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Open Thread 85.75

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

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1,081 Responses to Open Thread 85.75

  1. willachandler says:

    Over on EconLog, the thoroughgoing ignorance and misleading implications of Bryan Caplan’s recent claim “there aren’t any nephritis activists” can be remediated by reading Robin Eady’s deeply personal account “The dawn of dialysis: reminiscences of a patient” (2001), as thrillingly fleshed-out in Christopher Blagg’s “The early history of dialysis for chronic renal failure in the United States: A view From Seattle” (2007).

    As first-person physician-accounts of the early days of “nephritis activism”, Dr. Eady’s and Dr. Blagg’s narratives are (as they seem to me) seminal to any well-grounded and broad-based historical and moral appreciation of modern healthcare economics.

    The ensuing well-known, well-documented, thoroughgoing successes of nephritis activism have inspired and instructed — and continues to inspire and instruct — healthcare activists in every nation of the world.

    From Dr. Blagg’s account:

    Political developments began less than 3 years after the first Seattle patient began dialysis, but it took another 10 years of intermittent activities before Congress acted on legislation to provide almost universal Medicare entitlement to patients with chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation.

    In summary, medically-minded, morally-minded, and economically-minded SSC readers (of all political persuasions) can reasonably hope to gain broader understandings from a study of the history of (to empbrace Bryan Caplan’s phrase) “nephritis activism”.

    @article{cite-key,Author = {Eady, R.},
    Journal = {British Journal of Renal
    Medicine}, Pages = {21--24}, Title =
    {Perspective: The dawn of dialysis:
    reminiscences of a patient},
    Volume = {6}, Year = {2001}}

    @article{cite-key, Author = {Blagg,
    Christopher R.}, Journal = {American
    Journal of Kidney Diseases}, Number =
    {3}, Pages = {482--496}, Title = {The
    Early History of Dialysis for Chronic
    Renal Failure in the {U}nited {S}tates:
    A View From {S}eattle}, Volume = {49},
    Year = {2007}}

    • willachandler says:

      Errata:  Upon revisiting Bryan Caplan’s EconLog post, I found that the phrase “nephritis activists” is not Caplan’s but rather originates with Caplan’s “favorite philosopher” Michael Huemer (whose worldview Caplan is promulgating).

      For further reading, with direct relevance to this week’s SSC topic of “trust” in medical practice, see also Catherine Butler and colleagues: “The evolving ethics of dialysis in the United States: a principlist bioethics approach” (2016).

      Aside: the term ‘principlist’ refers to the widely-taught system of bioethics that is presented by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress in Principles of Biomedical Ethics (7th edition) (2013).

      Passages like the following show why Butler’s narrative is relevant to “trust” issues in medical practice:

      The Seattle Admissions and Policy Committee

      When the Seattle Artificial Kidney Center (later renamed Northwest Kidney Centers) opened in 1961, there were an estimated 5–20 candidates for maintenance dialysis per million people annually. With an estimated cost of at least $12,000 per patient each year and only three available machines, treating even that number would overwhelm the center’s capacity. …

      To choose among medically appropriate candidates, the Admissions and Policy Committee was appointed, composed of seven citizens: a lawyer, clergyman, housewife, banker, labor leader, state official, and surgeon; chosen to represent broader societal values. The panel considered several methods of allocation, including random selection and “first-come, first-served,” before ultimately settling on social worth as the main criterion for selection. …

      Social worth, in the committee’s assessment, derived from a combination of characteristics including age, sex, marital status, number of dependents, income, net worth, emotional stability, education, occupation, and potential for future societal contributions.

      An article in Life Magazine by Shana Alexander brought this “Life or Death Committee” into the public awareness …

    • willachandler says:

      Errata:  Upon revisiting Bryan Caplan’s EconLog post, I found that the claim “there aren’t any nephritis activists” is not Caplan’s but rather originates with Caplan’s “favorite philosopher” Michael Huemer (whose worldview Caplan is promulgating).

      For further reading, having direct relevance to this week’s SSC topic of “trust”, see also Catherine Butler and colleagues: “The evolving ethics of dialysis in the United States: a principlist bioethics approach” (2016).

      Aside: the term ‘principlist’ refers to the widely-taught system of bioethics that is presented by Tom Beauchamp and James Childress in Principles of Biomedical Ethics (7th edition) (2013).

      In brief, these works analyze the real-world workings of ‘Death Panels’.

      It is rational to enquire (as Bryan Caplan and Michael Huemer do not) whether the workings of vuvian” healthcare systems that are grounded in the dispassionate rationality of free-market economics — the healthcare system that the Trump Administration and Republican Party are presently working to put in-place — are morally, economically, and practically preferable to the workings of these historical “Death Panels”.

  2. Machina ex Deus says:

    Hearing Rush Limbaugh say “Leah Libresco” several times was a deeply strange experience. You can share in it here (minus the element of surprise).

    (I don’t listen to Limbaugh much—since (a) he’s on during the middle of the day, when I’ve just gotten to work, and (b) Twitter will inform me of any under-covered stories anyway—so I’m not vouching for his epistemic hygiene.)

    • Nick says:

      It’s pretty clear from what he says that Limbaugh has never heard of Leah otherwise—hearing him describe her like some kind of infinitely gullible straw liberal is funny for how far off the mark it is.

  3. Machina ex Deus says:

    I think this crowd will appreciate the following quote:

    How many of us have ever formulated in our minds what law means? I am inclined to think that the most would give a meaning that was never the meaning of the word law, at least until a very few years ago; that is, the meaning which alone is the subject of this book, statute law. The notion of law as a statute, a thing passed by a legislature, a thing enacted, made new by representative assembly, is perfectly modem, and yet it has so thoroughly taken possession of our minds, and particularly of the American mind (owing to the forty-eight legislatures that we have at work, besides the National Congress, every year, and to the fact that they try to do a great deal to deserve their pay in the way of enacting laws), that statutes have assumed in our minds the main bulk of the concept of law as we formulate it to ourselves. I guess that the ordinary newspaper reader, when he talks about ‘laws” or reads about “law,” thinks of statutes; but that is a perfectly modem concept; and the thing itself, even as we now understand it, is perfectly modem. There were no statutes within the present meaning of the word more than a very few centuries ago

    ……

    Thus at first the American people got the notion of law-making; of the making of new law, by legislatures, frequently elected; and in that most radical period of all, from about 1830 to 1860, the time of “isms” and reforms — full of people who wanted to legislate and make the world good by law, with a chance to work in thirty different States — the result has been that the bulk of legislation in this country, in the first half of the last century, is probably one thousandfold the entire law-making of England for the five centuries preceding. And we have by no means got over it yet; probably the output of legislation in this country to-day is as great as it ever was. If any citizen thinks that anything is wrong, he, or she (as it is almost more likely to be), rushes to some legislature to get a new law passed. Absolutely different is this idea from the old English notion of law as something already existing. They have forgotten that completely, and have the modern American notion of law, as a ready-made thing, a thing made to-day to meet the emergency of to-morrow.

    Popular Law-making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-making by Statute, Frederic Jesup Stimson (1910)

    (Via JK Brown at Arnold Kling’s blog.)

    • willachandler says:

      As an extension of Machina ex Deus’s interesting comment, Judge Learned Hand — nominative determinism alert! — described the joys of administrating “the Law” so conceived, as follows (from The Spirit of Liberty: Papers and Addresses of Learned Hand, 1959):

      A judge’s life, like any other, has in it much of drudgery, senseless bickering, stupid obstinacies, captious pettifogging, all disguising and obstructing the only sane purpose which can justify the whole endeavor.

      These take an inordinate part of his time: they harass and befog the bench where like any other workman he must do his work. If that were all, his life would be mere misery and he a distracted arbiter between irreconcilable extremes.

      But there is something else that makes it—anyway to those curious creatures who persist in it—a delectable calling. For when the case is all in and the turmoil stops, and after he is left alone, things begin to take form. From his pen or in his head, slowly or swiftly as his capacities admit, out of the murk the pattern emerges, his pattern, the expression of what he has seen and what he has therefore made, the impress of his self upon the not-self, upon the hitherto formless material of which he was once but a part and over which he has now become the master.

      That is a pleasure, which nobody who has felt it will be likely to underrate.

      Needless to say, this same joy in entropy-reduction is experienced by all whom society privileges to work (in the sense that Freud defined “work”) — including (but not limited to) medicine, engineering, science … farming, fishing, building, homemaking, child-rearing,  … poetry, painting, music-making … and teaching.

      Such work is “meaningful” precisely in psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s logotherapeutic sense (as discussed earlier this week on SSC).

      John Rawls’ Theory of Justice (1971), as extended by Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice (2006) to encompass the just distribution of capabilities, regards the capabilities in which Judge Hand personally rejoices, to be a primary social good, whose unequal distribution is morally justified only to the extent that the capabilities of the least privileged members of society, are by this inequality augmented.

      By so valuing human capabilities, SJWs establish solid moral grounds for their social objectives; thus the overall SJW program is, in Judge Hand’s joyously entropy-reducing legal sense, and also in Viktor Frankl’s moral and psychotherapeutic sense, both well-grounded and morally coherent.

  4. Mark says:

    Book recommendation:

    The Thirty Years War by CV Wedgwood.

    Really well written and engaging narrative history of the Thirty Years War. As someone who knew very little about the Thirty Years War (I’ve read a few wikipedia articles over the years, knew vaguely what it was about – Gustavus Adolphus, hanging trees, and Michael Caine) probably the most enjoyable history book I’ve ever read.

  5. johan_larson says:

    Could someone point me to an essay that lays out the argument against gun control, and does a good job of it? There’s a lot out there on this topic, but I’d like to save myself some research. 3,000 words would be just about right.

    And if there’s something similar for the other side of the argument, that would be welcome, too.

    • S_J says:

      A decade ago, an American (born in Germany, naturalized citizen) wrote a short and direct essay about his opposition to gun control

      He titled it “Why the gun is civilization“. It is as much about the practice of habitually carrying a firearm as it is about the general concepts of gun control.

      There are others I could link to. Some of them are longer on the cultural/legal history of the English-speaking world. Others are longer on statistics and studies.

      I think the core disagreement over firearms laws are between those who think that making firearms illegal (or making the legal paperwork around ownership and use of firearms very onerous and tedious) will do something to reduce illegal/violent actions by people who are prone to illegal/violent behavior.

    • keranih says:

      Could you narrow it down a little? I mean, *which* argument against the unabridged right of the people to keep and bear arms are you looking for a discussion of?

      • johan_larson says:

        At the length I am looking for, I expect it is going to be more a survey of the arguments, and less a definitive attempt to nail down the issue for good.

        If that’s still too broad, let’s try “it won’t work” rather than “it’s inherently wrong”.

