anyway: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-jDvWDOlQXS0/TtI70EE5tPI/AAAAAAAAATY/fcQ_0D3qQ8M/s1600/occupy+wall+street+pepper+spray.jpg

    Yes, it’s great that some of those people went on to win settlements from the police, but by then it didn’t really matter. The police’s power to enact violence at will had been exercised, the movement had been crushed, and if the cost for that was a cool $500 million in lawsuit settlements, well, it was doubtless worth it for powerful interests to make the protests go away.

    The moral of the story is that the police will do more or less whatever they want to do if properly incentivized to do it, and history is littered with examples of the police suppressing political expression after being properly incentivized to do so. For obvious reasons, they tend to do this to left-wing protestors a lot, and right-wing protestors comparatively rarely.

    III. “Free Speech” & Social Expression

    The second category of “free speech” is social expression, which basically means being able to express your views without everyone hating you and trying to get you professionally censored. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the calls for liberals to be more tolerant of opposing viewpoints come from liberal areas where conservatives are a minority (often big cities, especially coastal cities). Nearly all of the calls for conservatives to be more tolerant of opposing viewpoints come from conservative areas where liberals are a minority (often rural areas).

    The left-wing argument here is very simple. If one coastal city suddenly decides to be more tolerant of conservative views, it’s completely improbable to hope that rural areas will suddenly become more tolerant of liberal views through some kind of country-wide diffusion of pleasantness. More likely, you’ll see what happened with the labor union leader and the white supremacists above: you’ll be nicer to them, they won’t be nicer to you, and all you’ve done is make the opposing side better off without improving your own position at all.

    An optimist might say that more representation of conservative viewpoints in coastal cities might make conservatives less anxious about their values being challenged by big government liberals, and they’ll consequently be a little more tolerant of dissenting views on a local level. A pessimist might say that 90% of people in American today get their news from an organization whose business model is convincing you that the Other Side’s policy ambitions are months away from causing total cultural and economic collapse, and being a little nicer to Joe the Liberal from down the street probably isn’t going to stop the TV from convincing him that the Koch Brothers are halfway towards their goal of the US adopting glorified feudalism.

    IV. Pragmaticism All The Way Down

    Ultimately, most of the arguments that are supposedly against free speech boil down to encouraging people to consider free speech as a pragmatic issue, not a moral one. If we could somehow instill society-wide impulses to defend free speech whenever threatened, then maybe we could all treat it as a common good. Instead, defending the other side usually ends up making life a little better for them and no better for you.

    And if you’re a left-winger, it’s even worse. Praising the benefits of free speech and defending its worth mostly just serves to convince people that free speech currently exists in an egalitarian form. But in reality, if the police considers your ideology dangerous (and they absolutely do consider far-leftism dangerous), then they’ll inevitably suppress your speech mores than the other side’s. The public will then see the police beating up far-leftists and not the white supremacists and think “wow, I guess whatever those leftists did to deserve this was worse than anything the white supremacists did.” This is really annoying.

    I think left-wingers in the US (and some other Western countries like the UK) have an additional argument that basically posits that people who hold influence and power are disproportionately likely to be right-wing. This means that if someone on the right wants to make something happen (get a speech cancelled, or get a book deal pulled), then they can usually do so directly behind the wings. By contrast, less politically potent left-wingers who want to get a speech cancelled usually need to use community pressure, through protests or a letter-writing campaign.

    To the public, it then looks like leftists have gone mad with social power, protesting against conservatives and getting appearances cancelled left and right. But in reality, both sides are simply getting their way whenever possible via the exercise of power, be it loud or subtle. If you commit to not using your social power to effect change, then the other side continues to use their powers quietly to do bad things behind the scenes and all you’ve done is handicap yourself while failing to handicap the other side commensurately.

    I don’t have enough experience with local US politics to critique or support this one. It’s an interesting idea, though, so I’m interested in any feedback from people who might have more direct experiences.

    • tscharf says:

      Short version: In our perception free speech helps the other side more therefore it is bad. What is really important is our goals. Discussion about whether free speech has merit as a public good isn’t very interesting.

      The comparison between labor leaders and white supremacists is a bit loaded.

      The anti-police angle makes no sense as this imaginary world you are apparently living in where police routinely shut down the speech of leftists is anything but the reality everyone else lives in. There are numerous examples of BLM disparaging police openly including such niceties as “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” without any crackdown. The entire summer of anti-police protests proceeded with barely any intervention by police.

      it’s completely improbable to hope that rural areas will suddenly become more tolerant of liberal views

      This evidence free assertion runs counter to the general leftward movement of society over the past 50 years. Do you remember all those riots and protests in rural areas after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage? I don’t either.

      In the US the first amendment thankfully doesn’t mention “pragmatism” or morals. But if you think this is a good idea then I suggest we come to a compromise where we allow speech restrictions and I get to decide what all the restrictions are, deal?

      • jeff daniels says:

        “The police don’t shut down EVERY leftist rally” is not a very convincing argument to leftists, because they don’t claim that, generally. They claim the police disproportionately targets radical leftists over radical rightists, therefore, the principle of free speech does not benefit them.

        I’m strictly referring to leftists in the sense of agitating for left-wing governance; very few lefties i talk to care about putting idpol, BLM, etc, front and center, so we’re probably thinking of different groups.

        As for society moving leftward, I imagine leftists would say this is because leftists gained social power and used it, rather than because they started treating the far right-wing any better. This seems more plausible anyway, I think.

        As for free speech restrictions, I don’t know many leftists who openly want them. They just point out that “this violates free speech norms” is a pragmatically bad reason to do a thing. In other words, don’t actively restrict free speech norms, just don’t pretend that inviolable ones already exist.

        • albatross11 says:

          How would we even try to get a back-of-the-envelope estimate of whether far-right or far-left groups are more likely to either:

          a. Have their free-speech rights suppressed by the state.

          b. Be hassled, infiltrated, arrested, roughed up, etc. by the police.

          • jeff daniels says:

            Here’s someone’s who tried to look into the history of actual police suppression, although they’re about as far left as humanly possible so take it with a grain of salt.

            https://ohtarzie.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/white-supremacy-and-magic-paper/

            I was arguing pro-free-speech-norms at the time and did ~10 minute speech of research to see if the author was exaggerating police action against left-wingers and ignoring actions against right-wingers, and didn’t see anything that leaped out as blatantly wrong. I’ll read it again when I have the time

          • Guy in TN says:

            Here’s the “back of the napkin” reason:

            Property collectivization is a big part of the leftist position, and this results in large property owners being generally hostile to leftists. Since free speech doesn’t legally apply on private property, and since most of the space that exists in the U.S. is private rather than public, this means that most of the speech that is actually taking place is happening under the restrictions of what the right-wing property owner will allow. (This applies not just to physical space, but to online space as well)

            So while in formal “free speech zones” like public parks, sure, everybody is on equal ground. But if you step off into what constitutes the vast majority of where the normal discourse takes place, you end up with speech restrictions that are targeted towards the left.

            Of course, the Right will respond that they aren’t restricting speech, they are just removing a suddenly unwanted trespasser. And likewise, the Left can respond that they aren’t restricting speech, they just happen to be forming a human chain blocking the podium from an invited campus speaker.

          • Aapje says:

            @Guy in TN

            Lots and lots and lots of leftists are not communists and don’t want to abolish private property. It seems a bit weird to take a small minority of the left and pretend that everyone is like them.

            I also don’t see many protests on private property. Don’t most happen on sidewalks, in the streets and on campus?

          • John Schilling says:

            Since free speech doesn’t legally apply on private property, and since most of the space that exists in the U.S. is private rather than public, this means that most of the speech that is actually taking place is happening under the restrictions of what the right-wing property owner will allow.

            Cite on most property owners being “right-wing”? As Aapje points out, your characterization of leftists being in favor of “property collectivization” is overbread to begin with, and in any event most property owners do not define their political identity around being maximally opposed to the allegedly collectivist left.

            But more importantly, you seem to be assuming that speech is indifferent to geography and randomly distributed in space. The billionaire’s estate may be two orders of magnitude larger than the local indie coffee shop, but the leftist who suddenly gets the idea to speak truth to economic power is probably hanging out in the coffee shop – which may be private property but probably not under the thumb of a “right wing property owner” whose instinct is to crush all leftist dissent. And if the leftists decide to take their speech to the billionaire in person, they are probably going to be chanting and waving signs on the public street in front of his estate.

          • Guy in TN says:

            My conclusion doesn’t require that property abolition be a normal part of the left, only that it comprises the extreme far end of the left. And no, I don’t have a citation that property owners are going to be more opposed to abolishing property rights, but it seems intuitive enough to be unnecessary. If you can imagine a window of tolerance for the average person, it extends both left and right from their personal perspective and cuts off at the far extremes. But for a property owner, your tolerance for the far left probably cuts off before the average person, since their position is more of a direct threat to you.

            While I concede that public property is the most likely place to express speech, its not like demonstrations on private property are unheard of (I recall reading about some in a shopping mall recently). The issue of Facebook, Twitter, Google, ect. being owned by wealthy property owners hostile to the idea of seeing their profits taken is still relevant.

            The original question was if both groups were having their speech oppressed in equally amounts. So to come to the conclusion that one is more suppressed than the other only requires a small shift in a certain direction.

          • tscharf says:

            The score keeping on which group is suppressed more often is irrelevant. Murderers are disproportionately suppressed by police for murder and paradoxically they aren’t marching in the streets demanding change by making an argument that non-murderers aren’t being charged with murder as often as they are.

            What is relevant is whether the law is just and enforced fairly. An argument that left wing radicals are being targeted more often by police because they are suppressing speech is because they are….suppressing speech. 10,000 word essays can’t blot that out.

          • John Schilling says:

            And no, I don’t have a citation that property owners are going to be more opposed to abolishing property rights,

            It’s the equation of “more opposed to abolishing property rights”, and your previous “right-wing”, that I am questioning. Support for property rights to at least the level of having the police evict trespassers who e.g. try to set up an Occupy camp on someone’s front yard, is a broadly centrist position in US politics.

            The issue of Facebook, Twitter, Google, ect. being owned by wealthy property owners hostile to the idea of seeing their profits taken is still relevant.

            Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc, absolutely are private property and absolutely do have at least the legal right to silence speech they do not want to see on their sites. But, have you looked at those sites lately? Does their observed behavior in any way support the hypothesis that their management is going about suppressing leftist badspeech lest the tankies get organized to take away their property?

            This is not a relevant threat in the world I see in my Facebook feed, at least. Given their business model, the relevant threat is almost precisely the opposite, that they will deliberately incite controversial political speech on both sides.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Police animus strikes me as something of a fifth wheel. A central fact about the hard Left is that, owing to their youthful demographics and lack of broad-based support among the general population, their preferred way of doing democracy is tilted towards street demonstrations, and away from fuddy-duddy stuff like electioneering and lobbying. This is bound to bring them more often into collision with facially-neutral time/place/manner restrictions on public speech, regardless of what the cops think of them.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @John Schilling

            But, have you looked at those sites lately? Does their observed behavior in any way support the hypothesis that their management is going about suppressing leftist badspeech lest the tankies get organized to take away their property?

            It’s true, that they are in a tricky situation due to the internet-savvy young customer base skewing left. But there is only one type of speech I can think of that is straight-up banned on Facebook. That would be a link to a file-sharing site. From what I have heard, a private message with text pointing to PirateBay won’t even send. But yes, I admit somewhat weak evidence (especially considering anti-intellectual property activism has broad libertairan as well as leftist support). But it’s just a small example of how private entities are more willing to censor when it threatens their profits (in this case, lost profits both from the media companies who want to advertise on their site, and lost profits from being labeled a IP-violating site by the government).

            @tscharf

            The score keeping on which group is suppressed more often is irrelevant.

            The “score keeping” is relevant because the pragmatic crux of the defense of liberalism is that while, yeah, you don’t get to oppress the other side, in return the other side can’t oppress you. In this formulation (a formulation Scott advances), Liberalism is a truce, essentially. Questions of “justice” or “fairness” are irrelevant. The purpose is to de-escalate violence by finding a compromise in which both parties gain more than they would lose through warfare.

            So the question of “how much are you gaining, and how much are you losing in this truce of liberalism” is absolutely the central point we should be examining. If the terms of the truce (i.e. the law) has made it so it is no longer pragmatic for your side to uphold the liberal system, what is the point of it?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It’s true, that they are in a tricky situation due to the internet-savvy young customer base skewing left.

            I don’t see any evidence that major websites are embracing liberalism because their users demand it, as opposed to just because their owners are already liberal. There was no major grass-roots campaign to force Facebook to let its users choose from a menu of fifty different genders, or to introduce that rainbow “pride” reaction, or to let people paste little rainbows over their profile pictures, but they did it anyway. There was no compulsion on Google to advertise gay pride marches, but they did it anyway.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            How would we even try to get a back-of-the-envelope estimate of whether far-right or far-left groups are more likely to either:
            a. Have their free-speech rights suppressed by the state.
            b. Be hassled, infiltrated, arrested, roughed up, etc. by the police.

            Don’t forget to include the widespread prevalence of hate-speech laws, which generally seem to be used to target right-wing hate speech (calls for immigrants to be rounded up and deported, etc.) rather than left-wing (calls for conservative “bigots” to be hounded out of their jobs, etc.).

        • tscharf says:

          the police disproportionately targets radical leftists over radical rightists, therefore, the principle of free speech does not benefit them.

          This is an incoherent statement.

          Here’s a hint, the police disproportionately target people committing crimes.

          If you want to further define your mysterious lefty club for lefty governance then do so, because that club as defined by the common meaning of that term has about 100M members in the US.

          • jeff daniels says:

            I’ve already addressed that part of the reason that leftist protestors are disproportionately targeted by police is because they’re more violent/anti-police – I agree.

            Leftists are leftists – they want more political power in the hands of the people and favor experimentation with economics, culture, etc over adhering to old norms. Not sure how specific you want me to be beyond that

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          They claim the police disproportionately targets radical leftists over radical rightists, therefore, the principle of free speech does not benefit them.

          Where are the right-wing riots that the police ignored? Where are the right-wingers smashing windows and setting cars on fire?

          On the other hand, we’ve got BLM riots where the government told the police to give the rioters “spaces to burn.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      It is utterly mad fantasy, designed to be somewhat non-falsifiable (leftist things being cancelled by the shadowy Vast Right Wing Conspiracy working behind the scenes). Here in the Real World, various leftist groups hold protests _all the time_, they’re rarely if ever shut down, they negotiate with police for “symbolic arrests”, etc. Nobody even attacks them, which is something you can’t say about the white supremacists.

      • jeff daniels says:

        Social vs structural power divide. The left (mostly) acknowledges that center-left people control social power, they just don’t think it’s useful at all for enacting structural change.

        They would point to the article I posted about white supremacists in law enforcement being a known problem for over a decade, and contrast it with the multiple large-scale leftist protests have been violently suppressed by the police in the last ten years alone.

        In my personal opinion, leftists who don’t realize they have a much stronger influence on social power than right-wingers are completely delusional, as are right-wingers who don’t realize that they have a much stronger influence on structural power.

        I think the general response from both sides here is to define themselves separately from the power-holders. Leftists claim that it’s the center-left with all the social power, and they spend more time acquiescing to right-wing complaints than left-wing ones. Right-wingers claim that it’s the moderate right with the structural power, and they spend more time giving in to left-wing demands than right-wing ones.

        The answer here is pretty obviously that neither side can pass a good ideological Turing Test and simply mistakes the other side’s center-[side] for their far-[side].

        • The Nybbler says:

          Social vs structural power divide. The left (mostly) acknowledges that center-left people control social power, they just don’t think it’s useful at all for enacting structural change.

          Bait and switch. That their speech isn’t actually accomplishing anything (because they’re a bunch of hard-line tankies, and nobody really wants Stalinism, for instance) is not the same as it being suppressed.

          In my personal opinion, leftists who don’t realize they have a much stronger influence on social power than right-wingers are completely delusional, as are right-wingers who don’t realize that they have a much stronger influence on structural power.

          Structural power has gone back and forth. It is currently mostly in the hands of Republicans… except that the bureaucratic machinery of the state is structural too, and is working against them; against Trump in particular. Social power went left a long time ago and hasn’t done anything but get lefter, at least until very recently when we started seeing pushback.

          • albatross11 says:

            When discussing Trump vs the establishment, or Sanders vs the establishment, I think right vs left is a completely screwy model to use to understand things. The establishment vs the insurgents is probably better.

          • jeff daniels says:

            Going to disagree with you that social power isn’t currently in both the hands of a bunch of hard-left Stalinists.

            As for the structural power, I agree that the republicans don’t always wield it extremely precisely or have quite as much control over it as a some people fear

        • albatross11 says:

          The more common thread of argument I’ve seen from the left against free speech (in some cases) is that some kinds of speech is in itself damaging to groups who are already on the bottom of society. As a really extreme case: suppose I want to hold a rally in favor of murdering all the gays in the country. It’s not a stretch to guess that everyone who’s gay is going to find that pretty unnerving and scary, even if there’s absolutely nothing but speech happening.

          I don’t think this is a strong enough argument to justify banning that kind of speech, but it’s not crazy to worry that this kind of rally would really genuinely scare and upset a fair number of people.

          My impression is that a lot of the no-platforming and public shaming (and stuff like the whole blowup w.r.t. race and gender within the SF community) is an often-explicit attempt to move the Overton window[1] to exclude some points of view. If opposition to gay marriage can be defined as such serious bigotry that it justifies silencing you, getting you fired, protesting, etc., then it can be pushed outside that range of respectable opinion, and then you almost can’t bring up that position without marking yourself out as an extremist, scary, evil, unserious, crazy, etc.

          The Overton window is mainly based, as far as I can tell, on what people are used to hearing, so this is an effective strategy. If I can make sure you never hear anyone argue against gay marriage, but that you often see people expressing outrage that anyone would argue against it, then when you hear someone opposing gay marriage, you’re likely to see them as some kind of weirdo crazy person, and not even listen to their arguments.

          [1] The Overton window is more-or-less the range of respectable positions that someone might take on some issue. People expressing positions outside the window come off as extremists or crazy or dangerous or evil.

          • jeff daniels says:

            Agreed, this is a pretty concise explanation for how you can use social power to change cultural norms, which left-wingers argue is a useful power that everyone exercises when they have access to it. Therefore, refusing the power harms your side while scoring no real tangible benefits for you; US history shows that social power is almost always wielded by whoever has it at the time

          • Gobbobobble says:

            As a really extreme case: suppose I want to hold a rally in favor of murdering all the gays in the country

            Meanwhile, reality has already Godwinned itself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Party_of_America_v._Village_of_Skokie

            And yet this did not lead to a Midwestern holocaust or fascists taking over Illinois (insert corruption joke here). Instead it was rightly defeated by the More Speech principle Popehat keeps banging the drum for. When the country can demonstrably survive literal Nazi marches I think we can afford to keep free speech around.

    • Christopher Hazell says:

      Either way, the point is that leftists are universally considered a larger threat by police, and their political expression will always be heavily monitored by authoritarian elements in law enforcement.

      And so, therefore, the police should have their power to shut down political expression increased?

      Leave aside whether left wing groups are really more likely to be the target of government violence, free speech, in the US, at it’s most narrowly defined, involves the first amendment rights which prevent government agents from censoring our speech except in extremely narrow cases. Less freedom of speech, on a structural level, would have to involve weakening those First Amendment protections.

      If your position is “Structural government power will always tend to favor right-wing causes” then how in heaven’s name can it make any sense to you to say, “And therefore a solution that would help the left wing would be to give government more structural power to silence political protest”?

      You just spent several hundred words explaining why the only conclusion would be that police and government power would use their extra power primarily against left-wing causes.

      • jeff daniels says:

        You’re correct – the logical corrolary of “free speech is arbitrarily enforced” is not “the state should have more power to suppress speech.” I disagree with anyone who feels that way, and honestly it’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone defend authoritarian leftism.

        The correct response after realizing that free speech is often selectively silenced by powerful interests is to be properly suspicious of any arguments that cite the abstract notion of free speech to convince someone to support the other side rather than treating them as a political enemy .

        • Gobbobobble says:

          to convince someone to support the other side rather than treating them as a political enemy

          This is a false dichotomy. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is perfectly valid. You can treat the content of someone’s position as a political enemy, but that doesn’t justify taking a scorched earth strategy to the political commons. When there’s no room for peaceful disagreement, violence is all that remains. It is in everyone’s best interest to support the institutions that allow us to have non-violent political fights (I suppose except for those who are itching to get their violence on)

        • dndnrsn says:

          It’s relatively rare to see people defend authoritarian leftism, but saying “x should not be allowed to be said” requires that someone enforce that, whether it’s by nice officers of the Hate Speech Department, or by ad-hoc beatings.

          EDIT: People are not necessarily consistent. More than one commentator has pointed out that you can find the same person saying “the system of police and courts is racist and classist” and “the standard of proof and due process should be relaxed for certain crimes.” Not just leftists, either, a lot of liberals and pseudo-leftists.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Great, thoughtful post. It seems like a lot of Scott’s posts are operating under the assumption that “free speech” as it is defined by the courts is a neutral law. But imagine a hypothetical law that says “public universities are exempt from free speech”. This a nominally neutral law (just like the current law that exempts private property), but it would have the real-world effect of the Left absolutely purging the Right and shutting them out.

      This is because laws are not neutral forces. Choosing to have free speech apply only to public property, and not private property, is a political decision that benefits certain groups while disadvantaging others.

      So the idea that the police aren’t suppressing anyone in particular, and that they are just targeting the ones committing the crimes, implies a political neutrality in the law that does not exist. Or, at the very least, it should be investigated to see whether the law is really politically neutral, instead of assuming it is. This assumption of legal neutrality is a thread that runs through a lot of the more Liberal ideas that Scott discusses, and I think his ideas are on a lot shakier ground if it turns out more of a description of how he wishes things ought to be, rather than how they are.

      If it turns out that the “truce” of liberalism has broken down (or never really existed in the first place), then the game we live under becomes “silence or be silenced”. It’s not a pretty conclusion, and its bad news for those hoping to deescalate polarization, but it might be our reality.

      • Christopher Hazell says:

        If it turns out that the “truce” of liberalism has broken down (or never really existed in the first place), then the game we live under becomes “silence or be silenced”.

        There’s a real fundamental paradox working here, and this is my question: If your lack of power is such that the overton window keeps getting moved right due to the actions of the authorities, where are you going to get the ability to silence your enemies?

        Mr. White at Popehat tends to use the term “Free Speech” very narrowly, referring pretty much exclusively to the legal protections derived from the First Amendment.

        If your starting premise is that, by their nature, government forces are going to be working against left-wing causes or against the powerless, then it is kind of crazy to give them MORE authority to choose which speech should be suppressed and which shouldn’t (Through, e.g. hate speech prosecutions).

        If your premise is that you wield enough power to ensure that the government directs it’s power only towards the protection of the powerless, then A) Why do you need to be protected from speech, when you have that power, I mean, do you even count as powerless at that point? and B) Why haven’t you used that power to start redirecting existing law enforcement in a direction more to your liking?

        Private sanctions against speech are a more complicated matter.

        • Guy in TN says:

          There’s a real fundamental paradox working here, and this is my question: If your lack of power is such that the overton window keeps getting moved right due to the actions of the authorities, where are you going to get the ability to silence your enemies?

          This is a good point, and an argument against trying to harness the power to oppress speech through the official channels (e.g., law, courts). I was using the term “free speech” in a broader context here, including things like the campus disruptions shutting down a speaker, as shutting down “free speech”. I think a healthy liberalism would include even private actors not attempting to silence a discourse, even if it was in their formal legal rights to do so.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        If it turns out that the “truce” of liberalism has broken down (or never really existed in the first place), then the game we live under becomes “silence or be silenced”. It’s not a pretty conclusion, and its bad news for those hoping to deescalate polarization, but it might be our reality.

        It is reprehensible to respond to this with “welp, fuck it, guess we’ve gotta just defect hardest” instead of with “oh shit, how did we produce the truce (or perception thereof) in the first place, we clearly need to shore it up”

      • tscharf says:

        silence or be silenced

        This type of not well thought out rationalization for “preemptive violence” fools absolutely nobody. This is the mentality of an unbalanced twelve year old. I would be absolutely amazed if the people spouting this nonsense believe it themselves. Yes, in order to not be attacked by people who aren’t attacking you, you must attack them. Keep talking in circles and with the proper dose of LSD this will all start to make sense.

        Shootings of police are up 30% this year, happy? I hope after you grow up that you can look back and see how misguided this incoherent thinking is.

        Laws aren’t neutral to those who break them nor are they intended to be. If you don’t like the laws then get them changed. If is the intention of society through the use of agreed upon laws to be “not neutral” to those who want to impose their will upon other by means of suppression and preemptive violence. Good luck finding anywhere on earth that this philosophy of “silence or be silenced” is accepted.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Shootings of police are up 30% this year, happy?

          Depends. Are the additional shootings of properly-acting police by criminals, or shootings of police who are acting criminally?

          • John Schilling says:

            The former. Shooting police who act criminally is exceedingly rare; there’s no percentage in it for anyone.

          • tscharf says:

            I suppose it can occur that a cop can get shot for acting criminally, but I’m not aware of this actually ever happening. I would imagine it would be saturation covered by the media if it did. If you mean a cop is shot will he is himself executing a bad shooting I don’t know what that number would be.

            There has been an increase in assassination type of cop shootings although that number comprises a low percentage of the total.

        • Brad says:

          Shootings of police are up 30% this year, happy?

          What’s the percentage of shooting by police doing this year?

          • tscharf says:

            From what I can tell it is about the same.

            One can simultaneously not like cop shootings and bad shootings by cops. I think the past two years has shown me that there are more bad shootings by cops than I had originally assumed and it certainly looks like they are exceedingly hard to prosecute even with video.

            They need to be wearing body cameras that they cannot start/stop the recording. The latest shooting of the Australian woman the cops had body cameras but they “weren’t recording” at the time. The recent apparent blatant planting of evidence is also disgraceful.

            Cops acting badly should be punished, but it is no license to kill cops. I don’t think these problems directly overlap very often.

        • Guy in TN says:

          @tscharf

          I want to have my ideology advanced, and like basically everyone, I would be willing to use violence in its name, if you’d let me. The struggle for dominance, the constant societal warfare, will never end. But I am willing to lay down my weapons and form a truce, if I think I have more to gain from it than I would have to lose. But in no way is this truce guaranteed to be permanent. Every day I examine whether I have more to gain from abiding by the terms of liberalism than lose.

          Have you ever considered what a post-liberal world would look like? I think it would start with people deciding that abiding by the law (i.e. the truce) is fundamentally not in their favor. A general feeling that the system is “rigged” against them. Sound familiar?

          Every time a police officer kills an unarmed person, knowing that they won’t even be charged with so much as a misdemeanor (instead getting a fully paid vacation), that’s another check in the box of liberalism about to break. But the childish question of “who started it” is irrelevant to me. I’m more interested to know if Scott has thought about what a rational person’s behavior would look like in a post-liberal world.

          Because in a world of dedicated “defectors”, “always cooperate” is the worst strategy of all.

          • tscharf says:

            and like basically everyone, I would be willing to use violence in its name

            I think that group is much smaller than you imagine.

            A general feeling that the system is “rigged” against them. Sound familiar?

            I don’t recall these people not abiding by the law en masse. I recall them using the electoral process to attempt to change things in the agreed upon way be society. If you want to resort to violence as the first option than I think you are going to end up with a long time to think about it behind bars as society has agreed to deal with such attempts. If you think you are fighting fascism or totalitarianism than your enemy is the one looking at you in the mirror. Every dictator thinks they are benevolent and immune to the corruption of power.

            You seem to be a revolutionary without a revolution. It’s not even clear what you want besides a grievance with police. After you take over then the big change is the nice police will take authority?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Fully free speech is a radical position. While I don’t have polling to back me up on this, I am almost certain that much of the U.S. restrictions on free speech (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_speech_exceptions) have broad support. If you support any one of the free speech restrictions that currently exist (e.g. child pornography, false advertising, classified military intel), then you support using violence (or the threat thereof) to suppress speech that some segment of society has determined they don’t like. So spare me the “how could you resort to violence ” bit, unless you really want to argue that every one of these restrictions is ethically wrong.

            If you think you are fighting fascism or totalitarianism than your enemy is the one looking at you in the mirror.

            ???
            I can only assume we are talking past each other here.

            Is your position that obeying the law is always good? It is my position that disobeying bad laws (laws that legalize slavery and genocide, for example) is good. Does that make me a fascist/totalitarian?

            You seem to be a revolutionary without a revolution. It’s not even clear what you want besides a grievance with police. After you take over then the big change is the nice police will take authority?

            I have purposefully avoided culture-war specifics in order to maintain the “meta” culture of this blog that attracts people of all stripes. For what its worth, I think both the Left and Right are already in various stages of insurrection.

          • tscharf says:

            It’s different to say I am willing to use violence to achieve my goals than to say I accept that that society must use state sponsored violence to achieve the goals society has agreed upon.

            One of these is anarchy and crime, the other is government and this line is not thin. The first is ethically wrong in the judgment of society, the second is not. There are mechanisms in place to change the judgments of society.

            It’s my position that disobeying laws has known consequences. You can disobey the laws all you want but you must face the consequences. Laws and consequences can be changed through orderly mechanisms.

            It is very rare for any position to be absolutist. Murder is OK in war and in self defense, etc. The fact that exceptions exist does not equate to “it is all anarchy and rules don’t really matter”.

            You are a fascist/totalitarian if you believe you alone stand in judgment of what is good and want to force these rules upon others without their consent who see differently. You seem to be missing the part where members of society give consent to have views they disagree with enacted given they are passed using proper protocols.

            What you want to change matters for obvious reasons. It’s perfectly OK to hold unpopular views, it is not OK to force others to share them.

            If you want to take on society at large with unsupported ideas using violent means than you should check history as it is littered with the carcasses of those before you who held similar views. It’s pointless flagellation. That you might feel this way out of frustration is not very novel, that you think you might succeed is where it becomes delusional. It’s better to simply find a new hobby than try to storm the castle of society.

          • Guy in TN says:

            One of these is anarchy and crime, the other is government and this line is not thin. The first is ethically wrong in the judgment of society, the second is not.

            Your conflation with government and society here is interesting. Is it your belief that there can never be a disconnect between the values of the majority of the members of a society, and the values of its government? The existence of popular revolutions seems to contradict this.

            You seem to be missing the part where members of society give consent to have views they disagree with enacted given they are passed using proper protocols.

            Yes, because the idea of “democratic consent” is a sham. Two wolves and a sheep, ect. At the very least, it runs deeply contrary to the understanding of the word “consent” as it is colloquially used. Even allowing the re-definition, the lack of universal suffrage for the people living under U.S. law (immigrants, felons, people under colonial rule, ect) undermines any claim of democratic representation.

            It’s my position that disobeying laws has known consequences. You can disobey the laws all you want but you must face the consequences. Laws and consequences can be changed through orderly mechanisms.

            And following the laws has “known consequences” as well. It sounds like you are trying to make a normative claim here (i.e. “laws should only be changed through orderly mechanisms”). Because the fact that they can be changed is trivial; you can do anything if you are powerful enough. So why does the existence of a mechanism justify anything? Slavery, genocide, monarchy, all these had mechanisms and protocols a-plenty.

            It’s perfectly OK to hold unpopular views, it is not OK to force others to share them.

            Strong disagree. Throughout much of history, minority groups have faced violence from the majority. Sometimes, the majority is the one who is wrong. I think slaves were justified in using violence against their masters, even in states where the slave population was <50%.

          • tscharf says:

            Enjoy your revolution. Don’t be surprised if you find little support and it ends badly. It might be a more productive revolution if it was known what you are fighting for. With the tagline “all laws aren’t good” questions might come up about specifying the laws or how you want them changed.

          • Nornagest says:

            You are a fascist/totalitarian if you believe you alone stand in judgment of what is good and want to force these rules upon others without their consent who see differently.

            No, that just makes you a moral absolutist. Fascism is a lot more specific in its ethics, and totalitarianism is about the scope of government control: governments which do not aspire to exert state control over all or nearly all aspects of life are not totalitarian, no matter how authoritarian they might be.

          • tscharf says:

            Right, I think that was a bit of an incorrect statement. I was more going down the line of “my proposed government doesn’t require input from the people because I have all the right answers” angle. I suppose that is also not necessarily a precondition for these forms of government either, but it seemed related at the time, ha ha. Maybe dictator was closer.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      None of this is an actual argument against free speech itself. It’s just “We can’t have Nice Things because the outgroup is Mean”. Unimpressive.

      • jeff daniels says:

        I actually agree with you that there’s a line that must be drawn. Sometimes, a thing is so axiomatically bad that you simply must not do it. And yes, some things are so bad that you have an ethical obligation to defend your rivals against it.

        That said, I would personally put things like “torture” or “imprisonment” in that category, rather than “facing calls to resign if it comes out you’re anti-Semitic.”

        I agree that actively using social power to suppress harmless views – especially by using complicated arguments about how x view that doesn’t seem to pattern-match onto causing harm actually does cause harm – is dangerous. I disagree that you have an ethical obligation to defend repugnant people from public criticism and disgust, especially if doing so is a waste of time and energy because you obtain no commensurate ability to change society for the better.

        • tscharf says:

          The problem is who gets to decide what repugnant is and what makes society “better”? The people who think it is proper to punish those outside their Overton window somehow fail to imagine that they will ever be on the receiving end of such judgment.

          It wasn’t even ten years ago that society’s standard would be legitimately used against gays instead of for their benefit. It would be helpful to learn that free speech advocates didn’t put up with that then either.

          Society’s standards change over time and an attitude that apostates must be punished and excommunicated is typically only held by the young who are drunk on their own self righteousness.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          rather than “facing calls to resign if it comes out you’re anti-Semitic.”

          This is a non-central issue and I would not begrudge such calls – it’s a different ballgame when you’re a public figure; vastly so when ostensibly representing constituents. You still have the right to say and believe those things, but they have the right be unhappy about it.

          “Your employer facing calls to fire you if it comes out you’re anti-semitic” is a small tweak that better reflects the issue, I think. Still arguably a blessedly rare scenario, but more central than your example.

          I don’t know if I have a good principle worked out for why this is, but I feel like there’s a very important difference between “public withdraws support that it had previously given to someone who is supposed to represent them” and “public starts witch hunt against some schlub noone cared about 20 minutes ago”.

          I disagree that you have an ethical obligation to defend repugnant people from public criticism and disgust

          I am not claiming such an obligation. There is an ethical obligation to defend repugnant people from censorious legal action or extra-legal “punishment”. “Ugh, you’re clearly a bastard who I want nothing to do with” is different from “Ugh you’re clearly a bastard who [the economy should have nothing to do with|should be in jail]” in important ways.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      If the forces of law and order are biased against your side, giving said forces more power to decide what’s acceptable speech seems a trifle eccentric.

      But when the labor union gets attacked at protests the following week, the white supremacists condemn the union and call them rabble-rousers who deserve the beatings they received from police.

      If this hypothetical situation is taking place somewhere in the Anglosphere, the white supremacists are a fringe minority with no political clout worth mentioning. The real people the union leader needs good relations with are mainstream centre-right types, and from their perspective, the fact that the union leader is willing to defend the freedoms even of extremists like the KKK is good evidence that he’s going to defend their freedoms as well, or in other words that in the game of political prisoner’s dilemma he’s going to choose co-operate rather than defect.

      The left-wing argument here is very simple. If one coastal city suddenly decides to be more tolerant of conservative views, it’s completely improbable to hope that rural areas will suddenly become more tolerant of liberal views through some kind of country-wide diffusion of pleasantness. More likely, you’ll see what happened with the labor union leader and the white supremacists above: you’ll be nicer to them, they won’t be nicer to you, and all you’ve done is make the opposing side better off without improving your own position at all.

      So how did free speech come to be accepted as an ideal in the first place?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Aaargh, this is such an appallingly bad piece of argumentation.

      You have not discovered a novel new failing of free speech to think that there are sub-groups (white supremacists, above) that will take advantage of their ability to speak freely while attempting to deny such an ability to their political antagonists. That’s not an exciting discovery of the 21st Century.

      It was never “supposed” to work in that tiny fringe extremist groups who hated each other would form common cause to support each other’s right to make their case. It was supposed to work like this: when tiny fringe extremist groups had to make their case out in the open, their ideas would look stupid and they would be revealed to be assholes, especially since you engage them and draw them out and directly address their dumb ideas. And to the extent that you were gaining political capital from signaling your political support from free speech, it comes from the middle, not from your fiercest political enemies. Because, you know, duh.

    • Anthony says:

      The stronger form of the leftist free speech critique is that calls for tolerating opposing views will always lead to worse consequences for leftists than for anyone else.

      Isn’t this pretty much a straight up admission that the left can’t win the battle of ideas?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Isn’t this pretty much a straight up admission that the left can’t win the battle of ideas?

        It’s an admission of belief that error is often more convincing that truth. A view not limited to the left; the Index Librorum Prohibitorum had a similar purpose of preventing the faithful from being led into error.

  4. mupetblast says:

    The data on targets of censorship would seem to contradict Jonathan Kay’s point.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Kay isn’t writing about campus censorship as much as he’s writing about Twitter mobbing, etc.

  5. Christopher Hazell says:

    The thing about political correctness that people are starting to realize is that PC isn’t scary because there are too many rules, or because the rules are unfamiliar, it’s scary because there aren’t any rules.

    I refer here, of course, to federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton, who back in March tweeted “Like Beyoncé says, to the left. Time for an unapologetic left turn for the #NDP, for social, racial, enviro and economic justice.” The Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter tweeted a demand that Ashton retract her appropriation of Beyoncé. And she complied, meekly replying: “Not our intention to appropriate. We’re committed to a platform of racial justice + would appreciate ur feedback.”

    Well, there’s an obvious solution here, which is for Ms. Ashton simply to never quote or reference or be influenced by a black artist ever again. Obviously, she can just stick to always and only referencing the whitest, most privileged thinkers and artists she can find. She can make her intellectual world whiter than Pat Boone in a snowstorm, at which point these same activists will happily say,

    “How can we trust a woman to be ‘committed to a platform of racial justice’ when she has conspicuously gone out of her way to avoid referencing the experiences of the very people of color she claims she wishes to help? Niki Ashton must immediately stop this erasure of people of color, just as all white people must leave their comfort zones to experience voices different than their own.”

    And, I know this because I have asked this question, when she comes back perplexed and says, “Well, when I tried to engage more with black artists I was told it was appropriation, and when I tried not to appropriate, it was erasure. What, specifically, do you actually want me to do?”

    the response will be, “God, life isn’t like some video games where I can just give you the cheat codes to always win, all I want is for you to listen to the voices of the less privileged, I don’t see why this is such an impossible demand.”

    In other words, it’s not that Ms. Ashton broke a rule of etiquette, it’s that there are no concrete rules about how she should interface with black culture. The “rule” is that she should figure out who the most powerful people in her social circle are, and interface with black culture in precisely the ways and to the extent that those people want her to. And those socially powerful (In this context; in other social contexts they may well be low on the power totem pole) people are not at all required to give her guidance before she makes a mistake. After all, it’s not their job to educate her.

    Instead, she (And all of us) are expected to be simultaneously unafraid of speaking our minds, but simultaneously work under the understanding that doing so can have catastrophic consequences, so we must immediately accept any penalties that people want to assign to us for bad speech, including mobs of people yelling at us, death threats, the loss of our jobs, or, in extreme cases, actual physical assault.

    Because, obviously, any such things come from the “powerless” and therefore in the grand scheme of things, really by definition can only represent minor discomfort. Only the powerful can inflict actual pain and destruction; the powerless can only helplessly ask you to step outside your security and look at things from another perspective, and even if the tools they use to do that seem to threaten your livelihood or your life, that’s just an illusion caused by personal insecurities you need to get over.

    I’d kind of liken it to being in the military, and hearing your commanding officer go “Okay, this next drill is a live fire drill. The guns in your hands can kill your fellow soldiers. Anyway, there aren’t any rules in real life, so the only guidance I can give you is do your best and have fun!”

    And then they court martial you if you accidentally shoot somebody.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      The path to heaven is straight and narrow. The path to Social Justice is narrower, twisting, ever changing, forks, loops back on itself, and the road signs are in a language you’re not allowed to read.

      • Nornagest says:

        Nitpick, but the phrase is “strait and narrow”. “Strait” doesn’t mean “straight”, it means something more like “tight” or “constrained”.

        • Iain says:

          Source? This source (and my experience as a native English speaker) disagrees.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Strait” as in Straits (dire or otherwise) or strait-jacket.

            Matthew 7:14 in the ESV version, where “strait” is translated as “narrow”:

            14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

            KJV version where the original “strait and narrow” comes from:

            14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

            “Straight and narrow” is the kind of ‘writing it the way I heard it’ that is giving us “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes” nowadays, as I’ve seen quite a lot of recently (never mind the whole ‘persay’ for per se and so on that was discussed in another comment thread).

          • Nornagest says:

            @Iain —

            Like your source says, it’s originally a Bible reference, and “strait” is what’s used there. “Straight and narrow” has a long history of use as a phrase in its own right, and eight times out of ten I’d be fine with it, but in the context of the “path to Heaven” I’m gonna insist on the Biblical version.

            EDIT: nesting

          • Nornagest says:

            @Deiseach — Could be worse. Could be “pearsay”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Nifty, I learned a Bible thing today.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nornagest, there’s a list of things that make me yell at the computer screen “That’s not how it’s spelled and that’s not how it’s used, anyway!” 🙂

          • Iain says:

            Okay. I’ll accept that “strait and narrow” is better in the (strait and) narrow context of the path to heaven.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Could be worse. Could be “pearsay”.

            Or “could of” (shudder).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Good catch. I still like my analogy though.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The “rule” is that she should figure out who the most powerful people in her social circle are, and interface with black culture in precisely the ways and to the extent that those people want her to.

      Oh, no, you’re far too optimistic. You see, those people decide on what the rules are (this time) _after_ she’s done her “interfacing”. If it is convenient for those powerful people for her to be wrong, there is nothing on Earth she could do or could have done to be right.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        In short, the rule is Catch 22, whose ultimate expression is “We can do anything you can’t stop us doing”.

      • Christopher Hazell says:

        I live with someone who often acts in the same way in her personal life, and I really don’t think it’s usually consciously used in a Machiavellian way.

        Here’s how I’d describe the mindset:

        1. The behaviors that hurt me are so bright and painful and obvious to me that they ought to be obvious to everybody else. This hurts me so much how could anybody who was paying attention not realize it? How could anybody fail to predict it?

        2. The fact that I have to keep correcting people is exhausting. It’s exhausting that they aren’t working harder to understand me, and anyway, any correction I offer is, compared to what I’m suffering, so small that they ought to thank me for explaining things to them.

        The “rules” for when a white woman gets to quote Beyonce exist only in the heads of these activists, but they seem so obvious to the activists that the fact that other people are incapable of guessing them ahead of time without coaching doesn’t seem like a natural effect of the fact that people aren’t mind readers, it seems like willful ignorance.

        It’s hard to articulate the rules not because they are subjective or changeable, but because they are SO obvious that why would you even need to. It’s like somebody asking you to explain what Earth gravity feels like, you’d struggle because it’s such a normal part of your background, and anyway, doesn’t the other person already live on earth? Why do they need to have it explained?

        And second, to the activists, this is how society ought to look. Ms. Ashton quotes Beyonce, she is called out on it, and immediately vows to retract her enjoyment of Beyonce and quotes from her. It just doesn’t compute that having your every action picked over, having a mob of people explain what art you can and can’t like or quote from is god damn exhausting, because how can that compare to the exhaustion of the truly powerless?

        On the other hand, yes, the whole thing does kind of resemble cult indoctrination, in that it’s about the whole family gathering around to tell you why you’re wrong, and you better damned well AGREE that you’re wrong, or else it shows you aren’t loyal to the family.

        But from personal experience I really think that the center is a massive failure to put yourself in the shoes of other people.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think what you’ve just described is narcissistic personality disorder.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            There’s a kernel of truth to the old overbroad assertions about shyness being a result of narcissism. It’s probably the same for victimhood complexes.

          • Winfried says:

            That’s about how the relationship went with my Borderline ex-wife.

            I am trying to not just go for the lazy mental shortcut but it’s so effective and easy to just model SJW as a distributed case of BPD and use the same playbook with them as with my ex.

          • Anthony says:

            Saw (on Twitter, I think) a comment that SJWism is essentially the inverse of cognitive-behavioral therapy – it basically takes everything CBT says you shouldn’t do, and does it.

    • BBA says:

      There are no rules to any other part of social interaction, why should this be any different?

      • Christopher Hazell says:

        There are no rules? What are you talking about? When you go on a job interview, do you wear a dirty band t-shirt and swear like a soldier, because, hey, there are no expectations?

        Okay, even simpler example: somebody you’re meeting for the first time holds out their hand and says “Hi, my name is Bob,” what do you do?

        You shake hands and introduce yourself back. Both of you know what to expect in that situation, don’t pretend you don’t.

  6. assaflavie says:

    That’s an interesting point about Kidneys.
    A Hebrew term for “feeling guilty about a bad deed” is מוסר כליות.
    Pronounced “moosahr kla’yaught” and literally means “kidney morals”.

  7. Deiseach says:

    How much of effective altruism is about doing things directly, versus acting as a living advertisement to attract the attention of rich people with a thousand times more money available than everyone else?

    That really doesn’t help my discomfort with Effective Altruism. The preaching about it was “do more good with your donations by being rational and using scientific methodology to investigate where the money is going and how effective it is”, and some rather nose in the air “this is better than traditional charity (and the boobs who just give money unreflectively to their church collection days or chuggers)” comment.

    Now all that QALYs and DALYs and how many lives mosquito nets save is all dressing and doesn’t really mean anything? You’re not actually doing anything much more than the traditional boobs with your donations because, if you’re not a billionaire, whatever you’re giving is only a drop in the bucket?

    Billionaires have lots of people looking for money from them. Every good cause wants them to donate, everyone with a new idea or a foundation writes them begging letters. Catching the eye of a random billionaire by ostentatiously displaying your hairshirt (“I earn to give! I commit to 10% or more of my salary! I live as frugally as possible so I can give as much as possible!”) seems to me highly unlikely; from as much as I can see, wealthy donors like occasions where they can dress up in high fashion and diamonds and be photographed for the society pages attending the latest charity bash – for instance, Apple underwrote the 2016 Met Gala and I presume Apple is one of the places that the billionaires which EA “living advertisements” hope to attract are to be found:

    Tickets this year are $30,000 apiece, and tables are $275,000. The party and exhibit are sponsored (this year Apple is the main underwriter), so all the money raised from ticket sales goes to the Costume Institute. Last year, more than $12.5 million was raised. Of course, not everyone pays for a ticket. Brands often invite celebrities to be their guests and sit at their table, and Ms. Wintour also often invites up-and-coming designers who might not be able to afford a ticket and scatters them around the event.

    So yes, I’m very uncomfortable with “actually, the charitable donations you give don’t matter, what they really do is act as a billboard to get the real money (it is to be hoped) attracted to our causes”. Unless you can get Anna Wintour and Vogue to glam them up, hairshirts will always have less pulling power; you may attract the equivalent of “spare change found down the back of the sofa” from the odd billionaire (or more likely their spouse’s pet foundation), but you can’t compete with glitz and glam and oodles of publicity from the opinion formers and leaders of taste in the Big Cheese cities. Mark Zuckerberg, when he got all charitable and ‘posterity are the hope of our future’, didn’t decide to hand over wodges of Facebook shares to EA, he created his own foundation instead, and that’s the more likely route that deep-pocket donors will go.

    • Zakharov says:

      Bill Gates isn’t a capital-letter EA, but he’s pretty concerned with the effectiveness of his altruism, and he’s giving more to charity than anyone else.

      The argument might be that we should try and write things like the Gates Report, not debate the importance of AI risk. Even if AI risk is the most valuable cause, a lot of money for bed nets could be better than a little money for MIRI.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes, but Bill Gates did not go “Here, EA, take my large donations and spend them wisely!”, he set up his own foundation. Billionaires who turn philanthropist are a lot more likely to do that; they may donate to EA causes but those will more definitely be in the “spare change” category. Even Zuckerberg’s foundation is for-profit and he gets to say how all those Facebook shares are allocated; they like to control what and where they give all that nice money.

        So being a walking advertisement hoping to attract a sugar daddy to EA causes – well, throw yourself under a racehorse, see if that generates publicity for the cause. I’d much prefer “yeah your donations count, even the widow’s mite” rather than “suckers, did you really think your paltry few grand in donations meant anything to us? no, we were using you to attract the real rich guys who set our loins a-tingle with all that lovely liquidity!”

        • Christopher Hazell says:

          A lot of the pro-EA stuff here strikes me as… oddly middle-term thinking, somehow.

          This premise, of attracting the attention of rich patrons, sort of falls into that.

          To me, the short-term view of charity would be something like, “I sent some money and now one more person has mosquito netting! Yay!”

          Thinking “Really, the most effective thing I’m doing is attracting large donors to the cause!” Is kind of portrayed as long-term thinking but it doesn’t really ask the next question, which is “So, is it a good thing to continue to solidify a world where a tiny number of billionaires make most of our policy choices for us”?

          Like, shouldn’t the long-term question be “How can we make it so malaria protection doesn’t depend on Bill Gates looking down from Mount Olympus and noticing that there’s a problem?”

          That question is apparently too long-term to really weigh much.

          I kind of don’t get how we arrived at this particular time horizon, where we kind of aren’t focused on solving the immediate problem of today, OR on reaching the point in the future where the problem is no longer mainly a question of charity.

          • Deiseach says:

            I admit, I’m discombobulated mostly by the switch in emphasis from “you, personally, can make an immense difference by donating in an effective manner which EA facilitates” to “you, personally, are bobbins and only work to coax in the real fill yer boots types who can get anything done”.

            It seems to be a swerve on the part of EA, perhaps because the movement is getting more notice and publicity and becoming known outside the small original circle, and now that it’s going mainstream – well, it looks to be replicating some of the errors of the commercially-run charities: you know, when it was decided that amateurism wasn’t good enough and professionalism was needed, so they’d set the charity up to be run along business lines and pay professional-level salaries to professionals to run and fundraise.

            And then the money starts going more to the admin than the charitable purpose, which is where EA came in and said “Look, there’s a better way of doing this”.

            And now EA seems to be going for the “Look, we need to be professional and get professional fundraising and attract big, wealthy single donors or foundations, so no more amateur hour and we’re saying small individual donors are only for appearance, not doing any actual or real good” approach.

        • Zakharov says:

          It doesn’t matter whether Bill Gates gives money to an Effective Altruist organization or his own charity, because his own charity is an effective altruist organization. Persuading rich people to spend their money on things like eradicating malaria instead of symbolic self-aggrandizement is an effective way to do good.

          • Deiseach says:

            But you’re not persuading them to spend money on eradicating malaria; if they are the big beasts, they’ll have their own foundations or others making appeals to them, and “some guy who works for you as one of the multitude of programmers your company keeps on campus donates $10,000 a year out of his salary to mosquito nets for Africa via earning to give” is going to evoke “Aw, how cute! One of the little people is trying so hard! Hey, can we get some PR for the company out of this? Get one of the minions in HR to look into it” rather than “I am so impressed, here’s my personal cheque for $1,000,000 for your cause!”

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I think it’s a very good thing to have an organization that publishes data on the effectiveness of groups that ask for your money. For goodness sake, I’ve actually known people to give to the SPLC!
      EA as a subculture based on autistically systemarizing QALYs in an ideology tied up with veganism and anti-church bias can take a long walk off a short pier, but the publishing is a public service.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think it’s a very good thing to have an organization that publishes data on the effectiveness of groups that ask for your money.

        Yeah, that’s good and a valuable service. But EA seems to have sort of lost its way, between AI risk, promoting animal welfare, and vague “improving the world by attending our conferences, networking, and getting a job working for one of our attendees”. And now it’s heading for “Actually, all the suckers small donors we persuaded to pledge to give so much of their earnings don’t really mean anything, but we can maybe use them as advertisements to attract some big spenders”.

        Yes, and when you’ve got your big spenders, then what? I don’t see concrete proposals past that, other than falling into the same trap as the other charities that went professional – well, we need to grow ourselves and get a brand established and get our message into the public eye!

        I think I’ll stick with “guy rattling a collection tin at me” donating, because that seems to be as good as anything EA is getting itself tangled up in.

  8. skef says:

    Re: proportional representation

    If I were given one federal government tweak to spend, I would vastly decrease the size of House districts (and therefore vastly increase the size of the House). Have the reps live in their districts and mostly use communication tech to talk to each other. I realize the optics are terrible (wasn’t there a huge and ineffective Soviet lower house?). But from either a basic concept of representation or, if you like, divergence from the original constitutional design, 435 members makes the House more like a second Senate. Make it huge and let them figure out how to build alliances and coordinate to write legislation.

    One benefit of this change is that all it would take is a normal vote. Of course, getting it through the House would probably be a challenge …

    • cassander says:

      I have long heard a particular story, that the trouble with our reps is that they spend too much time in washington, get corrupted and cease to represent the people. And it’s a good story, very plausible. But I’ve also heard a different story, that our repts used used to have to spend more time in washington where they got to know one another, learned to deal with one another, and to compromise, and that the trouble with modern reps is that they spend too much time in their districts trying to get elected instead of legislating in DC. That story strikes me as equally plausible. Do you have a way we could test which story is correct? Because I can’t think of a good one.

      • skef says:

        My sense is that part of the current problem is that both of these stories are overwhelmed by a third, which is that reps spend an enormous amount of time, both on the phone and in person, fundraising. The fundamental mind-state of a rep is “oh god oh god I need campaign money oh god oh god”. All the actual work gets done by aides (which I hope there would be fewer of if there were many more reps.) I think that strengthening the ties between the rep and a local constituency would improve that dynamic.

        Assuming our two-chamber system isn’t dramatically altered, the Senate might continue to do much of the hammering-out, with the House serving more as a check that enough areas of the country approve. But I would also expect ideas to bubble up from a more local level.

        Most people seem to hate the Senate more, and there are good reasons for that, to me the House seems like the real shit-show, back though the Tip O’Neill days, at least.

        (In the Senate, I would first nuke the filibuster. I’m hoping the Republicans feel forced into it soon, for whatever reason.)

        • shakeddown says:

          I don’t think the fundraising problem would be solved by having small districts. The small district system seems at least as vulnerable, in various ways, to this.

          Regarding the filibuster, in principle I hate it, but in practice it seems like one of the few things stopping whoever’s currently in the majority from just running roughshod over everything.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Ironically this is one of the reasons I think that direct election of senators was a bad Idea. My understanding of the reasoning behind the bicameral system was that the Senators, with thier longer term-limits and not needing to worry about elections (and the associated fund-raising) could focus on hammering out compromises while the house acts as a check on both the Senate and the Executive doing anything particularly unpopular.

      • Deiseach says:

        I like PR because that’s the Irish system and I think it does help ameliorate (it doesn’t prevent) the worst of a strict two-party system where Tweedledum gets replaced by Tweedledee. Setting that aside, and going by Irish experience, the capital has a distorting effect because everything is there. This isn’t anywhere near as bad in the US, because you have New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco etc to be the tech hubs, entertainment industry hubs, finance hubs and so on, but nevertheless, the capital gets disproportionate attention because that’s where all the major media and various branches of government are headquartered, so the administration tends to pay more attention to what goes on there and the bubble of people interacting with each other. A street being dug up in Washington will get all the news coverage because it discommodes the people who write the news stories and broadcast the TV news; the closure of its last major industry leaving the town of Nowhereville a shell gets maybe a paragraph on page 94 (unless some reporter figures they can get a Pulitzer out of doing a series on the dying small towns of the Midwest).

        Dublin because it is the major population centre and because everything is headquartered there does evoke the “if it doesn’t happen in Dublin, it didn’t happen” and “Dublin gets everything first and the rest of the country gets the crumbs”. From my time in the housing section, it was very noticeable: when the national media (newspapers and TV/radio) did stories on homelessness, it was always “X hundred people sleeping rough – in Dublin“, “Y families living in B&Bs – in Dublin“, “Z shortfall in the number of new local authority housing stock – in Dublin“. You wanted to find out how many people were sleeping rough nationally? Good luck with that, try looking online to see if a homelessness charity had any figures!

        The natural effect of all this is that (a) politicians with ambitions (and/or delusions of grandeur) about being ‘statesmen’ concentrate all their efforts on Dublin and staying up there for work on Dáil committees, etc. even if they come from down the country (b) it is accepted that if your local area is not in Dublin and you want anything for your local area, your best chance to get it is if your local representative is a Minister (c) it requires a delicate balancing act for representatives between spending too much and not enough time in their local constituency – too much, and you’re out of the loop in the capital and have no influence, too little and your constituents don’t feel you’re looking after their interests and will vote you out at the next election.

        • Zakharov says:

          On the other hand, here in Australia nobody gives a rat’s arse what happens in Canberra. I’d expect the US to be somewhere in-between, probably closer to Australia.

          • John Schilling says:

            Closer to Australia, definitely, and at the state as well as national level. Note that in most states, the capital isn’t the largest city and may not even be in the top three. The capital of New York is Albany (#6 in the state by population ), California gets Sacramento (also #6), Texas is run out of Austin (#4), etc. And Washington, DC, was specifically built from scratch to provide a national capital that didn’t privilege any existing center of commerce, industry, population, or the arts.

          • Anthony says:

            Contrariwise, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Iowa, etc., don’t seem particularly badly run, especially as regards capital vs “provinces” issues.

          • Protagoras says:

            Since there are quite a number of both kinds of states (capital as largest city vs. capital not even top 3), it seems like there is a substantial amount of data one could compare. I wonder if any patterns would in fact emerge.

  9. NYT: How To Make Congress Bipartisan.

    Ugh ugh ugh … ranked choice voting and proportional representation.

    I guess I need to write a long essay explaining why these are terrible ideas.

    Rather that do it all in one posting right now, I’ll just address ranked-choice voting here.

    No voting system is perfect, but so-called Instant Runoff Voting (a ranked-choice system which I used to support) suffers from lack of monotonicity, which should be a fatal objection: a vote for a candidate can hurt her chances of winning. Ah, rather than explain monotonicity, I can just refer you to the linked article.

    The fundamental problems with ranked-choice voting of any kind: (1) ordinary voters don’t have such detailed preferences, (2) it’s an open invitation to game the system, and (3) it does not scale.

    Naive writers assume that electing the president and Congress are all that matters, and that voters are deeply engaged in evaluating the candidates. Anyone who has ever been involved in a political campaign knows how wrong those assumptions are.

    A whole lot of other democracies have centralized parliamentary systems. For example, in the UK, I am told, a voter gets to cast a vote for one MP, and for one member of a local government council. That’s all.

    Thanks to a political revolution led by Andrew Jackson more than eighteen decades ago, that’s not how we do things in the United States. “Jacksonian Democracy” meant direct elections of all significant state and local government figures, including judges.

    As a result, we have an estimated half a million elected positions.

    Every state has a governor, usually with a lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, and sometimes others, all separately elected. Every state but Nebraska has a two-house legislature; all told, that’s more than 7,000 state senators and state representatives. There are more than 3,000 counties in the US, and every one of them elects a bunch of officials. There are more than 30,000 municipal governments, each with at least an elected city or village council or township board. There are more than 10,000 school districts, each with an elected school board. There are also community college districts, library districts, irrigation districts, etc., etc., all with elected leaders. Plus, there are thousands of elected judges, from state supreme courts down to the judges who hear misdemeanor trials and landlord-tenant cases.

    Here in Michigan, organized in the 1830s by Jacksonians, we ask a lot of our voters.

    In this city, counting everything from President and Governor to city council, county board, school board, library trustees, and five levels of judges, a total of 97 different elected officials are theoretically answerable to each individual voter.

    So imagine yourself, pen in hand, going over the ballot in a ranked-choice general election. Let’s start with something simple and obvious: eight people are seeking three seats on the local school board. You like Jim, Howard, and Dorothy, so you rank them 1, 2, 3.

    Are you sure you like Jim so much more than Dorothy that you gave him a two-rank advantage over her?

    Maybe the three are running as a team and pretty much indistinguishable to you. If so, chances are you put a #1 by the first one listed, a #2 by the second, and #3 by the third. Perhaps you numbered the rest of the candidates 4,5,6,7,8 the same way, top to bottom; most voters will do that.

    In that case, whoever is listed first on the ballot will be unbeatable, getting 1’s from his supporters, and 4’s from his opponents.

    I myself won a ranked-choice election this way, when I might not have won a direct vote against an opponent.

    This was a vote at a party convention; there were about 30 candidates for six executive board seats, and every voter was required to rank all of them. The names were listed in the order nominated, and I made sure I was one of the first nominated. Voters gave the top ranks to the people they liked, the bottom ranks to the people they disliked, and handed out numbers top-to-bottom for all the rest. All the winners were from the top of the list.

    When democracy is this easily gamed, it’s not really democracy.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Seeing as you’re in Michigan, will you be casting your vote for Senator Kid Rock next fall?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Another argument against IRV: Imagine it in the hands of the Palm Beach voters who were stymied by the butterfly ballot in 2000.

      • Another argument against IRV: Imagine it in the hands of the Palm Beach voters who were stymied by the butterfly ballot in 2000.

        Well, the butterfly ballot was an appallingly bad user interface. I’m sure a lot of otherwise smart people got it wrong.

        My favorite example of voters gone astray: the more than 12,000 Californians who lifted George B. Schwartzman to 9th place (out of 135 candidates) in the 2003 special gubernatorial election, finishing right behind actor Gary Coleman and just ahead of porn star Mary Carey.

        Schwartzman was unknown and had no noticeable campaign, so pretty much all of his votes were from people who meant to vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    • Another problem with ranked-choice voting is how complicated it would make determining the results.

      Right now, the best election system available in the U.S. is the optical scan paper ballot, counted by tabulators in each precinct. Keeping the tabulation decentralized is an important security feature: it’s a lot harder to hack thousands of individual tabulators than one central computer. The individual precinct returns are posted in the precinct for media and campaigns to collect, which is a check on the numbers being manipulated downstream.

      But a precinct can’t work out IRV — which choices get counted depends on how many votes the candidates get in the entire constituency. So either the precinct has to report every individual combination of ranks for each candidate for each office, or we’re back to the bad old days (punch cards) of a centralized computer system that invisibly counts everything.

      And that applies even if ranked-choice is used for a single office. Imagine having ranked choices being accumulated for dozens of offices at once! As I said, it doesn’t scale.

      What DOES scale quite easily, and could be implemented today with very little adjustment, is approval voting. The voter gets to vote for a many candidates as desired, that is, to indicate which candidates s/he “approves” of.

      All of the benefits claimed for ranked-choice voting would accrue with approval voting: moderate candidates would benefit, greater civility because you can get votes from your opponent’s supporters, etc. etc.

      But approval voting rarely gets much attention, because it’s unsexy and unexotic. It seems too easy. It sounds boring. It doesn’t feel revolutionary.

      But I think it would be better than what we do today, and far better than any ranked-choice system.

      • Murphy says:

        You make it sound so so hard.

        If you had to describe boiling an egg at this point I’d expect a number of paragraphs detailing how it’s totally infeasible to carry the egg all the way from the fridge over to the stove and that’s not even getting into the rigmarole of getting water all the way to the stove and into the pot… it’s almost impossible!

        Other countries already use ranked voting successfully. it’s not a big deal.

        In this day and age simply recording the ranking for each ballot is not a major problem. Or if you want you can use a hybrid between central and non central counting to have local tallymen record the first n preferences from their precinct before sending off the ballots where n may be 1,2 up to all depending to verify that the central counts match their local numbers.

        • Other countries already use ranked voting successfully. it’s not a big deal.

          Other countries are generally much smaller, and have much simpler elections.

          It’s one thing to manage an experimental IRV election for a single office, like mayor, leaving everything else as FPTP. But if IRV really is better, you’d think it should be the rule, not the rare exception. In other words, we should imagine how it works when used for all offices, not just one.

          Here’s a typical ballot from my county. Imagine the ovals by each name as large enough to write a rank number in.

          While we’re at it, let’s assume that our scanners are good enough to reliably read handwritten numbers, so that it’s not necessary to hand count everything. It also wouldn’t be necessary to hand-check each vote for validity — a ballot, say, with two first choices, no second choices, and two third choices couldn’t be counted.

          Start with President and Vice President. There are six tickets on the ballot (we’ll ignore write-ins). If everybody numbered the choices from 1 to 6, each in their own individual way, that means there are 6! (six factorial) combinations, or 720 “buckets” to count votes.

          But, wait, many people won’t assign ranks to all six, so there needs to be a seventh category of missing or invalid. Seven factorial is over 5,000. Obviously that’s no big deal from a data processing standpoint, but it’s far beyond what could be shared and absorbed with human cognition.

          And that’s only the first thing on the ballot. Next is U.S. Representative with five candidates, then state representative with two candidates, then state board of education with eleven candidates for two seats. Eleven candidates means twelve rank categories (1 through 11 plus null), and twelve factorial is 479 million. After that is the University of Michigan board of regents with only ten candidates, so only 40 million combinations. And there are 19 more offices after that.

          Compare this to approval voting, which would bring all the same political benefits as IRV, but require no massive infusion of technology or vast effort of hand counting. Vote totals would continue to be discrete and easy to understand. Unfortunately, approval voting is seen as unsexy and boring, so hardly anyone is advocating for it.

          • Deiseach says:

            Start with President and Vice President. There are six tickets on the ballot (we’ll ignore write-ins). If everybody numbered the choices from 1 to 6, each in their own individual way, that means there are 6! (six factorial) combinations, or 720 “buckets” to count votes.

            But, wait, many people won’t assign ranks to all six, so there needs to be a seventh category of missing or invalid. Seven factorial is over 5,000. Obviously that’s no big deal from a data processing standpoint, but it’s far beyond what could be shared and absorbed with human cognition.

            I have no idea how the tallymen do it, then! And we somehow manage to run elections via PR where you can have up to 22 candidates on a ballot paper for a 5-seater constituency!

            What you say about the missing and invalid votes is correct; they get winnowed out first at the count centre. That leaves the valid votes, which you use to calculate the quota. Then what you do, for each of your six candidates, is put all the “Adams – No. 1, Brown – No. 1, Carson – No. 1” into a pile each for Adams to Fennelly and count them. Say the quota is 12,000 and Edwards got 14,000 first preference votes – well, he’s won the first seat. Those 2,000 surplus votes (14,000-12,000) are then distributed amongst the other candidates (who was no. 2 on the ballot after Edwards No. 1)? Same goes here – if anyone gets enough to make the quota, they take the second seat and their surplus (if any) is distributed.

            But suppose nobody makes the quota on the first count? Well, who has the least number of votes? Maybe Adams only got 3,000 votes and there is no chance she is going to get another 9,000 votes to make the quota. Then she’s eliminated and her votes are distributed among the rest (all the voters who voted ‘Adams – 1, Brown – 2’ then Brown gets those votes and so on).

            It does take a while to hand count but you don’t need a brain the size of Jupiter to make it work, honestly!

          • I have no idea how the tallymen do it, then!

            As I wrote elsewhere, hey are able to do it manually, by having all the ballots in one place, because everyone in that constituency is voting on one thing. They probably also have no more than (I’m guessing) 100,000 ballots per constituency.

            Imagine trying to do this for Michigan’s seat in the U.S. Senate, with 4.5 million ballot papers, while also simultaneously having enough people to do the same process in each of 14 congressional districts in Michigan.

            Here in the U.S., the method has been to handle all the ballot processing at the precinct level (typical precinct has only about 1,000 votes), and hand just the numbers up to the next level. As I was explaining, that becomes severely unworkable for IRV.

          • BBA says:

            Cambridge, MA (about the size of Ann Arbor, or 1/3 of Washtenaw) uses STV to elect its city council. The tabulation problems you describe didn’t appear to be an issue while I briefly lived there.

            I understand that many other cities (including NYC) also used proportional systems in the early 20th century, until Communists started winning seats and red-baiters forced a return to FPTP – except in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, where the Communists would win under any system.

          • ashlael says:

            @ Larry

            It’s really not that big a deal. Look at the Australian Senate. Last year we elected 76 members to the Senate (12 per state), with over a hundred candidates in most states, with each voter filling in between a minimum of 6 and up to all 100+ candidate boxes. These are statewide elections with millions of ballot papers.

            The system works fine. It’s really weird to see you insisting that it can’t be done.

            It’s true that IRV is potentially non monotonous and the order of exclusion can distort results, but it’s also true that a) this very rarely actually changes a result and b) isn’t nearly as big a distortion as commonly happens with FPTP in a multiparty system.

            I prefer a version of Condorcet for single member electorates at least, but IRV is a lot better than FPTP.

          • Aapje says:

            @Larry

            Other countries are generally much smaller, and have much simpler elections.

            I don’t understand how being a small country makes things necessarily easier. Having more choices, like voting for judges and/or voting for proposals, seems mostly independent of the size of the country and more a reflection of how politics is organized.

            Also, I’m not impressed by your puny little ballot, you could scale it up to allow people to write in the numbers and it would still be much smaller than the Dutch ballot for the last election (which only had one choice with many options).

            I think that the main issue with IRV is the difficulty for voters, especially those who are unsure of their exact preferences in the voting booth. I can see them want to change their ordering or such after already filling in some numbers. Approval voting seems more doable for a decent segment of the population.

          • @ BBA

            Cambridge, MA (about the size of Ann Arbor, or 1/3 of Washtenaw) uses STV to elect its city council. The tabulation problems you describe didn’t appear to be an issue while I briefly lived there.

            Interesting. Cambridge has a explanation of how they do it.

            Apparently they limit voters to three ranked choices, and have 3 columns of ovals for each candidate. Apparently marking more than one oval per candidate voids your ballot, as would markng in the same choice for more than one candidate. I wonder what proportion of ballots are invalid.

            Second, the tabulators store a record of each individual ballot cast. Since the order in which people voted is publicly known, such a tabulator had better manage the list in a way that would make it impossible for someone later on, with access to the disk, to determine how each person voted.

            That can be done, but it’s not simple or obvious.

            It sounds like the City Council and School Committee are elected in a standalone election, so the ballots don’t have dozens of other offices.

            Note, too, that all of these positions are precisely citywide, so one citywide process handles them; all the ballots and results are centralized in one place and process, as in each Irish constituency.
            Doing this for state rep districts, state senate districts, congressional districts , counties, and statewide, all at once, would be considerably messier.

            I’m a little uneasy about their quota system. A candidate who accumulates a certain number of votes (the “quota”) is declared elected, and all of the “excess” votes for that candidate are redistributed according to the next choice.

            Here’s a hypothetical of why that bothers me. Let’s say you have a constituency that is entitled to two seats, elected Cambridge style.

            There are three main candidates: Doug, who is an incumbent popular with everyone; Alice, who has strong support on the west side, and Betty, who has strong support on the east side (let’s say reflecting different issue positions, not just neighborhood loyalty).

            Most voters on the west side will rank Doug #1 and Alice #2, whereas most voters on the east side will rank Doug #1 and Betty #2.

            If the west side ballots are counted first, Doug will meet his quota, and be elected, from those ballots. Votes for Doug on the east side will revert to Betty, so Betty will win over Alice by a huge margin.

            Or, if the east side ballots are counted first, then Alice will win over Betty by a huge margin.

            Someone with the authority to choose the order of counting could determine the outcome of the election. Cambridge doesn’t say how they handle this.

            Consider the same situation with approval voting. Doug would get the most votes and be elected. All of Alice’s and Betty’s votes would count, and the one with more support would win.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Larry, the typical way I’ve heard to handle that problem is to redistribute a fraction of each of Doug’s excess votes. That’d be mathematically more complicated, and it’d mean counting takes longer, but it’s much fairer.

          • Look at the Australian Senate. Last year we elected 76 members to the Senate (12 per state), with over a hundred candidates in most states, with each voter filling in between a minimum of 6 and up to all 100+ candidate boxes. These are statewide elections with millions of ballot papers.

            I suppose they collect and tabulate votes Cambridge style, by recording each ballot. Here again, it sounds like a standalone election with one centralized constituency per state.

            I suppose if you’re willing to pass a complete inventory of how everyone voted, and let a central computer derive the results from that file, it would be feasible.