        Is that useful?

        • keranih says:

          let’s try “it won’t work” rather than “it’s inherently wrong”

          Very useful, thank you. Can I beg of you to narrow it further – do you mean “action X will be (nearly) impossible to enact” (ie, “create and utilize a mind ray that makes all people refuse to physically grasp a firearm because they think the firearm is crawling with fireants”) or do you mean “action X won’t have (nearly) any impact on the homicide rate/mass shooting rate/suicide rate” (ie, “mail t shirts that say ‘my gun doesn’t kill people’ to all known or suspected firearms owners”)

          Of course, many things won’t impact the [rate in question] simply because they’ll never be successfully enacted, and many things are immoral to even try because they won’t impact the [rate in question] and so are, de facto, not worth the downsides.

          But I really appreciate you asking the question in this way.

        • John Schilling says:

          Does “it won’t work” really require anything more than a passing reference to Prohibition and the War on Drugs?

          OK, I suppose someone is going to suggest that guns can only be produced in giant industrial facilities which can never ever be suborned by criminals. So let me preempt that by pointing out, A: about half the opiods currently implicated in an epidemic of overdose deaths that dwarfs “gun violence”, are professionally made in giant industrial facilities, B: highly lethal automatic weapons have in the past been designed to be manufactured in extremely austere circumstances, and C: highly capable manufacturing capabilities have proliferated widely since 1943.

          People who want guns, will get them as surely as they will get their bootleg whisky. And Americans have pretty much always valued guns at least as highly as whisky. They will not consider laws that don’t allow them to own guns to have any moral significance, and the police will not enforce those laws against anyone they don’t already have reason to arrest. They will try to shut down the black-market dealers on general principle, because organized criminals are the natural adversaries of the police(*), but again see Prohibition or the War on Drugs for the equilibrium result.

          * Well, unless they are fully paid up, of course.

          • massivefocusedinaction says:

            I’ve always liked these two videos to demonstrate the austere circumstances that allow gun manufacture.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fna9WEO6BjE

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FinRqCocwGE

          • And Americans have pretty much always valued guns at least as highly as whisky.

            I’m not sure about the rest of your post, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t right. At least if you are using whiskey as a metaphor for all alcohol, which I think you are. I can’t imagine there is anywhere near the constituency for guns as there is for alcohol.

          • John Schilling says:

            I can’t imagine there is anywhere near the constituency for guns as there is for alcohol.

            The NRA has somewhat over four million members; is there a pro-alcohol organization that can match those numbers?

            In terms of actual users/owners, it’s going to be hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison, but as of 2015 approximately 43% of American households own guns and approximately 56% of American adults drink alcohol at least once a month. So, roughly comparable in casual usage, with firearms having the edge in hardcore political activists.

          • CatCube says:

            @massivefocusedinaction

            I’ve always liked this series on YouTube, where a guy built a gun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfvJtjbY9TM

            (A complete playlist for the build is here:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8rkllZFxx4&list=PL3mdxBjtKzBZuMJysETkVr8SdncNZplxy)

            He made a .25 caliber semiautomatic in his garage with simple tools, or tooling you can make with simple tools (specifically, his jig for cutting rifling.)

            Further videos from that channel show more elaborate pistols as he learned.

            Making a firearm is legal, BTW, so long as you’re allowed to own the completed product.

          • onyomi says:

            The NRA has somewhat over four million members; is there a pro-alcohol organization that can match those numbers?

            If there were a lot of congresspersons still tweeting about the need for more “common sense” restrictions on alcohol, there probably would be?

          • Charles F says:

            @John Schilling
            There’s one pro-alcohol group with nine million members in the US. college greek stuff

          • Deiseach says:

            The NRA has somewhat over four million members; is there a pro-alcohol organization that can match those numbers?

            I have no idea, since there doesn’t seem to be one single body in the USA that represents everyone, but there are certainly all kinds of groups representing various sectors of the alcohol industry, from vineyards to wholesalers to the hospitality sector, one of that last being the American Beverage Institute.

            And they seem to have been running ads against Utah’s new, stricter, drink-driving laws.

            They claim to have “thousands” of members, but their strength comes not from numbers but from being a lobbying group. I imagine if you identified and added up all the pro-alcohol groups, bodies, industry representative organisations, etc. you might hit a million or more.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            And Americans have pretty much always valued guns at least as highly as whisky. They will not consider laws that don’t allow them to own guns to have any moral significance, and the police will not enforce those laws against anyone they don’t already have reason to arrest.

            Some of the best whisky I’ve ever tasted was illegally fermented and distilled. The man who handed me the glass of it is a prosperous retired tech executive who now lives in a rural county in a wealthy blue coastal state, and distills as part of his tinkering with tech. hobbies.

            The sheriff of his county knows he makes it, because twice a year, for Christmas and for the Fourth of July, he gives that sheriff a glass quart bottle of the stuff as a gift.

            Oh, and he also owns a metal shop and likes to shoot…

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      This focuses more on mass shootings vs homicide, but isn’t bad.

    • S_J says:

      You could also look at statistical analysis done by Leah Libresco, who tried to figure out what gun-controls laws would work…and came to the conclusion that most proposed gun-control laws would have little effect on most deaths-by-firearm.

      From some research that I did five or so years ago:
      (Using Fatal Injury Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Dept. of Health)

      (A) In the typical year, there are more Unintentional deaths in cars than there are Intentional deaths by firearm in the U.S.

      (B) In the typical year, about 60% of the death-by-firearm cases are suicide

      (C) Of the remainder, almost all are homicide.

      (D) A small fraction (something less than 2%) of deaths by firearm are coded as “Unintentional”. A similar fraction are coded as “Intentional/Police Intervention”.

      (E) Most homicide-by-firearms victims in the United States are over the age of 14, but under the age of 30.

      I learned other things, from other sources. (Generally, Wikipedia listings of homicide-rates-by-State, or equivalent listings for provinces in Canada.)

      (1) Canada has a national average homicide rate that is lower than the rate in the United States. But certain Canadian provinces (Manitoba and Sasketchewan, if I remember correctly) have rates equal to, or higher than, their American neighbors (North Dakota and Montana, if I remember correctly).

      (2) Inside the U.S., some States have strict gun-control laws, and some have very loose gun-control laws. These have little correlation with homicide rates inside the State. Examples like Vermont-vs-NewYork point one way, while Hawaii-vs-Arizona point the other way.

      (3) Generally in the U.S., ownership of guns is a suburban or rural things. But violence involving the use of guns is an urban thing.

      Most of these lead me to the conclusion that laws about the use of guns don’t have a strong effect on the rates of crime with firearms.

      • Artificirius says:

        Saskatchewan*

        Note that I am actually reasonably impressed that you got as close as you did presumably from memory.

      • Anatoly says:

        Libresco’s claims are very weird to me.

        – in the WP article, she says “I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress.”

        Australia had 13 mass shootings in the 18 years before the buyback and 0 mass shootings in the 20 years after the buyback. I don’t know if that’s “clear evidence”, but it certainly looks suggestive. How many prior mass shootings should Australia have had, for their number to be reduced to zero to have impressed Libresco? More importantly, why not mention this number in the WP article and let the readers decide if that looks convincing or not? Weirdly, even in the much more detailed 538 article Libresco expresses this number in the following form: “averaging about two mass shootings every three years from 1979 to 1996”. Huh? There’s been approximately the same number of years between 1979 and 1996 as between 1996 and now. Why not just say 13 versus 0?

        Then for the effect of the buyback program in Australia on suicide and homicide rates, Libresco relies primarily on what looks like a very weak 2016 study from JAMA that merely looks at annual crime rates and tries to see if the already ongoing crime decline accelerated after the buyback. Seeing as crime was falling before and after the buyback, it’s not easy to discern what kind of effect the buyback program had. That’s why the most prominent study that claims significant effects, Leigh and Neill’s 2010, tries to get more data by looking for correlations between percentages of weapons bought-back in different Australia territories, and changes in crime rates in those territories. It finds a very significant positive effect on suicides and a much less significant and less certain effect on homicides. It’s prominently linked from the Wikipedia page on the buyback program. For all I know it could be flawed, but it certainly looks much more interesting and serious than the JAMA 2016 study (and has 47 citations to that study’s 7). I know about it because I took an hour or two to research the Australian program and the controversy over its effects a few days ago after a Facebook argument. Libresco doesn’t mention it at all.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          13 vs 0 is pretty good evidence that something has changed between those two periods, but why think it was the buy-back? There are lots of other potential causes, like whatever caused the secular trend in homicides, and even in non-firearm homicides and suicides. The more you can narrow the time-frame, the more you should believe that you’ve found an abrupt change. A reason to emphasize the rate of 2/3 per year is that it means you can’t narrow the time frame very much.

        • Vorkon says:

          Wikipedia seems to think that, while there haven’t been many mass SHOOTINGS in Australia since 1996 (though, according to this list there was at least one, and several others attempted mass shootings where the shooter was stopped just before he passed the threshold of four. And it doesn’t give a link to details on the one that reached 5, so maybe only part of the killing was done with a gun?) there have been a similar number of mass KILLINGS, just that the preferred weapon seems to have shifted from guns to arson, bombs, and vehicles, of which there were far fewer before 1996.

    • Vorkon says:

      It doesn’t go into too much detail about the research and statistics, but I’ve always found Larry Correia’s big gun control essay to be a good overview of most of the relevant pro-gun arguments:

      http://monsterhunternation.com/2015/06/23/an-opinion-on-gun-control-repost/

  6. onyomi says:

    We can look around us and see how much bigger and fatter everyone is nowadays than 50 or 100 years ago as a result of changes to our diet and exercise patterns (and mysterious other factors like overuse of antibiotics killing our gut flora??).

    Is it possible that changes to our brains and/or nervous systems as a result of, for example, TV, computers, smart phones, and/or nutrition, prescription drugs, social isolation, etc. are equally dramatic, but invisible? The Flynn Effect would be one example, though so too, potentially, might be the widely shared (if not necessarily accurate for being so) that people have shorter attentions spans?

    • powerfuller says:

      I read a book a while ago that argued the internet is, in fact, affecting our brains and dramatically shortening our attention spans: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. It was decently written, at least in being pleasant to read, and it does cite a few studies proving his point, though I never looked into the studies themselves. At the very least, it’s an entirely plausible theory that meshes well with a lot of anecdata, including my own — I definitely feel it is harder to keep focused the more I am using the internet, smartphones, etc.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        “The Internet” is far too broad a subject. Nothing useful will come from generalizing about it as a whole. I read an excerpt of Carr’s book when it came out, and was not impressed.