            Here in the U.S., we moved away from central tabulation of punch cards partly because of security concerns: whoever controlled that one computer could determine the outcome. I suppose that is ameliorated somewhat by providing first-choice counts in the precinct, as Cambridge does.

            Sending in effect an electronic copy of each ballot to the state capital to determine the outcome of a senate race seems risky, too, without some very robust way to ensure that no one could trace specific ballots back to specific voters.

            As I keep saying, approval voting gives the same advantages as IRV, without all the rigamarole.

          • @ Evan Þ

            @Larry, the typical way I’ve heard to handle that problem is to redistribute a fraction of each of Doug’s excess votes. That’d be mathematically more complicated, and it’d mean counting takes longer, but it’s much fairer.

            I presume you mean to accumulate ALL of the second choices of Doug #1 voters, and allocate the excess accordingly. That would be fairer, and not subject to order-of-counting distortion, but, as you say, it would be more complicated.

          • @ Aapje

            I don’t understand how being a small country makes things necessarily easier.

            Sure it does. The Irish hand-tally process described by Deiseach works well at that level, but would be wildly impractical in a constituency 100 times larger.

            Also, I’m not impressed by your puny little ballot, you could scale it up to allow people to write in the numbers and it would still be much smaller than the Dutch ballot for the last election (which only had one choice with many options).

            Wow, that is an impressive ballot, but as you say, it is only one race.

            Approval voting seems more doable for a decent segment of the population.

            Very much agreed.

          • without some very robust way to ensure that no one could trace specific ballots back to specific voters.

            Is your worry vote buying or intimidation? So far as vote buying is concerned, that’s now easy–all you need are absentee ballots.

          • @ DavidFriedman

            Is your worry vote buying or intimidation?

            Intimidation. Can you imagine how useful that information would be to an unscrupulous political boss?

            Overall, though, I think the secret ballot is a norm worth upholding. We shouldn’t casually make it vulnerable.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Hear, hear! (Personally I’m in favor of range voting. But approval voting is nearly as good, and certainly better than IRV.)

            Can I go on a bit of a rant here? There is some weird phenomenon surrounding IRV where like it attracts this whole following of people who don’t seem to be aware that there are any alternatives. Like calling it “ranked choice voting”, as if it’s the only system of voting that involves ranking choices! Aargh. I would like to strongly discourage everyone from using that term.

            Like I would think that you learn about IRV and then you go look up voting systems, or at least go look up IRV and find out that other voting systems exist, and you learn about other voting systems and maybe come to support one based on what you read. But it seems like lots of people just… don’t take that second step. They learn about IRV and then conclude that that’s just the only way to have a voting system that accounts for additional preference information.

            I recall once getting into a discussion with someone online who made this pretty explicit, saying basically, well, the method just kind of makes sense, you know? You can’t judge voting systems that way! You have to look at the actual results they produce!

            (There are of course those who know about voting systems but support IRV and have actual arguments… I’m not talking about them, obviously. They’re wrong, of course, but that’s another matter. 😛 )

            IRV is like some kind of goddamned curiosity-stopper for a number of people. This isn’t the only instance of this phenomenon I’ve seen, either, though I’m failing to recall any of the others right now. Where there’s some thing, and you’d think people who learn about thing would then go and look up thing and immediately learn about better alternatives to thing (because they’re not at all obscure if you just so much as, I don’t know, check Wikipedia), but instead they never consider the possibility that alternatives to thing exist and refer to it as if it’s the only possibility. Aargh.

            I wish I remembered the other examples I had in mind right now, so I could properly complain about them.

          • @ Sniffnoy

            Can I go on a bit of a rant here? There is some weird phenomenon surrounding IRV where like it attracts this whole following of people who don’t seem to be aware that there are any alternatives. Like calling it “ranked choice voting”, as if it’s the only system of voting that involves ranking choices!

            Right! I mean, if you’re going to go to all this trouble and processing, why not go all the way to Condorcet?

            You can’t judge voting systems that way! You have to look at the actual results they produce!

            Strongly agreed.

            This isn’t the only instance of this phenomenon I’ve seen, either, though I’m failing to recall any of the others right now…. I wish I remembered the other examples I had in mind right now, so I could properly complain about them.

            I know what you mean, but I am also not coming up with any other examples. I will think about it.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Regarding the curiosity-stopper examples: I think maybe I had examples in mind that just weren’t examples for what I wrote out. Like, traps that attract the ignorant, but which don’t have that same level of inexplicability. Like, everytime someone on LW suggested surreal-valued utility functions I wanted to go bang my head on the wall, but you do have to have some understanding of mathematics to get why that’s such a bad idea. (I mean, I’d say that if you have no real understanding of surreal numbers you shouldn’t be so certain that your suggestions involving them are at all sensible, but people will never abide by that…) For IRV you just need to, like, look it up on Wikipedia and browse around a bit. There are probably many more attractive traps for the ignorant than there are ones that seem like they ought to be so easily dispelled.

      • Deiseach says:

        But a precinct can’t work out IRV — which choices get counted depends on how many votes the candidates get in the entire constituency. So either the precinct has to report every individual combination of ranks for each candidate for each office, or we’re back to the bad old days (punch cards) of a centralized computer system that invisibly counts everything.

        How we primitively do it with (gasp!) paper ballots marked with pencil (a previous government did try to introduce electronic voting but the machines were left languishing in storage and we have never been dragged into the 20th/21st century):

        Voting by proportional representation
        You indicate your first choice by writing 1 opposite your first choice and 2 opposite your second choice, 3 opposite your third choice and so on. You may stop marking your paper after 1 or any subsequent preference or you may go right down the ballot paper until a preference has been given to all candidates ending with the candidate of your lowest choice.

        When you vote like this, you are instructing the returning officer to transfer your vote to the second choice candidate if your first choice is either elected with a surplus of votes over the quota or is eliminated. If your second choice is elected or eliminated, your vote may be transferred to your third choice and so on.

        Counting the votes
        When polling is over, all the ballot boxes are taken to a central counting place for each constituency. The count starts at 9am on the day after polling day. The ballot papers are then sorted into piles of ballot papers for each candidate.

        The ballot papers are mixed, counted and sorted and spoiled papers are rejected. A paper is spoiled if it does not have an official stamp, if it does not indicate a clear choice, for example, if you have indicated No. 1 twice on the paper, or if anything is written on the ballot paper by which the voter can be identified. The total valid poll therefore, is the total number of votes minus the number of spoiled papers.

        The quota
        When the papers have been counted and sorted, the quota is calculated by dividing the Total Valid Poll by one more than the number of seats to be filled, ignoring any remainder and then adding 1 vote. For example, in a Dáil election in a 4-seat constituency with 50,000 votes cast, 50,000 divided by 4 plus 1 (that is, 5) = 10,000; 10,000 plus 1 is 10,001. This is the quota of votes to be reached by the candidates and it means that only 4 persons can be elected.

        Surplus votes
        If a candidate receives more than the quota on any count, the surplus ballot papers are transferred to the remaining candidates in proportion to the next available preferences indicated by voters (that is, the next preference on each ballot paper for a candidate who has not been elected or eliminated). For example, if candidate A receives 900 votes more than the quota on the first count and on examining all of candidate A’s ballot papers, it is found that 30% of these have next available preferences for candidate B, then candidate B does not get 30% of all candidate A’s ballot papers (quota plus surplus), instead candidate B gets 30% of A’s surplus, that is, 270 ballot papers (30% of 900).

        Where a candidate is elected at the second or at later count, only the ballot papers that brought them over the quota are examined in the surplus distribution, that is, the parcel of ballot papers last transferred to the elected candidate.

        If 2 or more candidates exceed the quota at the same time, the larger surplus is distributed first. The surplus must be distributed if it can elect a candidate or save the lowest candidate from elimination or qualify a candidate for recoupment of their election expenses or deposit (if applicable).

        Where there is no surplus for distribution or the distribution of the surplus is prohibited, the next step is the elimination of the lowest candidate. Two or more of the lowest candidates must be excluded together where it is clear that they cannot possibly be saved from elimination in the long run. Where a candidate is eliminated, all of their votes are transferred to the next available preferences on them.

        Counting continues until all the seats have been filled. The last seat can be filled either by a candidate(s) exceeding the quota or by a candidate(s) being elected without reaching the quota because it is clear that they are ultimately going to be elected. Thus, if the number of seats left to be filled is just one less than the number of candidates still in the running and an available surplus cannot bring the lowest candidate level with or above the second lowest candidate, all the candidates, except the one with the lowest number of votes, are deemed elected even though none of them have actually reached the quota.

        • Jiro says:

          I can guarantee you that your average IQ 100 voter isn’t going to understand this properly.

          • Sam Reuben says:

            That’s perfectly fine. All they need to know is that their vote is going to choice number 1, and if number 1 isn’t going to make it, it goes to choice number 2, and so on and so forth. That’s a pretty simple idea, seeing as it can be translated into the physical metaphor of handing a ball from person to person.

            Non-experts don’t need to know the precise details of things in order to use them properly. You don’t have to know the chemical decomposition of each individual style of gasoline in order to drive a car. Deiseach gave the full technical details for the sake of the curious, but all that people need to “get” is the first two paragraphs.

          • Deiseach says:

            I can guarantee you that your average IQ 100 voter isn’t going to understand this properly.

            Irish voters understand it well enough since 1921, and well enough to produce some subtle results, and if you believe Richard Lynn, we’re all only IQ 95.

          • random832 says:

            Understanding how to vote isn’t the problem. Understanding why they weren’t cheated when the candidate who wins got fewer first-place votes than the one they supported is the problem.

            Probably approval system is better than any kind of ranked choice ballot for this reason.

        • When polling is over, all the ballot boxes are taken to a central counting place for each constituency.

          See, here’s the problem. We could do the same thing in America IF all we were voting on was Congress. The ballots could be collected in one place for each Congressional district, and hand counted in the way you describe.

          Unfortunately, there’s a lot more going on than that. Votes for U.S. Senate or governor would have to be collected statewide (just imagine the facility and staff you’d need to count 4.5 million ballots in one place by hand). Votes for state senator would be collected to one place in each state senate district; votes for state representative would be collected by state representative districts. Votes for county offices would be collected by county. Votes for school board would be collected by school district. Votes for library board would be collected by library district. And so on and on — all at the same time.

          You could say, it doesn’t make sense to have so many elected positions, and such a panoply of overlapping constituency areas. I would agree. But changing that would be a very tall order.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why do you have to count them all on one day? When we run multiple elections (e.g. a referendum at the same time as a local or national election), there are separate ballot boxes for each election. Count all the referendum ones first, then the election ones get counted.

            And re: bringing all the state ones to a single count centre – again, why? Count them locally, tabulate them, have the returning officer certify them and pass them on to the head office for the state election. Headquarters collects “County X voted in Candidate Jones for Senator” results for all the counties and issues a final result.

            It’s doable; there is no one single divinely-ordained system. The US system evolved over time to be the way it is! I’m willing to guess that the very first ever American election didn’t vote for everyone from Governor on down (or up) and that as time went by, more offices were created and elections needed to fill them.

            And then when voting machines or other methods were introduced – that took time as well to work out and get the people used to. You don’t have to change all at once – say PR is only introduced for national elections where you are returning candidates to Congress. Yes, it’s new and different, but it’s only one election. Vote for your local county councillor the old-fashioned way!

          • Evan Þ says:

            Here in the US, all the different offices are on the same ballot paper. Given how many we have, that pretty much needs to be the case.

          • @ Deiseach

            Count them locally, tabulate them, have the returning officer certify them and pass them on to the head office for the state election. Headquarters collects “County X voted in Candidate Jones for Senator” results for all the counties and issues a final result.

            That’s what we do now!

            But you can’t do ranked-choice voting that way, because you need to know which second-choice and third-choice votes need to be looked at. Whether done by hand or by computer, all the votes have to be together to determine the outcome.

          • @ Evan Þ

            Here in the US, all the different offices are on the same ballot paper. Given how many we have, that pretty much needs to be the case.

            That’s the way it’s done now, but hasn’t always been that way.

            Indeed, when the number of candidates and proposals overflow both sides of a ballot, which sometimes happens, there will be two separate ballots, the second one containing the overflow. There is a limit on the paper size that will go through the tabulator.

            Fifty years ago, many places had a separate paper ballot for township elections and such, or had the proposals on a different sheet.

            In the 1972 presidential election in the South, when Southern states were run by Democrats, but Democratic nominee George McGovern was very unpopular, at least one state put the presidential race on a separate ballot paper from everything else, so as to inhibit Nixon voters from voting straight Republican.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Another note on approval voting’s “unsexiness”: My experience is that it tends to kind of… slip away? In a formal context this probably couldn’t happen so easily, but I’m worried that maybe it still could but slower.

        Like, I have no experience with local government as such, but I lived in one of the co-op houses here in Ann Arbor for a long time and pushed quite a bit for house votes to be done using approval voting (anything more complicated not really being practical). Eventually I got it written into the actual rules — but the house is generally run pretty informally and how things are actually practiced doesn’t necessarily line up with what’s written (often changes to the written rules are just in order to get them to line up with how practice has altered). What I noticed was, there was a tendency to kind of slip away from approval voting, with whoever was running the house meeting adding on things like “Just vote for [small number]” or extra rounds of voting until I reminded them, the rules say to use approval voting, they say this for a reason…

        (No idea what’s happened since I moved out.)

      • Anthony says:

        In California, ballot counting is done at the county, not the precinct. Somehow, Los Angeles County (with several million voters) manages to get 95% done only a few hours after Alpine County (with about 800).

        • In California, ballot counting is done at the county, not the precinct.

          I doubt that very much. All the ballots in Los Angeles County are brought into one central location and counted there? I certainly hope not.

          Election results are almost invariably collected and reported by county authorities, summing the results from all the precincts.

    • Salem says:

      I live in the UK. I vote for:
      * An MP.
      * A borough councillor (in fact, three…)
      * An MEP (but not for much longer).
      * A directly elected mayor.
      * A member of the mayor’s assembly.

      Were I to live elsewhere, I might also get to vote for:
      * A police commissioner (you either get this, or a directly elected mayor).
      * A devolved Parliament/assembly.
      * Various levels of parish/town/county councillors (you won’t get to vote for all of them, but you might get multiple).

      We don’t have elections for the proverbial dog-catcher, but there are rather more elections than you think. 🙂

      • We don’t have elections for the proverbial dog-catcher

        I don’t know where the “proverbial” dog-catcher came from. My knowledge is deep in Michigan and shallow everywhere else in the country, but I don’t know of any jurisdiction in the United States that elects, or used to elect, a dog-catcher.

        A dog-catcher makes no policy, and seems like an obvious case of an office that doesn’t belong in the political realm. Surely any local government that needs animal control workers can hire them.

        But notwithstanding my frustration with the wild plentitude of elected positions in America, the large majority of these actually do have some important policymaking role. If they weren’t elected, there would have to be some equally political process for selecting and supervising them.

        I live in the UK. I vote for:
        * An MP.
        * A borough councillor (in fact, three…)
        * An MEP (but not for much longer).
        * A directly elected mayor.
        * A member of the mayor’s assembly.

        That comes to seven positions. I would imagine that these are elected at different times, in different ways. When the Prime Minister calls a national election, the MP is surely the only thing on the ballot.

        Compare that to a typical November 2016 ballot from my county. The two images are two sides of one ballot, 8 1/2 by 19 inches, or about 22 cm by 48 cm.

        • Janet says:

          My county has an elected Animal Control Board, which can make county-level rules on a variety of animal-type issues. (The actual dog-catchers are law enforcement officers, though; but you could say we sorta vote for the dog-catcher.) Last fall, this was actually a competitive and controversial race, with debate over taking away PETA’s contract to run the animal shelter (“Pexit”), allowing an extension to the extended bowhunting season for deer, and the use of neonicotinoids as part of the mosquito control program.

          Result: “Pexit” happened, the bowhunting season is over 300 days long (and anybody who shoots 6 deer in the county gets a certificate of appreciation and 6 more doe tags for free), and the anti-mosquito program is run under the “By All Means Necessary” philosophy.

          Also FYI, my state doesn’t have elected judges. Most states don’t; some states have a vote on whether a supreme court justice “shall be retained” instead of voting for particular people. Voting is hyper-local in the US– what’s done, and how it’s done, varies tremendously from place to place.

          • Voting is hyper-local in the US– what’s done, and how it’s done, varies tremendously from place to place.

            Very much agreed.

            my state doesn’t have elected judges. Most states don’t

            That last statement is untrue. 37 out of 50 states have elected judges at some or all levels, and that doesn’t count retention elections.

    • Brad says:

      Thanks to a political revolution led by Andrew Jackson more than eighteen decades ago, that’s not how we do things in the United States. “Jacksonian Democracy” meant direct elections of all significant state and local government figures, including judges.

      I don’t think we need to take this as an immutable fact. We can and should cut way back on the number of elected officials. A single executive official at each level of government makes the most sense. One person with all the authority that gets all the credit and all the blame.

      No state has quite this level of unitary executive authority but there’s significant variation out there and there isn’t any reason we can’t move towards it as part of reforming the system.

      Among all the other problems with electing so many people, your critique of IRV in that context proves too much. Not only do voters not have strong enough preferences to reasonably do ranked voting they don’t have strong enough preference to do any voting at all on these positions. There’s literature of ballot order effects that offers strong evidence for this.

      Even if states don’t want to reform the system of electing so many positions we could conceivably use a different voting system for the three federal positions as we do for state elections.

      • I don’t think we need to take this as an immutable fact. We can and should cut way back on the number of elected officials.

        Sure! So, as a first, obvious step, how about we stop electing judges?

        NOOOOO! say the voters, by a wide margin, every time they have been asked.

        It’s an “immutable fact”, in other words, because the electorate instinctively opposes anything which they perceive to be a power grab by politicians.

        your critique of IRV in that context proves too much. Not only do voters not have strong enough preferences to reasonably do ranked voting they don’t have strong enough preference to do any voting at all on these positions.

        Even when the voters are well informed about the candidates, IRV has unintended side effects like the ballot-order situation I already described.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          NOOOOO! say the voters, by a wide margin, every time they have been asked.

          So before I carry on assuming that voters, by a wide margin, are colossal idiots – is there a legitimate reason for this? Something something cronyism?

          Or is it just path dependence: since we currently vote for judges it’s just colossal idiocy natural instinct to oppose having that “taken away”

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Why do Americans near-unanimously hate federal judges and generally like local judges?

            A large part is because federal judges are appointed and thus their politics are respectable Washington politics rather than the deplorable politics of local judges.

            You can see a microcosm of this is New York. In the city, judges are much more respectable and credentialed while upstate judges are more-or-less regular folks. Occasionally we or Albany proposes to “reform” the system and every upstate county soundly rejects it.

          • Brad says:

            Not true. State Judges in NYC below the appeals court level (i.e. most of them) are political hacks appointed for patronage reasons by the boro machines. You will not find very many Columbia or NYU law grads or those with federal clerkships in their ranks.

            It is true that they do have to be lawyers while there’s a type of court upstate called town and village courts where judges don’t have to be lawyers.

            Also, I was unaware that most Americans near-unanimously hate federal judges, but maybe you meant “Americans” again.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Brad,

            Thanks, I had misremembered that one. I knew judges upstate didn’t even have to be lawyers but had overestimated the status of our judges.

            As for opinions on the judiciary, I’m surprised and mistaken. I had expected the numbers to be similar to Congress and the Presidency but according to Gallup it seems that public opinion is still broadly in favor.

            Mea culpa.

          • State Judges in NYC below the appeals court level (i.e. most of them) are political hacks appointed for patronage reasons by the boro machines.

            Technically, they are elected, on the partisan ballot no less, but deals are made in advance to ensure that the favored candidates win. For example, by getting them both the Democratic and Republican nominations.

            there’s a type of court upstate called town and village courts where judges don’t have to be lawyers.

            And it’s predictably awful and abusive. But that’s only the very lowest level of courts upstate. All the regular court judges are elected the same way as in the city: by political machines which trade party nominations around to prevent any actual competition.

          • albatross11 says:

            My not-too-informed intuition is that who selects judges seems like a politically-charged issue because, as a society, we’re really big on punting hard political and social questions to judges. Although I like many of the policy results of doing this (from desegregating schools to gay marriage), I think it was a big mistake long-term. I think you also see this in the ever larger number of vacant federal judgeships, and the ever-nastier political fights over filling them. Agreeing on someone to make good decisions in tough and complicated legal cases isn’t easy; agreeing on someone to also make final decisions on political policy, overruling elected officials, is *really* hard.

          • GregQ says:

            @albatross11 says:

            My not-too-informed intuition is that who selects judges seems like a politically-charged issue because, as a society, we’re really big on punting hard political and social questions to judges.

            No, The American Left is eager to use unelected, unaccountable, dishonest left wing thugs in black robes to force left wing ideas on the rest of America, esp. after the Left has lost at the ballot box.

            That’s entirely different from “as a society, we’re really big on punting hard political and social questions to judges.”

            You will note, America had no problem dealing with the Question of gay marriage: every state but one that considered the question explicitly outlawed it, in a quite democratic manner.

            The Left, being, at best, unprincipled amoral scum, then got 5 people to violate their oaths of office and vote their personal preference to force it on the rest of us.

            That wasn’t a decision “by society”.

            “Who selects judges” is a politically charged issue because 70%+ of what the Left has “accomplished” in America wouldn’t have happened if we had honest judges who actually followed the law and the Constitution, rather than Left wing activists in black robes.

          • “Who selects judges” is a politically charged issue because 70%+ of what the Left has “accomplished” in America wouldn’t have happened if we had honest judges who actually followed the law and the Constitution, rather than Left wing activists in black robes.

            I get that you don’t like Roe and Obergefell. What else are you including here? Griswold v. Connecticut? Gideon v. Wainwright? Baker v. Carr? Loving v. Virginia? Brown vs. Board of Ed? All of the above?

            I happen to be a districting geek, so perhaps you could explain how the ruling in Baker v. Carr violated the Justices’ oaths of office.

            Specifically, should there be no judicial remedy if the Tennessee legislature disregards duties specified in the Tennessee constitution?

          • CatCube says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum

            I don’t know about GregQ, but I’ll bite the bullet and say “All of the above.” I’d use somewhat less scornful words for judges than him, though.

            I actually agree with some of the outcomes of the cases, as a moral question (Loving v. Virginia in particular), but think that they all pretty much are courts overstepping their bounds to decide things that courts have no business deciding. Justice Scalia’s proverbial “Stupid, But Constitutional” stamp belongs on all of them.

            To speak directly to Baker v. Carr: my first question is “What did the Tennessee Supreme Court have to say about the matter?” If they think their own constitution satisfied, I don’t see that the federal government has anything to say about it.

            Further, SCOTUS then went to hold that somehow, the US Constitution said that all states had to do the same thing and redistrict their state houses. This is despite the fact that the federal Constitution explicitly has unequal representation in the Senate! And nobody, in passing the 14th Amendment thought, “Well, this requires that Senators be redistributed.” So that seems pretty strong evidence that yes, the 14th permits unequal representation in a legislature.

            I believe, in making this holding, Justice Brennan hiked up his robe, bent over, reached down with his left hand, and pulled this decision directly out of his ass.

            It then legitimized further decisions of this type, where if you squint really, really hard and turn your head sideways, you can see how the Constitution can be made to say whatever your preferred policy wants. That is, it makes the court just another policy making–political–branch. And GregQ is completely correct as to this being why current judicial nomination fights are so vicious. Winning a legislature means very little, other than being able to appoint judges. Winning courts by appointing judges is everything.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            GregQ is banned indefinitely

          • To speak directly to Baker v. Carr: my first question is “What did the Tennessee Supreme Court have to say about the matter?”

            Good question. I looked it up.

            The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the requirement for reapportioning legislative seats every ten years was unenforceable.

            As of 1962, the last time the legislative districts had been reapportioned was in 1901, based on the 1900 census. The state court worried that, since all of the legislatures since 1901 were elected based on that 1901 statute, then striking it down would invalidate all subsequent legislation.

            Note that the electorate in Tennessee cannot initiate constitutional amendments, so any political change whatsoever would have to come through the legislature.

            Further, SCOTUS then went to hold that somehow, the US Constitution said that all states had to do the same thing and redistrict their state houses.

            Different case. Admittedly, Baker opened the door.

            It’s hard to imagine how different America would be today if the Supreme Court hadn’t done it.

        • Brad says:

          New York switched from elected to appointed judges on its highest court in the mid-1970s.

    • Spookykou says:

      If ballots randomized the order of the names, would that solve some portion of the problem you laid out here?

      Also I am not sure why you would be required to rank everyone and it seem that a great deal of the excessive burden is alleviated here if I am allowed to, say, rank my top two picks and leave it at that.

      I am almost certainly missing some important fundamental aspects of a ranking voting system though.

      • If ballots randomized the order of the names, would that solve some portion of the problem you laid out here?

        In this state, in primaries and nonpartisan election, the order of names is indeed randomized, or rather rotated, by one name per precinct. For example, if four candidates are listed ABCD in the first precinct, they would be BCDA in the second precinct, CDAB in the third, and so on. This at least spreads around the advantage of being first on the ballot.

        In general, though, if ballot order is a strong determinant of the outcome, that’s a symptom that something is wrong.

        • ashlael says:

          Research in Australia suggests the “donkey vote” from being placed at the top of the ballot paper is worth about 1% of the vote. We don’t rotate ballot paper positions unfortunately.

          • random832 says:

            I think the suggestion is that it’s worth more if you’re getting “top of the lower half” from everyone who doesn’t support you or half the other candidates and doesn’t much care about the differences between them, than just getting first place from a small portion who don’t care about anything at all.

    • static says:

      But people are already gaming the system by not voting for the candidate they support the most, but by voting for the candidate out of the top two that they support more than the other. That another system also supports gaming the system is kind of missing the point.

      • But people are already gaming the system by not voting for the candidate they support the most, but by voting for the candidate out of the top two that they support more than the other.

        I think you and I have different understandings of what it means to “game the system”.

        • ashlael says:

          I personally don’t think many people actually game the system. This is sometimes bad – see UK elections where a constituency often has three or more viable candidates splitting the vote every which way. IRV is good because people generally DO NOT vote tactically.

          Mind, America’s primary system and weak party authority has successfully prevented the rise of any viable third parties so this mostly isn’t an issue there. But if you were to have a Republican Party with 40% support, a Democratic Party with 30% support and a Green Party with 30% support I think the value of IRV would become very apparent.

  10. Worley says:

    Shakespeare used the phrase “of that kidney” to mean men of a particular temperament.

  11. Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff says:

    “Elizabeth Warren as synthesis of the Hillary/Bernie dialectic. I think she’s probably the Democrat closest to my own views right now.”

    God will punish both of you.

    • Nornagest says:

      Gotta admit, when I saw the username I thought this was gonna be a Sidles alt. This isn’t his style, though.

    • static says:

      Warren thinks she knows what the interest rate you should charge anyone for a loan should be. Regardless of the willing participation on both sides of the bargain, she believes she knows better than both parties acting freely in the situation, and that government regulation will solve your problems better than you can. This sort of overconfidence, married with a breezy way with hyperbole that allows her to back populist ideas makes her a bit Trumpian. If someone like her becomes president, the damage may be permanent.

    • What strikes me about Warren is what her status on the left says about the left. It is, I believe, clear that she claimed to be Amerind for professional advantage on the basis of a family tradition of one Cherokee distant ancestor (exactly how distant seems to vary with the source of the information). I don’t think that makes her a horrible human being–it’s the sort of thing people shouldn’t do but do. But it should, from the standpoint of people on the left, make her the equivalent of someone who steals pennies from a blind man’s cup, exploiting for her own benefit preferences that were supposed to go to members of a disadvantaged population.

      I see only two plausible explanations for the fact that, despite that, she is viewed by the left as one of their heroic leaders. One is that most people on the left dismiss the issue as a lie invented by the right without any serious effort to investigate it. The other is that most people on the left are hypocrites who claim principles they don’t actually believe in.

      Obviously, it could be a mix of the two.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Warren’s well-liked by the conventional Democratic party (the Hillary people), which isn’t quite so sensitive about all the racial stuff as the noisy SJW group, especially where American Indians are concerned (probably because they’re a much smaller voting bloc than blacks or Hispanics). So while there’s a good bit of holding their person to lesser standards, I think it isn’t quite as much as it would appear at first.

      • thad says:

        Third hypothesis, related to the first: they never heard it. I certainly hadn’t. I haven’t investigated Warren much. I’ve never lived in MA and while she’s somewhat prominent, she hasn’t sought the presidency or really leadership in the democratic party. I’d heard she was part Native American, but prior to reading this post I don’t think I’d heard anyone question the veracity of that claim.

      • skef says:

        You’re certainly very proud of this little construction. This is at least the third and possibly the forth time I’ve seen you post it, and I’m hardly a long-termer. Do you have a macro?

        I would expect the more common view, for those who have bothered to think it through, is that strained status claims are of limited benefit in virtue of their being strained. Of what use is a fractional ancestry claim on the part of someone who looks quite white except aggregating it into university statistics and perhaps mentioning it as a curiosity? The family tradition explanation is plausible because the mustache-twirling one isn’t very.

        • ptnu says:

          @skef

          You’re doubting that being able to make a strained status claim of certain types (and, specifically, the strained status claim that Warren allegedly made) might be helpful for someone trying to enter/advance in the market for legal academia?

        • Iain says:

          I am in the same boat as skef. I find it entirely plausible that Elizabeth Warren’s family has stories about Cherokee heritage — this is apparently quite common in Oklahoma — and she grew up feeling proud of that heritage (whether or not it actually existed).

          Here’s a reasonable in-depth exploration
          from the Atlantic. As it points out, there’s no evidence that her claim of Cherokee heritage has given her any sort of professional advantage. In particular, the fact that the hiring of a black woman as a professor at Harvard Law three years after Warren’s hiring was loudly touted as a milestone, while nobody mentioned Warren’s purported ancestry when she was hired, seems like strong evidence that it was not a factor in that decision.

          • As it points out, there’s no evidence that her claim of Cherokee heritage has given her any sort of professional advantage.

            Hard to know how you would prove it. What we know is that she chose to list herself for many years, long before she was at Harvard, as a minority law professor in a data source used by law schools in looking for faculty to recruit, and that Harvard claimed her as a Native American professor.

            If she listed herself as a minority professor and didn’t expect it to make her more interesting to recruiters, she had a weak grasp of the reality of her field. And it’s hard to see how Harvard could have concluded that she was a Native American other than by her telling them she was.

            The family tradition is entirely possible. Having a Cherokee great great grandmother doesn’t make you a native American in any ordinary sense of the term.

          • Iain says:

            As I pointed out in the very post you are quoting, Harvard did not mention that she was Native American when it announced her hiring. If Harvard were hiring her to increase diversity and make themselves look good, which I assume is what you are trying to imply, then how do you explain the complete lack of publicity given to her purported heritage? How does Harvard gain by secretly hiring a Native American woman?

            You claim that she “had a weak grasp of the reality of her field”. That is rather bold of you, given that multiple people involved in the hiring process have categorically denied that her ancestry was ever discussed. Are you claiming that Lawrence Tribe and Charles Fried are lying? (Given your criticism of people on the left who fail to make any serious effort to investigate, I assume that you already knew all about those denials. If you need a refresher, all the information is in the link in my previous post.)

            Other than the bare fact that she was listed as a minority in a public document, you have absolutely no evidence to show that she received any special treatment for claiming to be Native American, and multiple pieces of evidence against your theory. In your position, I might hesitate to throw stones about people weakly grasping realities.

          • skef says:

            If she listed herself as a minority professor and didn’t expect it to make her more interesting to recruiters, she had a weak grasp of the reality of her field.

            Oh good grief. If you had said “perception” you might have a case. You’re an academic and are certainly familiar with the dynamics of academic hiring, that at the tenured level there are no quotas or nothing close to that, and that at the level of politics and marketing, a minority hire that you can point to and say “look, diversity!”, which as Iain pointed out, they didn’t do when she was hired.

            If this is your premise, why not go for the stronger argument? “Leftists are the real racists, because they take minority hiring so seriously and yet look at how small an effect it has, and how often a minority candidate isn’t hired. They must see all the minority candidates as really terrible in comparison!”

            The family tradition is entirely possible. Having a Cherokee great great grandmother doesn’t make you a native American in any ordinary sense of the term.

            Except that many existing native American tribal organizations maintain formulas for who qualifies for membership, some of which allow a low genetic contribution, and Americans are also aware of this, and talk about it in the same low-information ways they talk about the heritage itself.

            Hard to know how you would prove it.

            I also don’t know how I would prove that you bring up this argument that is apparently the left’s hypocrisy almost every time Warren’s name comes up because it’s a tidy way of saying something bad about Warren–the SSC grandee’s version of “Pocahontas”–and that you do this because you have every professional and ideological reason to find Warren distasteful. Proof is a very high standard!

          • ptnu says:

            @ Iain

            I for one do not doubt the Tribe/Fried claims, and I can believe without much difficulty that she got her Harvard Law position without reliance on any form of identification as Native American. (I cannot prove it, of course.) There is very little doubt that she was a leading bankruptcy scholar at the time of the hire. But the murkier question is whether it helped her at all at earlier parts of her career. Did it help her get her first job, or first few jobs? Skef’s point is one about a claim’s relative benefit, and the Harvard piece of this would only be one piece of that.

            And of course, if skef’s point is off the table (I’m not saying it is, I just want to put it aside for a moment), then we’re back to DF’s point above: it is curious she has not received more heat about this. Like DF, I don’t think this is the biggest deal in the world, but what do we think would happen if a Republican senator had done the same thing. Rightly or wrongly, purely as a descriptive matter, don’t you think there would be more uproar than Warren has received?

          • Iain says:

            @ptnu:

            Did it help her get her first job, or first few jobs?

            It’s hard to say. What we do know is that Warren listed herself as “white” while teaching at the University of Texas, where she started her career, and did not check the “Minority Group” box when applying to law school at Rutgers. If minority status was going to be useful anywhere, it seems like it would be during law school admission or while searching for your first professorship. I admit that I cannot disprove the claim that she used her minority status to ease her way into her UPenn professorship. However, the same logic applies here as at Harvard: the primary advantage of minority hires is the ability to trumpet them to demonstrate your diversity, so the fact that nobody has come forward with a press release from UPenn talking about their great new Native American law professor is probably a sign that it wasn’t a consideration. At some point, absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence.

            The Atlantic article I linked above compares Warren’s situation to Marco Rubio, who based a lot of rhetoric on being a “son of exiles” only to discover that his parents had moved to America more than two years before Castro came to power. That story never really went anywhere — I don’t even really hear about it on the Left. Compare that to President Trump repeatedly calling Warren “Pocahontas”, and I have a hard time believing that Warren is somehow getting off easy.

          • I wrote:

            The family tradition is entirely possible. Having a Cherokee great great grandmother doesn’t make you a native American in any ordinary sense of the term.

            You replied:

            Except that many existing native American tribal organizations maintain formulas for who qualifies for membership, some of which allow a low genetic contribution

            The Cherokee in particular have such an approach, which nobody claims that Warren qualifies under.

            You’re an academic and are certainly familiar with the dynamics of academic hiring, that at the tenured level there are no quotas or nothing close to that, and that at the level of politics and marketing, a minority hire that you can point to and say “look, diversity!”, which as Iain pointed out, they didn’t do when she was hired.

            There are no quotas, but universities regard having minority faculty members as a good thing and make no secret of it in hiring discussions. Warren was publicly represented, both by Penn after she left and while she was at Harvard, as a minority law professor. Do you have any theory of how that happened other than because Warren told them she was?

            What is your explanation of why she listed herself as a minority law professor in the first place and continued to represent herself as such? I offered the explanation that I believe would be obvious to anyone in the field–what is your alternative?

          • nobody has come forward with a press release from UPenn talking about their great new Native American law professor is probably a sign that it wasn’t a consideration.

            Only that UPenn listed her as a minority faculty member in a minority equity report published on their web site after she had left.

            I put the same question to you as to Skef. We know she listed herself as a minority law professor in the AALS faculty directory. We know that both Penn and Harvard believed she was a minority, in Harvard’s case Native American, and it’s hard to see who other than Warren could have told them that. I have offered what seems to me the obvious explanation of her doing so. What’s yours?

          • Nornagest says:

            How often does Harvard brag about hiring individual minority professors? That strikes me as the kind of thing that would come off a little gauche — brag about your first minority hire, brag about your percentage of minority professors, but don’t brag about hiring each and every one of them, that makes it look like tokenism.

            My experience of Harvard is limited, so this could be totally wrong in its case, but that’s how it works in the universities I am closely familiar with.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman:

            What is your explanation of why she listed herself as a minority law professor in the first place and continued to represent herself as such?

            Because she thought she had Cherokee ancestry, was proud of it, and wanted to acknowledge it? Because somebody gave her a piece of paper asking if she was a minority, and she answered truthfully to the best of her knowledge? Because she thought it would encourage more little Cherokee girls to think that they could grow up to be law professors too? Who knows! None of this is the least bit sinister unless you can demonstrate that she got a single professional advantage from listing herself as a minority professor, which you have repeatedly failed to do.

            Again: do you think that Tribe and Fried were lying when they said that Warren’s heritage was never mentioned in the hiring process? If not, why are you still going on about this?

            @Nornagest:

            This was in the mid nineties. Three years after hiring Warren, Harvard Law School hired its first black female prof, and made a big deal about it. More details in the link I keep posting.

          • skef says:

            The Cherokee in particular have such an approach, which nobody claims that Warren qualifies under.

            I’m not going to bother restating the rest of the sentence you quoted part of.

            What is your explanation of why she listed herself as a minority law professor in the first place and continued to represent herself as such? I offered the explanation that I believe would be obvious to anyone in the field–what is your alternative?

            I don’t know what her thought process was. If the question is “Is there a plausible thought process with an innocent explanation?”, I think it would be: “I’m part Cherokee, when these forms are asking about it, I’ll say I am since I am. Maybe it will help something.” It’s also plausible that she thought it would be of modest help, and that would be fine because she had the relevant property.

            If this is the relevant standard, it’s not like someone who looks like Warren couldn’t qualify. 1900 is six generations ago! What is this argument even about?

            I’m gay. U.S. universities don’t ask if you’re gay when you apply for jobs, Canadian ones do. I told the Canadian schools I applied to that I was gay, on their forms*. If it had an effect, it wasn’t a visible one (I had zero subsequent contact). People often don’t know that I’m gay unless I tell them, so I probably haven’t faced any employment discrimination. Should anyone not “flaming” avoid checking those Canadian boxes?

            I don’t think you’re seeing how much the other elements of your argument depend on minority status being substantially helpful. It’s entirely plausible that Warren’s family had a mistaken impression of both the genetic facts and the legal qualifications for Cherokee status. If the status were a huge hiring boost, it would be plausible to fault Warren for not doing due diligence to determine if she had the status or not. Many people in this thread find it plausible regardless. If I grew up thinking I was X and some form asked me if I was X, I would probably just check X.

            * I also lamp-shaded some hockey pandering in those cover-letters.

          • skef says:

            While we’re at it:

            But it should, from the standpoint of people on the left, make her the equivalent of someone who steals pennies from a blind man’s cup, exploiting for her own benefit preferences that were supposed to go to members of a disadvantaged population.

            As I’ve said, this framing is probably just a means of distancing yourself from the obvious goal of criticizing Warren. But on the ideological Turing test level, how is this part of the argument supposed to work? Because Harvard can report small number X, they have no wish to report higher number Y? Minority hiring in the 90s was already somehow zero-sum?

          • onyomi says:

            @Nornagest

            How often does Harvard brag about hiring individual minority professors?

            You’d be surprised at all the places one can “name drop” a faculty member: alumni magazines, fundraising flyers, websites… If she looks suitably minority (does not in this case), you can have a picture of her captioned “Professor Warren discusses the impact of her Cherokee heritage on her study of US law.” If she doesn’t, well, you don’t always need a picture… and of course there’s the stats.

            @Everyone else

            If you haven’t worked in academia I doubt you fully comprehend how HUGE an advantage an ability to plausibly claim Native American ancestry at ANY point in your career would be. Dissecting the details of whether or not Warren actually did or did not benefit unduly from her claim is beside the point. The point is she was in academia and she would know how potentially beneficial it might be.

            Also, things which may not seem to confer huge advantages in other fields often can in academia. For example, let’s say, of all your academic appointments, you only get one two-year postdoc as a partial result of your minority heritage. But with the time and resources that two-year postdoc provides you you write an award-winning book. Now, you’re basically set for life when compared to the alternate universe version of you who had to teach four classes each semester of those two years to make ends meet.

            To cite a different sort of example which also happens from time to time: let’s say you have an eminent scholar in a field who has published lots of good research. It turns out she got into her initial graduate program because she was sleeping with her advisor. Yet she has done all the work. The research is good. She got her next job without help from her advisor. She was smart enough she probably could have gotten into a different, equally good program, or even the same program, without having been sleeping with her advising professor. All that is well and good; her reputation (and that of her advisor) is still significantly tarnished forever because she (and her advisor) corrupted the process, any link in the chain of which might have been the slight competitive advantage she needed to win out over many other very smart people.

            I know those arguing against him think David Friedman is only arguing this point because he disagrees with Warren ideologically. And I, of course, disagree with her too. But also consider that we are in academia (and how many left wing academics and journalists would be eager to come to her rescue if she were a right wing politician?). And not to claim special authority, but I’m pretty sure this looks like a bigger deal to people in academia, because, well, it IS a much bigger deal in academia than elsewhere.

            All that said, I do not blame Scott or anyone else for continuing to support Warren in spite of this issue, because it doesn’t quite pass my own “is this a real scandal” test: namely, “would it be enough for me to stop supporting someone whose ideological stances I strongly agree with and who I think is doing really beneficial things?” (In my case, would I stop supporting Ron Paul if it came out he misrepresented his ancestry to get a job? The answer is no, though it would lower my opinion of him somewhat.)

          • skef says:

            @onyomi

            I think you’re exaggerating the advantages a great deal, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re not. Everything substantial that you’re talking about as advantages to the person, as opposed to the institution, is early career stuff. What are the substantial advantages supposed to be for someone mid-career on?

            Also: you’re claiming expertise on this subject. Is from hiring committees? Plenty of academic types hang out here.

          • skef says:

            Also, things which may not seem to confer huge advantages in other fields often can in academia. For example, let’s say, of all your academic appointments, you only get one two-year postdoc as a partial result of your minority heritage. But with the time and resources that two-year postdoc provides you you write an award-winning book. Now, you’re basically set for life when compared to the alternate universe version of you who had to teach four classes each semester of those two years to make ends meet.

            You’re mixing two very different things in this claim. Are you saying that if someone did a study on the impact of fellowships on eventual academic success they would find a strong correlation? And if you’re not saying that, what is the significance of the claim?

          • onyomi says:

            Everything substantial that you’re talking about as advantages to the person, as opposed to the institution, is early career stuff

            My point is you can’t separate the “early career” stuff from the overall trajectory of the career.

          • skef says:

            My point is you can’t separate the “early career” stuff from the overall trajectory of the career.

            But, as has already been pointed out, there is no evidence of early career benefits to Warren, some evidence against (the University of Texas job), and the mid-80s timing doesn’t match up anyway.

          • onyomi says:

            The same applies to early-middle career, mid-career, etc.–pretty much any point prior to being a well-established scholar at a top school. And in this case it looks like precisely around the time she started claiming this ancestry that she moved up in the academic world from mid-tier (UT) to top-tier (Penn, Harvard).

            And this is why I claim it’s a bigger deal in academia than elsewhere: academia, like a drug gang, is a world of big winners and big losers and not that much difference in ability, skill, work ethic, etc. between the two. Any slight advantage like this can be the factor necessary to catapult you from “also-ran” to “success” or from “moderate success” to “superstar.”

          • Because she thought she had Cherokee ancestry, was proud of it, and wanted to acknowledge it?

            Her AALS listing was as “minority” not “Cherokee.” There seems no evidence that she boasted of Cherokee ancestry in any other context, including running for office. When the issue first came up, she denied having told Harvard that she was Cherokee.

            I think it would be: “I’m part Cherokee, when these forms are asking about it, I’ll say I am since I am.

            Again, she listed herself for the AALS as a minority law professor, not as a Cherokee law professor.

            If this is the relevant standard, it’s not like someone who looks like Warren couldn’t qualify. 1900 is six generations ago! What is this argument even about?

            What you link to is a clear statement of a criterion that Warren did not satisfy. Warren wasn’t a random ignorant person, she was a law professor.

            I don’t think you’re seeing how much the other elements of your argument depend on minority status being substantially helpful.

            Or at least on her thinking it was. I’m not sure you appreciate how obvious it is to someone who has been a law professor that being a minority would be a significant asset in getting a position. I’ve spent the past twenty-two years at a law school one of whose boasts is its “diversity.” That’s the norm in the field, not the exception. It’s true with regard to both students and faculty.

            From my viewpoint, your argument is roughly the equivalent of “it’s true she was taking coins from the blind man’s cup, but perhaps she was trying to put coins in and didn’t realize that some of the ones already in the cup stuck to her fingers.”

          • skef says:

            @onyomi:

            I ask again: Have you been on a hiring committee? I haven’t, but everything I have heard directly and indirectly about that process doesn’t support the kind of strong connection you’re implying here, and neither do the numbers. Minority status is a substantial advantage for getting interviews, mostly from administrative pressure, but not much of an advantage for getting hired.

          • onyomi says:

            Minority status is a substantial advantage for getting interviews, mostly from administrative pressure, but not much of an advantage for getting hired.

            When there are hundreds of highly qualified candidates, how big of an advantage do you imagine it might be to be among the ten or so candidates selected for first-round interviews?

          • skef says:

            From my viewpoint, your argument is roughly the equivalent of “it’s true she was taking coins from the blind man’s cup, but perhaps she was trying to put coins in and didn’t realize that some of the ones already in the cup stuck to her fingers.”

            No, my argument is that hiring one person of minority status at that time would have no appreciable negative effect on the hiring of another person with minority status at that time, so whatever a reasonable analysis is, it isn’t yours.

            I didn’t anticipate having to further explain what “zero sum” means to David Friedman. Life is full of surprises.

            I’m not sure you appreciate how obvious it is to someone who has been a law professor that being a minority would be a significant asset in getting a position.

            What I appreciate is that, at least today, there are many people who are convinced that having certain statuses is a huge boost, and many people who aren’t convinced, and the general trend is that the respective are highly correlated with the expected political stances. As I said in the last post, the conventional wisdom I’m familiar with is that it definitely helps get interviews, but is at most a slight boost in hiring. I suppose things could be dramatically different in Law Schools, but philosophy is law-adjacent and I haven’t heard that.

          • skef says:

            When there are hundreds of highly qualified candidates, how big of an advantage do you imagine it might be to be among the ten or so candidates selected for first-round interviews?

            I think it depends a great deal on why they’re being selected, and the attitudes of the interviewers about those reasons.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I mean, I think we all agree (well, probably not, but surely most) the whole minority hire thing is pretty dumb, so instead of pearl clutching about something that we don’t actually care about (would it be any better if an actual minority took the spot from a hypothetical more qualified candidate?) we should be saying “good for her!” for being able to cheat the system.

          • skef says:

            @Whatever Happened To Anonymous

            Hence Friedman’s original framing.

          • Mary says:

            “we should be saying “good for her!” for being able to cheat the system.”

            Why?

            It’s not like she hurt the system in any way. She just edged out someone else.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            This thread is amusing.

            Let’s assume the worst. Does anyone really assert, at this juncture, that fraudulently claiming Cherokee heritage in a previous academic career is a disqualifying offense for President of the United States? Does that even register on the scale of presidential offense?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Agree with FacelessCraven. This is indeed a bad thing to do. But by politician standards this is beyond minor. If Warren were running for president, the differences between her and her opponent would have to be essentially negligible for this to be a deciding factor in my vote.

          • onyomi says:

            Just to be clear, as I said in the last paragraph here, this “scandal” isn’t bad enough it would stop me, personally, from supporting Warren if I really liked her positions; I just disagree with the contention that claiming Native American ancestry at one point in an academic career couldn’t well have made the difference between an okay career and a rising star.

            It’s possible she’d be exactly where she is today if she hadn’t ever claimed this ancestry, but it’s also possible she would not. And the fact she may not have gotten where she got entirely on her own merit (though we also don’t know how she’d have done in a no affirmative action universe) feels especially… something, given that she isn’t a proponent of race-blind admissions and hiring and her propensity for “you didn’t build that,” “it takes a village”-type rhetoric.

      • tscharf says:

        My guess is somebody has already gotten Warren’s DNA and tested it for ancestry to be released at an inopportune time of their choosing.

      • random832 says:

        AIUI there’s also strong disagreement within the left about how much “gatekeeping” should be applied to identity claims in general (this comes up most often in the transgender context, but I’ve seen it elsewhere too).

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t like Elizabeth Warren and I’m not entirely sure why. Part of it is her enthusiasm for pro-choice but (sigh) that doesn’t make her stand out amongst the Democrats:

      Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez became the first head of the party to demand ideological purity on abortion rights, promising Friday to support only Democratic candidates who back a woman’s right to choose.

      Democrats for Life were a bit put out, but I think this is the way the wind is blowing.

      So why don’t I like Elizabeth Warren? I don’t quite know – she strikes some of the same chords with me that Hillary Clinton does (blonde ambition, finger-wagging schoolmarmishness, ‘I know better than you what you want and need because I am the smartest person in the room’, and that eagerness to jump on every bandwagon as shown by Lizzie galloping off to have her photo took beside the “Defiant Girl” statue as some kind of “yay feminism!” plus “this ties in with my long record of standing up to the banks and Wall Street”, even though the sculpture was commissioned to advertise an investment fund).

      I should be more sympathetic to her; she came out of a lower middle-class/semi-skilled working class background and worked hard to get where she is, but despite that and despite the presentation of “looking out for the interests of the little guy”, there’s a certain comfort and ease in her current class and status that, again, strikes me like Hillary: this is where I was meant to be all along, my roots were simply the ashes out of which I arose to my natural level!

      Plus she reminds me of Margaret Thatcher, for some reason, so that’s another strike against her.

      • Iain says:

        Are there any prominent female politicians you do like?

        • moonfirestorm says:

          @Deiseach:

          As a pairing for that question, are there any prominent politicians of any gender you like?

          I’d be kind of curious what in general you’d like to address politically. We see a lot of well-thought-out criticism of particular stances, and a lot of interesting insight into government bureaucracy, but you tend towards the negative.

          This is of course not a challenge: you’re free to critique without providing a better alternative. But I’m curious what your goals would be if you had some free political reign, beyond “stop doing this thing”.

        • Deiseach says:

          I liked Mary McAleese. I wouldn’t be 100% in agreement with all her positions, but I don’t find her particularly objectionable.

          As to what politicians I do like, I find it very hard to pick one out. Fianna Fáil, which was (and for lack of a better, still is) my party had a rash of really bad corruption revelations which undermined just about every politician I could think of from my side, and there were a few in the opposition parties that were as bad.

          The politicians I like tend to be dead – I think Frank Cluskey, for example, was sincere. Tony Benn (yes, I know his faults). Part of why I like Bernie Sanders because he does have that old-school Labour aura about him, even again as I would not be 100% in agreement with his views and policies.

          European politicians – difficult to say. Angela Merkel? Can’t say I like her but I don’t dislike her, either. She’s probably as good as you could ask for as a German leader. Macron seems to be showing worrying tendencies toward “l’état, c’est moi“, though it’s hard to know if that’s just the news coverage. I can’t keep track of who’s who in Italy.

          There really isn’t a current politician I would point to and say “He or she is the man or woman of the hour, the one the nation/world needs!” As I said, I’ve become very cynical over the scandals, and tend to regard them all as shifty no-goods just waiting for the other shoe to drop and the big scandal to be splashed all over the media.

          I suppose what I want is someone who stands for something, not merely “what do the focus groups say I should stand for?” Some conviction, some sense of public service and duty but without the inflated notion of “I am the only person who can do this because I am just that wonderful” (part of the First Coming Of Obama was the ridiculous LightBringer and “tingle up the leg” coverage, and while he personally didn’t start any of it, he rather lapped it up or at least found it helpful in his campaigning). Someone who isn’t willing to sell out the core values of the party and dump a section of the support because they now want to position the party nearer the centre and they’re all jostling to win the urban middle-class voter, so the working class/rural voters can go jump in the lake. Socially conservative, fiscally liberal.

          And world peace and a pony while I’m at it, I guess! 🙂

          I know Trump is nothing of the above and a walking disaster to boot, but I can see the appeal after years of no selection but plastic candidate after plastic candidate who smiled and spouted vague platitudes and did nothing to change the status quo once voted in.

  12. Some context for Jon Ossoff’s loss in the recent Georgia special election: was the last Democratic candidate for that seat even a real person?

    The linked article excoriates the Democratic Party for running only token candidates in districts almost certain to be won by the other party. In this case, two candidates with suspiciously odd names (“Rodney Stooksbury” and “Trisha McCracken”) proved to be completely unavailable to the media and perhaps not even real people.

    That being said, both parties commonly make no effort where they reasonably expect to have no chance. Georgia Democrats evidently wanted to be sure they had a nominee in every district, which is more than many parties bother to do. It’s good to have a nominee on the ballot, because it establishes the party’s statistical baseline of support, in that district and against that opponent.

    Political organizations understandably want to focus limited resources where they will make a difference. And political donors are rarely motivated to contribute to candidates who have a negligible chance of winning. Unless you are already famous, it is impossible to do enough of a campaign that most voters will even notice, without a significant amount of money.

    As recently as the early 1970s, this was not as much of a problem, because there were crowds of ambitious and qualified people eager to become candidates. Both parties often had competitive primaries in districts where, on paper, their nominees had little chance. But that was okay with the candidates, because (1) they might beat the odds and win, or (2) at least they would get exposure and build support and credibility for their next run.

    We didn’t realize it at the time, but Watergate changed all that. Many young people were repelled from politics. Meanwhile, those who were employed were working longer and harder, with less time for party meetings or campaigns. The media environment for elected officials was perceived to be ever more brutal. The spigot controlling the flood of new people into elective politics was turned sharply toward “off”, and has remained at most a small trickle ever since.

    The political candidate and volunteer shortage became evident by the late 1970s, and only got worse after that. In both parties, in all areas, at all levels, there were fewer people willing to put themselves forward, and as a result, competitiveness took a nosedive. The average age of people on city councils and in state legislatures crept inexorably upward, as the same old incumbents were induced to stay around for yet another term.

    Hence, instead of choosing among potential candidates for Congress or State Senate or city council, it became a matter of searching them out and recruiting them. And the people with decent credentials and candidate qualities knew they were in demand, so of course they balked at running hopeless races.

    The sharpening polarization of American politics played a role, too. The hostile atmosphere repelled less partisan folks, and the self-sorting of the electorate made it easier to gerrymander districts and to predict the outcomes of races.

    Unexpected “upset” wins for the minority party in a given territory used to be pretty common; not any more. Here in Michigan, no Republican has won my county over a Democrat in decades, and vice-versa in nearby conservative counties.

    Absolutely, I support the “fifty state strategy” of contesting seats all over the country. But it’s not easy for either party to come up with well-qualified candidates in districts where they have little chance, and almost impossible to fund a credible campaign for them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I completely agree with you that polarization and the horrible nature of politics has selected for many undesirable traits in politicians. But as for

      both parties commonly make no effort where they reasonably expect to have no chance.

      I think part of the author’s point was that putting forth as lousy a campaign as Ossoff ran, he still got close, meaning the Democratic party was giving up without a fight in a place they could have been competitive.

      • I think part of the author’s point was that putting forth as lousy a campaign as Ossoff ran, he still got close, meaning the Democratic party was giving up without a fight in a place they could have been competitive.

        That is nonsense.

        Ossoff benefited from extreme special circumstances, where a hypothetical Republican voter might be tempted to vote for a Democrat to rein in the perceived excesses of the Trump administration. He ran as moderate a campaign as a Democrat could reasonably run.

        I doubt a different candidate or campaign could have changed the result in the special election, and certainly not in November 2016.

        The fact that Ossoff and his extraordinarily well-funded campaign are being called “lousy” is an example of the psychological tendency to always blame the election loser as personally responsible for his defeat. I didn’t hear this kind of criticism before the special election.

        The fact that 38% of the voters chose the generic Democrat in 2016 doesn’t necessarily mean that a Democratic nominee could ordinarily beat a Republican nominee in the district.

        In fact, it’s pretty good evidence in the other direction. Members of Congress who win over 60% against major party opponents (even just names on the ballot) are regarded as having safe seats.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The fact that Ossoff and his extraordinarily well-funded campaign are being called “lousy” is an example of the psychological tendency to always blame the election loser as personally responsible for his defeat. I didn’t hear this kind of criticism before the special election.

          Perhaps you were not listening? The right was laughing at his campaign because he was a carpetbagger with no substance or anything meaningful that represented the district. Obviously the left isn’t going to criticize the guy while he’s running, but the bias isn’t “blame the loser,” the bias is, “when a guy on our side is running say nice things during the campaign and only tell the truth after the fact.”

          • Perhaps you were not listening? The right was laughing at his campaign because he was a carpetbagger with no substance or anything meaningful that represented the district.

            If they weren’t laughing about that, they’d be laughing about something else.

            Obviously the left isn’t going to criticize the guy while he’s running

            *snicker* It sounds like you don’t have much familiarity with the left.

            The one and only way Ossoff could win was by getting a whole lot of anti-Trump protest votes from Republicans. People casting protest votes are notably indifferent to candidate qualities.

            Given there were insufficient protest votes, even a Democrat as highly regarded as Sam Nunn couldn’t have won that seat.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            How does:

            Obviously the left isn’t going to criticize the guy while he’s running

            *snicker* It sounds like you don’t have much familiarity with the left.

            Reconcile with your previous statement:

            I didn’t hear this kind of criticism before the special election.

          • Reconcile with your previous statement:

            I just mean people on the left are not hesitant to openly criticize their own candidates and campaigns while in progress, not that they always in every case do.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I didn’t get the impression that the left thought he ran a lousy campaign while it was still going on. Pools pretty consistently showed him ahead, so why would anybody think he was doing a bad job?

            Also, revealed preference: they probably wouldn’t have dumped all that money into him if they thought he was blowing it.

    • Aapje says:

      @Larry Kestenbaum

      As recently as the early 1970s, this was not as much of a problem, because there were crowds of ambitious and qualified people eager to become candidates. […] We didn’t realize it at the time, but Watergate changed all that. […] The spigot controlling the flood of new people into elective politics was turned sharply toward “off”, and has remained at most a small trickle ever since.

      No, the problems are clearly far more structural as party membership has been declining all over Europe since the 70’s and it’s not credible that Watergate caused Europeans to change like that.

      I think that the actual causes are diverse. For example, the increased education, access to information and deterioration of social norms probably increased diversity of thought quite a bit, resulting in a greater mismatch between the compromise platforms of the political parties and the beliefs of individuals. We see that modern people are far more willing to cooperate in single issue platforms than multi-issue platforms.

      I would also ‘blame’ anti-authoritarianism. Being a politician today clearly garners far less respect and adoration than in the past, while the level of scrutiny and punishment for errors is much higher. Highly skilled people are generally much better off to choose another profession. This is not due Watergate, but a much more general cultural change where authority has to continuously prove it has a right to have power.

      Another cause may be a more negative take on the phenomenon that was described in ‘The End of History’ by Francis Fukuyama: the idea that there is no better system than Western liberal democracy. One can argue that politics consists of a market consisting of ideologies and those who seek an ideology. Marxism was adopted by many because at the time it made, in the eyes of those people, a good case for how the problems of the day could be solved. It later fell out of favor to all but a small minority, due to a lack of success when it was tried.

      If we imagine an alternative reality where Marx had not been born and Marxism hadn’t existed, those major problems that made people susceptible to drastic ideologies would still have existed, their disenchantment with the ruling class’s ideology would still be there and the people would still have sought an ideology that promises to fix this problems. In fact, that is exactly what we saw as another extreme ideology, fascism, was in competition with Marxism.

      One can argue that a major reason why people are abandoning politics is because the supply side of ideologies is weak. People see/feel that the ideologies that exist are wrong and that the guiding principles of the elite are damaging to themselves, but there is no one who tells a compelling story to a large group of people. The various remaining ideologies like libertarianism, Social Justice, neoliberalism, Christian conservatism, social democracy, etc fail to convince more than fairly small segments of the population.

      Note that my country has a representative senate, rather than a winner takes all system and we still have many of these problems, so I would caution to be wary of seeing it as a silver bullet (although I think that a representative election system can deal with these problems better).

      • No, the problems are clearly far more structural as party membership has been declining all over Europe since the 70’s and it’s not credible that Watergate caused Europeans to change like that.

        Sure, I can agree with that. I did point to structural issues, like the decline of free time. Robert Putnam also mentions it in Bowling Alone.

        The American political system used to be powered by the work of millions of volunteers. When the volunteers disappeared, political campaigns became more reliant on fundraising, using money to substitute for what volunteers used to do.

        • Anthony says:

          Part of the disappearance of those volunteers was the end of the taboo on middle-class women working outside the home. Up through the early 60s, “housewives” with kids in school were the backbone of most volunteer organizations (of all sorts, not just political). Since the 60s and women (both in Europe and America) going back to full-time work once their kids are in school, if not earlier, there are a whole lot fewer volunteers for *anything*.

          • Part of the disappearance of those volunteers was the end of the taboo on middle-class women working outside the home. Up through the early 60s, “housewives” with kids in school were the backbone of most volunteer organizations (of all sorts, not just political). Since the 60s and women (both in Europe and America) going back to full-time work once their kids are in school, if not earlier, there are a whole lot fewer volunteers for *anything*.

            Very true. But volunteerism has declined among men as well.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Perhaps if there are fewer eligible women around (I’m supposing unmarried middle-class women as well as married volunteered) men are less likely to show up, volunteering being less of a way to meet women?

          • Anthony says:

            I rather suspect that it was more that as women entered the workforce, men spent somewhat more time taking care of domestic matters, leaving less time for volunteering.

            Also, as volunteer organizations shrank or collapsed, the status boost from volunteering would be smaller, providing less incentive to volunteer.

            But I’m hypothesizing – I don’t *know* these things.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I’ve mentioned it before, but I’d like to thank you again for your consistantly excellent contributions here. This was a pleasure to read.

      …So what happens if, by some crazy miracle, one of these non-existent people actually wins the election?

      • Thank you for your kind words.

        So what happens if, by some crazy miracle, one of these non-existent people actually wins the election?

        Ordinarily, if the person who is elected fails to qualify (show up, establish eligibility, and take the requisite oaths), then a vacancy occurs.

        What happens then depends on the office and the applicable law. Sometimes a designated successor (a Vice President, Lieutenant Governor, Vice Mayor, etc.) moves into the role. In some cases (e.g., U.S. Senator, most administrative posts), the governor or other authority can appoint a replacement. In other cases (e.g., U.S. Representative), a special election would be needed.

        If a fictional or deceased person wins a party primary, typically, the party committee can name a replacement nominee before the general election.

        • Jaskologist says:

          If they’re going to the trouble of registering a candidate, why don’t they at least pick some random person on the party committee, rather than a fictional one? There’s got to at least be an intern who be game to lose a race.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            because real people can be researched and argued against, I imagine.

          • I have known of people who sneakily filed others as candidates without their consent, but I have never known a case in Michigan of an entirely fictional candidate.

            In this state, an Affidavit of Identity is required with each candidate filing, including write-ins, so filing a fictitious candidate would require swearing out a false affidavit.

    • Anthony says:

      A potential factor in uncontested races is the mechanics of filing. In California, to establish eligibility to *file*, you have to submit a petition with 20 (or 40) valid signatures (I think they must be in-district); once those are verified, you get the actual filing papers.

      (Incidentally, failing this step is rare, but sometimes happens even to experienced politicians.)

      Qualifying for the ballot requires paying a filing fee equal to 1% of the annual salary of the position; candidates can submit petition signatures in lieu of all or part of the fee. For State Assembly, it’s 1500 signatures, for State Senate and Congress, it’s 3,000, for statewide office, it’s 10,000. For other offices, it’s about 25c/signature. So a candidate for office needs to pay well over $1000, or have enough of an organization to get the petition signatures. This deters people in really hopeless districts unless the party is willing to support them. Some Bay Area districts don’t get Republican candidates for this reason, while some Orange County districts used to not get Democrats.

      Both major parties now try to find someone who’s not too much a nutcase to run even for the hopeless districts, for the reasons Larry Kestenbaum states, but occasionally they can’t find a candidate, or they screw up the process.

      • In Michigan, you can run for state House or Senate or any county office with a $100 filing fee. The fee is refunded if you finish first or second in the primary, but there is legislation currently being considered to abolish the refund.

        Alternatively, you could pay nothing and file petitions, but few candidates do that any more. When I ran for the State House in 1998, I was the only rep candidate in the state, outside of Detroit, who filed petitions; everyone else paid the filing fee.

        For Congress and statewide offices, the filing fee option is not available, so petitioning is required: 1,000 valid signatures for a congressional district, or 15,000 valid signatures for statewide.

        Those numbers apply even if you’re the incumbent, which means that (for example) incumbent members of Congress have to go to considerably more trouble to get on the ballot in Michigan than in other states.

        It’s not really that difficult for a congressman to activate campaign volunteers to collect the requisit number of signatures, but those in safe districts sometimes neglect this. We had one prominent member of the House whose staff apparently photocopied petitions from past years, rather than go to the trouble of getting a thousand signatures (2012), and another one whose staff hired someone, who hired someone, who hired someone, who did such a sloppy job gathering signatures that he was at first ruled off the ballot (2014).

  13. Sniffnoy says:

    General link I’m placing here since this is a links post: Here’s an interesting article on drug expiration dates. I was aware drug expiration dates were generally set way on the side of caution, but I had no idea that this caused a lot of drugs to be thrown out due to regulations requiring hospitals to obey those expiration dates…

  14. Tatterdemalion says:

    I’m dubious of the Australian resume study, because the people who undertook it were aware that they were taking part in a test. My understanding is that blinded studies on similar things tend to find the opposite result (although I admit I haven’t checked that thoroughly), making me suspect that what is going on here is that people who know they are being watched are being extra careful not to discriminate against minorities.

    • zz says:

      Huh. I’d assumed from Scott’s phrasing that they used actual resumes that had already had decisions made about them, removed identifying characteristics, and saw how results changed. Instead, we get box 4 that says “A randomized control trial (RCT) is the best way of telling if a policy is working.” That’s… not false, but simplified enough to be not true since effects that crop up in the lab often don’t manifest in the real world and vice-versa. And they expect me to believe a poorly-designed RCT is better than a well-designed natural experiment (eg that one on the effect of forced attendance from a few links posts ago)?

      (GiveWell also has opinions about the importance of study quality.)

      I’ve lowered how much weight I put in the study’s results. I’m uncertain about how possible it might have been to compare real-world hiring results to laboratory results with identifying characteristics removed, but if it was possible and they didn’t, that’s really weird/suspicious.

  15. Halvor says:

    You’re reading “Detecting polygenic adaptation in admixture graphs” wrong. You need to look at the barplot at page 84. Many East Asian groups like the Thai, Vietnamese, and almost all Siberians show no evidence for exceptional selection for IQ. Contrary to what you wrote above, I don’t think Peruvians or any other Amerindian group look exceptional.

    The small print is hard to read, so here’s a list of the groups that show the largest allele frequency advantages:

    1. Korean
    2. Miao (South Chinese)
    3. Han
    4. Tujia (South Chinese)
    5. Yi (South Chinese
    6. Japanese
    7. Hezhen (North Chinese)
    8. Naxi (South Chinese)
    9. Tu (Chinese Mongols)
    10. Mongolia

    Just to reiterate: being Asian does not seem to confer any advantage, because the entirely East Asian Nganasan of far north Siberia have fewer of these education alleles than any ethnic group studied. This implies, contra the official wording, that these differences are probably less than 10,000 years old.

    The non-Asians who come out looking the best are Iraqi Jews, Saudis, and Tuscans. Europeans are average, Africans, Australians, and a smattering of isolated groups like the Saami low. The Ashkenazi score lower than the overall average.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Hm. thanks. I was reading Table S9 on page 42; how is that different?

      I don’t know anything about the Nganasan or when they branched off from other Asians, but the Japanese/Chinese/Korean similarity is either one heck of a coincidence or suggests that the selection was before these peoples split. I don’t know exactly when this is (surely the Yayoi period is too late) but I still don’t think it looks good for the civil service exams.

      • Halvor says:

        I’m going to really test your tolerance for boring population genetics minutiae.

        There was a big paper on Siberian genetics published two years ago which found that all the various groups found there today have a recent southern origin dating back to about 3000 B.C. The paper suggests they began to push northwards after the domestication of the reindeer and likely replaced earlier populations more closely related to American Indians and Europeans. The fact that their expansion began so late suggest that the selection for intelligence found in Racimo had not begun by this date.

        http://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2015/04/30/018770.full.pdf
        (You don’t really have to read it)

        The paper found five big genetic clusters found in Siberia today, which you can see here:
        http://imgur.com/a/cusr6

        If you go through the hassle of comparing that image with the old p.84 barplot, you’ll see that only Siberian groups that have gobs of the purple “East Asian” cluster show enrichment of education enhancing alleles. The common denominator among the “smart” Asians is not a history of civil service exams, or even rice agriculture, because the hunter gatherer Hezhen of Manchuria do about as well as the Japanese. It’s whatever’s this purple component represents.

        According to experts who work on ancient teeth, southeast Asia was occupied by Negrito like groups up until 3000-4000 BC, when they were replaced by people who almost certainly originated in China. Again, the fact that these education boosting alleles are not enhanced in the Vietnamese (the paper calls them “Kinh”), Thai, or Taiwanese aborigines is more evidence of a relatively recent origin.

        For a long time, people interested in racial IQ differences have proposed all kinds of theories to account for these differences. If the Racimo paper is correct, none of them are right. Living through cold winters does not make people smart, or else the Nganasan would be geniuses. Civil service exams don’t matter, rice doesn’t matter, the Chinese writing system doesn’t matter. The real explanation for why intelligent Northeast Asians out-reproduced dumb ones c. 3000 B.C. could be something so bizarre that not even the craziest Internet commenter has ever proposed it.

  16. Ryan says:

    If we read this

    More evidence against corporate campaign contributions mattering: “We find no evidence that corporations benefit from electing their favored candidate, and we can statistically reject effect sizes greater than 0.4 percent of firm value…corporate campaign contributions do not appear to but significant political favors.”

    in the context of this

    Center For A Stateless Society has probably the best response to my cost disease post I’ve seen so far, which suggests the problem is something like oligopolies, plus weird accounting rules that treat “costs” and “revenues” in confusing and inappropriate ways.

    then corporate campaign contributions/spending is just another way oligopolies waste revenue on useless shit.

  17. Gerry Quinn says:

    The Harry Potter fan fiction may be generated by a neural net, but it doesn’t look much different from the output of the Markov chain generators that have amused for decades (if I recall correctly, Martin Gardner described a simple implementation in the ’80s.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      My understanding is that the typical (RNN/LSTM) neural net learns the structure (title, author, markup), while the typical Markov chain hardcodes this structure.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Only the data (the original text) needs to be hardcoded in the Markov chain method. While theoretical discussion of the method suggests one might use a derived dataset of frequencies of phrases and following words, the text itself can serve as an adequate database. You just pick a random point in the text and search forward until you find the last X words of the current output, and you add the next word in the text to the current output. The probabilities are not perfectly distributed compared to those in the original (any instances of the same X words following closely behind another instance will be suppressed), but the result is close enough.

        This was the method described by Gardner back in the days. Computers were not fast enough to do it any other way. Not home computers, anyway. Nowadays one could create a database from the text, but really it’s not needed.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Nope.

        • random832 says:

          This was the method described by Gardner back in the days. Computers were not fast enough to do it any other way.

          Surely you mean they didn’t have enough memory.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            The database would have needed a little extra memory, but also a lot of computation, to generate. Once it was generated, the amount of memory needed would have depended on the length of chain needed – i.e. are you looking for the frequency of the fourth letter or word that follows a given three, or the tenth that follows a given nine? it might have been more or less compact than the original.

            Of course, another advantage of the no-database method is that you can write it in a few lines of simple code, and start churning out nonsensical texts derived from the original straight away!

  18. You know what nobody hates each other over yet? Quilting.

    Your link would seem to show otherwise.