        In spite of the fact that I’m “in tech”, I don’t use it as much as the typical American seems to: I don’t have a smart phone, I’ve never used Facebook, and I’m a recent and mostly-infrequent user of Twitter (infrequent binges, basically).

        I get distracted by networking technology a lot: mostly the SSC comments section for the last year or two, but also following links around various sites and mounting accidental expeditions through Wikipedia (where just yesterday I got a much better grasp of Alveolates and other Heterokonts, a grasp which makes no practical difference to my life whatsoever, even if the meeting I was in at the time didn’t, either).

        But (and this is important) I also use it to help me focus. When I was a student programmer, I noticed I frequently lost track of higher goals: I’d search a code base for some variable, find all the references, then forget why I wanted them in the first place. So I started keeping an outline of goals, sub-goals, and sub-sub-goals, which helped tremendously.

        A couple decades ago, I moved that outline from paper to a text file, gradually added some emacs macros to handle repetitive actions (e.g. checking off a to-do), and hosted that text file on my home server. Once in a while at work, I’ll realize I’ve lost either the thread of what I’m doing, or the particular project I’m doing it for; at that point, I back up and establish a written context again.

        I’m convinced there are a lot of opportunities for current levels of technology to assist in cognition (like email used to), rather than disrupting it (like email does now). But many of these require cooperation from a group of other people (e.g. a wiki), so they’re harder to achieve than, say, just writing a flash-card program.

        If you think of technology as the problem, you’ll miss all the ways in which technology can be part of the solution.

        • Once in a while at work, I’ll realize I’ve lost either the thread of what I’m doing, or the particular project I’m doing it for; at that point, I back up and establish a written context again.

          Just yesterday I was doing the equivalent in a different context. I’m working on my third novel, a sequel to Salamander. Just as with programming, it feels as though I should be able to hold the whole thing in my head but in practice I can’t. I had a long chapter I wanted to rewrite so I created another document, listed the different chunks of the chapter, figured out how to move them around to work better, then implemented those changes on the text of the draft. I also updated my outline of the whole book, which is about one line per chapter.

          All of that would be possible with pen and paper but much easier with word processor technology, and would be still easier if I was using software that let me switch between the full text and an outline mode.

          Actually, I am (MSWord), but I don’t have the document formatted to take advantage of it. Perhaps I should.

  7. Matt M says:

    Could I request a steelman of the proposition that gains to the very rich/elite do not benefit society?

    It would seem to me that any additional money flowing to the top 0.01% is still put to work somehow. Even if a smaller percentage of it is spent on “consumption goods,” it’s invested somewhere. Likely in private equity or hedge funds that actually do buy large positions and play a huge rule in actually funding start-ups and small businesses. But even if they dumped it into a low-yield savings account, Bank of America will then still loan it out to people who need loans for various purposes.

    It would seem to me that the only possible way this could be true is if they literally just took all of their money and stored it in a giant vault of gold coins, ala Scrooge McDuck. Is the assumption that yes, this is what they actually do? Or is there something else I’m missing here?

    • rlms says:

      Who believes in that proposition?

      • Matt M says:

        So if the rich suddenly got a lot richer, would we expect excess reserves to rise dramatically across the board?

        Banks aren’t (normally) in the business of sitting around and hoarding a bunch of money and not doing much with it either.

        • Mark says:

          As far as the individual is concerned, bank deposits just exist at some level.

          It’s not like bank deposits disappear when I buy something, or invest in something – the ownership of the deposit is transferred to someone else.

          And, if my business does very well, there won’t be more bank deposits unless a financial institution decides to create it.

          Is it sensible to make a distinction between ‘real’ and financial wealth?

          • Matt M says:

            You’re not wrong, but I feel like you aren’t answering my question.

            If the top 0.01% in America suddenly had their wealth increased by 20% (with no changes to anyone else’s wealth), would that increase excess reserve ratios at banks? Yes or no?

            Edit: To re-state, it looks like we agree that there would be three options.

            1. They convert the wealth into gold and hoard it in a vault somewhere
            2. They give the money to banks, which benefits the broader economy through loans, start-up capital, etc.
            3. They give the money to banks, but the banks convert it into gold and hoard it in a vault somewhere

            Which of the three do you think happens? Or are there more options I’m missing?

          • Mark says:

            It would make all of the banks go instantly bankrupt if the value of the top 0.01%’s bank deposits suddenly increased by 20%.

            If it was an increase in non-financial wealth, it wouldn’t make any difference to the level of bank reserves, unless there was a corresponding increase in financial assets.

            When you convert wealth, it’s only a conversion for you. The amount of wealth in each form for the economy as a whole stays the same.

          • Matt M says:

            Mark,

            I feel like you’re dishonestly avoiding the question by going off on economic tangents.

            Let’s say that my huge gain to the top 0.01% is not in the form of “their bank balances suddenly increase” but “they all discover gold buried in their backyards”

            What do they do with the gold?

            Assuming the answer is “give it to banks”, what do the banks do with it?

          • Brad says:

            Dig a different hole in the ground and put the gold in that one.

          • Mark says:

            They wouldn’t give the gold to the banks though, would they?

            I suppose that, lets say a load of farmland just suddenly appeared in the middle of the sahara – well, I guess it’s likely that an increase in assets is going to make the bank more willing to lend money – they’ll increase the money supply.

            But I think they would probably be lending the money to the people with the new (non-monetary) assets. Not Joe Blow.
            If they make a big success of running the farms it would probably all turn out well for society and everyone would get more/cheaper/better corn – but if we go back to the original example and imagine that it were just gold that the rich guys had found, now what’s the advantage to ordinary people?
            It’s possible that there will be a similar increase in money supply and that this might have good effects for ordinary people, but I don’t think it’s guaranteed.

        • Iain says:

          My understanding is that, yeah, reserve ratios would probably go up.

          There would presumably be other effects — a boom in the yacht construction sector, and so on — but I think it would be pretty surprising if handing the rich a huge pile of money didn’t increase reserve ratios. If I had to estimate how much, I would guess that reserve ratios would increase in proportion to the overall amount of the windfall that ended up in savings accounts, minus whatever money gets lent out to new opportunities in polo horse rental, etc.

          Real Economists are invited to step in and correct me, of course.

          • Matt M says:

            In the short term it certainly would, I agree. The banks certainly won’t be able to lend all of the new money out immediately (nor would doing so be a good idea).

            But what about in the long term? At some point a new equilibrium is attained, yes?

          • Thinking of this in terms of handing people money isn’t very useful, since if you print a bunch of money and give it out that doesn’t increase the amount of wealth in the world. You can’t eat dollars.

            The relevant question is what happens if valuable resources, such as land or oil, appear and belong to the rich people.

          • onyomi says:

            The relevant question is what happens if valuable resources, such as land or oil, appear and belong to the rich people.

            It seems like we have to be better off if the new resources just appear in addition to resources that already existed. Except insofar as the rich use their now greater wealth to say, fund the campaigns of bad politicians.

            However, I am wondering about the following: libertarians like George Riesman will argue that, all else equal, it would actually be better for the economy to give transfer payments to rich people than poor people because the rich use a larger percentage of their income on investments likely to increase the capital stock, etc. while the poor just consume most of their income.

            This argument seems true to me insofar as we just mean “money,” that is “bidding power” over the resources already existing. If we just printed money and gave it to the rich they’d likely command resources in a way more likely to produce economic growth than if we just printed new money and gave it to the poor.

            But what if we just created a new oil well out of thin air and had the option of giving the title to a rich person or a poor person? One might argue that the poor person has a greater incentive to see the well become productive now, while the rich person might sit on it or something for a while until the time is ripe (or more likely, the poor person might lack the resources to develop it). Most likely, the poor person just sells the well to a rich person who then develops it, so maybe the economy was better off just giving it to the rich person in the first place anyway?

            (Just talking here about the economy and what grows its productive capacity, not Rawlsian justice, etc.)

          • Chalid says:

            The relevant question is what happens if valuable resources, such as land or oil, appear and belong to the rich people.
            It seems like we have to be better off if the new resources just appear in addition to resources that already existed. Except insofar as the rich use their now greater wealth to say, fund the campaigns of bad politicians.

            You can construct a situation where we aren’t better off, though it’s artificial. Assume diminishing marginal utility. Note that new resources lower the price for existing producers of that resource. If the preexisting producers of that resource are poor, and the consumers of it are rich, then the harm to preexisting producers can in principle outweigh the benefits to the new producers and the consumers.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Until QE in 2008, excess reserves in banks were kept at a _very_ low level; less than 10% of total reserve requirement.

        Since QE, excess reserves are off the chart and I suspect much chicanery, but at least until 2008, bank lending was clearly limited by deposits.

    • willachandler says:

      With a view to the past, the grotesquely unempathic “Cluster B rationalism” that excessive economic inequality has historically fostered is vividly illuminated by (Confederate President) Jefferson Davis’ autobiographical A Short History of the Confederate States of America (1890).

      Jefferson’s self-reported self-image is a “peaceful planter”:

      p. 25 (1852)  “Retiring from public life and occupied with the peaceful pursuits of a planter…”

      p. 59 (1861)  “I was engaged at the time in the peaceful pursuits of a planter at my home at Briarfield, Miss …”

      In reality, Davis sailed in 1835 from New Orleans to Havana, Cuba, to help restore his health. He was accompanied by James Pemberton, his only slave at that time. By early 1836, Davis had purchased 16 slaves; he held 40 slaves by 1840, and 74 by 1845. Davis promoted Pemberton to be overseer of the field teams. In 1860, he owned 113 slaves.

      Nowhere does Jefferson’s cooly rational self-justification show any empathic appreciation that his privileged social and economic status as a “simple planter” was grounded in slavery and the lash.

      Similarly, but with a view to the future, M.T. Anderson’s new SF-noir Landscape with Invisible Hand brightly illuminates the natural compatibility of unempathic “Cluster B rationalism” with efficient free-market economics … as does (spoiler alert!) the meditations upon 21st century techno-institutions that foster economic, technological, and psychological slavery, that are at the heart of (this week’s AWESOME movie) Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049“.

      Hmmm … and surely Sean Baker’s present-day blue-collar homage “The Florida Project” deserves mention too?

      In summary, few societies — past, present, and future — are more inherently dystopian than those that privilege unempathic Cluster B rationalism in service of unregulated global market efficiency.

    • lvlln says:

      I think the steelman would be basically what you wrote out: additional money going to the super-rich is, comparatively, less beneficial to society than the same money going to the not-super-rich. This is because the super-rich tend to spend a lower percentage of their income on consumption (I’m pulling this from memory, so this might not be actually true, but I think it is), and also the same amount of money spent on investments like a BoA savings account or stocks contributes comparatively less to the economy than that same amount of money spent on consumption.