    If you don’t think quilting is a big deal, you might want to visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.

  19. Ancient people believed the kidney was involved in conscience and deliberation, and according to the Talmud “one of the two kidneys counsels what is good, and the other evil”. What would they think of kidney donors?

    And some of us, because of a manufacturing defect (unilateral renal agenesis) have just one kidney.

    It never occurred to me that my lack of a left kidney could be morally relevant.

    Rather than counsel good or evil, I think a kidney (indirectly) counsels a person to be aware of safe locations to release urine.

    • Randy M says:

      I was going to go off on a tangent about why having one kidney would predispose you to being more supportive of strong law and order norms so that public restrooms are safe on your more frequent urination trips, but that’s probably really more related to bladder size. Maybe you’re going to want more strict building codes so if you accidentally impale your sole kidney on rebar it won’t be fatal? Eh, it’s a stretch.

  20. Squirrel of Doom says:

    The most interesting minimum wage development is Republicans lowering minimum wage in several jurisdictions.

    After reading a headline that Missouri just lowered it from $10 to $7.70, I thought we’d get a real juicy data point. But actually reading the reports now, I see that is only for St Louis, and it had only been in effect for 2 months there.

    Still, I don’t know that substantial lowerings have happened before, and it could provide a whole new set of empirical data.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      What happened is that Republicans all over the country have moved at the state level to ban local minimum wage increases. Which is literally the most anti-small government thing ever. St. Louis defeated the law in court by pointing out that our law passed before the state law, but then we lost all our power because of Hillary Clinton and now Republicans have moved forward.

      • Salem says:

        the most anti-small government thing ever.

        As the words are normally made understood, that’s pro-small government. What you mean is it’s anti-localism. But most Republicans claim to be federalist rather than localists.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        Regardless of if you love or hate the policy, the new data points will be interesting.

        I’m certain many economists are gearing up their studies as we speak.

  21. MostlyCredibleHulk says:

    “Stateless society” reads way differently is you are a software engineer.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Glad I’m not the only one ! It took me a while to get through my initial reaction of, “Wait, how would that even work ? Humans have state.”

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I read it as “statless society” and thought “yes, God, I’m sick of technocrats.”

  22. GregS says:

    Regarding the Vice story. If you look at the SAMHSA survey, nonmedical use of prescription painkillers (called “pain relievers” in their report) is flat, and rates of dependence are also pretty flat (up slightly, but not nearly enough to explain a 4x increase in overdose rates). See pages 18 and 84 in the link. Sure, you can explain this away saying people with prescriptions don’t identify as “misusing” or being “dependent”, but it would be extreme/implausible to claim that this makes a real trend completely disappear. The survey data appear to be picking up a real increase in heroin use and a real drop in cocaine use, so I’d expect them to at least reflect a massive increase in prescription opioid abuse, even if a distorted view of that trend. The SAMHSA survey results are roughly similar to what you see on the Monitoring the Future survey, which only tracks 8th, 10th, and 12th graders but shows the same thing: misuse/abuse rates for opioids are flat. If we take the survey numbers seriously, it tells the opposite story from the dominant narrative: you can increase opioid prescriptions dramatically without seeing an increase in opioid abuse. That’s pretty much in line with the story Maia Szalavitz is telling in the Vice piece. (Szalavitz’s recent book “Unbroken Brain” is an excellent read, btw.)

    I think the heroin overdose story is completely separate from the prescription opioid overdose story. There are ~200 million legal prescriptions per year, and about 10,000 *accidental* prescription opioid deaths. (Most stories that report on the “opioid epidemic” fail to break out suicides vs. unintentional deaths, thus inflating the relevant number.) That’s about 5 deaths per 100,000 legal prescriptions. Probably not such a bad risk for someone facing the prospect of a few weeks or months of pain. On the other hand there are something like half a million heroin users and about 11,000 heroin overdose deaths in 2015. (The number of heroin users is based on household surveys which will miss a large number of them, so maybe multiply by 2 to be conservative? Is a larger multiplier more appropriate?) You get more like a 1-2%/year mortality risk for heroin users, which is huge. The prescription opioid deaths are a small risk applied to a very large population; the heroin overdoses are a huge risk applied to a relatively small population. I think the huge uptick in heroin overdoses is driven by adulteration with fentanyl and even more potent opioids, not an increase in use by helplessly addicted former pain patients. I think it’s not so much that opioids are driving people into helpless addiction, such that they gobble down pills until they overdose. Rather, there are rare instances of normal people combining legitimate prescription painkillers with benzodiazepines (~1/3 of prescription opioid poisonings involve benzos) or alcohol (involved in ~15% of such poisonings). Then again, a sizeable fraction of such poisonings involve heroin (~13%) and cocaine (~9%), so clearly some of these overdose deaths are from people with serious drug habits. (Some data here, which I also linked to in a comment above.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      When you say that something “is flat,” what time frame do you mean?

      The Vice piece claims to be pushing back against narrative that the cause is from 1980, so presumably it is talking about the trend from 1980 to today. But it doesn’t actually say anything about trends.

      • GregS says:

        I’m talking only about 2002-present. For some reason the SAMHSA survey summary does not provide data earlier than 2002. I think there may have been a methodology change that makes it hard to compare prior years? (Eyeballing a chart in the book “Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics” that shows use rates back to 1990, that appears to be the case. Sorry, I don’t have a link, but the book is sitting in front of me.)

        Also complicating the story, the CDC switched its cause-of-death codes from ICD9 to ICD10 in 1999, so the deaths by various causes of loss aren’t comparable before and after that date. An economist who studies drug issues told me that he looked at these numbers and that they “aren’t directly comparable.” That’s roughly the impression I got when I looked at the pre-1999 data; there was such a stark change in the numbers that it wasn’t plausible. There’s some kind of cause-of-death coding bias going on that makes different eras impossible to compare. These data are available at the CDC website, but they don’t make them easy to get to, and I don’t have a link to a pretty graphic showing the time series going that far back.

        Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what happened in the 1980’s to 1990’s. But if we’re talking about the rapid increase in opioid poisonings, that’s a trend that mostly happened 1999-present. Regardless of what happened from the 1980s to 1999, you’d expect a 4x increase in prescription opioid poisonings to somehow show up in drug use surveys.

  23. The Nybbler says:

    Yes, the PC-left are doing most of the attacking, but the PC-left is also most of the victims. Non-leftists can occasionally get in trouble if they’re Charles-Murray-level good targets, but generally escape unscathed

    This is true, but it’s mostly because the non-leftists have already been purged from areas where the PC-left is active; there’s a paucity of targets. All it takes to be a Charles-Murray-level “good target” is to be a non-leftist who won’t keep quiet in a space claimed by leftists. And as the ants (and quilting) demonstrated, leftists are perfectly willing to claim new spaces.

    I’m not surprised about quilting. Quilting has long been used for political purposes (e.g. the AIDS quilt), and there’s always that “cultural appropriation” thing; a quick search reveals it has to do with Native American imagery being used in quilts.

    • Nornagest says:

      This is true, but it’s mostly because the non-leftists have already been purged from areas where the PC-left is active; there’s a paucity of targets.

      It’s not hard to find literal Nazis on Tumblr, but that hasn’t stopped the Tumblr SJ scene from eating its own.

      I don’t think it’s that all the targets have been purged. I think it’s, first, that people are lazy; and second, that people are mainly concerned with their near social circles. Most of the attacks we’re talking about are inherently low-effort: if you’re halfway familiar with the theory, it takes maybe five minutes to cook up a plausible accusation. Finding someone that actually deserves it takes time, and when you find them they’ll probably be someone that no one on your friends list knows or cares about. It’s easier and more rewarding to go after the least political person you hang out with.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It’s not hard to find literal Nazis on Tumblr, but that hasn’t stopped the Tumblr SJ scene from eating its own.

        I don’t think Tumblr is really one community; SJ Tumblr is different than Nazi Tumblr, though they share a platform. To tell the truth, given the interface I’m surprised it can support communities at all.

        Plus, the problem with attacking Nazis is that Nazis hit back.

  24. GregQ says:

    Study on economic vs. social politics finds that economically-conservative-socially-liberal people (libertarians?) are rarest, economically-liberal-socially-conservative people (populists?) are much more common than expected.

    That’s because in the US being “socially liberal” means being in favor of a lot of government programs that “help the poor” (read: help gov’t bureaucrats and other parasites).

    I believe the conservative ideas about how to behave are the best. I also think you have the right to screw up your life however you want, so long as you’re the one stuck with the bill when things go wrong. == Real libertarian

    • The Nybbler says:

      That’s because in the US being “socially liberal” means being in favor of a lot of government programs that “help the poor” (read: help gov’t bureaucrats and other parasites).

      No. That’s “economically liberal”. “Socially liberal” means supporting things like making drugs legal, allowing any sort of sex consenting adults can figure out, etc. Hence the common disparagement of libertarians as Republicans who want to smoke pot.

      I suspect most people are probably actually bleeding-heart (“economically liberal”) busybodies (“socially conservative”, but with exceptions for things they find enjoyable).

      • GregQ says:

        Well, when politicians claim to be “socially liberal”, it always seems to mean “pro-welfare” in the sense of “pro spending lots of gov’t $$$ on various gov’t programs”

        • Well, when politicians claim to be “socially liberal”, it always seems to mean “pro-welfare” in the sense of “pro spending lots of gov’t $$$ on various gov’t programs”

          No. On the rare occasion anyone would say that, it usually means “I’m not opposed to same-sex marriage”.

  25. andagain says:

    Jonathan Kay discusses mob culture and attacks on free speech, but focuses on something important that isn’t mentioned enough. Yes, the PC-left are doing most of the attacking, but the PC-left is also most of the victims.

    But why is it that the PC-left does so much attacking in the first place? Does it have any connection with Conquests Second Law?

    • Sam Reuben says:

      I think there’s an important preliminary: so much attacking compared to who? Other people with the same level of political commitment, I’d have to imagine, because we’ve got a good explanation as to why people with commitment are more engaged than people without. So then, why do they attack more than their equivalents on the right? Actually, do they? I’m not completely sure. Some of the weirder alt-right areas seem to be quite vitriolic, and it’s hard to measure these things definitively. What counts as an attack? Are some attacks more attack-y than other attacks? Oof. So, let’s just table this and answer the simple question: why do they attack at all?

      From the outside perspective, it’s that they’re highly politically committed and that this correlates to attacking. From the inside perspective, they have their own explanation: the way that a lot of the world around them exists is evil. There is a moral imperative to attack and destroy evil things, therefore there is a moral imperative to attack and destroy a lot of the world around them. It’s fairly straightforward, actually, and a refutation has to come either about the evil-world-assumption or the destroy-evil-things assumption.

      Does this get to what you were wondering about, or did I misinterpret the question?

      • andagain says:

        Well, in America right now, the right has the Presidency, both Houses of Congress and most governorship’s and state legislatures. Right wingers cannot be that much outnumbered by left-wingers.

        And yet left-wingers seem to launch the great majority of these kinds of attack. Which strikes me as odd.

        • Sam Reuben says:

          Seeming is a dangerous thing! Right now, we’re on a rationalist internet blog, which means we’ve entered a massively self-selecting population. How far astray do your personal tastes go from this urban-intellectual-elite demographic? Chances are it’s not too far, and you don’t spend much time in, say, Christian fundamentalist communities. Instead, you’re spending your time in a setting which is overwhelmingly left-wing. Is it so surprising, then, that most attacks (“of this kind,” which is loosely defined) are perpetrated by left-wingers? That’s dubious, at best. Before that seeming can become a knowing, much more research is needed.

        • albatross11 says:

          The media are a very selective filter, and we tend to self-select into media bubbles. From a few months before the election of Trump until a couple of months ago, the news was filled with hate crimes–Nazis desecrating Jewish cemeteries, right-wing thugs terrorizing Muslim girls, etc. A person watching that coverage probably was pretty sure that the new Trump America was full of right-wing thugs terrorizing everyone nonwhite. Now, it turned out that a whole lot of these stories were actually hoaxes[1], but a person watching only that coverage would have been pretty sure that there was a huge problem coming from the right.

          So, now, watching the coverage I can easily see, it looks like there’s a huge problem coming from the left, between antifas, bored college students protesting because it’s more fun than studying for finals, SJWs twitter-mobbing someone, etc. Why is this impression more reliable than the one of crazy scary right wingers terrorizing everyone who wasn’t a straight white male?

          [1] The really weird story here was that a bunch of the bomb threats being called into synagogues and Jewish daycares and such were coming from some crazy guy in Israel, who himself was Jewish. (Several were also being called in by a black guy who’d been a journalist for The Intercept till he’d been fired, and appears to have thought he could use these hoax calls to get his ex-girlfriend in trouble with the law.) I suspect that the more news coverages this kind of hate crime/hate hoax gets, the more people (crazies, bored teenagers, assholes) are encouraged to join in the fun.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            So, now, watching the coverage I can easily see, it looks like there’s a huge problem coming from the left, between antifas, bored college students protesting because it’s more fun than studying for finals, SJWs twitter-mobbing someone, etc. Why is this impression more reliable than the one of crazy scary right wingers terrorizing everyone who wasn’t a straight white male?

            One thing would be that it’s reporting against interest. Journalism as a profession skews left, and even those who aren’t left-wingers are generally blue-tribe people who wouldn’t normally have much of a grudge against (e.g.) college students. Conversely, lots of journalists really, really hate Trump, and so have every incentive to paint him and his followers in as black a shade as they can. A priori, then, the chances of a Trump-fuelled hate-crime wave being made up or exaggerated are higher than the chances of a wave of college antifa violence.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It’s much harder to false-flag a riot than an anonymous bomb threat.

          • tscharf says:

            I’ve seen a lot less of these stories lately, it may be because the media has started to require an actual perpetrator before an alleged hate crime gets covered. It may also be that the baseball shooter took all the wind out those sails.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s much harder to false-flag a riot than an anonymous bomb threat.

            Or a threat to light a hijab on fire (two separate incidents I know of, both hoaxes). Or the “noose” scare currently going around Washington, D.C. This being the latest example, seen by the side of the road. Or an anonymous swastika or racial slurs in graffiti. But each of these is reported as if it’s the end of the world caused by evil alt-right Trump supporting scum.

          • Deiseach says:

            it may be because the media has started to require an actual perpetrator before an alleged hate crime gets covered

            I’m more inclined to think it’s a combination of the hysteria in the immediate aftermath of the election fading away, and the egg on their faces – like The Intercept running that story about Trump is a big fat liar and the hate crimes are so being really committed by really his supporters, then literally the day afterwards having to row back on that and change the headline of their article because it turns out some of those hate crimes were hoaxes perpetrated by an ex-reporter of theirs. (I admit, I laughed. Not that I don’t think even hoax threats aren’t serious, or that trying to get revenge on your ex by having her tagged an anti-Semitic racist and even investigated by the police is crappy, but because it was something you’d call too far-fetched if you saw it in a movie. Karma’s a bitch).

            There’s only so many times you can run naked through the town square screaming “the sky is falling!” before you start to look ridiculous 🙂

          • tscharf says:

            The intense coverage of hate crimes without a known perpetrator combined with the demonization of an entire out-group as the instigator was a bright red carpet for false flag operations. The “by any means necessary” groups out there will have a temptation they cannot pass up.

            The media detests having to report their speculative reporting was not just wrong but 180 degrees off. After a few hoaxes happened reporting unconfirmed hate crimes became a risky proposition both for their integrity and for their agenda. The painting of an out group with the brush of one loony extremist gets rather tiring anyway.

          • engleberg says:

            ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’ stories are low-class journalism. ‘Potentially Worthy Canadian Initiative’ stories are high-class journalism. Punchy, snappy writing is low-class. Boring, content-free stuff is high-class- if you can get it published, you must be important.

            Trump writes punchy, snappy tweets. Even if he was still a centrist D party guy, even if D party media was as scared of him firing them as they are of Hillary firing them, they’d hold their noses.

  26. Eponymous says:

    Center For A Stateless Society has probably the best response to my cost disease post I’ve seen so far, which suggests the problem is something like oligopolies, plus weird accounting rules that treat “costs” and “revenues” in confusing and inappropriate ways.

    Reads to me like the sort of incoherent rambling one would expect from a “Left Market Anarchist Think Tank”. What did you find compelling about it?

    Frankly, I still don’t understand the concern about “cost disease” as a general phenomenon in the first place. A general rise in prices would just be inflation, so that can’t be it. Of course, prices in some sectors (e.g. healthcare and education) have gone up more than prices in other sectors (e.g. clothing and manufactured goods). But this isn’t surprising, since one would expect changes in relative prices over time, and we have a good theoretical explanation of the observed pattern (i.e. Baumol’s cost disease).

    Trying to be charitable, I can think of two interpretations:

    (1) People understand that cost disease is a sectoral (rather than aggregate) phenomenon, but think that the sectors that suffer from it are particularly important in some sense, so that increases in their relative price has worse effects for society than you would expect just from looking at aggregate inflation.

    (2) People are actually concerned about low productivity growth, or low real wages, or whatever, and are pointing to cost disease as a cause. They might also think that, for various reasons, official statistics are wrong.

    Of course, the uncharitable interpretation is that people are just confused.

    • baconbacon says:

      Baumol’s cost disease

      Baumol’s cost disease is pretty close to a tautology. it doesn’t explain anything important, for example why hasn’t healthcare and education seen productivity increases? Both sectors should benefit from recent technology allowing expertise to be shared with ever larger groups of people.

      • Eponymous says:

        Any theoretical claim is tautological, in the sense that it is logically derived from its premises. Nevertheless, many theoretical statements are not at all obvious.

        As to the pattern of labor productivity growth, it has been greatest in sectors where human labor involves fairly routine tasks that can be automated, or where technological progress allows the multiplication of human effort many times over. Thus there has been much greater productivity growth in manufacturing than in education or healthcare. (Note that the argument does not require *no* productivity growth in these sectors.) And outsourcing of low-skill labor-intensive work has also played a role.

        Of course, the prevailing pattern may not last if AI doctors and MOOCs take off.

        • baconbacon says:

          As to the pattern of labor productivity growth, it has been greatest in sectors where human labor involves fairly routine tasks that can be automated, or where technological progress allows the multiplication of human effort many times over.

          This is the tautological part. Has productivity increased at above average or below average rates? Below? Then it follows that this industry isn’t as effected by technology as the others. Now let us derive from this statement.

          Lets take education. The price of producing a textbook has plummeted over the past century, the number of people capable of contributing to such textbooks has exploded. Has the cost of textbooks crashed? No.

          The number of people a professor can reach in a lecture has exploded over years (and not just with MOOCs, my dad was experimenting with video taped lectures 30 years ago, and the growth of cities and lower costs of travel have all made it theoretically cheaper to reach larger numbers of people per hour), but education costs are rising, not falling.

          Basic free market economics would argue that the pressures to adopt efficiency maximizing measures would increase exponentially with rising prices, any discussion of cost disease has to square with why that doesn’t appear to be happening.

          • Eponymous says:

            This is the tautological part. Has productivity increased at above average or below average rates? Below? Then it follows that this industry isn’t as effected by technology as the others. Now let us derive from this statement.

            It is not tautological to observe that industries that involve more routine tasks have seen larger gains in labor productivity. See this paper.

            As to education — you seem to be arguing that logically there should have been large increases in labor productivity. But this is manifestly not the case. The fact of the matter is that most teaching is done using lectures that are little different than 40 years ago, with modern technology contributing little (except that the entertainment value must be somewhat higher lest students pull out their smartphones). I’m pretty sure that knowledge delivered per teaching hour is not many times higher than a generation ago, as is the case in manufacturing.

          • baconbacon says:

            It is tautological to DEFINE industries that haven’t had productivity growth to thus be impacted by innovation less and draw conclusions from that.

            As to education — you seem to be arguing that logically there should have been large increases in labor productivity.

            No, in a Baumol world what you get is rising prices for industries that are less effected by technology, but incentives are proportional to possible gains. In a Baumol model you would expect competing firms (in education it would be universities or private schools in all likelihood) to be aggressively exploring technological advances as costs rise. You would (barring total immunity to productivity increases) expect a cycle where at first little to no technology is adopted, followed (eventually) by a surge where cutting edge tech is in every classroom.

            We didn’t see that, grocery stores got automated checkouts in number, and gas stations got pay at the pump way before nurses even started using ipads, let alone got replaced by them. This is despite nurses making way more than cashiers and gas station attendants.

          • baconbacon says:

            Just as a numerical example.

            A professor can teach 20 students in an hour, a grocery store clerk can ring up 20 customers in an hour. Technology boosts the latter’s productivity faster than the former, pricing guns, bar codes, better public education. Whatever, after a period of time the clerk is now checking out 100 people an hour, and the professor is now teaching 25 students an hour. The marginal gain of accessing an additional student for the professor is 4x that of adding 1 more customer for the clerk. The longer the cost disease goes on the stronger the incentive to try to find a way to apply more tech to the education, we are 50+ years into the Baumol era, and that is just after it was described.

    • Sam Reuben says:

      I think you’re unintentionally committing a kind of straw-man, here. “Cost disease” has never been just the idea that “prices are going up,” and Scott’s original essay on the matter never had that thesis. Instead, it’s closer to involving both of your interpretations. If I had to describe it, I would say: “Certain things in the American economy specifically are increasing in price far, far past inflation, without any simply-explained market cause for the phenomenon.” That is, supply and demand don’t solve it, increasing labor wages don’t solve it, and improved product doesn’t solve it. This makes it a mystery as well as a problem, because the things involved (healthcare, education) are incredibly important.

      I strongly suggest you reread Scott’s original essay, and then answer as to whether you consider the price increases to be irrelevant or expected. Scott is, as usual, extremely thorough in his treatment, which (I believe) includes a discussion of Baumol’s cost disease and an explanation as to why it doesn’t quite fit as an answer (i.e. professors, teachers, doctors, nurses aren’t getting paid more). If you’ve already gone through all of this, then a detailed explanation of why cost disease (as I, Scott, and the Center define it) doesn’t exist would be most welcome. However, simply describing something which you do not appear to understand as being “confused” is not good intellectual practice. There are critiques of the Center’s reply higher in the comments which go into more detail, and those are worth drawing upon as good examples.

      • Eponymous says:

        Certain things in the American economy specifically are increasing in price far, far past inflation

        Agreed. Of course, this in itself is neither surprising nor a problem, and it logically implies that other things have been increasing in price far, far less than inflation.

        without any simply-explained market cause for the phenomenon….This makes it a mystery

        Partly disagree. I think that some of these changes have reasonable explanation, either due to markets operating correctly, due to market or regulatory failures of one sort or another. Though I agree that there is still plenty we don’t understand.

        as well as a problem, because the things involved (healthcare, education) are incredibly important.

        This I’m not at all sure about. Why are these sectors especially important?

        My larger objection, however, is that I think it is inappropriate to talk about this as some sort of general phenomenon in need of a single explanation, or as a particularly well-defined problem.

        Also, consider Scott’s “conclusion”:

        LOOK, REALLY OUR MAIN PROBLEM IS THAT ALL THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS COST TEN TIMES AS MUCH AS THEY USED TO FOR NO REASON, PLUS THEY SEEM TO BE GOING DOWN IN QUALITY, AND NOBODY KNOWS WHY, AND WE’RE MOSTLY JUST DESPERATELY FLAILING AROUND LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS HERE

        Here he seems to say that the problem isn’t “relative prices have changed”, but that the prices of “all the important things” have gone up (by 10x!). That’s pretty difficult for me to interpret charitably.

      • Eponymous says:

        I strongly suggest you reread Scott’s original essay…If you’ve already gone through all of this, then a detailed explanation of why cost disease…doesn’t exist would be most welcome.

        I think my comments in the original posts hold up pretty well. I go into more detail in the second link.

        However, simply describing something which you do not appear to understand as being “confused” is not good intellectual practice. There are critiques of the Center’s reply higher in the comments which go into more detail, and those are worth drawing upon as good examples.

        Admittedly my reaction to the Center’s blog post was quite dismissive, and was more of a “gut” reaction. It was also somewhat emotional, in a “Lots of economists gave you good answers, and you consider that rubbish ‘among the best’ responses????” sense. I did, however, invite further explanation.

        I do generally try to explain my views on economic matters when I comment here. But there is an inherent difficulty in it. See my (well-received) comment in the second link on the difficulty in communicating between experts and non-experts.

        I’m an economics professor, by the way. I generally dislike pulling rank, and had hoped that this would be evident from my comments around here, so I don’t mention it explicitly much.

        • Sam Reuben says:

          Could I ask just one question, to clarify things? Why is it, when one thing goes up dramatically in price, that other things must be increasing in price at a lower rate? I assume it must be because there is a given level of purchasing power in the economy at a given time, and that therefore there must be less money spent buying other things in order to buy the expensive thing, but can’t that also be due to an increase in debt, which America has been experiencing?

          In addition, could I ask whether pulling rank is suitable to back claims of fact or claims of logical inference? My understanding is that it is merely suitable to back claims of fact, as expertise simply refers to the possession of large stores of relevant fact, while logical inference is true regardless of who makes it. Is this assumption correct or incorrect? If it is correct, then could you please indicate the specific facts which you are positing by virtue of your expertise, as well as which logical inferences you are using to come to specific conclusions? If you simply indicate the conclusions, then it isn’t much help to any of us, as we have no means of knowing the facts and inferences which create them. This is what leads to the question above: you posit something which is mixed with facts and inferences, but not knowing which are used and in what manner, I’m left having to guess as to what the reasoning is. I must appeal to your instincts as a professor, here; I am interested in learning from you.

          As one final note: the charity which Scott deserves from that quote is simply that he’s making a rhetorical point to underscore the large amount of data and logical discussion which has preceded it. I don’t think you’re critiquing just his rhetoric, though, so I want to hear more of your general argumentation.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            Why is it, when one thing goes up dramatically in price, that other things must be increasing in price at a lower rate?

            The relevant metric is how much the one thing is going up in price relative to overall inflation; to the extent that “overall inflation” is even a well-defined thing, it is a weighted average across all goods. Therefore, if one thing is increasing in price faster than average, other things must be increasing in price slower than average; otherwise the average wouldn’t be the average.

      • Jiro says:

        Agreed. Of course, this in itself is neither surprising nor a problem, and it logically implies that other things have been increasing in price far, far less than inflation.

        No, it doesn’t imply that. Imagine 100 items, which cost $1 and would cost $2 after inflation. However, in this case, 99 of the items go up to $1.95 instead of to $2, and the last one goes up to $6.95. One item has gone up far more than inflation, but each of the other items has gone up only slightly less than inflation.

        • Eponymous says:

          Ha! I recognized this when typing my comment, but decided to leave it rather than clutter up my writing with parenthetical clarifications. I was curious whether someone would notice 😉

  27. manwhoisthursday says:

    Non-leftists can occasionally get in trouble if they’re Charles-Murray-level good targets, but generally escape unscathed (Murray’s conservative think tank unsurprisingly continues to support him).

    One of the major complaints conservatives have is being mistreated and disrespected in left wing dominated spaces which they cannot completely avoid. Examples include all educational institutions, most of the government, the mainstream media, many large corporations. Since there are still huge parts of the West which ignore or despise political correctness, this means you can, to a certain extent, live your life away from this stuff. But not entirely, and this is especially true of more intelligent people who move in more elite professions.

    It’s also a bit rich to say that only leftists are the targets in areas where non-leftists have already been effectively cleansed from participation, such as humanities academia or the arts. Freddie de Boer has talked about how he couldn’t imagine a conservative grad student or professor being able to work in the humanities. You also have the targeting of non-leftists in academia, like Jordan Peterson, who, until the social justice left gave him a lot of publicity, was a relatively obscure academic.

    ——

    You also have to think through the effect of targeting liberals. If the goal is to totally delegitimate rightist views, one of the best ways to do that is to target people in your own coalition who are amenable to some rightist positions or at least to talking to people on the right. So, it is an indirect way of keeping the leftist coalition together. You don’t directly attack your enemy, you attack the people who talk with the enemy.

    Of course, this has the potential to backfire, because if things get too bad, people may simply defect to the other side.

  28. James Miller says:

    Washington Post: No One Is Paying Attention To The Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since World War II:

    The first sentence of the linked article gratuitously insults president Trump, and then the article goes on about how most of us don’t care about 20-million people who could soon starve to death. I really want to use profanity against this article’s author. If you want the U.S. government to help save these people you need help from the Trump administration. If you want ordinary Americans to provide charitable relief, well lots of us voted for Trump. Given how much power Trump and Trump supporters have, connecting this issue with the cultural war is placing scoring cheap domestic political points over the welfare of 20-million starving humans.

    • bean says:

      20 million people are ‘at risk of famine’. The casualty rate for famine is usually below 100%, and definitely cannot be higher. The usual estimate for famine deaths from the Great Leap Forward is 30 million. This cannot possibly be the worst humanitarian crisis since WW2, and it’s idiotic to call it that.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      I have a feeling that gratuitously insulting president Trump is like having a quote from Lenin, Marx – or, at different times, Stalin – in Soviet scientific work, pretty much required if you want it to be published, read and you point addressed instead of everybody asking “why everybody is quoting Lenin and this guy isn’t? Is he rebelling against the Soviet government this way?” So if your point is not rebelling against the Soviet government but writing an article about a novel method of laying railways or a survey of geological properties of certain mountainous region in Siberia, you better be a good boy and put the quote in. Nobody cares what it says anyway, nobody reads it and takes it at the face value, it’s just an appropriate sacrifice to the appropriate gods. If you read these articles now, it looks kinda funny, but it wasn’t funny back then. I hope there would be a time, and soon, when these gods will take their place on ash heap of history along the Soviet gods.

    • Z says:

      What’s the underlying cause of the famine? I searched the article for “drought” and found nothing.

      • hoghoghoghoghog says:

        In Yemen at least it is related to a Saudi-led, US-supported effort to starve them into submission by blocking food imports.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        It’s four broadly unconnected countries getting lumped together to make it appear as “the biggest crisis since WWII” – there is no single underlying cause.

    • albatross11 says:

      The Washington Post demands that I disable my ad-blocker to read its content. Whatever it was they wanted to tell me, I guess it wasn’t that important for me to see after all.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      here’s the conservative version, at least for Yemen: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison-tags/yemen/

    • The first sentence of the linked article gratuitously insults president Trump

      So you assert that the Trump presidency is NOT a “circus” which has drawn news attention away from other things?

      Forgive me my strident leftism, but if a newly-elected Democratic president was behaving in all these wildly undisciplined and unprecedented ways, stirring up outrage around the country and the world, I doubt I could work up much spleen against someone who casually described that state of affairs as a “circus”.

      • James Miller says:

        I’m upset for consequentialist reasons. By mocking Trump, the person best placed to solve the crisis, the author put virtue signaling over helping 20 million desperate humans.

        • Iain says:

          If one offhand comment is sufficient to convince Trump and his supporters to abandon 20 million desperate humans, maybe the problem is not with the offhand comment.

          Maybe you’re right. Maybe Trump will read this article, get mad, and decide to pull America’s aid. If that’s the case, though, then it seems to me that the opposition to Trump has a point. If you’re so thin-skinned that a bit of criticism can sway you to let millions of people die, maybe you shouldn’t be president.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Which is just one more reason that flies are the worst. I mean really, flies are so fragile that one drop of vinegar will put them off? God I’m so done with flies..”

            #currentyear #aphorisms

          • James Miller says:

            Think consequentialism. What you have described is indeed the mental model that many on the left have of Trump. Given this model, you do not mock Trump before asking the U.S. government to do something that would greatly reduce human suffering.

            Let’s also be honest here. Most Americans care almost nothing about starving people in Africa. But we are so rich compared to these starving people that the difference between “almost nothing” and “nothing” could make a huge amount of difference to the starving Africans. But this means if you care a great deal about starving Africans you most certainly do not want to even slightly reduce the utility that a large group of Americans would get from helping starving Africans.

          • Maybe Trump will read this article, get mad, and decide to pull America’s aid.

            This is an example of a mistake I see in lots of different contexts–attributing to someone else a unicausal model and then criticizing the argument on that basis.

            Trump’s decision will be affected by lots of things. Any one thing that makes him less favorable to a particular decision makes it more likely that he will decide the other way.

            A more common version of the error is to reject the claim that subsidizing unmarried mothers will increase the number of them, on the basis that nobody would have a baby for the money, given how much a baby costs in money and time. That ignores the fact that, with or without a subsidy, some unmarried women choose to have children–presumably because the benefits, as viewed by them, at least balance the costs. A subsidy changes the net balance for those women for whom the cost was greater than the benefit, but by less than the amount of the subsidy.

          • tscharf says:

            My guess is most Trump supporters stopped reading the WP a while back so they never saw it. Obviously the WP is going to cover more than their fair share of DC inside baseball, but I read the WP for at least a decade and just couldn’t stand their hysteria anymore. People are reading this stuff, I’m sure this model is working for them. I still go there about once a week but it is usually more of the same.

            The first sentence under discussion is actually a confirmation of this complaint.

          • Iain says:

            Think consequentialism. What you have described is indeed the mental model that many on the left have of Trump. Given this model, you do not mock Trump before asking the U.S. government to do something that would greatly reduce human suffering.

            If this mental model is wrong, then “mocking” Trump (by which, let’s remember, you mean “acknowledging that his presidency has been a media circus”) can’t hurt. If this mental model is correct, and we really do have to worry about Trump letting millions of people die in a fit of pique, then why on Earth are you supporting him?

            Would you have the same reaction to a Fox News article from the Obama presidency that advocated for some action from the government without being perfectly solicitous of Obama’s feelings? Of course you wouldn’t. That would be crazy, because Obama is an emotionally stable adult man. Why, then, should we be so concerned about Trump?

            I can think of good answers to that question, but none that are compatible with continued Trump support.

            @David Friedman:

            I am quite familiar with the concept of marginal thinking, thank you, and I do not see how it is relevant here. If it makes you feel better, you can pretend I wrote “Maybe Trump will read this article, get mad, and that is the marginal nudge that leads him to decide to pull America’s aid”. I don’t think it harms my case in any way.

            On the margin, there are probably women for whom the decision to have a child is so close that a chocolate bar could push them over the edge. If we had elected a national Baby-Having Decider, though, and relied on her to make good Baby-Having Decisions, I would be pretty worried if it turned out chocolate bars were playing a significant role in her choice.

          • If it makes you feel better, you can pretend I wrote “Maybe Trump will read this article, get mad, and that is the marginal nudge that leads him to decide to pull America’s aid”.

            If you had written that, it would not have supported your “If one offhand comment is sufficient to convince Trump and his supporters to abandon 20 million desperate humans” point, because you would then have been saying “if starting the article with a slap at Trump has any effect at all on Trump’s decision, maybe he shouldn’t be president.”

            Which is a lot less convincing. Even a much more reasonable person than Trump is going to be less willing to accept an argument that starts by signalling the author’s contempt for him.

            Since you are “quite familiar with the concept of marginal thinking,” should we conclude that you knew the argument you made, phrased as you chose to phrase it, was wrong when you made it?

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, yes, I am the kind of person who does not react well to “Your guy is a drivelling idiot! And I already know you don’t care about the suffering of people far away! Horrible things are happening and it’s all your fault!”

            If you know I don’t care, why bother with the haranguing, then? I’m much more likely to respond to an appeal from Trocáire about East Africa when they don’t feel the need to start off by yelling at me about how stupid and evil I am.

          • Iain says:

            @David Friedman:

            “If starting the article with a slap at Trump has any effect at all on Trump’s decision, maybe he shouldn’t be president.”

            Yes. This is exactly what I’m saying*. Being president is not a job for the thin-skinned. Whatever you think of the offending sentence, there are always going to be media outlets taking unfair shots at you, and being able to ignore those is a basic prerequisite for the job.

            * Since you seem to be in a pedantic mood, I will specify: any effect large enough that the rest of us should take it into account.

            James Miller presents himself as a Trump supporter. I am challenging him to reconcile that support with his claim that offhand comments in the Washington Post could make the difference in Trump’s decision to help millions of starving Africans.

            As you yourself say: “Even a much more reasonable person than Trump”. That is not the sort of phrase that should be brought out in defense of the President of the United States.

            On the underlying question of starving Africans, this entire conversation is barking up the wrong tree. As the article says, Congress has already pledged $1.2B, and further bipartisan discussions are underway. Trump is not the most important actor here.

            I also don’t know why we’ve all agreed to pretend that Trump is the intended audience of this article. It is clearly targeted at the centrist to center-left readers of the Washington Post, in an attempt to get them to donate and/or push their representatives to support foreign aid. Given that audience, a light quip at Trump’s expense is probably an effective technique to increase persuasiveness. (From a consequentialist standpoint, obviously.)

          • That is not the sort of phrase that should be brought out in defense of the President of the United States.

            I’m not defending the President of the United States. I’m criticizing a commenter on Slate Star Codex.

          • albatross11 says:

            Iain:

            I think you’re right that the goal of the writer was to make his (mostly center-left/establishment) more agreeable by tossing out a dig at Trump.

            And yet, I think that’s a pretty socially-destructive sort of rhetorical strategy, long-term. It’s probably individually rational for the writer and maybe even for this particular cause, but it’s part of what splits media up along partisan lines.

            Back when Obama was president, I’d occasionally see someone who was neither crazy nor stupid, trying to make some actual point, who would toss out a throwaway reference (often with a joking air) to Obama being a socialist or a Muslim or something. And this probably worked at getting his mostly right-wing/anti-Obama audience to feel more comfortable and agreeable when reading his argument. But it also served to immediately antagonize anyone who wasn’t right wing/anti-Obama.

            Over time, there are these tropes that we’ve evolved to use as tribal markers, and they work well at putting our tribe at ease, but they also guarantee that the other side will either stop reading/listening or at least start out maximally skeptical of what you’re saying. As those tropes become more common, even more-or-less required in some circles, they make it very hard to ever get anyone who’s not in your tribe to listen or read.

            If you have something important to say, something everyone should know and think about, starting out your discussion by taking some swipes at the outgroup means that the outgroup will mostly stop reading. Using tropes that the ingroup will find appealing or funny, but that the outgroup will find offensive or stupid is a bad way of actually communicating.

          • Iain says:

            @albatross11:

            Sure. In principle, I agree that it is generally good to tone down partisan rhetoric. There’s somewhat of a tragedy of the commons situation here, where it’s rational for each individual writer to include a partisan quip, but the result of each individual action is a hostile division of media along partisan lines.

            That said, this is a ridiculous case study to be using as an example. I’ve been mostly playing along with the claim that there’s a meaningful partisan attack here, because I’m trying to convince James Miller that his argument is in tension with his support for Trump, but let’s get real for a moment. The sentence in question is:

            The never-ending circus that is Donald Trump’s presidency has sucked attention from all kinds of issues that desperately need it.

            If you see that as “The never-ending media circus that is Donald Trump’s presidency”, it would fit right into a right-leaning post in the SSC comments. There are lots of people here who have complained about the wall-to-wall coverage that erupts every time Trump sneezes. In the context of the original article, I legitimately think that’s the better reading of the sentence. Take, for example, this quote further down:

            “I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says David Beasley, the former South Carolina governor who heads the U.N. World Food Program. “The last eight to 10 months the world has been distracted. It’s all Trump, Trump, Trump . . . and here we are in crisis mode.”

            That’s not a criticism of Trump. It’s a criticism of the relentless focus on Trump above all else. This is in line with the overall thesis of the piece: there’s a big problem going on in Africa, and we’re all too busy arguing about Trump to give it the attention it deserves.

            I’m not claiming that reading the opening as a swipe at Trump is completely illegitimate. I see how you could take it that way. But really, what’s the evidence (other than confirmation bias that of course the liberal Washington Post would be taking shots at Trump)? If the anti-Trump interpretation seems gratuitous and out-of-context, and the anti-media-coverage interpretation is less controversial and fits into the flow of the article, then maybe we shouldn’t jump to hostile conclusions about which one was intended.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            That’s not a criticism of Trump. It’s a criticism of the relentless focus on Trump above all else.

            Okay, yeah, that’s a good point. IMO this is then another example of the commons being so shat upon that the smell is sticking to everything.

          • Jiro says:

            This is an example of a mistake I see in lots of different contexts–attributing to someone else a unicausal model and then criticizing the argument on that basis.

            But is that your true rejection?

          • tscharf says:

            There are lots of people here who have complained about the wall-to-wall coverage that erupts every time Trump sneezes.

            CNN: A second-by-second analysis of the Trump-Macron handshake

            That’s the worst offender so far IMO, ha ha. I think a valid argument can be made that the media is complaining about over coverage that they intentionally create, with the WP being one of the worst offenders. Nobody is stopping them from covering world hunger, health care issues, the fight against ISIS, the opioid epidemic etc.

            One can easily alternately read it as the author taking a jab at the priorities of his own industry, not Trump.

          • Iain says:

            Nobody is stopping them from covering world hunger, health care issues, the fight against ISIS, the opioid epidemic etc.

            I think you will find that the Washington Post has in fact been covering all of these. This is one of those situations where it is important to remember that the set of articles you hear people talking about is not an unbiased sample of a publication’s actual coverage.

          • tscharf says:

            Go to the WP, Ctrl-F, type Trump. Watch the page light up. This has been going on for at least one year straight. At the moment 17/20 of the page’s top stories are Trump or his administration. This is anything but unusual. If you use the way back machine and examine the WP for the same time period in the Obama administration it is typically lower by a factor of 2x to 4x.

            The claim that Trump has sucked all the oxygen out of the media room is pretty defensible. A claim that it isn’t 100% is of course agreed upon. They are giving their customers what they think they want.

          • Iain says:

            @tscharf:

            I think we can probably agree that:

            1. There is more coverage of the Trump administration than the Obama administration.
            2. Some portion of that increase is caused by an increase in legitimately newsworthy events. (Obama, for example, was never the subject of an independent investigation. Even if all else was held equal, you would expect news about the investigation to push Trump’s numbers above Obama’s.)
            3. Some portion of the increase is noise and hype designed to sell more papers.

            I suspect that we disagree on the precise mix of 2 and 3, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly interesting discussion, so I’m willing to leave it at that.

        • Deiseach says:

          If one offhand comment is sufficient to convince Trump and his supporters to abandon 20 million desperate humans, maybe the problem is not with the offhand comment.

          I also don’t know why we’ve all agreed to pretend that Trump is the intended audience of this article. It is clearly targeted at the centrist to center-left readers of the Washington Post, in an attempt to get them to donate and/or push their representatives to support foreign aid. Given that audience, a light quip at Trump’s expense is probably an effective technique to increase persuasiveness.

          If “one offhand comment” “at Trump’s expense” is necessary to convince “the centrist to center-left readers of the Washington Post” to help “20 million desperate humans”, then perhaps the problem is not with “Trump and his supporters”, but those whose vanity is being flattered by such comments.

      • PedroS says:

        I am emphatically NOT a Trump supporter, but I think the first sentence of that link is a bit rich: journalists are the people most responsible for the attention paid to the tweets/outrages/flops/shenanigans of current POTUS, in detriment to other, more serious news.

        I am not even in America, but here in Portugal, we regularly hear of the latest Trump tweets as part of normal news broadcasting. How can journalists think that is a sensible use of their alleged expertise in winnowing the wheat from the chaff? How do journalists expect people to take them seriously as a source of information (rather than entertaining stories) when they willingly refrain from doing any legwork and expect their material to land on their laps from Twitter and Facebook?
        Broadcasting every motive of outrage at POTUS’ behavior/motivations/etc. regardless of its relevance is tremendously off-putting, even for people like me who think he is the real-life equivalent of the POTUS in the Harrison Bergeron movie.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          The phrase “Be the change you want to see” comes to mind. You don’t need to have any particular view of Trump, pro or anti, to suspect that if the writer’s complaint is really that too much attention is being paid to Trump, giving a slap at Trump pride of place in a column that’s supposed to be about the humanitarian crisis is a bit counterproductive.

    • tscharf says:

      The WP gratuitously insults Trump? Knock me over with a feather. I have just seen countless articles where out of the blue the writer harangues Trump with very little obvious connection to the topic at hand. Where it gets kind of strange is that it is mandatory to do so before saying anything that might put Trump or anything his administration has done in a good light. This establishment of writer bonafides gets pretty tiresome but I detect the absence of Trump slander much more readily than its presence anymore. And that comes from someone who thinks Trump is a serial liar, sexist, and shameless bigot, ha ha.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Carthago Delenda Est. It helps to have a unifying objective to pull people together.

  29. Lawrence D'Anna says:

    I wish you wouldn’t call people who want more socialism and government control over the economy “economically liberal”.

    • thad says:

      What term would you prefer?

    • John Schilling says:

      From a historical and ideological perspective I sympathize, but “regulate, tax, and redistribute” is the economic philosophy of the people almost everybody has been calling “liberal” for at least the past 2-3 generations, so we’re probably stuck with it.

  30. PedroS says:

    Do you know how far along Deiseach’s self-imposed ban we are? I recall that she would be away for one month, but I have no idea when that started.
    I remember her saying (back in the beginning of the year) that she was expecting this July to be a trying time for her, for totally unrelated reasons, and I am therefore a little worried that her continuing silence may be a bad sign.

    • Deiseach says:

      Hello, and thank you very much for the kind thoughts and concern!

      I’m back from the four week retreat and will try to go for a decent interval before once again Fighting With Strangers On The Internet.

      Due to an unexpected piece of good fortune a month or so ago, the anticipated stressful event in July has been avoided and averted, and right now I’m feeling pretty okay, so things are going reasonably well – you never know what is going to happen, it’s true.

  31. reytes says:

    Re: the campaign finance study – I think the best case for corporate influence and politics would not be about direct corruption, such that one candidate gets donations and then does favors for corporate sponsors in an immediate and distinctive way. Intuitively, even without this study, the fact that corporate donations are a major fact of life for politicians in both major American parties would seem to suggest this. It seems to me that the primary function of corporate political donations is to help maintain a broad political / ideological structure that is habitually friendly to corporate interests in a thoroughgoing and structural way.

    I do believe, personally, that influence and money are a major problem with American politics. But I also think it is remarkable the extent to which American political discourse is consistently unable to come to grips with and understand what that actually means. We really consistently talk about influence and corruption in a very direct, black-and-white way that’s inaccurate and totally inadequate to understanding the reality. And that’s not a criticism of the study, the study is entirely correct to criticize that narrative. I wish we talked about it in a more realistic and useful way.

    Also, with regards to that Times piece about proportional representation, it seems to me that there’s about a million things to do that would improve the representativeness of government. This would work if we actually went out and did it, but there’s also lower-hanging fruit that we aren’t willing to do (like independent redistricting or increasing the number of members of the House). The problem is not coming up with ways to improve the system, the problem is the political will to implement them.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      It seems to me that the primary function of corporate political donations is to help maintain a broad political / ideological structure that is habitually friendly to corporate interests

      This would be susceptible to the free rider problem, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that this happens in real life.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Would Microsoft or Google rapidly changing their lobbying practices when the Eye of Sauron the State started looking their way qualify?

      • reytes says:

        Yeah, sure, it’s probably more complicated than that and for instance I think there’s probably a ton of individual-level incentives over and above the big structural incentives, yadda yadda yadda.

        But, just on a high level, I agree donations -> favors is definitely not a correct model for how corruption works in the United States, while also thinking that corporate donations aren’t just being pissed away with no effect on political outcomes.

  32. James Miller says:

    “Yes, the PC-left are doing most of the attacking, but the PC-left is also most of the victims. ”

    In academia this might in part be because PC left professors frequently discuss politically dangerous topic in class. A conservative economist who wants to avoid trouble can ignore race, class, and sex in his lectures, but a leftist sociologist can’t.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      It might be much simpler – in places where PC-left is most active, most of people are already PC-left. Non-PC-left has been crushed, ground to dust and kicked out long ago. So if you want to find somebody to target for non-PC speech/action in those quarters, the chance it’ll be a conservative is very low, since there are virtually no conservatives left there to begin with.

  33. Briefling says:

    The anti-minimum-wage stuff is pretty much nonsense, top to bottom.

    – The Seattle study finds disemployment effects in the lowest wage bracket. That’s consistent with overall disemployment, but it’s also consistent with employment staying the same and wages increasing. To decide between these possibilities you need to look at all wage brackets. Luckily the authors do this and find… employment stays the same. It’s the last line of the abstract!

    – The Denmark study does not study a minimum wage. In Denmark, 18 year olds are functionally equivalent to 17 year olds, but they cost 40% more. So the study shows that employers are able to discriminate between two identical things when one is cheaper.
    In the US, minimum wages are actually minimums. Nobody works for less. So you won’t see these perverse competition effects. (I guess you could, if two workers in different geographies were competing for the same job. But virtually all Americans on the minimum wage are service workers. They only compete within their own geography.)
    In short, the Denmark study is just not relevant.

    – The Maine story argues that high minimum wages can be bad for some tipped workers, because it changes the tipping habits of customers. I guess that could be true. Does that imply the net effects are negative? Who knows, this is not a study.

    • Anon. says:

      That discontinuity analysis from Denmark looks pretty slam-dunk, why do you think it’s “nonsnse”?

      • Iain says:

        What is your slam-dunk conclusion from the Denmark case?

        The distinctive feature of that case study is that there is an alternative pool of nearly-identical workers who are 40% cheaper. It would be very surprising indeed if businesses chose to pay 40% more for the same labour.

        In the normal minimum-wage debate, however, there is no such pool of cheaper workers. That’s the entire point of setting a minimum wage. What is the equivalent to under-18 workers, outside of the context of this Danish law?

        • Anon. says:

          It would be very surprising indeed if businesses chose to pay 40% more for the same labour.

          So you’re saying the demand curve for labor is not vertical, then? The alternative pool is completely irrelevant, the important bit is that total employment drops.

          • Iain says:

            Where do you see that total employment drops?

            Under-18 employees are a very close substitute for 18 year old employees. Even if the demand curve is vertical, it still makes sense for businesses to satisfy that demand using the cheaper of the two options.

            (I also don’t think that a 100% vertical demand curve is a necessary precondition for supporting a minimum wage.)

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          “It would be very surprising indeed if businesses chose to pay 40% more for the same labour.”

          We’re often told that businesses pay a substantial premium to employ men rather than women, for no benefit to the businesses. This is the essence of the “wage gap” claim.

          • Aapje says:

            That’s not a credible claim though. About 2/3rds of the wage gap can be provably linked to behavior, where men more often engage in behavior that employer reward better, but where the data shows that they reward women with that behavior more as well.

          • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

            > We’re often told that businesses pay a substantial premium to employ men rather than women, for no benefit to the businesses. This is the essence of the “wage gap” claim.

            Not entirely. I.e. people may disagree on “no benefit” part, for example. It may be a misperception, but businesses may – and routinely do – act on mistaken perceptions and faulty premises. So, if business owner thought that hiring men is better for his business (regardless of how true it is objectively) this would make the “wage gap” behavior completely rational.

        • Michael Watts says:

          an alternative pool of nearly-identical workers who are 40% cheaper

          29% cheaper. 40% less is not the inverse of 40% more; it’s much larger.

      • Briefling says:

        Edited my post with an explanation. The policy in the Denmark study is not a minimum wage. On top of that, the outcome of interest is not net employment, it is employment within a disadvantaged class.

    • bean says:

      Seriously? That’s all you’re going to give us? Yelling “YOU’RE WRONG!” is contrary to the entire ethos here.
      I’d actually support a rule against contentless disagreement. If you’re going to disagree with someone, you owe an explanation of why.
      Edit: I see that the OP has been edited, and the author deserves credit for that.

      • baconbacon says:

        Seriously? That’s all you’re going to give us? Yelling “YOU’RE WRONG!” is contrary to the entire ethos here.
        I’d actually support a rule against contentless disagreement. If you’re going to disagree with someone, you owe an explanation of why.

        YOU’RE WRONG!

        Edit: Bean edited to admit he was wrong.

        Edit2: Therefore I am wrong

        Edit3: Damn it, this post is contentless, now bean wants me banned.

        • hlynkacg says:

          If you added a poem it wouldn’t be “contentless”. Ban averted!

        • bean says:

          Damn it, this post is contentless, now bean wants me banned.

          I’m going to assume this is an attempt at humor.
          I’m not opposed to all contentless posts by any means. ‘I agree with you’ and ‘I disagree with you’ have the same amount of content. But agreeing with someone is basically endorsing their arguments. Disagreeing without saying why makes it impossible for the other side to deal with your arguments. This is clearly bad for discussion, in a way that agreement isn’t.

    • Iain says:

      Note for the potentially confused: the original post in this thread only contained the first sentence (“The anti-minimum-wage stuff is pretty much nonsense, top to bottom”). The subsequent analysis was edited in later, which is why the initial responses might seem weird.

    • baconbacon says:

      In the US, minimum wages are actually minimums. Nobody works for less.

      This actually isn’t true. The minimum wage for some positions is ~2.25 an hour, the minimum wage for under 18 is less than for an adult, unpaid positions are legal (internships), stipend positions are legal (Americorps programs pay way under minimum wage), and there are numerous exceptions.

      • Briefling says:

        I would quibble with your examples (internships are not jobs; the federal minimum wage does not differ for over vs under 18; tipped positions have a low minimum wage, but tips are required to make up the difference), but what matters is they have no bearing on my underlying argument.

        The important point is that “minimum wages” (as conceived in the US) generally do not create two classes of people in competition for the same job, with one class disadvantaged. So the Denmark study does not speak to their effects.

        (Although you’re right, in some states this does happen with under-18 vs over-18, with a small minimum wage differential.)

        • baconbacon says:

          but what matters is they have no bearing on my underlying argument.

          Only if you assume there is no competition between industries for employees. As this is not true it has bearing on your point.

          • Luke Somers says:

            I do not quite see how that affects the point stated above, which is about two classes of people who have legally granted price differences in seeking the same job. It’s right there in the point, explicitly.

            Like, can you give a concrete scenario in which this actually has the effect Briefling said it wouldn’t?

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Quibble: An actual Lawyer or HR professional can correct me, but based on my experience and understanding the rules per FLSA is that internships can only be unpaid (legally) if:

        -The internship is sufficiently similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.

        -The experience is for the benefit of the intern.

        -The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff. (IOW, if you can reduce the hours/scheduling/workload of any other employee AT ALL, the internship no longer qualifies)

        -The employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded. (Rule of thumb here is “The Intern does not regularly perform the company’s routine work”, and the company does not use the Intern’s output. If an intern at a software company writes code, and that code ends up in a shipped product for example, that would be possible grounds for the Intern to claim the company violated this prong of the test.)

        -There is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship.

        -Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the internship.

        Mind you, It wouldn’t surprise me if this is something that is violated routinely at certain types of firms, and that the Interns put up with it rather than suing due to a combination of lack of knowledge of the law, lack of resources to pursue legal action, desire to avoid looking like a bad hiring prospect by being a troublemaker, and the hopes that if they play along there WILL in fact be a job offer…

        But that doesn’t change the actual law.

        • baconbacon says:

          But that doesn’t change the actual law.

          When the discussion is how the laws will effect markets, how effectively the law will be enforced is as or more important than the letter of the law.

          Internships (for some companies) function in the same way that entry level jobs, or extended interviews do. You show up, the company gives you a series of tasks, you preform them and get feedback.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Good analysis. Minimum wage questions are too often are focused on whether it has any negative effects at all (such as decreasing employment), and surprise, like every economic policy it produces negative effects as well as positive ones. The question we should really be asking is whether it increases the net distribution of money going to the low-income class or whether it decreases it. The existence of trade-offs is boring and normal.

      Without an analysis of whether the effects are net negative, the studies just seem like they are trying to load up the minimum wage with bad mental associations by pointing out every negative effect, no matter how meaningless in the larger scale (something Scott has written about before, I believe). For example, the first article from FEE tries to make the claim that the minimum wage his bad for workers, but does so with data that is extremely cherry-picked (looking only at single-location Seattle stores, excluding chains) and therefore irrelevant to the question. It can’t help but look like a purposeful attempt to steer people into drawing a certain conclusion about net wages, when there really wasn’t one.

      • baconbacon says:

        The question we should really be asking is whether it increases the net distribution of money going to the low-income class or whether it decreases it. The existence of trade-offs is boring and normal.

        Really? So total $$$ is all that matters, not distribution? So if a law that helps the top 1% is passed and hurts the bottom 99%, as long as the top 1% makes enough it is cool?

        Or does unequal distribution of outcomes not matter?

        • Aapje says:

          The part you quote argues that a more equal distribution of outcomes is the metric by which the success of the measure should be decided.

          • baconbacon says:

            No, the part I quote states that it doesn’t matter if you hurt some poor people as long as it helps some other poor people on net more. The people most likely to get hurt by such legislation are going to be the least skilled. The direct inference is that the poorest will become poorer still, exacerbating inequality*.

            * you can get around this by assuming that the gains from those that receive it come at a direct loss to the extreme top, and not from anywhere else in the distribution, in which case inequality would be flat between the bottom and the top, or even slightly lessened, but it would still be larger for any other group compared to the bottom.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            Imagine 5 people:
            – Bob is unemployed and gets $5 in welfare
            – Alice, Elijah, Jon and Milton earn a $7 minimum wage

            Now the minimum wage goes up to $10 and Elijah loses his job, while Alice, Jon and Milton get a raise. Elijah loses $2 ($7->$5), but Alice, Jon and Milton each get $3 gain. So the entire poor group has 3*$3 – $2 = $7 gain.

            The poorest of the poor, the unemployed on welfare still get what they always did, so they didn’t get poorer, they ‘just’ got more plentiful.

            Now, we are going to think one step ahead:

            To encourage people to work you need a gap between welfare and the minimum wage. The higher the minimum wage, the higher welfare can be while creating a similar incentive. So Mr ‘raise the minimum wage’ can now fight for more welfare, but only after the minimum wage has been raised. This then helps the poorest of the poor and is only really feasible if the minimum wage is raised.

            So, now we have a win-win situation for all the poor, unless you think that having work is in itself good for people.

            It’s just elementary politics to get one win at a time, rather than try to get the entire agenda passed, maximizing the power of the opposition.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Aapeje

            The poorest of the poor, the unemployed on welfare still get what they always did, so they didn’t get poorer, they ‘just’ got more plentiful.

            I would say that 90%+ of liberals would consider this more unequal if presented neutrally.

            More importantly now you have a major market intervention that is a net negative for inequality, and you use the fact that justify another massive market intervention. What do you do with the evidence that welfare in the US causes (or at the least prevents growth out of) poverty?

            What exactly would it take to convince you that a progression of ever increasing intervention isn’t a path you want to be on? Or do you favor intervention for intervention’s sake?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @baconbacon

            I would say that 90%+ of liberals would consider this more unequal if presented neutrally

            The question of whether it is “more unequal” has a lot more to do with whether there is a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor, rather than the minuscule shuffling around of the incomes at the bottom of the ladder. I think the left understands the trade-off here: the vast majority of poor workers will be better off, while a small percentage of them will be worse off. And like Aapje was saying, with a financial support system in place, the damages to those rare individuals won’t even be that significant.

            What do you do with the evidence that welfare in the US causes (or at the least prevents growth out of) poverty?

            Is there evidence that people on disability, public housing, TANF, ect, would have independently earned on the market all the money they received from the government and more, if not for those benefits? That seems like some absurdly wishful thinking.

            Wikipedia provides some strong evidence showing that welfare actually does reduce poverty (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare%27s_effect_on_poverty), if you are interested.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            What do you do with the evidence that welfare in the US causes (or at the least prevents growth out of) poverty?

            Aid to Families with Dependent Children was replaced with the time-limited TANF with the explicit purpose of preventing dependency and pro-poverty behavior (like having many children). The outcome was that more people got jobs, but poverty didn’t clearly decrease, as increases in earnings from jobs were offset by losses in public income. If this sideways move then causes major negative effects, like non-parenting due to the parent being at work all the time, it may not be worth it.

            The birth rate among welfare recipients in Washington has gone down, but they already started with family planning programs before TANF was introduced and the birth rate was dropping before TANF was implemented. Both the intended and unintended pregnancies went down substantially, strongly suggesting that the family planning programs caused much/most/all of the change, rather than a reduction in welfare for people with children (as financial disincentives are unlikely to work for unintended pregnancies).

            This evaluation of welfare programs finds that combining work with welfare has the most favorable outcomes.

            What exactly would it take to convince you that a progression of ever increasing intervention isn’t a path you want to be on?

            You are assuming that there are no limits to what interventions I want, merely because I want more interventions than you. This is the Slippery Slope Fallacy.

            Sweden has a far higher level of interventions than the US, performs much better on most metrics and has, according to our David Friedman, sufficiently unregulated markets to not stifle the economy.

      • Aido says:

        I could be wrong here, but didn’t the UW study look specifically at total payroll and found it decreased? That is, they looked at hourly rate and hours worked and determined that the decrease in hours worked was so great as to actually offset the rise in hourly rate.

      • The question we should really be asking is whether it increases the net distribution of money going to the low-income class or whether it decreases it.

        If the answer is that it decreases it, that’s a strong argument against the minimum wage, at least for those who support it as a way of making poor people less poor. If it increases it, there is still the question of at what cost. If a $15 minimum wage increases the amount going to the poor by ten dollars and reduces the total welfare of the society by ten thousand dollars it’s a bad idea, since that is a much more expensive form of income redistribution than the obvious alternatives.

        • Guy in TN says:

          If a $15 minimum wage increases the amount going to the poor by ten dollars and reduces the total welfare of the society by ten thousand dollars it’s a bad idea, since that is a much more expensive form of income redistribution than the obvious alternatives

          But are the other more efficient options politically viable? I’m not one to reject the better in hopes of achieving the perfect. I’m thinking of UBI, or even direct property appropriation, as more efficient ways that no U.S. senator is even talking about.

          • Even if no better form of redistribution is available, it’s hard to believe that the difference in the value of the dollar between poor people and average people is large enough to make $10 for the poor at the cost of $10,010 to the not poor a net plus.

            My point was that the specific statement I quoted was wrong because it implicitly assumed that only the welfare of the poor mattered, that the welfare of the not poor deserved zero weight.

    • pontifex says:

      My overall impression is that Seattle is suffering from Baumol’s cost disease. As long as people keep pulling gold out of the ground (metaphorically speaking) they can have super high wages and prices for basic things if they want, just like in the old west. But that only works because of Amazon and Microsoft. It would not work for Middle America.

  34. fortaleza84 says:

    The hungry judges issue was discussed on Lesswrong a few years back:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/58y/the_bias_you_didnt_expect/

    A few people were pretty skeptical at the time, here’s what I said:

    I don’t know about Israel, but I do know that in American courts, cases are not heard in random order on a given day. It’s very common that simple, quick matters are put first so that the attorneys can get out fast.

    . . .

    But it does seem suspicious that timing alone could make such a dramatic difference unless some other factor is at work.

    Of course I remain skeptical.

    I would add, as a practicing attorney, that law seems to be an area where laymen wildly overestimate their competence.

    • hadlowe says:

      Another data point to add to this. Local courts always call court-appointed/private counsel cases first, then public defender cases, then unrepresented defendant cases. I would not be surprised to learn it was the same in other jurisdictions. While the public defenders do an admirable job, there is a reason people pay good money for private counsel.

      So you are going from best representation to good, but overworked and underpaid representation, to crappy representation as the day progresses. Consider that someone going in with private counsel can likely also afford to dress well and probably understands how to comport themselves in an official setting.

      Short anecdote: I saw a man with several neck tattoos and full sleeve tattoos come to court drunk in a sleeveless t-shirt. He fell asleep before the initial case call and had an arrest warrant issued for a no-show. When the last case was called before recess, but before it was heard, he stood up and asked the judge why they were going to make him come in if they weren’t going to call his case. He may have peppered up the language a bit too. If the judge had empathy before (questionable) he certainly didn’t after that.

  35. themikemachine says:

    A good way to understand Cost Disease is — look at industries/companies that managed to ‘cure’ it.

    Take, for instance, how rocket technology generally stopped advancing and costs kept increasing as the incumbent companies (Lockheed, Boeing) formed an oligopoly that was protected by government. Without price or competition pressure, the cost of rocket components increases, more employees are ‘needed’ per rocket, and overall price efficiency decreases. Then came Space-X, which built most components in-house, kept a flatter management structure and focused on undercutting the competition. By eliminating this bloat, Space-X can deliver the same rocket for 1/4 the price (possibly lower).

    Space-X, and similar companies, seem like a general-purpose algorithm for curing cost disease, or upending a stale industry.

    • bean says:

      That’s not quite it. (Source: I work for a large aerospace company, and have several friends at SpaceX.) Basically, aerospace as a whole has a very zero-defect mentality. This has been true since the 60s. I work on the commercial side, where we compete heavily with the other maker of large airliners, and the same factors are at work. I’ve heard that it’s easier to put a medical device in a person than it is to put a part on an airliner, and while I’m not sure it’s true, it’s not far off. SpaceX has cut costs by cutting a lot of that overhead. But they’re essentially re-learning why a lot of that paperwork is important. (Some of it is absolutely useless, and I’m glad they’re doing it. But it’s not just a matter of ‘free enterprise solves everything!’)

      • themikemachine says:

        Point taken. We both agree that cutting overhead is how Space-X lowered costs, but you imply that Space-X is cutting too much paperwork and this will lead to more defects (i.e. explosions). This doesn’t seem to be the case for now, but I could see it happening over time, especially as Space-X grows older, loses its leadership and begins coveting ‘stability of profits’ instead of innovation at all costs. Maybe Cost Disease happens naturally to all companies/systems as they grow older and less nimble though an accumulation of overhead over time.

        It’s also harder to innovate and keep low costs when you have employees who’ve been with the company for 30+ years, know a bunch, but demand large salaries + vacation + management responsibilities + etc. (Source: guy who’s never been in industry).

        • bean says:

          Point taken. We both agree that cutting overhead is how Space-X lowered costs, but you imply that Space-X is cutting too much paperwork and this will lead to more defects (i.e. explosions). This doesn’t seem to be the case for now, but I could see it happening over time, especially as Space-X grows older, loses its leadership and begins coveting ‘stability of profits’ instead of innovation at all costs.

          I think you’re missing a thought in there somewhere, about paperwork coming up to bring the explosion rate down. SpaceX is slowly getting more bureaucratic, although they’re not yet at the point where the safety guys work as many hours as the production guys. (Yes, their safety people apparently work 40 hour weeks.) I’m not sure where they’ll end up down the road.

          It’s also harder to innovate and keep low costs when you have employees who’ve been with the company for 30+ years, know a bunch, but demand large salaries + vacation + management responsibilities + etc. (Source: guy who’s never been in industry).

          I can definitely say this has happened/is happening at Southwest Airlines, for instance. SpaceX seems to be solving the problem by burning out their employees and replacing them with new ones regularly.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I’ve heard that it’s easier to put a medical device in a person than it is to put a part on an airliner, and while I’m not sure it’s true, it’s not far off.

        I worked for a small defense contractor for a few years in the mid-2000s, writing control software for DFRMs and radar environment simulators. I worked mostly on Navy contracts, and I remember coworkers who’d worked on Air Force contracts telling me how much nicer the Navy contracts were to work on, since the Air Force documentation requirements were incredibly onerous, while the Navy was mostly just concerned about the product itself.

        • bean says:

          I can believe that. My current group, which mostly does commercial work, supports one Air Force and one Navy project. The Air Force project requires us to go to the FAA for approval (which adds considerable time and difficulty), the Navy one does not.

        • John Schilling says:

          Ditto. The Navy purchased essentially stock commercial A2100 communications satellites from Lockheed-Martin for the MUOS program, while the Air Force insists on custom modifications and extensive oversight for its programs. That said, it was MUOS-5 where they called us after the fact to say that the engine had failed and could we please find a way for them to get to orbit anyway, while the Air Force has been paying us in advance to make sure the engines don’t fail. But from an up-front contracting perspective, the Navy is easier to deal with.

    • Vermillion says:

      Literally just read this article on how Elon Musk thinks the cure to rising costs is switching NASA from cost-plus to flat rate contracting.

      It’s a pretty convincing argument but like @bean said, the overhead is often there for a reason. In addition to a zero-defect mentality,

      “That price is the price Americans, through their Congress, have chosen to pay in order to have a fair, transparent, fully accountable process,” he said. “Most of federal procurement law is designed to protect the American taxpayers from the downside. If you ask me whether the government should streamline these rules, I would say yes. But because that statement is true, it does not follow that NASA should hand $6 billion over to SpaceX and tell them to call us when they’re done.”

      • themikemachine says:

        I see the benefit of striving for ‘zero defects’, but this mentality taken too far will balloon costs uncontrollably. For instance, adding tests will increase safety, but at a larger cost of time/money. When the tests are cheap/quick they are no-brainers, but there needs to be a limit on how much is spent per expected improvement in safety. It’s not worth spending an extra $200M for a 1% decrease in failure rate.

        Unfortunately, the decision to skip a test because it is not cost-effective will be unpopular and exposes the decision-maker to blame if things go wrong. It seems that Space-X avoids this ‘creeping tests’ problem by having Musk, a guy with such a high reputation he’s untouchable, be the final say on what is/isn’t cost-effective. Musk can make the tough decisions and because he’s emperor he can fire anyone who disagrees. This leadership style seems hard to replicate!

        EDIT: Great link BTW

    • CatCube says:

      I have a hypothesis that a lot of the useless bureaucracy isn’t a function of government/private, or size of organization, it’s time. As an organization gets older, it’s gotten burned more times, and created more rules to deal with it.

      For example, all the “normal” space launch companies and NASA trace their lineage back to the early Space Race. So all of these organizations have Vanguard TV3 in their DNA, which was a humiliating disaster on live, worldwide television. They’ve also killed astronauts, and had a huge number of rockets explode, because they were working at a time where we didn’t have good information about what made rockets explode. This resulted in the creation of rules to attempt to reduce risk. Note that I don’t claim that these rules are necessarily effective (they destroyed two shuttle orbiters, after all), just that this is what causes the rules to exist.

      SpaceX last year had a failure where they destroyed a customer’s satellite during an on-pad test where the satellite didn’t really need to be mounted. I believe they had it on there to save a day or two in their launch countdown, which makes sense from a “lean, get-it-done” perspective. However, the result was to take $50,000,000, put it in a big pile, douse it in rocket fuel and oxidizer, and set it on fire. I’ll bet SpaceX is going to be a lot more cagey in the future about test firing rockets with payload aboard.

      I cannot find the story now, but a few years back there was a few articles about an online company (I think it was AOL, but cannot turn up the story) where the expense account reimbursement was a nightmare. To the extent that one of the authors writing one of the columns told that when he worked there, he once shredded receipts for reimbursement that totaled almost a thousand dollars because trying to submit them for reimbursement was so onerous. Why was it like this? The company had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in an embezzlement scandal, so new rules were passed to prevent a recurrence.

      A personal account is from work: we had two construction contractors working on different projects on one of our sites (US government). One was a company that had been founded within the past few years, while the other was a major company that anybody here who follows the construction industry has heard of. The new company was willing to perform contract mods on a handshake to get the project done on time, while the old, established company demanded the signed contract modifications in hand prior to doing anything, which always takes a couple of weeks to months and blows up the project timeline.

      I’ll bet the older company had gotten burned by dishonest government contracting officers in the past, who promised to provide a modification later for work now, and left the company holding the bag. That resulted in a company-wide rule that “No Work Without a Signed Contract Mod Ever, or the Project Manager is Fired.” Which is not a bad rule–dishonest government employees aren’t as common as many like to say, but as the Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure proves, they exist. The new company hadn’t gotten screwed yet, so they were more willing to take wildcat chances on, “Trust me, I work for the government,” and get the job done.

      The US Government, in total, has had 228 years to have embezzlement and scandals, and many of those events resulted in rules to prevent it, even at extreme cost to efficiency. I’m actually off the clock at work now, but I spent all day in a board to select a contractor. It was three engineers, working for about 6 hours per proposal, writing reports detailing fiddly little details of the proposal. The rules for doing this just drip with “Don’t you dare use good judgement–if the contractor wrote the best proposal in the world, but forgot one stupid piece of paper that we said to put in it, even if it would only take them 10 minutes to send it to us, their proposal gets thrown out. Be a good little stupid bureaucrat.” Eventually, a private company will go out of business, but the Government won’t declare bankruptcy. So there’s less limit on governments getting bloated with stuff like this.

      • bean says:

        I can fully endorse this. I’ve noticed a correlation between how long our senior technical reviewers have been doing their job and how difficult they are to deal with (from my perspective). The most senior ones have seen everything, and thus want to cover all the holes, even the ones that no reasonable people would try to use. I’ve seriously thought that term limits might be a good thing for them.