      And because economics basically always works on comparative advantage and the margins, this gets exaggerated into “monetary gains by the super-rich contribute nothing to society,” rather than “monetary gains by the super-rich are likely to contribute less to society than the same monetary gains by the non-super-rich, based on our current understanding of economics.”

      Of course, there’s also the issue that this is a position often taken in opposition to people who insist that the super-rich are job creators whose investments make out-sized contributions to society. Which I believe would be an exaggeration in a different direction and even less correct. So the people arguing this may play tit-for-tat and feel free to exaggerate in their own direction.

      • And because economics basically always works on comparative advantage and the margins,

        I may be mistaken, but I suspect that this is a case of your assuming that the label for an idea (comparative advantage) tells you what the idea is, usually a dangerous assumption (my standard example is the theory of relativity).

        • Thegnskald says:

          I think he means opportunity cost?

          That is the closest term I can think of, although I admit my terminology knowledge tends to be quite terrible, and I am very prone to misusing specific terminology in bizarre ways (generally based on over contextualizing it to the first case I encounter of it).

          • Charles F says:

            Isn’t it just absolute advantage? If a rich person can use $1 to produce 1 unit of economic good and a poor person can use $1 to produce 2 units of economic good, the poor have an absolute advantage when it comes to producing economic goodness with money inputs.

        • lvlln says:

          You’re right, “comparative advantage” means something in economics that’s different from what I meant here. I think Thegnskald’s suggestion of “opportunity cost” gets at it better; that is, you don’t ever just look at the impact of something in isolation, you always compare the impact relative to the impact of doing something else. And in terms of contributing to society, it tends to be better to give $1 to someone who’s not super-rich compared to giving $1 to someone who is super-rich.

          • And in terms of contributing to society, it tends to be better to give $1 to someone who’s not super-rich compared to giving $1 to someone who is super-rich.

            If what you mean is “in terms increasing total utility,” that might be true due to declining marginal utility of income. But some of the comments seemed to be talking about something else, involving consuming somehow being better for the economy than investing.

          • lvlln says:

            It’s been a while since I studied economics seriously, but I recall learning that the multiplier effect of spending on consumption is higher than spending on investment. I recall being convinced of this through a pretty basic and intuitive argument which I can’t remember at the moment. Is this incorrect or perhaps hopelessly oversimplified?

          • Is this incorrect or perhaps hopelessly oversimplified?

            I think so. It’s part of a model of economics that was very popular about fifty years ago but led to some incorrect predictions thereafter.

            Early in his first term, Obama claimed that all economists agreed that stimulus was the proper response to a recession. Thomas Sargent, who got his Nobel for work in macro, commented that the President had been misinformed.

            To be fair, macro isn’t my field, and my view is that a course in it is a tour of either a cemetery or a construction site.

      • Garrett says:

        On the reverse, couldn’t you claim that rich people tend to create wealth by spending most of their money on capital expenses (new companies, libraries, cathedrals), whereas the poor destroy wealth by spending money on consumables which go away? So in the short term, the poor getting money means more economic activity, but in the long term less actual wealth in society?

        • Charles F says:

          A lot of capital expenses, like all of the ones you listed, require demand for consumption in order to be productive. There are some, probably heavily concentrated in the finance industry, which require demand from people who want to invest to be productive. If I can’t build a profitable widget factory, because the serfs are too poor, I might buy a fiber optic cable instead. So a metric for whether we have too much or too little consumption might be whether the financial industry is growing or shrinking. If it’s growing, we might want more people to spend money, increasing the returns on producing goods for consumption. If it’s shrinking, we might rich people to have more capital so they can keep the industry running and allocating capital well.

          ETA: I suppose in addition to catering to investors when widgets aren’t profitable, you could also try lobbying.

          • Evan Þ says:

            What makes you point specifically to the financial industry? It seems to me that a dollar invested in a new bank, or in trading around home mortgages, is probably going to give less actual benefit to people than a dollar invested in a widget factory.

            (Of course, I’m talking about the modern First World where there’re already a profusion of banks standing ready to serve just about everyone. If we were in 1700’s America, things might well be different.)

          • Charles F says:

            I’m not sure how to interpret what you’re asking.

            What made me point to the financial industry is that’s where you make investment vehicles and move them around. If there are a lot of people who want to invest, there’s probably demand for financial sector stuff. Is there some other sector that seems more likely to grow when investment demand >> consumption demand?

            Growing/shrinking might not be a good metric for a real-world economy, since as you say, we might currently have more than enough infrastructure for getting capital from investors to producers, and maybe a slow rate of growth as the economy gets larger and more complicated is appropriate.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Ah, @Charles, I think I was misinterpreting your point. What I was trying to say was that IMO in the modern West, we’re already far on one side of the scale: a marginal dollar in the financial industry probably gives less actual benefit to people than a marginal dollar in a widget factory.

          • Charles F says:

            I think I agree with that. It seems intuitively true that the growth of the financial sector is higher than optimal, and it would be good if we invested more in goods and research. I have no idea though, whether giving spending $1 on consumption increases the demand for non-financial-sector investments by enough to make it better than investing $1 (in the current default mix of financial/non-financial).

      • hyperboloid says:

        @Matt M
        The claim is not that the gains of the rich are of no benefit to society, but that the opportunity costs of inequality are of such a scale that they are no net benefits. Make some reasonable assumptions about marginal utility, and you can see that this claim is quite plausible. A man will spend his first thousand dollars feeding himself, his next few thousand on housing and clothes, his fifty thousandth dollar goes to buy a new car, maybe pay for a vacation. But what does he do with his millionth dollar, his billionth? At some point the ability to directly improve one’s quality of life through increasing consumption hits a point of rapidly diminishing marginal returns.

        Of course one might ask, why do the rich continue to pursue ever greater wealth if it isn’t making them better any off? Human motivation is a complicated thing, and some people just enjoy doing things that happen to make them very rich; but I suspect the main reason is the maintenance of social status. As income increases so does spending on Veblen goods, and other forms of conspicuous consumption.

        A simple solution to the status signaling arms race is to raise taxes on the consumption of the rich, and spend the funds on social goods for the poor. Under the right circumstances this can even be a Pareto efficient solution, since the relative social position of the rich does not change, but the poor experience large absolute gains.

        • The Nybbler says:

          A simple solution to the status signaling arms race is to raise taxes on the consumption of the rich, and spend the funds on social goods for the poor.

          And yet when you try this, you merely end up bankrupting the yacht-makers.

          • hyperboloid says:

            That’s not all you do. You also raise government revenue that can be spent on public goods, and incentivize the rich towards investment, and away from luxury consumption.

            It’s true you’ve put the yacht makers out of business. But compared to the number of people who would benefit from public spending, or those who would be employed in industries created by new investment, how many yacht makers are there really? Small scale craft production of luxury goods, is likely one of the most socially inefficient uses of labor and capital.

            I don’t think it’s possible, or even desirable, to stop people from competing for social status. But I do think its fairly easy to encourage them to do it in more social useful ways. Wouldn’t we all be better off is the ultra rich devoted their fortunes to patronizing charitable causes, or high tech innovation? Even supporting the opera would do more public good than yachts and mansions.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s not all you do. You also raise government revenue that can be spent on public goods

            So instead of yachtmakers getting paid for building yachts, they end up on the dole with the same money? Except if the yachtmakers are out of business, it’s because you incentivized the rich to switch from conspicuous consumption to investing… which means you don’t actually get the revenue.

            and incentivize the rich towards investment, and away from luxury consumption

            But why do you think the balance of investment to luxury consumption should be tilted more? Having rich people compete to be the next Elon Musk produces a lot of good things, but also a lot of failures. And if you overtax the luxury goods, you’ve also limited the investment opportunities; a Tesla is an electric car, but it’s also a luxury good.

            Small scale craft production of luxury goods, is likely one of the most socially inefficient uses of labor and capital.

            The dole is certainly worse.

            I think you’re trying to solve a problem which isn’t a problem with a solution that’s worse. Yachts, expensive cars, ridiculously expensive jewelry, or gold-plated everything; these are expensive but the opportunities for status-signaling with them are quickly exhausted among the very rich (all while transferring some of that wealth to the less-rich). Donald Trump’s (pre-Presidential) status wasn’t in his ridiculous gold-plated apartment, it was in his buildings and his branding empire.

        • Jaskologist says:

          If you’re concerned about the rich having too much money, why is the status signaling arms race a problem? It sounds like it accomplishes what you want, by extracting extra money from the rich long after their basic needs are met, and doing so in a way that scales with their income to boot.

          • Evan Þ says:

            To follow that argument, they’re not spending all their excess wealth in status games. Sure, someone with $2 billion might spend $2 million on a yacht, while someone with $1 billion might only spend $1 million, but the first guy still has $999 million more that isn’t going to stimulate yacht-makers.

          • hyperboloid says:

            See my answer to The Nybbler above. I’m not all that concerned that the rich have too much money, I’m concerned that that money is not being spent in a socially optimal way.

            Wealth, and ownership are funny concepts, we use them all the time, but they are rarely explicitly defined.

            To have wealth is to own things, and to own a thing is to posses a certain kind of socially sanctioned right to use it as you see fit. I don’t know that we have enough information to determine what system of ownership of productive resources is most conducive to the public good. We do know that certain forms of extreme concentration of ownership, in the hands of monopolists, or the state, are inefficient, because they destroy the incentives provided by competition; and we know that requiring the owners of capital to pay a certain percentage of their income in taxes is necessary to provide essential public goods.

            There have been some interesting experiments in organizing individual competing firms with ownership distributed among their employees, and I think these experiments should be expanded.

            Nevertheless, I remain somewhat agnostic as to what the best distribution of ownership rights is. Perhaps it is the case that a small number of individuals are so talented in the managing of capital that it is best to leave decisions in their hands, but in that case we should do our best to ensure that they are incentivized to manage those resources in the best interest of the pubic, rather than spending their profits on trivial vanities.

          • Aapje says:

            @Jaskologist

            If you’re concerned about the rich having too much money, why is the status signaling arms race a problem?

            Because too much of the status signaling arms race revolves around buying things that provide minimal utility or building up large wealth, rather than spending that money on charity or being a mecenas.

            If above a certain level of wealth the only/main way to gain status was to lift more people out of poverty and/or pay for science that benefits humanity, then the issue pretty much wouldn’t exist.

            But that’s not how the world works right now.

          • onyomi says:

            Because too much of the status signaling arms race revolves around buying things that provide minimal utility or building up large wealth, rather than spending that money on charity or being a mecenas.

            Building up large wealth how? Investing in promising businesses? Making smart bets on commodities? Doesn’t that lift people out of poverty, etc.?