        • orszag says:

          “Mad-Eye Moody had once worked out how long it had taken him, in retrospect, to achieve what he now considered a decent level of caution – weighed up how much experience it had taken him to get good instead of lucky – and had begun to suspect that most people died before they got there. Moody had once expressed this thought to Lyall, who had done some ciphering and figuring, and told him that a typical Dark Wizard hunter would die, on average, eight and a half times along the way to becoming ‘paranoid’. This explained a great deal, assuming Lyall wasn’t lying.”
          hpmor.com/chapter/63

          • CatCube says:

            I bounced right off of HPMOR after two chapters, but I have to admit that quote in isolation is great.

          • Elphrygian says:

            CatCube: I’d recommend giving it a few more chapters; it takes some time to get into its stride. It is certainly one of the more intelligent pieces I’ve read (rather than just merely educated). I found it a bit frustrating moving from that to most other contemporary works. The first few chapters are slow and in some respects certainly off-putting, but as a generally impatient reader, I couldn’t really recommend the work enough.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I, on the other hand, found the book getting more and more insufferable the further in I got. (I quite around 40 or 50 chapters in, as I recall.)

          • Elphrygian says:

            There’s a definitely a bit of a lull where it seems the author felt pressured to write more to the criticisms of his audience. The characters increasingly being speaking in “High Elf,” over-rationalizing components of conversation and seeming to try like crazy to demonstrate cleverness and intelligence above the readers’. That part does taper off eventually, but I think you’ll find the ending somewhat frustrating (particularly with respect to how he attempted to challenge his audience).

            Subjectivity continues to be a literary constant 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            High Elf? I’m afraid the reference escapes me.

          • Elphrygian says:

            I believe the trope used to describe that on this planet is SesquipedalianLoquaciousness. Specifically, the HPMOR characters begin talking in long, concept-heavy paragraphs back and forth to each other. It reads completely unlike anything I’ve heard in normal speech and the denseness of the content suggests more of what I alluded to before (the author trying too hard to convey his own cleverness / intelligence).

            “High Elf” specifically refers to some of Tolkien’s elves tending to do this from time to time, though I realize now this is one of those memes that hasn’t spread too far from my own head. Whoops. 🙂

      • joshuatfox says:

        It’s called “Organizational Scar Tissue.”

      • Deiseach says:

        The new company was willing to perform contract mods on a handshake to get the project done on time

        Which works fine, until the government guy you shook hands with retires, is promoted, or moves to a different section in a different city, and the new guy says “agreement what agreement? there’s nothing on the file about it”.

        I’m sympathetic to the “get it on paper” side because I have an anecdote from local government about a manager who did exactly that kind of verbal agreement, promised everybody “sure you’ll get a house in new development when it’s built” and by the time the new development was built, he had moved to another city and we had thirty or forty people saying “but I was personally promised a house!” for a thirteen-house development – and some of them got very nasty (we had one who threatened a court case over it). Departed manager knew he wouldn’t be around by the time the houses were built, so he didn’t care about promising them three times over and letting the people still in the office carry the can.

        [They] want to cover all the holes, even the ones that no reasonable people would try to use.

        There’s an awful lot of unreasonable people out there!

        • bean says:

          There’s an awful lot of unreasonable people out there!

          Yes, there are, and I’ve heard enough stories about unreasonable airlines that I’m not at all in favor of LibertarianAir, among other things. But the better airlines (all of the ones in the civilized world) are sane enough not to take tenuous loopholes, and the worse ones probably don’t care that much what we tell them, and I doubt their legal system is set up to make them listen.

        • CatCube says:

          I’m absolutely sympathetic to the “get it on paper” side! I’m embarrassed that we asked the first company I discussed to do work prior to us providing them a signed mod–they did that to paper over ridiculous bureaucracy internal to us. I’m not telling the story as a criticism of the old company, just giving an example of the difference between new and old organizations.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, sure, I know! I suppose I’m more sensitive to “what are all these useless regs, this is just the old timers being unreasonable, we can do it quicker and cheaper” because my position is that rules don’t just happen into being, there is always a reason for them.

            Now, maybe the reason is a bad one, or the reason doesn’t apply anymore, but there was a reason somebody thought “Yeah, we better make a rule about this”.

            So people coming in as new brooms and sweeping it all away may find themselves needing to re-instate some of those silly old rules when the inevitable “but that will never happen!” does happen.

            And I’ve been burned myself, and seen others get burned, enough to be firmly in the “get it on paper. in triplicate. signed off by the most senior person there. no i don’t care if it adds four weeks and X amount to the budget to do it, get it” camp because CYA has been proven by experience 🙂

          • bean says:

            I suppose I’m more sensitive to “what are all these useless regs, this is just the old timers being unreasonable, we can do it quicker and cheaper” because my position is that rules don’t just happen into being, there is always a reason for them.

            This isn’t always true. I was on one project where we spent the better part of a week trying to figure out why a certain decision had been made (20+ years ago, in a different department), and eventually, we decided that whoever did it must have been using rectal extractions. But we went ahead and continued on the same basis, even though it was probably not what was best for anyone involved. I’ve heard that parts of the FAA are even worse about this than we are, and have the attitude that the rules are the rules, even when clearly arbitrary and outdated.

          • CatCube says:

            @bean

            Regarding the FAA, I’m sympathetic to the notion that the rules are stupid, because they often are, but people tend to want their government bureaucrats to disregard the rules and “do what’s right” in blog comments and opinion pieces, and then get really pissy about the bureaucrats actually doing it in real life.

            It ultimately becomes a rule of law issue–under this “just blow off the silly rules” regime, remember the FAA guys get to disregard the rules they want to, not the rules you want them to. There’s probably a few rules out there that cut in favor of your company that the FAA people think are dumb and limiting. They’ll get to disregard those ones, too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I was on one project where we spent the better part of a week trying to figure out why a certain decision had been made […], and eventually, we decided that whoever did it must have been using rectal extractions.

            Would that be Chesterton’s Butt?

          • bean says:

            @CatCube
            I wasn’t suggesting disregarding the rules so much as changing them, and I’m well aware of the importance of the rule of law. The problem is particularly bad for other people industry. We’re big enough and our planes are expensive enough that we can handle the overhead. People trying to build smaller airplanes are the ones with real problems.
            For an example of how bad this can be, airplanes are still using leaded gas, because nobody has managed to get the paperwork in order for an alternative. John Schilling knows more about that than I do.

          • Deiseach says:

            I was on one project where we spent the better part of a week trying to figure out why a certain decision had been made (20+ years ago, in a different department), and eventually, we decided that whoever did it must have been using rectal extractions.

            Possibly – or possibly it applied to one particular case which was a special exception, and the reason didn’t get written down. That happens too, and places run on institutional memory – again, from my previous local government stint, there was some sensitive information that was not written down and placed in the files, so if you wanted to know “But why is Mrs X’s application being refused?” you had to ask the manager about it. And there were certainly times when a retired officer was asked back to help explain the meanings of notations in a file dating from forty years back.

            But then again, there certainly were plentiful examples of “pulled it out of my – ear” decisions (mostly from that ex-manager who skipped off to another city and left the angry “but he promised me!” clients for the rest of us to face) 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            people tend to want their government bureaucrats to disregard the rules and “do what’s right” in blog comments and opinion pieces, and then get really pissy about the bureaucrats actually doing it in real life

            OH, yes. A large part of the reason I’m defending the paper pushers and red-tape merchants here is that until you see it from the other side, as it were, you don’t realise the handicaps that are involved. There were simultaneously local councillors demanding to know why social housing was not being built in their area and claiming it was discrimination, and local councillors demanding social housing not be built in their area and claiming it was discrimination. As for all the people who want you to bend the rules on their behalf because they’re genuinely an exception and who will then ring up to complain about “so and so jumped the queue” – yeah. Everyone wants you to bend the rules for them and enforce the rules with full stringency for others.

        • Jed Harris says:

          The quite common solution to this is to go back to the office and write a letter “memorializing” the handshake agreement. It doesn’t need legal language, just a sufficiently clear statement of the agreed decision.

          This only takes a few minutes and is good practice independent of any later need for recourse, to make sure both parties are actually on the same page.

          Then if the other party doesn’t object you do have a paper record of the (informal) agreement. The new guy won’t stick to “agreement what agreement? there’s nothing on the file about it” since you can direct him to the information on file.

          In the case of 30 people promised houses, at least the promised person has a letter to take to court. The local government has multiple letters they can use to sue the guy who made the promises — at least destroy him “pour encourager les autres” even if you can’t get the money back.

          The example of housing is a bit mysterious though, since normally governments don’t have houses to give away. More details might suggest other solutions.

      • Jed Harris says:

        This happens very obviously in software development. The result is called technical debt, the term “scar tissue” is pretty apt but I haven’t heard it. Brooks in The Mythical Man Month regarded it as inevitable entropic decay.

        The solution, which took decades to crystallize, is refactoring. This benefits from tests that capture required behavior plus previous failure modes.

        Applying this to bureaucracy would be demanding but (aside from politics) I guess not impossible. First go through and document all the reasons for the rules, using historical research as necessary. These become goals. Then come up with a new set of rules that deliver some combination of meeting the goals or explicitly deciding not to meet them due to cost arguments.

        My guess is that banks do this in (re)designing their internal procedures since they have real-time constraints on processing, cost and market constraints on complexity, monetary measures of failures, and an active community that’s gaming their system.

  36. veeloxtrox says:

    Described by Jonathan Haidt as “the best single idea I’ve seen to reduce political polarization and dysfunction”. Make larger districts with proportional representation, so that there’s an actual fight between Democrats and Republicans everywhere, and nobody is more afraid of being primaried than of the general election.

    As someone on the right who live is very left California, this would excite me enough to go out an vote. One concern I have is that it could possibly weird outcomes depending on how the ranked voting works.

    Let us use the example of Oklahoma. We have 10 candidates run for 5 seats. With A, B, C, D, E and F as Rs, M, N, O as Ds, and an Independent I. Could it happen that A and B are popular, 25% of the vote each and thus get seats. C, D, E, and F are no very popular and get 4% each. I has a dedicated following and gets 8%. M and N are really popular (12.5% each) and O flops (1%). This would possibly end up with the Republicans getting 66% of the vote but only 40% of the seats where the Democrats got 40% of the seats with only 26% of the vote, and the Independent made it in with only 8%.

    Is there something in ranked voting that keeps a bunch of so-so candidates from your party having a negative affect on your party’s chances?

    After running the (possibly wrong) math, it seems like this outcome might still be preferable to the current situation.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If you have 10 seats, then the goal is that a candidate needs 10% to be elected. If candidate A gets less than 10%, he is eliminated and his votes shift to their #2 candidate. If candidate Z gets more than 10%, then 10% of the voters have their ballots removed and the excess have their votes shift to their #2 candidate. Thus if 66% rank all republicans over all democrats and 34% the opposite, 7 republicans will be elected and 3 democrats.

    • reytes says:

      The situation you’re outlining, or some similar outcome, is a possibility although the details might vary depending on the exact system. As a general rule, any voting system is going to have some perverse outcomes. But (as you say) the perverse outcomes under first-past-the-post are probably greater than a lot of the alternative systems.

    • Aido says:

      You should look into Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem. Any voting system that relies on ordering (ordinal voting) is subject to it, Ranked Voting included. Ranged Voting, where you simply rate each candidate on a scale of 1-10, is a better voting system and is not subject to the theorem. This does not specifically address your question but it seems important.

    • Zakharov says:

      Looking at your given example, first A and B would be given seats, and their remaining 10% are distributed to other Republicans. O is eliminated and their votes go to the Democrats. D, E, and F are eliminated, pushing C above 20% on preferences. If the remaining Republican 6% goes to the independent, N is eliminated, their preferences go to M, M is elected, their preferences go to I (the only remaining candidate), I is elected. If the 6% goes to either Democrat, both Democrats get in. End result: Republicans get 60% of the seats, Independent gets either 0% or 20%, Democrats get either 20% or 40%.

      There is a potential pitfall in the described system, best illustrated by the 2013 Australian federal Senate election. Preferences were for the most part determined by the candidates, not the voters. Most candidates ranked every random third party above the ideologically-opposed major party, resulting in the Australian Sports Party getting a Senate seat with 0.3% of the Western Australia primary vote. Them getting the seat depended in the end on the difference between being something like the 13th preference and the 14th preference of the Australian Sex Party. In the same election, the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts party got a seat with 0.5%, and the Liberal Democratic Party got one with a respectable 9.5% but that only because they were randomly selected to be the first party on the ballot and a lot of people confused them for the Liberal Party.

      • ashlael says:

        A big part of that is because of Group Voting Tickets, which allowed parties to direct nearly 100% of their voters’ preferences. Those are gone now, and though I have misgivings about the new system, it is now much harder for a micro party to put together a cascade of preferences to get elected.

        EDIT: I know you know this, just adding a bit more context that that specific failure mode has to do with a particular form of ticket voting rather than IRV or PR generally.

  37. Michael Watts says:

    Described by Jonathan Haidt as “the best single idea I’ve seen to reduce political polarization and dysfunction”. Make larger districts with proportional representation, so that there’s an actual fight between Democrats and Republicans everywhere, and nobody is more afraid of being primaried than of the general election.

    US States are larger districts with proportional representation (in the House of Representatives). Is the House notably less polarized than the Senate?

    • herbert herberson says:

      US States are larger districts with proportional representation (in the House of Representatives).

      No they aren’t, they’re amalgamations of geographically-bounded single-representative districts.

    • Iain says:

      The House of Representatives does not have proportional representation. Each state has a collection of independent first-past-the-post elections.

      The proposal in the link is to have larger districts, with multiple members elected from each. Connecticut has five representatives in the House, so under this plan, everybody in Connecticut would rank the pool of candidates, and the top 5 would be elected. Given the results of the 2016 election, you’d expect that two of those candidates would be Republicans, and three would be Democrats. In Oklahoma, it would be the same in reverse (or possibly 4 Republicans to 1 Democrat).

      This isn’t a flawless panacea; among other things, it means that there’s no guarantee that particular areas within the new larger districts have any representation, so your new House rep is likely to live further away.

      • herbert herberson says:

        The more natural candidate for PR is the Senate. It’s currently wildly undemocratic, its members can’t make much of a claim to personalized/localized representation (especially in larger states) and that nice round 100-member number could be mapped onto a national proportional representation regime in an extremely intuitive and clear way.

        Unfortunately, the nature of the Senate is literally the only thing in the Constitution that can’t be amended:

        and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

        • doubleunplussed says:

          You could elect three to five senators per state instead of two, and have proportional votes within the states.

          It’s what Australia does – equal representation of states in the Senate, with proportional representation *within* each state’s representation.

          This isn’t the same as proportional representation of the country as a whole, but who cares? It’s close enough, and there are arguably good reasons why the Senates of both Australia and the US should weight all states equally. Each state could still stand to have its representation be a little more uh, representative, than winner-takes-all though.

    • manwhoisthursday says:

      Haidt hasn’t thought proportional representation through. The first thing that would happen with proportional representation is the appearance more ideologically extremist parties. In Europe, for example, PR has helped give a lot of respectability to “far right” parties, which would otherwise have largely been shut out of electoral politics.

      • PedroS says:

        Speaking as a Portuguese (and therefore at risk of being somewhat off-base when discussing US politics), my perception of current US politics is that the focus on primaries and first-past-the-post electoral system is a very important driver of your current intense polarization, which makes most “average Europeans” (and I guess many Blue Tribers, who seem to be closer to what in Europe we consider “centrist” positions) to identify the GOP with the fringe alt-right. The existence of a US far right party might have prevented the GOP from becoming too attached (at least in media discourse) with the alt-right and from apparently losing any ability to credibly pivot to a more centrist position in the short term.

        PS: In Portugal we use proportional representation in 20 electoral districs of unfortunately widely unequal size. No far-right party has claimed more than 1% votes in any election, but we do have two far-left parties with 8-11% each.

        • Wency says:

          To be clear, the “alt” in “alt-right” is meant to mean “alternative to the mainstream right”, i.e., the Republican Party. The term doesn’t really mean “the most Republican of Republicans” — maybe that would be the National Review or Ted Cruz. Both of which are very far from “alt-right”.

          • PedroS says:

            I know alt-right is !=GOP, !=conservatism, etc. My point is that the “big-tent” coalitional nature of both american parties is not readily understood by most non-Americans, and therefore any unpleasant/unfashionable/negative characteristics of a fringe group who vocally supports one of their candidates (or of one such candidate) is perceived as being a core characteristic of the modal supporter of that party. There is a much wider variance in ideology inside each of the American parties than in common european parties, and I do believe that makes the outgroup homogeneity bias much more likely to become a catastrophic heuristic in regard to the evaluation of the political priorities of any random supporter of “the other party”.

      • reytes says:

        That’s definitely what the effect would be but like.

        From a democratic point of view, it seems pretty clearly more representative for the people with those views to be represented adequately by their own parties, which would almost certainly be their preference. So from a purely democratic stance, the change to PR would is an improvement – it more adequately represents the beliefs of the voting base.

        From a liberal point of view, the question is certainly more vexed. On the one hand, the effect of a change to PR probably does allow more space for extremist (and presumably illiberal) parties in the political mainstream and discourse and etc, and this is on some level bad from a liberal point of view.

        On the other hand, first, it’s not clear to what extent this is true – because at the moment, some of the people with extreme views just join the major parties. So right now, you have some people on the left in the Democratic Party who would then presumably join a more illiberal leftist party under PR, and vice versa on the right. But either way those people exist in politics. They already have their views and they vote, whether they’re represented in their own party or they’re part of a broader coalition. PR probably increases their extremism, because you have the people who aren’t part of coalition parties at present, but it doesn’t make it appear out of thin air. Second, the extent to which it’s proper for a liberal state to exclude illiberal views from the mainstream is obviously deeply vexed. And I don’t really want to get into that debate wholesale. I do think, as mechanisms for the exclusion of illiberal views from the mainstream go, this one is pretty ad hoc and scattershot and random.

        And then on a pragmatic level, there’s an element of a trade-off. Does changing to a PR system improve the quality of governance and representativeness enough that it’s worth a potential increase in the viability of extremist parties? It’s a really hard question to answer.

        So basically I agree that there’s a possibility of increasing the number of ideologically extreme parties but that’s not necessarily a fatal flaw with the plan.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Haidt hasn’t thought proportional representation through. The first thing that would happen with proportional representation is the appearance more ideologically extremist parties. In Europe, for example, PR has helped give a lot of respectability to “far right” parties, which would otherwise have largely been shut out of electoral politics.

        Yes, because disenfranchisement is correct and just when it’s applied to Bad People.

      • manwhoisthursday says:

        Proportional representation might be good in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t seem likely to reduce polarization specifically.

        • ashlael says:

          Definitely agreed. Here in Australia we use PR a lot (though not exclusively) and in the last year there have been more Senators who have been forced to resign because the candidacies were unconstitutional than Senators who have voted against their party.

          The US political class’s obsession with “polarisation” and “bipartisanship” is weird to be honest. It’s normal for right wing senators to vote like right wing senators and vice versa.

        • Deiseach says:

          Proportional representation might be good in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t seem likely to reduce polarization specifically.

          Yeah, but at least it would allow the “really left-leftists” and the “slightly left of centrists” in the Democratic Party to split into two parties free to pursue their own agendas, instead of cobbling together a coalition of mutually contradictory interests and tussling over who gets to be Head Boy Or Girl this time round.

          Ditto for the Republicans who can go for the economic conservatives, the values voters, etc. And it would give third parties like the Libertarians a better chance to be taken seriously and build themselves into solid minor parties that had a chance to influence policies both at state and national level.

          As it currently is, the scene in the USA is two large masses (and messes) both of which run on the message “We’re not the other lot!”

      • PR is helpful to centrist 3rd-way parties, too.

    • Jameson Quinn says:

      I’m jumping in on this subthread because it’s the first one addressing the Haidt piece, but I’m not really replying to MW specifically.

      Proportional representation, if implemented, would indeed be a major change to Congress, and a clearly healthy one on net. “Bipartisanship” is not the best way to summarize that change; though there is substantial overlap between the term and the change and things that are good, there’s something to put in each part of that 3-way Venn diagram.

      The specific solution being pushed in that article is the Fair Representation Act, FRA, which would implement both STV in 5-member districts, and independent commissions to draw those 5-member districts. (Though independent redistricting is almost irrelevant once you have PR.) I’d say that the quality of the specifics of the FRA is about 60th percentile for what you’d expect from a PR bill written by some random people qualified to do so. That is, a huge step up from FPTP, the current system, but with a lot of room for improving both effectiveness and chances of passage simultaneously. I believe that part of the reason they didn’t do better is that FairVote, the largest voting reform org in the US by about 2 orders of magnitude, has a historically-driven focus on IRV and STV that has cut them off from the mainstream of modern voting theory.

      On chance of passage: Of course, the FRA will not pass in a Republican congress. But then again, see the Friedman quote; “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” Trump could well turn out to be that crisis, and a Democratic congress and White House in 2020 could well be ready for the kind of fundamental change that PR would represent. But even in that hypothetical future, the FRA would be a dead letter; it is too disruptive to the status quo, with too much chance of throwing out an incumbent not because of disproportionality but just because of random differences in outcome.

      But it is possible to design better PR methods; ones which would be both more effective at promoting healthier politics, and more likely to pass (because they’d be less disruptive, at least to incumbents from the party at a proportional disadvantage; that is, the Democrats). For instance, GOLD voting. You can read more about this, including my arguments for why GOLD is better, at my medium feed, or at this brochure.

      One issue that several others have commented on is the idea that PR would tend to elect more extremists. This is debatable; it certainly does tend to elect some extremists, but in FPTP extremists can actually get more-than-proportional power by controlling primaries in safe districts. Also, methods like GOLD, unlike the STV proposed in the FRA, have mechanisms that tend to prevent extremist candidates in splinter parties from winning seats, without discounting the votes they get. Thus, GOLD would almost certainly be “better” than both the current system and the proposal in the OP’s linked article, where “better” means “less likely to seat people who are unable to work with those from whom they differ ideologically” (which I think most, though not all, of us would agree is indeed better).

      (Note: I am a board member of Electology.org, an upstart rival to FairVote. I’m also an expert on voting methods; as just one example, I was the principal designer of the E Pluribus Hugo method, which was extensively discussed and democratically adopted by the World Science Fiction Society; you can google it. So, weight my opinions about FairVote and other topics accordingly.)

    • geekethics says:

      So, you can go a step further than looking at house/senate. Yes FPTP explains much of the US’s weirdness. But very far from all of it. Consider:

      The UK and Canada have FPTP and they have vigorous third parties and (especially in Canada) the smaller parties can grow very very fast.

      If the House of Representatives had a party set up like either House of Commons there would be a distinct Californian separatist party which won a handful of Reps every election and was competitive in another handful. There’d be a serious national third party that reliably won a noticeable number of seats and sometimes won several dozen and which ran several states.

      The difference isn’t the electoral system. It’s a combination of norms (nobody votes third party because nobody votes third party), rules (electoral law is biased in favour of the two parties), and the presidency (most voters vote for the president and then do the same party for lower offices).

      • DeWitt says:

        The UK and Canada have FPTP and they have vigorous third parties

        By whose standards?

        American? Sure. But then, every third party with a shred of seats in some political body is vigorous by American standards. In effect, it mostly seems that the UK and Canada have tiny little parties holding the larger ones hostage for some influence so the governing can be done.

        But compared to Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark? Not even close. The UK and Canada(or Anglo nations in general) look to be a lot closer to the US than other models of democracy in that context.

        • Salem says:

          Since 2000, no German third party has received more than 14.6% of the vote. That has been surpassed three times in the UK in that period, with a record of 22%.

          In the most recent UK general election, the largest third party received 7.9% of the vote. That is similar to the vote for the largest third party in Germany, which received 8.6% of the vote.

          The UK looks to have third parties at least as vigorous as Germany. The idea that it’s “not even close” is obviously wrong.

          Analysis similar for Sweden. Holland and Denmark are a bit different because they don’t even have major parties!

          • Aapje says:

            Holland and Denmark are a bit different because they don’t even have major parties!

            Anymore.

          • DeWitt says:

            Your metrics are off.

            Since 2000, no German third party has received more than 14.6% of the vote. That has been surpassed three times in the UK in that period, with a record of 22%.

            Imagine a country with twenty parties each holding 5% of the vote. Under such a system, none would be above even 10%. Germany has a tradition of third parties to the point where it was deemed necessary to create a 5% threshold specifically because parliament would fill up with an immense amount of parties.

            Sweden has such diversity in its party structure that the biggest party in government has not even a third of all total seats; the two largest added together, don’t even come up to two thirds.

            With what you’re saying about the Netherlands and Denmark, you’re making my point for me: proportional representation makes for the existence of many more third, fourth, and further iterated parties.

          • Aapje says:

            @DeWitt

            There are benefits for voting for the biggest parties, as it increases the likelihood of getting the people you vote for to govern, rather than their ideological enemies, substantially. After all, it tends to be the biggest party or parties that tend to lead and then find support among the smaller.

            You tend to see the same thing in my country as in the US: smaller parties losing votes to bigger parties as the election nears.

            The reason why a minor party could hold May hostage in Britain is because there were not enough decently sized parties to allow May to play off one party against the other. Winner takes all systems like in the US and UK tend to work quite badly if a coalition is needed, because both the system and the political culture are not set up to facilitate this.

          • DeWitt says:

            I don’t think we disagree, do we?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DeWitt:

            The 5% both keeps there from being a zillion tiny parties, and means that it’s harder for fringe parties to claw their way into parliament. Germany has a reason to not want that last thing.

          • DeWitt says:

            I don’t particularly agree or disagree with Germany’s threshold. I am only noting that the country very much does have more than just two parties.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DeWitt:

            Not disagreeing with you. Just pointing out that the 5% limit is about more than avoiding Netherlands-style wackiness.

          • DeWitt says:

            The Netherlands functions perfectly fine, really.

        • dndnrsn says:

          @DeWitt

          The current Canadian parliament has 183 Liberals, 98 Conservatives, 44 NDP, 10 Bloc, and 1 each of Green, independent, and vacant. The last 3 are definitely tiny, Bloc seems tiny but isn’t relatively (when you consider that it is geographically limited), and the NDP was briefly the #2 party.

  38. Douglas Knight says:

    Vice … most addicts happen when the pills get diverted away from real patients

    Yes, that is what Vice said, but it misquotes its source. Vice specifically claimed that its source was about how people start using opioids. But its citation is about the source of the “Most Recent Nonmedical Use.”

  39. bean says:

    That time Pepsi bought 17 submarines, a cruiser, and a destroyer from the Soviet Union as part of the Cola Wars.

    How did I not know about that? Also, why does nobody have a list of those ships? I was hoping I could ID the cruiser, and use that to lead to the other ships, but if such a list exists online, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t list the cruiser by class (there are only three options from the dates).

    Re Grossman, I have mixed feelings. On Killing is pretty compelling, but the base data is almost certainly very wrong. On the other hand, there are signs of similar effects elsewhere, and the rule is not to point a gun at something you aren’t willing to kill.

    • Nornagest says:

      I was pretty convinced by On Killing until he started getting into violent video games, for which there’s a neat analogy to e.g. shooting at silhouettes instead of bullseyes (so the theory looks sound), but which haven’t been compellingly linked to real violence despite two decades of trying. Pulling on that thread led me to others, and by the time I got to stuff like the archaeological evidence of violence (spoilers: there was a ton of it), I was getting pretty skeptical of the whole edifice.

      Cooper’s second rule is still a good one, but I think that might be as far as it goes.

      • cassander says:

        I think there is much truth in on killing, but that the case is overstated, and some of the root causes misunderstood.

  40. morningpigeon says:

    My reading of the mindset intervention is that it appeared to successfully encourage people to try a bit harder on difficult maths questions. This appeared to help people who generally didn’t try a lot to begin with, but hurt people who did try a reasonable amount, at least in terms of test scores – it seemed to encourage them to persist with tricky problems when they could have gained more by moving on (these results were non-significant, though if you discount them on the basis of non-siginficance you should probably discount all the subgroup analysis as it doesn’t appear to have been appropriately corrected, at which point you’re left with no effect on overall test score).

    Also surprising: being female not particularly associated with growth mindset (maybe slightly positive), but it is associated with 0.5 standard deviations less likely to try very hard maths questions. In this light: has anyone seriously studied the “men put more effort into proving they’re clever” hypothesis about genders & maths etc.?

  41. Jiro says:

    Of the 77 cases, I coded 20 (26%) as censorship of liberals, 40 (52%) as censorship of conservatives, and 17 (22%) as apolitical censorship

    How is that compared to the percentage of conservatives and liberals on campus?

    (I suspect worse for the conservatives)

    Edit: Someone responding to that concluded that yes, it is pretty bad and conservatives are 3-10 times more likely to be censored.)

    • gbdub says:

      I believe most of the conservative censorship is occurring at conservative schools (unsurprisingly) – e.g. Religious schools disinviting speakers who come out in favor of abortion. So the national breakdown of conservative vs liberal students probably doesn’t apply to theses special cases.

    • herbert herberson says:

      That cuts both ways, though. If conservatives are comparatively rare on campuses, then one would expect comparatively little censorship of their political enemies, simply because there are few people around who are motivated to attempt such censorship. Arguably, achieving half as much censorship as liberals means they are nonetheless punching above their weight.

      (although, the obvious and at least partially true rejoiner is that just because something is censored from the right doesn’t mean a conservative is doing the censoring. at least one of the major categories is anti-BDS censoring, and that’s gotta be at least as much “left vs. center-left” as it is “left vs. right”)

      • Wency says:

        “just because something is censored from the right doesn’t mean a conservative is doing the censoring”

        Good observation (along with gbdub’s comment about religious schools above).

        My first thought on that statistic was “What would campus conservative censorship of liberals even look like? Are we incorporating statistics from alternate realities now?”

        Conservative religious schools are a pretty small slice of the pie, so I have to think center-left vs. far left is the bigger part of the answer.

        • The Nybbler says:

          You can drill down to the examples. One, as I’ve mentioned, was Anita Hoopearingsen’s cancellation of her talk at Utah State after an anonymous death threat.

          Looking at the most recent

          Carol Beier, disinvited from Newman University (religious) for being pro-choice

          Suzanne Venker, disinvited from Williams College due to her criticism of feminism. This appears to be a coding error and should be “from the left”.

          Hip-hop artist Common was disinvited from Kean University due to support of a cop-killer in his music. This was due to pressure not from students, but from the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association (yes, NJ is a police state)

          Robin Steinberg was disinvited from Harvard for participating in a video advocating killing of cops. Again, pressure was from the police (New York in this case), not students.

          Luis Gutierrez was shouted down at the University of Southern California (private, secular) by anti-amnesty groups.

          Next was Sarky.

          Next was Geraldo Rivera, from Duquesne (religious), for having a nude selfie online. University administration cancelled on their own initiative.

          —-
          Not one so far due to student pressure. Unfortunately you can’t filter by that.

          • Montfort says:

            Assuming you mean the FIRE database, you can filter by “primary source of disinvitation effort” (as either on- or off-campus, so students and administration get lumped together) – in the search tab, though, not the main view. No guarantee it’s coded correctly, either, but it does catch Beier, Common, Steinberg, Gutierrez, etc.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ah, so you can. I was trying to do it with filters on the main page. Successful disinvitations “from the right”, “source on-campus” yields 38 cases. Since 2014, only 2… Anita, where the anonymous letter writer claimed to be a student. And Susanne Venker, which is a miscode — should have been “from the left”.

            Successful disinvitations “from the left”, source “on campus” yields 74. 35 since 2014. The “from the left” no-platformers have certainly stepped up their game.

            (Interesting trivia: The very first disinvitation attempt in the database, in 2000, was neither from the right nor from the left, and was for “other issues”. It was not successful. Target: Fred Rogers. Yep, Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. Apparently having a children’s show host speak was below the dignity of some Old Dominion students).

  42. OptimalSolver says:

    economically-conservative-socially-liberal people (libertarians?)

    And autistics. Though the overlap is most likely substantial.

    • Nornagest says:

      Libertarianism is attractive to highly systematic personalities, which people on the autistic spectrum tend to have, but if you’re looking for a tighter causal relationship I think you’re going to have a bad day. It’s not the only One Big Idea in politics, not even close to it.

      • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

        Libertarianism also seeks to replace general societal rules developed through the political process (presumably via lots of normal social interaction and consensus-building) with explicit contracts governing the interactions between pairs of individuals. I’d imagine autistic folks would find that quite appealing…

        • Nornagest says:

          Leaving aside the issue of how central that is to libertarianism, I think it’s pretty clear that “economically conservative, socially liberal” falls well short of a world of discrete pairwise contracts.

        • onyomi says:

          Libertarianism also seeks to replace general societal rules developed through the political process (presumably via lots of normal social interaction and consensus-building) with explicit contracts governing the interactions between pairs of individuals.

          Not ancap, at least.

          Ancap seeks to replace general societal rules developed through the political process with rules developed by normal social interaction and exchange.

  43. onyomi says:

    Regarding the efficacy of campaign donations, something which may not be captured by a simple comparison of share prices and donations and which is also related to cost disease:

    If all the biggest corporations make sizeable donations to both political parties and also engage in some degree of lobbying over any legislation which might effect them, then while they may not make more money than a smaller company donating proportionately less, they may nevertheless avoid being punished for their failure to play the game.

    The most famous example being Microsoft, which did not donate to political campaigns or engage in significant lobbying prior to the antitrust case against them. They stepped up donations and lobbying greatly in response and ended up with a pretty favorable result. They have not stopped donating since.

    • ashlael says:

      It can also be the case that the favours bought are not organisational but personal. i don’t see any reason to assume the agent-principal problem occurs only on the government and not on the corporate side of the donation.

  44. gbdub says:

    Related to the link to Ozy’s post on campus censorship: is Ozy aware that FIRE maintains its own “disinvitation database”? It has its own sort function by which “side” did the disinviting and why, and is more comprehensive. The sorting seems pretty fair though, and the bottom line numbers aren’t that different from Ozy’s – about twice as many disinvited from the left as from the right.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The sorting seems pretty fair though, and the bottom line numbers aren’t that different from Ozy’s – about twice as many disinvited from the left as from the right.

      First page in a reverse chronological sort of successful disinvitations shows 23 disinvitations “from the left”, 1 “from the right”, 1 N/A. “From the left” means the disinviters were to the left of the speaker. Second page has 15 from the left, 7 from the right(including Ant Enemy Anita’s flounce), 3 N/A. That brings us back to 2013.

    • Montfort says:

      For fun, here’s some numbers. Successful disinvitations: 56 from the right, 77 from the left, 18 coded “N/A”.

      From the right:
      25 between (later) 2009 and now
      25 between 2004 and (earlier) 2009
      6 in 2002 and 2003

      From the left:
      25 in (later) 2016 and 2017
      25 between (later) 2010 and (earlier) 2016
      25 between 2003 and (earlier) 2010
      2 from 2002 and 2000

      Many more unsuccessful attempts come from the left than the right, 132 and 44, respectively (and 15 N/A). This gives total attempts of 209 to 100, roughly 2:1 as stated, with some clear variance depending on time period.

      There are some other filters hidden in the “search” tab, for those interested in playing with the data a bit.

    • tscharf says:

      What’s the ratio of total invited left to right speakers?

  45. Chalid says:

    On the Y2K bug story:

    Seven of the more than 50 paperwork requirements the White House eliminated on Thursday dealt with the Y2K bug, according to a memo OMB released. Officials at the agency estimate the changes could save tens of thousands of man-hours across the federal government.

    So, this is saving a few hundred thousand dollars a year? Maybe a million? And knowing the Trump administration, even the “tens of thousands of man-hours” estimate is probably inflated.

    • sflicht says:

      Even if it’s small potatoes, it’s still unambigiously good policy to remove cruft.

      • jonmarcus says:

        Is it cruft though? Or was it a few agencies putting in some effort on the (similar) end of Unix epoch issue?

        I truly don’t know. I seem to remember reading that somewhere, but “I think I read it somewhere on the internet” ain’t exactly strong sourcing.

      • Chalid says:

        It’s not a particularly good sign that the director of the OMB (a cabinet-level position!) is apparently wasting his time bragging to reporters about it, or that reporters write this stuff up as if it matters.