            If above a certain level of wealth the only/main way to gain status was to lift more people out of poverty and/or pay for science that benefits humanity, then the issue pretty much wouldn’t exist.

            But that’s not how the world works right now.

            Are you sure? I’m not sure Bill Gates did more good for the world with his charities than in building Microsoft.

            Also, I am not that familiar with the status signalling games of the super wealthy, but I imagine “would you like to come to the gala the Met is putting on for my new endowment for children’s art education” is more high status than “would you like to hang out on my new golf course,” though I’m sure it depends on the individual.

          • The Nybbler says:

            See my answer to The Nybbler above. I’m not all that concerned that the rich have too much money, I’m concerned that that money is not being spent in a socially optimal way.

            Do you really think that you, or any central organization specifically including the government, is capable of figuring out

            1) The socially optimal way everyone’s (or every rich person’s) money should be spent

            and

            2) The best way to get everyone (or every rich person) to spend it that way?

            To call this a hard problem seems like ridiculous understatement.

          • and we know that requiring the owners of capital to pay a certain percentage of their income in taxes is necessary to provide essential public goods.

            You may know that. I don’t.

            You can tax capital. You can tax land. You can tax labor. There is no reason that taxing capital in particular is essential.

            Off hand, the only public good I can think of that is essential is national defense, that only if there are other countries with the desire and power to conquer you. And some public goods are privately produced, such as radio broadcasts or this blog. What public goods were you thinking of that are essential and cannot be produced privately?

          • hyperboloid says:

            Are you sure? I’m not sure Bill Gates did more good for the world with his charities than in building Microsoft.

            I am.

            I mean have you used any Microsoft products?

            Joking aside, there wouldn’t be any charities without the profits from Microsoft, so it’s kind of an irrelevant point. I should point out that Bill Gates is actually a strong advocate of the policy I’m arguing for.

            @The Nybbler
            You replied to me in two different places, and in the interest of combating comment thread kudzu, I’m just going to respond here.

            So instead of yachtmakers getting paid for building yachts, they end up on the dole with the same money

            People benefit from public spending in many more ways than going on the dole; state funded education, health care, and infrastructure projects can all benefit low income people without destroying their incentive to work. Perhaps more importantly, this is an example of the lump of labor fallacy. In a modern growing economy the, with ample capital being invested in job creating projects, the marine engineers, welders and the like who worked in the yacht industry are not likely to stay unemployed for long.

            Yachts, expensive cars, ridiculously expensive jewelry, or gold-plated everything; these are expensive but the opportunities for status-signaling with them are quickly exhausted among the very rich

            Yachts, cars, jewelry, expensive real estate, gourmet cat poo coffee investment grade wine, 38 million dollar antique Chinese bowls.

            You’d be surprised.

            looking back through history to the conspicuous consumption of the upper ranks of societies with even more skewed distributions of wealth and social privilege then modern America, I’m not at all convinced that there is any limit on the human capacity to expend wealth on vanity.

            Do you really think that you, or any central organization specifically including the government, is capable of figuring out… The socially optimal way everyone’s .. money should be spent.

            No, and rather then have some totalitarian bureaucracy poke through the family finances of the one percent, the policy I’m arguing for would actually simplify our tax code.

            What I’m advocating is shifting to a progressive consumption tax. The simplest version would an expenditure tax; under this system households would simply report their income to the IRS, as they do now. They would then take a certain stranded deduction, to cover basic living expenses, and an additional deduction to cover all the investments they made. All other income, including proceeds from loans, would be taxed at a highly progressive rate. This last feature, the tax on taking out credit, might make it a hard political sell.

            There are other versions that are more like a kind of modified VAT. Here is Sen. Ben Cardin advocating for one such plan.

            What all of these schemes have in common is that they shift the burden of taxation away from income and onto consumption, and eliminate perverse incentives built into the current system.

            One of the unintended consequences of taxing income is that we subject investors to a kind of double tax. Consider two taxpayers, Bob and Sarah. They both earn the same income, and pay the same tax rate, but Bob wishes to spend more of his paycheck on goods and services now, while Sarah plans on saving for the future. They both take five thousand dollars out of their bank accounts; Bob to make a down payment on a new car, and Sarah to invest in the stock market. They have both already been taxed on their income, But when Sarah goes to sell her stocks, she is taxed again on capital gains.

            To minimize the perverse incentives involved, we tax capital gains at a lower rate the income earned through labor, but think how unfair that is. The very wealthy, who often earn a much higher percentage of their income from capital gains can pay a lower effective tax rate than a middle class person who works a full time Job. The end result of the current tax system is that investment is discouraged, people with trust funds are rewarded, and middle class savers are punished.

            Switch from an income to a progressive consumption tax, and not only have you solved these problems; but you have shifted the burden of taxation onto those who are spending the highest percentage of their income on the social status arms race. People for whom paying taxes, on consumption above a certain level, results little or no real loss of utility.

            Tesla is an electric car, but it’s also a luxury good.

            A Tesla is a good counter example of a luxury good that has positive externalities, both because of environmental factors, and because purchasing a Tesla helps to stimulate research and to development into battery electric vehicles.

            Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that supply side stimulus (E.g. increased investment, and savings) will do more to promote technological progress then increasing demand. Consumers are limited to buying goods that are already on the shelves, and only X percentage of every dollar spent goes to ameliorate the costs of R&D. On the other hand when more investment capital is available companies will have an easier time raising funds to pay for future investment.

          • onyomi says:

            @Hyperboloid

            Joking aside, there wouldn’t be any charities without the profits from Microsoft, so it’s kind of an irrelevant point.

            The relevant comparison is not a world where Bill Gates manages somehow to spend all his profits on lavish yachts and caviar versus one where he spends it on charity; the relevant comparison is one where he spends most of the profits on new business investments versus the current world, where he spent a lot of the profits on charity.

            I’m not sure the world is better off, on net, for him having made the choice he did. Setting aside the fact that I personally think some of his work in support of e.g. common core was actively harmful, you don’t know how many new jobs and how much more wealth might have been created had he stuck to what he was demonstrably very good at (business), rather than going into something he seems not to be all that great at, or at least, we have no reason to assume he would be good at (charity; have heard, purely anecdotally, that his foundation accomplishes a lot less with a lot more than many others because often lacking on-the-ground knowledge of the people they’re trying to help).

            Business and charity are both ultimately ways of satisfying human preferences. Only difference is business does it for a profit and charity does not. It may be easy to assume that, because recipients of charity generally don’t pay to receive charity, the overall benefit to humanity is better because people who have little are getting something at little or no cost to themselves. But business also has a big strength relative to charity, which is price signals telling you what people want and how to get it to them most efficiently. It’s not prima facie obvious that one is better for the world than the other in all cases.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Perhaps more importantly, this is an example of the lump of labor fallacy. In a modern growing economy the, with ample capital being invested in job creating projects, the marine engineers, welders and the like who worked in the yacht industry are not likely to stay unemployed for long.

            Where are they going to work? Labor isn’t completely fungible; if it were, a lot of issues would be much simpler. They won’t be working in any industry which produces luxury goods, that’s certain. Anyway, I’m less than convinced that your tax proposal will allow for a modern and growing economy.

            Your tax proposal is not a luxury consumption tax of any sort; it’s still an income tax. So we take that standard deduction for “basic living expenses”. Now I live in a house in northern New Jersey, a high COL area, so I’m already over the deduction with my living expenses. If I buy a new car or even want to go out for dinner, it’s heavily taxed. So I have to live austerely. It’s not clear what you do with my savings; if savings count as “investment” there’s all sorts of interesting games I can play to evade tax. If they don’t, you’re taxing saving extremely heavily.

            The ultra-rich in this system still get their luxury goods. The investment-grade wines and art and such are “investments”. Their yacht is used for “business” and is thus also an investment, or they play games where they form a company to run the yachts and one of the perks of ownership is use of them.

            But, the details of the proposal aren’t the biggest issue. You could change them, and your new proposal would have different problems. The biggest issue is just that you’re going after a problem which isn’t a problem; there’s no shortage of investment. This isn’t the time of Louis XIV, and he was the State anyway.

    • Mark says:

      It’s about power.

      You can draw a picture of the top 0.01% as wise and wonderful, with the results of their investments benefiting us all far more than anything normal people could think of – but you can also take the opposite view.

      So the steel-man is this – the top 0.01% are driven by the logic of their money-game to use their power to undermine civil society and to rewrite social rules to be even further in their favour.

      Increasing 0.01% wealth is a signal of this.

      I would say that if people with power are acting against the interests of society, they can make things actively worse. In many (non-virtual) respects, life for ordinary (rich country) people hasn’t really improved for a few decades now.

      If an investment bank becomes wealthy and decides to pay me to build a fibre optic cable that allows it make transactions 1/100 millionth of a second faster, I’m not building hospitals. Or houses. So, to the extent that there is a hard limit on real resources, they are making us worse off.

      • Thegnskald says:

        That is pretty much it, and my major issue with libertarianism; it depends too much on a framework I don’t think can be built, in which rich people are prevented from manipulating things to their own advantage by some kind of magical cultural forcefield.

        Hell, I even agree that the levers of power created to regulate rich people tend to get subverted to the ends of rich people – but those levers of power weren’t created by rich people for that purpose, they were created to deal with legitimate issues. I guess my divergence there is that I think that regulations create more benefits than harms, on net.

        The issue is that the benefits are in terms of abuses that don’t happen – which means they are invisible, and thus go uncounted. Whereas the harms are salient and mostly visible.

        (Which is ironic, because that is a standard libertarian argument. It is a good one, and deserves more attention. It just isn’t applied to their own beliefs.)

        • in which rich people are prevented from manipulating things to their own advantage by some kind of magical cultural forcefield.

          I’m not sure what your definition of libertarianism is. If you mean a society where all interactions are voluntary then the rich can’t manipulate things to their own advantage via involuntary interactions, such as government favor, because if they do it isn’t a libertarian society. In that context, your claim would be that libertarianism isn’t stable, that it will be replaced by crony capitalism.

          Or is your claim that even if all interactions are voluntary, the rich can still succeed in manipulating things, perhaps by using clever advertising to fool everyone else into buying junk from them at high prices?

          Or do you mean by libertarianism a society where all government restrictions that the left likes and the right doesn’t are eliminated, but government still exists and can impose restrictions for the benefit of the rich?

          Or …

          I think you have to be more specific to get a useful response.

          The issue is that the benefits are in terms of abuses that don’t happen

          Libertarians, of which I am one, would generally claim that the benefits, if they exist, are small relative to the harm.

          but those levers of power weren’t created by rich people for that purpose, they were created to deal with legitimate issues.

          How do you distinguish that theory from “they were created by rich people to benefit themselves, using widely perceived issues as a cover”?

          Take the ICC as an example. For data, read Railroads and Regulation, a book by one of libertarians’ favorite socialists.

          • aNeopuritan says:

            How about “Land property is theft. You didn’t build that.” and “[At least most of; some technologists *might* differ] The really rich spend their money on owning people.” ?

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            Or is your claim that even if all interactions are voluntary, the rich can still succeed in manipulating things, perhaps by using clever advertising to fool everyone else into buying junk from them at high prices?

            I don’t know what Thegnskald thinks but I assume this is by far one of the most common lines of critique: “voluntary” and “free will” as concepts understood by libertarians are alien to reality, because it abstracts away many relevant complications.

        • Civilis says:

          The problem with any society is the powerful manipulating things to benefit those with power. Any society without a cultural framework to control abuse of power is going to fail.

          In a more-or-less market oriented society, money is the most fungible form of power. The advantage of a libertarian society is that power is gained by contributing to the economy. Further, money is fungible… a million dollars is the same whether it comes as one bundle of $1000000 from one person or one million individual $1 bills from one million people.

      • So, to the extent that there is a hard limit on real resources, they are making us worse off.

        I don’t know how you distinguish between real resources and unreal resources.

        If the rich get much richer and nothing else changes, that means there are more resources out there than before. So even if the money is used to build a fibre optic cable whose only value is to let someone do arbitrage an instant before someone else would, people are no worse off than before.

        But they are worse off than in the alternative where wealth increases by the same amount but it goes to people who use it for something useful rather than pure rent seeking. Is that your point?

        • Mark says:

          I think my point is this:
          If I build a gun, that’s an increase in wealth. Is the world better off for me having a gun?
          It really depends on the society I’m living in, and what kind of person I am.

          • You are presumably better off for having a gun–that’s why you built it. The rest of the world might be better or worse off, depending on how you plan to use it.

            Economics tells us that in a market society, to first approximation, each individual receives the net benefit of his actions–pays the cost of the inputs he uses because he has to buy them from willing sellers, gets the benefit of the outputs he produces because he sells them to willing buyers. So each individual has the right incentive–to take actions that produce a net benefit, avoid ones that produce a net cost.

            The second approximation involves things like imperfect competition, externalities, public good problems, … .

            The alternative to the market system is one in which individual actors almost never receive anything close to the net benefit of their actions. A voter who votes for the better candidate receives only a tiny share of the benefit, supposing his vote turns out to be decisive. A judge who sets a precedent that makes people slightly worse off pays none of the cost. Market failure, situations where what is rational for the individual is not rational for the group, exists in private markets, but it’s the exception. In the political market it’s the rule.

            For longer versions of the argument I can point you to relevant books and chapters.

          • Mark says:

            From what I gather, libertarians tend to argue for the freedom to undertake transactions, within some system of individual property ownership.

            This system of property ownership itself cannot be fully voluntary, but it may be either (1) based upon some clear natural principle that only the evil would oppose, or (2) constructed in such a way that, when combined with the principle of free transactions, the original distribution of property rights (and presumably the source of any opposition) becomes irrelevant.

            I think the major objection to libertarianism tends to be that they emphasise free transactions without clearly addressing the question of how the property ownership system should be constructed.

            Maybe that’s an objection to tone more than anything else.

          • aNeopuritan says:

            Friedman: a voter gets a tiny share of the benefit for making a tiny share of the effort. “His vote turns out to be decisive” doesn’t exist – if 4 people carry a coffin, which one carried the coffin?

          • a voter gets a tiny share of the benefit for making a tiny share of the effort.

            You are deciding whether to spend a thousand dollars worth of time and effort figuring out who is the better candidate. The benefit from doing that is a very small increase in the probability that the better candidate will win–say an increase by 10^-7. Multiply that by the value to everyone of the better candidate–say a thousand dollars per person times 300,000,000 people. The total benefit from your effort is $30,000. The benefit to you is $.0001. So you don’t do it, even though doing it produces a large net benefit.

            You have to think in marginal terms–what is the effect of your action is–not in average terms.

          • Mark says:

            Democratic politics is a bit like deciding what the family is going to have for dinner.

            Mum’s in charge and ignores the more outlandish requests. Given a groundswell of popular opinion, and the right ingredients, we might be able to shift her decision in one direction or the other.

            One of your family members has done a detailed analysis of what he should be eating and decided on ethical/health grounds to veto the potatoes. We grant him a limited right of secession.

            If the dinner is particularly bad, Mum wants some feedback so she doesn’t do it again.

            I think that, actually, people enjoy complaining about their bad dinner and thinking about how things could be better. That’s why they do it, they’ll do it anyway, and democracy/mum listening is an attempt to channel that existing tendency into something useful.

            The key thing is that we don’t all want to end up eating marshmellow pizza every day because you’ve got three children and they think it sounds swell. That’s the limit of democracy

          • Democratic politics is a bit like deciding what the family is going to have for dinner.

            The mechanisms used for that scale very badly.

        • aNeopuritan says:

          “If the rich get much richer and nothing else changes, that means there are more resources out there than before.” – not necessarily. It may mean pure financial trickery, in which case the rich get relatively richer with no new resources available, thus extending their claims over real wealth previously held by other people. Else, even if real wealth is involved, given that resources are finite, it’s possible that whatever good the great extra wealth did its owners is more than counterbalanced by us getting closer to running out of resources – even if you’re optimistic about our ability to improve our resource use, extra resources extracted and used on BS increase our workload.

      • Civilis says:

        Assume the 1% / 0.01% are always going to be driven by power to rewrite the rules in their favor. What sort of social structure incentivizes them the most to help the other 99% of society?

        It may be that a social structure that doesn’t incentivize that investment bank fiber optic cable instead incentivizes the construction of a big brother Great Firewall of Oceania instead of a hospital.

        • Mark says:

          I think it’s possible to have social structures that limit the power of the most powerful.

          Personally, I think that the best thing would probably be to let baby have his bottle, within clearly defined limits. Allow those who are driven by money and prestige to play the money game, encourage them to play it, but ensure that they aren’t able to undermine the commonwealth.
          I guess that comes down to culture. You’d probably need to have a class of people who worked for the public benefit – I think a degree of nationalism, or parochialism would probably be useful here.

          • Civilis says:

            Personally, I think that the best thing would probably be to let baby have his bottle, within clearly defined limits. Allow those who are driven by money and prestige to play the money game, encourage them to play it, but ensure that they aren’t able to undermine the commonwealth.

            Limiting the power of the wealthy by creating a powerful class of lawmakers to rule over them is just trading one devil for another. You’ve traded the 1% with the most money for the 1% with the most political influence (who quickly become rich, and who the rich curry favor with using their wealth). The way you limit power is by limiting power. If you’re going to use political power as a check on the power of wealth, you need a check on political power, and you need to resist the temptation to let the politically powerful accumulate more power. People who want power are going to go where the power is.

        • Aapje says:

          @Civilis

          Democracy gives 99% the ability to rewrite the rules in their favor and thus gives the 1% the incentive to limit their selfishness to an extent that the 99% (begrudgingly) accepts.

          Of course, democracy can also be rewritten in a way that effectively makes it impossible for the 99% to do that, like the EU ‘democracy’ for example.

          • IrishDude says:

            Democracy gives 99% the ability to rewrite the rules in their favor and thus gives the 1% the incentive to limit their selfishness to an extent that the 99% (begrudgingly) accepts.

            Sometimes. Sometimes democracy gives favor to the 1% at the expense of the 99%. See ethanol mandates, sugar tariffs, occupational licensing, and the host of rules and regulations that favor small special interests at the expense of the many. This isn’t a surprising result with democracy either, when considering public choice economics.

          • Incurian says:

            Something about diffuse costs and concentrated benefits…

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            Sure, but if there is an actual democracy, then the voters favor that outcome. I voted for a political party that favors high taxes on people like me, rather than for a political party that favors that I pay low taxes.

            If my preferred political party gets power and increases the taxes a bit, it is at my expense, but not against my will.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            Sure, but if there is an actual democracy, then the voters favor that outcome.

            I don’t know what you mean by ‘actual democracy’, but I don’t think the second part of your statement follows. There are weak incentives to be an informed voter and read 2,000 page bills to see which special interests are getting paid off by bills sponsored by their favored politician. There are strong incentives for lobbyists and special interests to be informed about the details of 2,000 page bills. See Incurian’s statement on diffuse costs and concentrated benefits.

            Also, voters may favor policies they think would be beneficial to the many but actually harm them. Have you read The Myth of the Rational Voter? Voters have systematically biased opinions on economics and don’t have the right incentives to reduce those biases. Why spend hundreds or thousands of hours becoming economically and politically informed when your vote has less than one in a million chance of deciding an election?

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            Yes, that’s why I said ‘actual democracy.’

            Well functioning democracy where the elected officials act reasonably in accordance with voter preferences requires much more than just leaving voters to their own devices to figure out who to vote for.

          • Well functioning democracy where the elected officials act reasonably in accordance with voter preferences

            Can you describe a set of institutions that reliably produce that outcome for a reasonably large polity–say something over a million people?

          • Aapje says:

            No, because ‘institutions’ are not reliable in the sense that you can drop them into a society and get a desired outcome. Their functioning depends on their culture, the culture of society, etc.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        In many (non-virtual) respects, life for ordinary (rich country) people hasn’t really improved for a few decades now.

        Within the last 5 years, both of my aging parents had a significant amount of titanium surgically implanted into their skeletons, and today remain hale, and able to walk swiftly and to climb stairs.

        Twenty five years ago, they would have been in wheelchairs, would have to live in a handicapped enabled house, probably would require a full time caretaker, and would be begging their doctors for more pain meds.

        Those same parents of mine get much of their joy in life by keeping in touch with their growing flock of grandkids and greatgrandkids, via assorted messaging and videophone apps, and by artisinal crafting of stuff which they buy the raw materials cheap online and then sell to collectors, again online.

        So, yeah, no. I disagree. Things have gotten better.

        • Mark says:

          I’ll see your happy Skype grandparents and raise you a billion zombified internet addicts.

          Yeah, I know have there have been some fantastic developments in technology – but my sense is that people are working longer hours, in less secure jobs, to live in smaller and more expensive houses, with worse public services and benefits, and higher taxes.

          That’s definitely how things are where I live.

          • I’ll see your happy Skype grandparents and raise you a billion zombified internet addicts.

            Brains, give me brains! I presume you are including SSC commenters, since anyone who can keep up on these threads has to be somewhat addicted. And yet, reading and commenting on blogs is so much more intellectually satisfying than in older days of writing to zines, or older than that, writing letters to each other on intellectual topics. I don’t see how anyone can complain about the Internet being worse than what existed before.