        • pontifex says:

          Personally, I find it a welcome break from proposals to build walls, put up tarrifs, ban Muslims, etc. Or from the even more odious Democrat agenda.

  46. Kaj Sotala says:

    Leftists live in constant fear because they’re in social circles where this happens all the time and where all their friends will automatically side with the accusers. This isn’t just mean, it’s really bad strategy if you want people to stay on the left.

    There was a recent right-wing review of a number of leftist strategy guides, some of which apparently documented this having happened and having historically broken up a number of leftist groups:

    The Mayday Tribe [in the 1970s] fell apart for identity politics reasons that will seem astoundingly familiar to a reader in 2017. Basically, women and gay men demanded that everybody else (especially white men) subject themselves to consciousness-raising sessions and critique themselves over their own privilege (though that term wasn’t yet in vogue). If you look at the history of Lefty movements, this happens a lot, and usually the fallout is that straight white guys, in particular, get tired of being harangued and exit. That’s what happened to Mayday.

    • onyomi says:

      I have a straight, white, male friend who, after a lifetime of voting Democrat, and voting Bernie in the primary, voted for Trump in the general. And basically for this reason.

      • LukeReeshus says:

        As a straight, white, male, I sympathize with your friend, but that’s like getting rid of a rash on your arm by chopping it off.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m going to hazard a guess that Onyomi’s friend suffered absolutely no loss in utility for having voted for Donald Trump.

        • meh says:

          If that rash was from a zombie bite, chopping off your arm may be the only way to survive.

          Analogies are fun!

        • tscharf says:

          Because a black person voting against a group solely for the the reason that it has a lot for people who demonize black people is also completely illogical?

    • reasoned argumentation says:

      The funniest example of this was from Occupy Wall Street. A whole bunch of people start living in Zuccotti Park (which isn’t really a “park” just a windswept concrete open lot) white guys keep order. Feminists and gays and blacks lecture them about how they aren’t allowed to speak without permission and how they should bow their heads when spoken to – you know, normal invisible knapsack unpacking stuff. White guys leave. Assaults, muggings, and rapes follow. Everyone deserts the place. It’s like Detroit only in a few weeks instead of over years.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        I don’t suppose you have a source for this?

        • jonmarcus says:

          He’s using reasoned argumentation, man. He doesn’t need sources!

        • Rob K says:

          Occupy actually is a powerful (though sorta obvious) lesson about institutions. They adopted a consensus model of decision making that filtered out of Quaker circles into certain left groups mostly via ’70s and ’80s anti-nuclear activism. It works alright in small, defined-membership or high-commitment groups, and is an absolute trainwreck in any sort of easy-entrance environment, because it lets the loudest and most annoying people dominate the conversation. In Occupy’s case, the result was a mix of paralysis, loss of membership, and devolution of all actual business into committees that were higher barrier to entry.

          So, instructive case, if you actually care to look at what happened instead of just telling a predetermined story about evil privilege activists.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t know about the loss of white guys, or that loss causing disorder, but I’ve certainly heard about the “progressive stack” stuff from people who were there.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            What kind of organizational structures could / should they have adopted to be more successful?

          • Rob K says:

            @The Element of Surprise

            interesting question! There were problems going beyond the decision-making structure, but I bet they would have done better with something like transparently elected executive committees.

            (A core problem with Occupy, I think, is that the thing that made them interesting to the public was the political critique, but for many of those involved maintaining the protest camps supplanted the political message as the point of the movement. As a result their public statements got less and less relevant to outside observers as the thing went on.)

          • bbartlog says:

            Your account isn’t necessarily much at variance with that presented by ‘reasoned argumentation’ if we assume that the ‘loudest and most annoying people’ were, in fact, the privilege activists.

        • sliced says:

          I don’t know why I’m providing a source for someone else, but I thought this is an interesting take on the failure of Occupy Wall Street.

          http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/revealed-the-inside-story-on-what-really-caused-the-occupy-wall-street-movement-to-collapse/

          The author, Yotam Marom (https://twitter.com/yotammarom) claims to have been a leader within Occupy Wall Street. The whole thing is a bit preachy, and it’s unclear whether he was actually considered a leader of the movement (he makes frequent claims that the Occupy demonstrators saw themselves as “leaderless”). However, he does state that he and others stopped trying to do the grunt work of keeping the protest going because of accusations of racism.

          From the linked article:

          But we also know that there are a lot of movers and shakers in the room, and that this affords us a disproportionate ability to move things through the rest of Occupy. We know the age-old pitfalls of people making plans in closed off rooms, and it’s not lost on us that — while this space is also led by some of the most powerful women and folks of color in the movement — most of us are white, middle class, and male. If someone had asked any one of us directly, we’d likely have agreed that, collectively, we have quite a bit of power and aren’t being held accountable to it.

          But for the most part, we keep that nagging feeling under wraps, so we can continue the work. There is a confidence we seem to share that we are filling a void, meeting a real need, putting everything we have on the line to keep momentum going. We seem to agree, even if quietly, that movements don’t exist without leadership, that the general assembly has been more performance art than decision-making forum since the first couple of weeks, that leaderlessness is a myth, that we need a place to have sensitive discussions hopefully out of reach of the surveillance state. And in truth we know our jobs aren’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination; after all, a good deal of the efforts of the folks in the room are aimed at getting occupiers port-o-potties and stopping the incessant drumming.

          He then goes on to write,

          It happened in many circles of Occupy, and it happened to the group I was a part of, too, in that Lower East Side apartment. Some of the folks in the group got frustrated, and pulled away. They accused the rest of us of being liberals (this was a curse-word), said we were co-opting the movement for the unions, claimed that even meeting like this was a violation of the principles of the movement. Those claims were false, but they were hard to argue with, because most of us were already feeling guilty for being in closed off rooms. So we shrunk. Sort of like when an over-zealous white “ally” trips over other white folks to call out an example of racism; the first to call it out sits back smugly, having taken the moral high ground and pointed a finger at the others, and then the rest clench their jaws and stare at the floor guiltily, hoping the storm passes over them.

          I have no idea whether the claim about assaults or rapes is accurate. I vaguely remember reading some articles about crimes happening during Occupy, but I have no idea whether to believe those claims or not, or if the amount of crime was anywhere out of the ordinary.

          Part of his claim seems to have a grounding in truth, though.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Thank you. That was indeed what I had in mind – I believe I read an account by someone else that described the same important part (white guys leaving).

            The second part (literally just the first google hit):

            http://abcnews.go.com/US/sexual-assaults-occupy-wall-street-camps/story?id=14873014

            Alleged sexual assaults at Occupy Wall Street camps have raised concerns about security in a handful of cities, including reports of rape and groping in tents at New York’s Zuccotti Park

            The recent reports of assaults have created a problem the “Occupy” movement is being challenged to address head-on.

            Oh and about there being an informal militia:

            But that’s not always the case. Burke admitted there have been times when members of the community have taken it upon themselves to chase off men who exposed themselves in the park.

            “If there is a consensus that someone is bothering another person, the community will take care of it,” he said. “Still, we always notify victims to contact police.”

            Yes, you have to be able to put two and two together yourself to draw the correct conclusion.

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t know about that, but for me the funniest part of it was when Occupy Wall Street turned into Occupy Trinity Wall Street.

        For those blissfully unaware of the Anglican Wars, Trinity Wall Street is the richest parish in the Episcopal Church. It’s pretty much richer than a lot of dioceses (in 2012 it was estimated to have $1 billion in real estate holdings in New York property, but in 2013 that estimate was bumped up to $2 billion in assets). And being Episcopalian, this didn’t stop them from being right-on and supportive of Occupy Wall Street. When the unwashed masses were in Zuccotti Park, this was all well and good. But then they demanded – demanded! – that Trinity hand over a portion of ground on Duarte Square for an encampment, and when Power To The People started clashing with real estate values, suddenly the shoe was on the other foot and the messages of support turned into trespassing charges:

        Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James Cooper, said the landmark church supported many of the Occupy movement’s goals and would continue to welcome protestors to its facilities in the Wall Street neighborhood, but said in a statement that it did “not support the seizure of private property.”

        …Occupy leaders had been lobbying Trinity to use church property for a winter encampment after the group was evicted from nearby Zuccotti Park. Trinity had refused, citing a lack of facilities at the site and a lease agreement allowing the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to use it for periodic art installations.

        It was one of those cases where you wanted everyone to lose because nobody was particularly sympathetic (the entitled protesters on one hand, the champagne socialists of Trinity on the other) and it was glorious.

    • skef says:

      Basically, women and gay men demanded that everybody else (especially white men) subject themselves to consciousness-raising sessions and critique themselves over their own privilege (though that term wasn’t yet in vogue).

      I wonder how well-sourced the “gay men” part of this claim is. In the (relatively superficial) contact I’ve had with various gay advocacy and support groups over the years, the utopian outlook and social pressure has come from the lesbian side. Gay men tend towards irony and a certain lack of seriousness (and therefore, sometimes, follow-through).

  47. andhishorse says:

    Laken’s “Impossibly Hungry Judges” post seems pretty terrible.

    First, I lost all statistical respect for the author when he asserted that his positive experience at a Dolly Parton concert disproved a large correlation between the prevalence of country music on the radio and the locality’s rate of suicides.

    The author’s entire argument seems to be “this is incredibly big, also look at these other things which are similarly but, don’t they seem to be in different groups”. Which makes some sense, but it relies on the theory that the underlying cause is a sudden drop in brainpower, and rejects the data on the basis that a theory which predicted a raw cognitive drop of that magnitude would soundly disproven by common knowledge (which I agree with).

    This is without any consideration for alternate theories, perhaps an empathy drop, or perhaps something more specific to the common judge demographics instead of a universal effect. It is a “Weak Man” argument (probably not an actual Straw Man, as I would guess at least some people believe it?): I have selected this theory compatible with the data to examine, said theory is obviously false, therefore the data is wrong.

    • j1000000 says:

      An empathy drop of that size would seem to be common knowledge among lawyers, and the original authors rejected non-psychological mechanism like “cases late in the morning are different types of cases.” Even if the empathy drop were because judges are seeing cases all day, I’d still expect an effect of that size to mean that — among normal workers — there’d be a smattering of fights in lunch lines across every city every day.

      As for something more specific to the common judge demographic, I can’t think of a plausible story there.

      • Deiseach says:

        Whatever about hungry judges, Dickens (who early in his career worked as a clerk in a solicitor’s office, before going on to become a reporter covering parliamentary debates) certainly thought hungry jurors had an effect on verdicts. From “The Pickwick Papers”:

        “I wonder what the foreman of the jury, whoever he’ll be, has got for breakfast,” said Mr. Snodgrass, by way of keeping up a conversation on the eventful morning of the fourteenth of February.

        “Ah!” said Perker, “I hope he’s got a good one.”

        “Why so?” inquired Mr. Pickwick.

        “Highly important — very important, my dear Sir,” replied Perker. “A good, contented, well-breakfasted juryman is a capital thing to get hold of. Discontented or hungry jurymen, my dear sir, always find for the plaintiff.”

        “Bless my heart,” said Mr. Pickwick, looking very blank, “what do they do that for?”

        “Why, I don’t know,” replied the little man coolly; “saves time, I suppose. If it’s near dinner-time, the foreman takes out his watch when the jury has retired, and says, “Dear me, gentlemen, ten minutes to five, I declare! I dine at five, gentlemen.” “So do I,” says everybody else, except two men who ought to have dined at three and seem more than half disposed to stand out in consequence. The foreman smiles, and puts up his watch: — “Well, gentlemen, what do we say, plaintiff or defendant, gentlemen? I rather think, so far as I am concerned, gentlemen, — I say, I rather think — but don’t let that influence you — I rather think the plaintiff’s the man.” Upon this, two or three other men are sure to say that they think so too — as of course they do; and then they get on very unanimously and comfortably. Ten minutes past nine!” said the little man, looking at his watch.

  48. jonmarcus says:

    I was vaguely under the impression that the “Y2K’ work was related to the somewhat similar END of (Unix) TIME in 2038. Anyone know if that’s true?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I was vaguely under the impression that the “Y2K’ work was related to the somewhat similar END of (Unix) TIME in 2038. Anyone know if that’s true?

      No direct relationship, though they’re the same kind of problem. I don’t think a paperwork requirement for Y2K prep would cover 32-bit Unix epoch prep.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think it was more like a regulation that they never bothered to remove, but no one was bothering to service anyway.

  49. briancpotter says:

    Pretty neat to open up SSC and see a link to a blog post I wrote 4 years ago (I wrote about the Roman concrete).

    • Sparky Z says:

      As a fellow structural engineer and SSC reader, I just want to say that I love your blog! I’m at work right now, but I picked a couple of articles at random (“Solving Stress Problems with Soap Bubbles” which I randomly happen to know a lot about, and “Calculating Period and WEIRD Buildings”, which I had no idea about!) I’m impressed by your choice of interesting atopics, your grasp of the technical and historical details, and the clear, engaging, and insightful way you present them. I’ll probably binge-read the whole archive tonight.

      I just wish there were more of it. Any particular reason you stopped writing? Is there any other venue where I can follow your writing? Or are there any similar blogs you can recommend?

    • CatCube says:

      I want to echo Sparky Z about your blog being really interesting.

  50. Anon. says:

    Here’s another recent growth mindset study.

    we did not find evidence to support the notion that holding more of a growth mindset results in greater academic persistence

    • john1781 says:

      The study mentioned in the original post doesn’t actually have strong effect sizes either. The strongest effect of the mindset treatment was on post-treatment mindset (R-squared of .075). The effects on actual performance were very small with R-squareds of around .01 or lower. This means that only 1% of the variance in performance was explained by the mindset treatment.

  51. Kaj Sotala says:

    The Australian resume study raises the question – we know about publication bias and only the sexiest-sounding studies being published/getting publicity; studies which find bias against women and minorities are likely to be circulated a *lot* more than results like this, which go against the mainstream political narrative. How representative are the occasional news about studies that do support the standard narrative?

    May also be noteworthy that different subcultures likely have different hiring practices. A lot of the studies that find discrimination in favor of men are about hiring in business, whereas this one covered hiring among Australian public servants. One could expect business and government to attract different personality types, thus leading to different discrimination patterns.

    Looking a bit, I found one meta-analysis that looks relevant (Davison & Burke 2000: Sex Discrimination in Simulated Employment Contexts: A Meta-analytic Investigation); based on a brief skim, this study apparently found that men are discriminated against when a job is perceived as stereotypically female, women are discriminated against when a job is perceived as stereotypically male, and women are discriminated against when the resumes contain less information that would be relevant for the actual job. But that meta-analysis is almost 20 years old by now.

    • greenshackle says:

      Publication bias may be part of the story, but the evidence is consistent with a world where most organizations have a pro-white-men bias, but organizations that voluntarily gender and race-blind their application process are precisely the ones that are likely to be have a pro-minority bias (since they are pro-diversity).

      GitHub had the same result when they gender-blinded applications for ElectronConf speakers. They selected too many white men so they threw away the results since they were ‘against their values’.

      So when GitHub or the Australian gov tries gender-blinding, they eliminate their pro-minority bias. When a study sends gender and race-swapped CVs to a bunch of unsuspecting companies, they find pro-white-men bias.

      • GregQ says:

        I guess that means that Tech has a pro-women bias, right?

        interviewing.io did a study masking people’s voices

        After running the experiment, we ended up with some rather surprising results. Contrary to what we expected (and probably contrary to what you expected as well!), masking gender had no effect on interview performance with respect to any of the scoring criteria (would advance to next round, technical ability, problem solving ability). If anything, we started to notice some trends in the opposite direction of what we expected: for technical ability, it appeared that men who were modulated to sound like women did a bit better than unmodulated men and that women who were modulated to sound like men did a bit worse than unmodulated women. Though these trends weren’t statistically significant, I am mentioning them because they were unexpected and definitely something to watch for as we collect more data.

        So, got any examples where a place “blinded”, and the women did better? Or do you just claim that any place that does such an experiment is, by definition, “pro-diversity”?

        • The Nybbler says:

          I guess that means that Tech has a pro-women bias, right?

          Uh, yes?

          • GregQ says:

            So, it’s a heavily male industry w/ a pro-female bias.

            IOW: Claims that “X are underrepresented in Y, therefore Y is biased against X” are complete garbage. Yes?

          • The Nybbler says:

            IOW: Claims that “X are underrepresented in Y, therefore Y is biased against X” are complete garbage. Yes?

            Yes. You’ve been posting here since January, you should know that’s not a particularly controversial statement around here.

            The pro-woman bias is blatantly obvious in tech; there’s no subtlety about it. From diversity hiring to diversity programs to a well-supported conference dedicated to women in tech to calls for quotas among tech board members (and in other things).

            While it’s obvious, though, it’s not of overriding priority, which drives activists up a wall.

          • Aapje says:

            Also, that bias mostly doesn’t work because it is mainly intended to counteract issues that don’t actually have a meaningful impact on female representation.

            The actual truth is not compatible with the oppressor/oppressed model.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I thought the argument with the “if you send out resumes with black-sounding names you don’t get called” study was that the names were perhaps confusing race and class. The “white” names were not low status names, but the black names were. I’d like to see how many call backs “Cletus” (low status white) gets compared to…well, this is kind of a problem because “high-status black name” is hard to specify. You’d probably have to pick something that sounds like an African immigrant, but that introduces an entirely different type of bias.

        In the absence of high-status black names (that are easily recognized as high-status black names) I’m not sure a fair study can be conducted.

        • The Nybbler says:

          In the absence of high-status black names (that are easily recognized as high-status black names)

          <Standard white Name> Washington and <Standard white Name> Jackson would be the only classes I can come up with. The last name “Jefferson” is only about 50% black.

          I suppose <Anything> Obama would work too, but there’s rather few of those 🙂

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, I think middle/upper class blacks are more likely to name their kids something racial ambiguous, like “Ben” or “Thomas.” There are not too many doctors named “KeShawn” (nor “Cletus”). So what the study actually shows is “racially ambiguous name that does not signify low status” vs “low status and black.”

        • Brad says:

          I’d bet Elijah is disproportionately black, though I’m not sure if it is majority black.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Even if it is, it doesn’t register that way for me. That is, I get no mental picture of an “Elijah” the way I do for a “Cletus” or a “Tyrone.” Even if that name happens to be majority black, do the people reading the resumes know it?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’d guess Elijah (with no or an ambigious last name) as Jewish (and thus probably white).

          • Aapje says:

            The first name that pops up with me for Elijah is Elijah Wood, who is quite pale.

          • Randy M says:

            In college I had dorm mates with the names Elijah (black) and Elisha (white). I think the latter was a pastor’s kid.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s plausible that there should be some research on what names get seen as black or white before trying to find out how names affect how resumes get reacted to.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nancy, I think the other problem is that I don’t know if “non-low status names readily identifiable as black” exist.

            “Cletus” and “Bubba” are white and low status.

            “DeShawn” and “Sheniqua” are black and low status

            “James” is ambiguous, and does not signal low status.

            There are probably some names that signify “white” without status indicators, like “Chad,” but I don’t know if such names exist for blacks. What’s the black version of “Chad?”

            ETA: Here’s the original study. Here are the names used:

            White Female
            Emily
            Anne
            Jill
            Allison
            Sarah
            Meredith
            Laurie
            Carrie
            Kristen

            African American Female
            Aisha
            Keisha
            Tamika
            Lakisha
            Tanisha
            Latoya
            Kenya
            Latonya
            Ebony

            White Male
            Neil
            Geoffrey
            Brett
            Brendan
            Greg
            Todd
            Matthew
            Jay
            Brad

            African American Male
            Rasheed
            Tremayne
            Kareem
            Darnell
            Tyrone
            Jamal
            Hakim
            Leroy
            Jermaine

        • ilikekittycat says:

          The fact that it’s easy to come up with low-status and high-status stereotypes of White names at the drop of a hat, but high-status stereotypes of (specifically) African-American names are much harder to think of than low-status ones kinda makes the point by itself

          • Aapje says:

            No, it merely shows that the upper class has ‘universal culture,’ while the lower classes are far more racially segregated culturally.

            It doesn’t tell us anything about racial discrimination by employers. If employers treat Cletus and Deshawn poorly because they are both coded as lower class/deplorables, while James gets treated well regardless of skin color, then employers discriminate by class, not by race.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No one denies that blacks have traditionally had lower status/been lower class. The question is are employers perpetuating that via racial bias. If from the study we can’t tell if the employers are discriminating based on race or class then we can’t solve the problem. If it turns they just don’t like low class people (i.e., both DeShawn from the ghetto and Cletus from the trailer park are passed over while Jamal from Harvard is called back) then subjecting the employers to anti-racial bias training is a waste of time. They’re still going to dump DeShawn’s application next time, because they were never dumping DeShawn because he was black to begin with, they were dumping him because he was Not Our Class.

          • albatross11 says:

            Interesting question: Are there names that would signal “upper/upper-middle class black” to other blacks, but that would signal either “generic name” or “generic black” to whites?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11:

            Maybe not first names, but there are surnames especially common among African-Americans. According to Wikipedia of the top 100 names in the US, only “Jackson” is more commonly black than white, but there are other names that are more commonly black than white that are recognizably Anglo (you’re not going to run into many white guys with Nigerian last names, but you’re also not going to run into many black people whose families have been in the US for a long time with those last names; they’re mostly the province of immigrants or the descendants of recent immigrants).

            If you saw a name like “Christopher Jackson”, the smart money would be on Chris being black, but the margin is pretty narrow (although if someone gives you 50-50 odds, take it, and if they foolishly give good odds, thinking any black person is less likely to have a given name than any white person, take it). It’s not as coded as seeing “Meredith” (middle class or up white coded) versus “Tanisha” (generally, lower-class black coded) or “Jim-Bob” versus “Tyrone” (both lower-class coded, although it would be interesting to explore whether better-off white people or black people are more eager to escape association with their poorer kin – are you more likely to run into a middle-class Jim-Bob or a middle-class Tyrone?).

    • PedroS says:

      I think there are lots of missing data on that Australian study. I have read it and no individual data are shown regarding the likelihood of each CV being selected in each of the three situations (the unnamed CV, and the two controls where CV have opposite-gendered names) . We also do not know if all CV are equally likely to be selected, whether comparisons take into account the (eventual) diffference in CV strength, etc. All in all, it is an intriguing study, but I would not use it to claim any lack of bias against women/non-anglo-celtic Australians. And I speak as someone who feels that bias/sexism/racism/etc. is much less prevalent than popular media discourse, and who is therefore likely to grant more charity to this study.

      PS: I cringed at the line in this study where the authors completely mangle the explanation of p-values.

      • ashlael says:

        The study would be utterly unsurprising to anyone with experience of the Australian public service. When I apply for public service jobs I always choose the “prefer not to specify” option when asked about my race, in the hope that it improves my chances (I’m too honest to falsely claim to be Aboriginal).

        The study may indeed be badly conducted, but fundamentally it is just discovering that the sky is blue. Whether the results are more broadly relevant is the bigger question.

        EDIT: Let me just add though that the biggest bias in the APS for sure is not race or gender based, but in favour of existing public servants. People in the APS get very pissed and resentful if an outsider gets a job ahead of someone who’s already in. It’s weird.

    • Spookykou says:

      A bit of an aside, but as I understand it my company spends a great deal of money on HR and hiring, do these studies that send out fake CVs compensate the companies for wasting their time?

      • Aapje says:

        Do you usually get compensation offered for the surveys that you get?

        I think that the answer is the same for that as for companies who get subjected to these things.

        • If you get a survey it says it’s a survey and you are free not to answer if you don’t want to, no? If someone sends you what claims to be a job application but is really part of an experiment, that’s fraud. A very different situation.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I was pointing out that there is quite a bit of ‘do this labor for me for free’ mindset about. I would argue that such a mindset is strongly linked to the willingness to make people do labor for free by means of deception.

            Also, a very large percentage of surveys I have been asked to take involved fraud, where the most common type of fraud was to lie about the amount of time it takes to answer, where the suggested time frequently can only be achieved if you don’t think at all about your answers (suggesting that they want you to give random answers, which is a rather good suggestion to teach them a lesson; but (un)fortunately I am not psychopathic enough to derive pleasure from messing with people).

            I’ve also had a survey supposedly about how much I travel ask me about the income level of my parents…seriously. I get that one might want to correlate the answers on the travel questions to other traits of the person, but there is a limit.

          • thad says:

            I’m highly skeptical of the claim that it’s fraud. It might be dishonest, but I don’t see how it’s fraud.

          • Brad says:

            The elements of civil fraud are:
            1) the making of a statement, 2) the falsity of the statement, 3) an intent to deceive, called “scienter”, 4) reasonable reliance on the statement by the injured party and 5) injury sustained as the result of the reliance.

            I don’t see why a fake job application as part of study couldn’t meet those elements. The biggest issue is going to be that damages are nominal. Even a class action might have trouble collecting much.

      • PedroS says:

        From what I remember, this specific study was sent to people who know it was a test, though they did not knew what the test was about.

  52. Anon. says:

    The restaurant worker thing is about paying taxes on tips as a side-effect of the minimum wage increase.

  53. sohois says:

    The Centre for a Stateless Society proposition seems to completely fall apart when you consider the University system. Their constant descriptions of “oligopolistic corporations” already seems somewhat peculiar given cost disease was largely highlighted in government spending on education, infrastructure and healthcare. Perhaps oligopolies are an issue in healthcare, but subway construction? Certainly I can’t imagine anyone arguing that universities do not represent quite a competitive market – public, private and for-profit; campus and distance based; high and low rankings; etc. etc. Who has the oligopoly power here to drive up costs? Are the thousands of US universities all colluding?

    Then there is the discussion of accounting. Perhaps they do it differently in America, but employee costs are typically not considered direct costs and are regarded as another overhead. Direct costs are typically those that vary with the amount of units produced. Education and healthcare, for this reason, don’t really have direct costs as there isn’t a reasonable measure of ‘units produced’. He also makes a reference to cost plus pricing. This is normally considered to be a naive approach to pricing of goods, where you simply take the production cost, add say 10% to cover overheads and profit, and call it a day. Again, with healthcare and education it is nearly impossible to measure direct production costs so you would not use cost plus pricing. Finally, there is this idea that retained earnings have become larger and larger. Where has this come from? We would have noticed large increases in profit margins if retained earnings were becoming larger and larger, and once more for government run industries it would certainly show up if e.g. education was having loads of surplus income left over. Even if we look at private industry, the principal agent problem has not become so acute that shareholders just sit around as their firms piss away dividends on vanity projects.

    In the original cost disease post I actually put forward the idea that ballooning executive salaries could be a cause, and that private firms might also have experienced cost disease. However, this analysis seems to not really have anything to do with cost disease. The author already knew their conclusion and just started writing about private corporations hoarding money for executives, which is nothing to do with the original post.

    • Sam Reuben says:

      Actually, I think a lot of what they’re saying makes sense if we understand “retained earnings” a little more loosely. Take public education, for example: they take in no profits, so of course they don’t have what we’d call “retained earnings.” Instead, we have excess budget from funding spikes, which the administration has to decide what to do with. One option, of course, is to try and return that money to the state. This has been done by nobody ever. Another option is to raise teacher salaries. This is sensible in one dimension, but isn’t very exciting, and won’t get the administrators any attention. The third option is to come up with some big and thrilling new program, like getting iPads for all the students. This will cost a lot of money, but will get attention to the administration and be a “big” enough idea to justify increasing their salaries. Is it any wonder that this is what the administration will choose, time and time again?

      The university model seems to fall under the same umbrella, except this time the profits are coming from tuition. The administrators get to decide whether to build more facilities, which will garner them attention and fame and perhaps promotions or better deals at other institutions, or else to lower tuition and increase professor salaries. As you mentioned, education doesn’t have “a reasonable measure of ‘units produced'” (besides students who have graduated, which inflates class size massively and explains the everyone-needs-college drive) so there’s no way for the administration to prove that they’re giving a better education, but simply that they’re giving a better “college experience.” As such, labor costs stagnate, administrative costs rise, useless infrastructure costs rise, and prices skyrocket. This continues to work effectively within the model proposed by the Center, which is better described as “perverse incentives in administration cause nightmarish inefficiencies” than “hoarding money for executives.”

      All in all, I think a fairly good way to summarize the problem is as a twofold illness: on the one hand, shameful individual decisions and morality which raise costs to unacceptable levels due to personal greed, and on the other, a structure of economy and society which incentivizes this kind of wasteful behavior. Both of these will need to change in order for prices to go down, and they hopefully will soon, before the US can infect the rest of the world too badly.

      That said, the Center is definitely more than a little ideological in nature. They would do well to try and examine how the same fundamental flaw of greed plays out in small actors and state actors as well as in large private actors. Take that J.C. Penney debacle from a few years back, for example: they tried to be honest, but consumers made choices based on ignorant greed and rewarded those retailers who were exploiting their greed. A similarity can be found with people who choose more expensive colleges, for example. It’s all part of this illness, in my own eyes, at least.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Thanks! that was a lot clearer than the original.

        But the original claims that it is talking about for-profit companies. In fact, it seems to me to be making a completely different argument that hospitals are paid cost-plus by the insurance company. There is some tension that it is claiming that the hospitals are few enough to avoid competing on price, but that the insurance companies are powerful enough to impose cost-plus pricing, so that rather than hospitals returning large dividends to their shareholders, they have to come up with excuses to raise their own costs, with the result that charities and for-profit hospitals spend on all the same things.

        • Sam Reuben says:

          Yeah, that’s part of why I backed off on the Center towards the end. I think it gives an excellent bit of analysis, but it doesn’t solve cost disease by itself. That sums up a lot of Marxism, as a matter of fact.

          Honestly, healthcare should be nudged just the smallest bit to the side with all this. Although I think the root cause is still on the level of greed and associated structures, healthcare has a lot of bonus factors, like the insurance companies, the different kinds of hospitals, government bureaus, and of course the gnarly business about it dealing with literal life and death. There’s probably a lot more mixed up in healthcare than just trying to spend more to look good as an administrator, which is why I’m in general favor of trying to overhaul the American healthcare system (although I’m not expert enough to know exactly how it should be done, except for a vague sense that at least one pillory might be involved).

          So yes, I think your criticism is well-founded. I simply prefer trying to expose and reuse structural elements over setting things aside, and I think there are some really good, if misused, structural elements in the Center piece. Hence the drawn-out support of something which I have to admit I don’t believe.

        • static says:

          I agree completely with the assessment that the focus on “for-profit companies” makes the analysis largely irrelevant. Cost disease happens more in non-profit situations than profit situations.

          To a large degree the cost disease tends to occur in situations where the market (or lack of market) price is set indirectly, in such a way that the consumer of the good or service is not paying the full cost. This lack of competitive price pressure on suppliers from consumers allows costs to rise.

          The so-called solutions offered by the article are the ridiculous sort of interventions that assume that human incentives can be eliminated by dictate from some unknown master, and that concepts like the means of production still apply in a knowledge-work economy where people themselves are the means of production. It’s shallow, fallacious Marxism.

      • sohois says:

        I did think that admin salaries could be an equivalent cause in universities or education, but it seems like if this was the case, then it would be noticeable in overall wage costs. But people have looked at labour costs for these industries and it doesn’t seem like it accounts for nearly enough of the rise in overall costs. It feels like society should have enough of a grasp on the principal agent problem by this time for ‘status seeking manager’ to not cause the costs of certain industries to dectuple.

        In addition, bloated admin still doesn’t seem like it accounts for the massive increase in infrastructure costs.

        Tangentially related, I figured this article that popped up in the subreddit would be of interest:

        http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-man-builds-park-stairs-for-550-irking-city-after-65-000-estimate-1.3510237

        tl;dr: A local park had a slightly dangerous slope in it’s path, so the local government decided to build a small staircase. They expected a price from 65000 to 150000. A man who used the park decided to just take matters into his own hands and built a staircase in an afternoon, for 550.

        • The Nybbler says:

          They expected a price from 65000 to 150000. A man who used the park decided to just take matters into his own hands and built a staircase in an afternoon, for 550.

          Right, but he didn’t do a feasibility study first, nor an environmental impact statement to determine the effect on runoff. He didn’t test the soil to verify the absence of contaminants released by disturbing it. He probably didn’t use an Approved Supplier for his lumber, and also failed to do a study determining tradeoffs between engineered and treated lumber. He didn’t follow the Toronto Safety Code for Public Staircases (if such a document exists, which I bet it does in one form or another). He didn’t submit his plans to the engineering department for approval. He didn’t provide a statement demonstrating his First Nation representation among the labor on the project, nor one showing he was exempt. Nor did he take into account the increase in the city’s liability premiums for having the staircase. He didn’t hold a public hearing so the various NIMBY groups could object. Things are a lot cheaper when you can just f–ing DO them and not ask everyone in the world for approval.

          In all seriousness, I would expect a company which does commercial decks could have built this staircase to the appropriate standards for a few thousand all tolled. But the government probably has all sorts of bad reasons they couldn’t just do that.

          • Deiseach says:

            But since it’s a public park, the first kid who takes a tumble off the stairs or the first scammer who stages an accident will not be suing Mr $550, they’ll be suing the local council for $$$$$$$$. And the judge hearing the case will rip the council a new one for “you mean you just let some unqualified guy throw this together in an afternoon?” and award the parents or scammers those $$$$$$$.

            There’s a healthy trade in ambulance-chasing lawyers representing people who have suffered terrible awful dreadful injuries tripping over uneven paving, rough spots in the streets, and so on getting large awards from local authorities. My previous employment in local government had a family where just about every member had had a terrible fall on one stretch of pavement and gone to court and been awarded damages (it would be slanderous and indeed libelous of me to say they were fraudsters milking a cash cow, as was the shyster getting his cut in fees of the damages, so I won’t even entertain such a thought and neither should you). That’s why the bloat, in part: you have to prove you went above and beyond, and every centimetre of that stairs would have supported an elephant not to mention an eight year old kid, and it was as smooth as silk and as safe as houses, so any injuries are not due to the foreseeable negligence of the local authority.

          • Nornagest says:

            One would think that a sane legal system might conclude that people incompetent to operate sidewalks should not be on sidewalks.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Nornagest

            Solution: sidewalk operator licenses.

          • Loquat says:

            But since it’s a public park, the first kid who takes a tumble off the stairs or the first scammer who stages an accident will not be suing Mr $550, they’ll be suing the local council for $$$$$$$$. And the judge hearing the case will rip the council a new one…

            I know this is probably true, but it’s kind of hilarious when according to the linked article several people had already fallen down the steep path before the stairs were put in, and one of them broke a wrist in the process.

        • Sam Reuben says:

          To clarify: the increased costs aren’t because of the bloated admin salaries. They’re because of the incredible expenditure contortions required for the admins to justify their salaries or gain some kind of prestige. Being hailed as a visionary who’s earned their executive-class salary seems to require, for some reason or another, massive spending projects. There’s nothing attractive or sexy about an admin who just says “steady as she goes” and returns excess budget to the state or the students. As such, the amount of expenditure needed in order to funnel just a little more money to the admins is astounding. Consider the Cheney-Iraq narrative: that war was hilariously more expensive than any profit that the mercenaries ever made off of it, but since it wasn’t their money spent, they did make a profit.

          I guess another way of expressing the basic principle would be “no skin in the game,” or “administrative bloat,” or “growth mindset freeze.” By “no skin in the game,” I mean that people are playing around with money that isn’t really theirs, either corporate or not, and don’t lose a penny through waste so long as they can look good to the right people while wasting. By “administrative bloat,” I mean that there are a lot of people doing administrative work, more than there perhaps need to be, and they all want to justify their existence in fear of getting fired. This means that they need to generate projects out of thin air, or create unnecessary qualifications on existing ones, in order to be “useful” and “relevant.” Take that staircase, for example. By “growth mindset freeze,” I just mean that the kinds of decisions that one needs to make in a growth-setting are vastly different than the ones needed in a maintenance-setting, and that American organizational culture focuses on the growth mindset so much that nobody has the slightest clue what to do in a maintenance situation.

          I will admit that this has deviated quite a bit from the Center’s model, but I think elements of their analysis remain. In addition, it works quite well to explain a lot of the “problem sectors:” they all involve large numbers of administrative personnel working with money which isn’t their own and having little practical way of showing their own individual expertise within their respective systems. Public education: many administrators, government mo