            And I’m sure everyone’s highly stimulated brains are so tasty. 🙂

            Edit: And what Irish Dude said.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Contra people working more hours, there was a global decline in annual working hours per worker of 17% from 1950 through 2016.

            I gather, however, that commuting time has increased since the ’50s, which may be responsible for the impression that people are working longer.

          • Brad says:

            Mr. X’s point neatly links IrishDude’s two factoids.

            It also raises the stakes for self driving cars. At least in the United States where we by and large don’t believe in public transportation, self driving cars will enable a very large number of commuting hours to shift from mostly not leisure time (+/- listening to the radio / books on tape / podcasts) to mostly leisure time.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The decline in working hours has come from part time workers working less. The people who work part time jobs are not high earners. So full time workers are working more and part time workers can’t work enough.

            Edit: this is just the US. I’m not sure about worldwide data.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Also, that’s per worker. How many working hours are there per family?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Wrong Species, my guess would be that’s due to the full-time worker benefit cliff, where the cost of health insurance’s skyrocketed over the past decades.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            You completely and blatantly overlook the fact that my parents can *walk*, up stairs, without pain, and do not need a live-in nurse, when you snark about their “addiction” to VTC.

            If you need to call grandparents talking to their grandchildren an “addiction”, that tells me a great deal about you.

          • Mark says:

            @standing in shadows

            Hmmmm… I think you read me as saying something along the lines of

            Ha ha ha… your fucking parents are ADDICTS.. lol… fucking retards addicted to the fucking internet – who gives a fuck if they can walk if all they do is waste their time tip tapping away on their stupid tablets. HA HA HA

            (That’s me doing snark)

            No, actually I wasn’t talking about your parents at all – except to say – yes there have been some advances in healthcare, there are good points about information technology, but there are negative aspects to information technology too.

            I don’t know, you could probably make the case that whatever advances in medical technology there have been are more important than having a nice job, or living in a reasonably priced house – I’d certainly rather be healthy in a dump than unhealthy in a palace – but I’m not sure how general improvement in healthcare has been.
            I really don’t know.

            And I’m happy your parents are happy.

    • skef says:

      Could I request a steelman of the proposition that gains to the very rich/elite do not benefit society?

      It would seem to me that any additional money flowing to the top 0.01% is still put to work somehow. Even if a smaller percentage of it is spent on “consumption goods,” it’s invested somewhere. Likely in private equity or hedge funds that actually do buy large positions and play a huge rule in actually funding start-ups and small businesses. But even if they dumped it into a low-yield savings account, Bank of America will then still loan it out to people who need loans for various purposes.

      Imagine that the top 0.01% only used their money in an ongoing poker tournament among themselves, in the hope of having more than everyone else at a given time. As they make more from other sources, it just gets put into the game. That seems pretty useless.

      The top 0.01% don’t do that, of course. But quite a bit of the money winds up in ongoing derivatives investments (often via hedge funds). There is a standard argument for the economic value of derivatives in terms of determining accurate prices, but the extent to which that translates into social value is … contested. So your implicit assumption that the money must somehow be doing some good may not have any real justification. The rich may be mostly gambling on price levels with each other in order to show who has the most money.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        If the 0.01% turned their money into cash and played poker with it, forever, that cash is basically a zero percent no-repayment loan to everyone else with money denominated in that currency.

        Take it to almost to the limit to see why that’s the case: assume one person accumulates half the money in the world, turns it all into cash, and then just burns it. All the rest of the money in the world instantly is twice as valuable, and that’s twice as in real terms, not nominal terms.

        And, if instead of using cash, if they are playing poker with checks or IOUs backed by their investment accounts, that’s completely invisible outside outside those circles. All those investment accounts are still ultimately invested in real stuff and in real people who are using the stuff to make more stuff.

        • toastengineer says:

          Seems to me like if you burned all the currency the world’s actual capacity to make things would be unchanged; currency is sort of like just a voucher to control a bit of that production that doesn’t change anything if it’s just not redeemed.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            You are correct, but miss the point. The real wealth and real productivity in the world doesn’t change. Every dollar (euro, yuan, etc) would then have twice as much claim on the underlying real wealth and productivity.

            So if the 0.01% turn half their wealth into pieces of paper and then burn it, the other 99.9% all instantly got that much more wealth.

        • skef says:

          assume one person accumulates half the money in the world, turns it all into cash, and then just burns it. All the rest of the money in the world instantly is twice as valuable, and that’s twice as in real terms, not nominal terms.

          I doubt this analysis even applies to gold. If someone destroyed half the gold in the world, the value of what is left would be … determined by a lot of complicated factors.

          If we’re talking instead about a fiat currency, you’re going to have to do a lot more work to support this kind of assertion.

          All those investment accounts are still ultimately invested in real stuff and in real people who are using the stuff to make more stuff.

          How much do you know about derivatives?

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            How much do you know about derivatives?

            More digits worth than I am going to post in a public forum, even under an obscured handle.

            They all eventually resolve down to real land, or a real building, or a real piece of machinery, or a real shipping container full of real goods, or a real shipping container full of real commodities, or real labor by real people, and real promises to do various things with those real things.

          • skef says:

            resolve down to

            I think this is my favorite BS phrase of the week.

            I could go to a racetrack and bet some money on the outcome of a horse race.

            I could also go to my broker and enter an options contract on the price of corn in six months.

            What is your claim about the difference between these acts, if any?

            Does the fact that the latter act is tied to the price of a commodity somehow make it fundamentally different?

            Or does my bet on the horse race “resolve down to” real labor on the part of the jockey and horse trainers?

            Or what?

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            The difference between the bet on the horse and the bet on the corn, is the corn farmer gets paid before the corn is auctioned off, and probably gets paid before he even plants it. He’s selling risk in the future, to get stable money today.

            That’s actually valuable, for society at large.

          • skef says:

            The difference between the bet on the horse and the bet on the corn, is the corn farmer gets paid before the corn is auctioned off, and probably gets paid before he even plants it.

            You’re making an unwarranted stipulation about the counter-party to the option. It can just be a bet that the price will go the other way.

            I could sit here and make up a story about a bookie hedging against an imbalance in the bets he has accepted personally with a few at the track window. I could even add more complex, derivative-like bets to the picture.

            The fact that derivatives can be used to hedge has little or nothing to do with the potential for derivative investment to be akin to gambling.

          • CatCube says:

            I’m not a huge fan of complicated financial instruments, but they do fundamentally differ from gambling. In gambling, you’re creating a risk for the sole purpose to have something to bet on. Don’t get me wrong: I have no objections to that, and I enjoy going to the casino. But when I step up to a craps table, the dice are being thrown to resolve the bets on the table.

            With derivatives, you’re merely shifting risk that is already there. The price risk of corn is a thing that exists, and will exist whether or not somebody can purchase futures. Futures permit that risk to be moved to somebody who may be better able to do something about it.

          • Brad says:

            But what about when the cash settled futures market dwarfs the size of the underlying?

            The distinction is not always so clear.

          • Aapje says:

            @CatCube

            Yeah, but people are not limited to restricting the trade to the actual risk, are they?

          • I doubt this analysis even applies to gold. If someone destroyed half the gold in the world, the value of what is left would be … determined by a lot of complicated factors.

            It wouldn’t be true for gold because gold has nonmonetary uses. After you destroy half of it, an ounce of gold exchanges for more of other things than it did before, which reduces consumption in non-monetary uses and increases supply, so the stock of monetary gold is more than half what it was before.

            If we’re talking instead about a fiat currency, you’re going to have to do a lot more work to support this kind of assertion.

            It’s much more plausible there, since fiat currency has negligible non-monetary uses. Individuals want to hold a certain amount of purchasing power as currency to make it possible to separate selling things from buying things–think of it as a shock absorber. After half the money vanishes and prices have not yet fallen each person has half the purchasing power as currency he had before, so wants more currency. To get more currency you sell more than you buy. But everyone can’t succeed in selling more than he buys because one person’s sale is another person’s purchase, so there is now excess supply on all markets, so prices fall. They keep falling until the purchasing power of each person’s cash balances is back where he wants it, which means prices have fallen in half.

            That’s a somewhat simplified story since during the transition the cost of holding cash is lower since its value is going up, but it describes the equilibrium points before and after the change. For fully informed actors, the drop should be instantaneous.

          • The difference between the bet on the horse and the bet on the corn

            Another difference is that the future market generates useful information.

            But although successful speculation is both profitable and socially useful, the profit is not a measure of how useful it is, unlike profits in most other market contexts. Hence it is possible to have inefficient speculation–spending a thousand dollars to get information that is worth two thousand to you but has a social value of only a hundred. That point is not original with me, it’s due to Hirschleifer.

            That’s the case someone referred to earlier where you spend money putting in a fiber connection to the market in order to get your bid in a hundredth of a second faster. Correcting prices a hundredth of a second sooner probably doesn’t have much social value, but it might be very profitable.

            At a considerable tangent but of interest to me, reputational enforcement of contracts has the same logic–the incentive to do it is not linked to the social value it produces. When you decide not to do business with the seller who cheated me, thus deterring cheating, your objective is not to deter cheating but to avoid being yourself cheated. If it is costly for you to find out whether he or I really defaulted on the contract you can protect yourself by doing business with neither of us, which means it is not in my interest to report his default, which means reputational enforcement won’t work. So the critical requirement is making it possible for third parties to determine at low cost who is at fault in a contract breach.

          • skef says:

            Another difference is that the future market generates useful information.

            This is the standard rationale, which I referenced in my OP:

            There is a standard argument for the economic value of derivatives in terms of determining accurate prices, but the extent to which that translates into social value is … contested.

          • skef says:

            It’s much more plausible there, since fiat currency has negligible non-monetary uses. Individuals want to hold a certain amount of purchasing power as currency to make it possible to separate selling things from buying things–think of it as a shock absorber. After half the money vanishes and prices have not yet fallen each person has half the purchasing power as currency he had before, so wants more currency.

            If half of the money in the world were randomly destroyed, this sort of explanation might make sense.

            But the original proposal was that we could liken rich people hanging on to their money to some amount of it being destroyed, and therefore improving the lives of others by raising the value of their money*. What those rich people would be doing violates a premise of your explanation.

            * Of course, even if you accept the original argument, increasing the value of money in that way would hurt those who have negative amounts of it. That is, everyone in debt.

    • The Red Foliot says:

      @Matt M

      Could I request a steelman of the proposition that gains to the very rich/elite do not benefit society?

      A rich person could gain money by producing rice at a lower cost than a bunch of subsistence farmers. The farmers would then go into debt, their land would be seized and they would be forced to forego their quaint traditional lifestyle in favor of working in sweatshops.

      This would ultimately yield a bunch of money to society at large. So even though the farmers in particular were screwed over, one might suppose the diffuse benefits were worth it.

      But then one considers that people are often stupid when spending their money. Sometimes they spend money on things that they ultimately habituate to, providing no long term increase to their happiness despite great expense. Sometimes they spend money on things that actually lower their happiness. They spend money on electronics that disrupt their sleep habits, leading to chronic fatigue and a bad mood. They spend money private entertainment systems in order to spend time on those things rather than their neighbors and friends. Maybe things were better when people had to attend social functions on weekend nights.

      So, in the aftermath of Mr. Bigbux’ commercial sorties, one of those farmers who went bankrupt might then spend his extra money as a sweatshop worker on a bunch of consumer stuff. But instead of improving his happiness, it would actually reduce it. Talk about a bad deal!

      • The Red Foliot says:

        After a good night’s sleep I’m ready to distill my ideas.

        The premise that what’s good for the rich is good for everyone else rests on the assumptions that increases in wealth are inherently beneficial and that the wealth of the rich either trickles down or has a neutral effect on the wealth of society as a whole.

        A person could disagree with the premise if they rejected the first assumption and instead thought that increases in wealth were often bad.

        A person could disagree if they didn’t believe the second assumption–that the wealth of the rich either trickles down or remains neutral–and instead thought that it lessened the wealth of everyone else. I’m not given to this argument myself, but I will point out there are circumstances where capitalism can work out this way.

        A person could disagree if they had some secondary goal, such as achieving equality, which gains to the rich would conflict with. Depending on their priorities, the benefits of wealth could be canceled out by the harm done to equality.

        I think those are all of the general reasons a person might rationally disagree with the premise.

        • It’s necessary to be clear about the distinction between wealth and money. If the treasury prints an extra billion dollars and gives it to the rich their wealth has increased but at the cost of the wealth of everyone else–the real stuff that matters hasn’t changed, they just get more of it and other people get less.

          The situation I think you are considering is where the rich get wealth without anyone else losing it–manna from heaven or the equivalent. If the rich are rich largely because their income is from capital and they use the extra wealth to produce more capital–hire people with it to build factories, say–then the capital/labor ratio of the society goes up, which will tend to raise wages and lower interest rates. I wouldn’t describe that as “trickling down,” but it is a benefit for the non-rich.

          If the rich spend their money in other ways, I don’t see any general reason to expect their increased wealth to hurt or harm others.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            The harm comes from how their wealth-creating actions change society in ways that can’t be expressed in purely monetary terms. A person living in post-industrial civilization today has greater wealth than rice farmers in Burma, but those rice farmers might have things which are of greater psychological value. Closer kinship, for instance.

            Furthermore, one might think that it is wealth itself that wreaks physical and mental havoc upon those who possess too much of it. Candy, for instance, takes advantage of people’s dietary compulsions in order to do them harm. Just because people are willing to buy it doesn’t make it beneficial.

          • I agree that harm could come in indirect ways. Also benefits.

            Rich people are a market for expensive new technologies, including medical ones, that may later develop to be inexpensive. Rich people often donate money to what they see as worthy causes, motivated by altruism, status seeking, or both, which may do good. The existence of wealthy people may make others feel worse because they feel inferior, or better because their existence makes the country seem more important.

            I agree that there might be social changes not easily analyzed in economic terms, but I find it hard to see why rich people getting somewhat richer would cause such changes either in the rich or the non-rich.

          • onyomi says:

            @David Friedman and Red Foliot

            To steelman the “rich getting richer makes some poor people worse off” case: a point I don’t often see mentioned:

            In China, if you have only say, 1 dollar to eat lunch, you can get a much better lunch than you can in the US, where that would buy you say, a small pack of gum. This isn’t just because labor is cheaper and the cost of producing the same food is somewhat cheaper, it’s because the society is set up to meet the needs of the large number of people there who only have $1 to spend on lunch.

            It is also possible to have a good lunch for $1 in the US: it’s going to look like a giant pile of rice and beans or potatoes and vegetables with some seasoning most likely. But no one in the US produces this lunch (you can make it yourself but then you have to do that, plus you don’t enjoy the economy of scale a restaurant making gallons of cheap lentil soup would), because almost everyone can afford a better lunch (maybe they do at that place all the Hispanic construction workers get their lunch which is located in a scary neighborhood).

            Related, you might be satisfied with a smaller, cheaper house, but maybe they only build big houses in your old neighborhood now. This is a little like gentrification, but I think slightly different: it’s not about poor people being bought out and replaced by richer people, it’s about poor peoples’ lives becoming worse as a result of society not catering to their needs.

    • rahien.din says:

      You’ve got two proposotions therein.

      The first : you request a steelman of the claim that monetary gains by the wealthy do not cause life for society on the whole to improve. The second : if monetary gains by the wealthy do not improve life for society, this must be because the wealthy are hoarding money without spending it. I don’t think anyone believes either of those as you have stated them. One can’t steelman a strawman.

      Moreover, steelmanning is something that one does on behalf of their opponent. IE, if you don’t believe [X], then you are the one who has to steelman [X].

      You should also specificy what you mean by “benefit society.” Being more specific there will go a long way to clarifying the whole situation.

      I think it is true that the rich do benefit society, in important ways, and to meaningful degrees, whether intentionally or unintentionally. We want a market economy, despite the necessity of inequalities. Being poor in America is much better than being poor almost anywhere else. All granted.

      But do wealthy people necessarily want to benefit society, or to allow society to benefit from their personal gains? I don’t think that they do, Nor do I believe that we even want them to.

      Benefitting society can only mean either of :
      (A) other citizens increase in financial power
      (B) other citizens enjoy greater tangible benefits without increasing in financial power

      (A) is what all people actually want. It’s what the wealthy want because having a great deal of financial power is the exact definition of being wealthy. Making (A) happen for yourself more than for other people is exactly how you become wealthy. If (A) happens for society on the whole, then the wealthy become de facto less wealthy. Widespread (A) is the exact thing the wealthy don’t want. They will prevent widespread (A) to the extent that they can.

      This does not require the wealthy to be cackling mustache-twirlers, or to be openly and deliberately stomping on the poor, or to be amoral. Nor is the situation addressed by merely listening to one’s conscience. Asking the wealthy to make (A) happen for society at large is asking them to stop doing what they’ve always done. To be someone other than who they are. To be someone other than who we want them to be.

      (B) is good, and definitely happens all the time. But, it’s still a state of dependency. It’s anti-libertarian. It’s erosive of freedom.

      Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
      Give a man a fish every day, and you feed him for the rest of his life.
      Teach a man to fish, and now you have a competitor in the fishing business.

      I think there is a balance to be struck. If laissez-faire, evil wins, and we have servitude followed by revolution. If communism, we have servitude followed by revolution. The answer is somewhere in the middle. We don’t want the wealthy to be so wealthy that we can’t draft behind them, but we also want them to be wealthy enough that it is worth drafting behind them.

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        I’ve often thought that we just need to make tax collection on the super rich logarithmic (or exponential, depending on how you look at it).

        In this scenario, a person strongly motivated by wealth accumulation can improve their wealth position w.r.t. other people (your (A)), so that impulse remains functional.

        However, the absolute distance you can get from everyone else is smaller due to taking a greater and greater amount of taxes as you get bigger and bigger. So, Zuckerberg would have, say $100 million in the extreme, which would still be more than all of the other tech executives, but not so much he can continue to be a large-scale asshole.

        (I would also extend taxes to cover other things, not just income.)

        • Deiseach says:

          So, Zuckerberg would have, say $100 million in the extreme, which would still be more than all of the other tech executives, but not so much he can continue to be a large-scale asshole.

          I don’t know if I’d characterise him as an asshole, but there is something a bit smug about him.

          However, what I intended to say was I think that past a certain limit, it ceases to be about the money as such. The ultra-rich are not interested in Scrooge McDuck-style vaults of cash where they can go swimming in coins, the numbers are what matters, and they matter only as a means of keeping score.

          The real importance is in continuing to be Number One, having the greatest market share, growing new markets, and so on. Having what (to the ordinary person) are enormous piles of cash isn’t the point, else they’d happily lie back on their billion-dollar laurels and let some lean young new competitor overtake them in market share in New Guinea.

          But they don’t. Measuring year-on-year growth and this quarter is up by 5% on the same time last year could be done in jellybeans not dollars; what matters is the achievement and the maintenance of being The Top. So opposition to taxation is not so much “you’re taking my money!” as “you’re knocking me down a rung on the status ladder!” That being said, I think Facebook etc do have to generate enormous piles of cash merely to keep going because they’re so big, but past a certain point it really is about ‘we got here and we’re staying here at the top of the mountain’, and money works as a proxy for that. Well, and of course having pots of money gives you access to people and places that are the movers and shakers, gives you power and influence, and so on. So it’s not the money itself, because I think if you flat-out asked him Zuckerberg would agree he’s already rich enough.

          • Brad says:

            I think that’s something that should be true, but isn’t necessarily. If it were the very wealthy would be basically indifferent to increased taxes. So long as the taxes hit everyone equally it wouldn’t change the ordinal ranking.

            But as it turns out some billionaires seem to have just as strong an emotional reaction to taxation as people whose lives would be significantly better if that money didn’t disappear from their paychecks.

            I roll my eyes when someone trots out “taxation is theft” but on the other hand I know people IRL that genuinely seem to *feel* that way. They have this deep, visceral, burning anger whenever they think about paying taxes.

          • Protagoras says:

            Yes, people are strongly and probably irrationally loss-averse. But as I understand it there’s been little success in finding evidence that higher tax rates reduce the incentive to work among high earners, suggesting that when they are not viscerally responding to the prospect of a loss it really is the status ladder and not the raw numbers the high earners care about.

          • Deiseach says:

            They have this deep, visceral, burning anger whenever they think about paying taxes.

            But that’s why I think it is about more than the money as money. Unless there is going to be something like a 99% tax rate, they are not in danger of having to sell everything they own and end up sleeping in their car.

            But the money isn’t just figures on a balance sheet, it’s “this is the measure of my success, this is mine, this is achievement” so handing it over – or worse, having it taken – is like the teacher taking your gold star for getting 10/10 on a test when you’re in First Class and handing it to someone else who only got 6/10 because you already have three gold stars on the classroom chart and they have none.

            It’s not fair 🙂

          • But the money isn’t just figures on a balance sheet, it’s “this is the measure of my success, this is mine, this is achievement”

            I think it’s the “this is mine” part that you are underestimating. If all people cared about was relative achievement and the resulting status, a high tax rate imposed on everyone wouldn’t much matter.

            People have a hardwired commitment strategy against having their stuff taken. Imagine a mugger demands your money. You have $30 you could give him. Your best estimate is that the cost of refusal, fighting or running, is $40. I predict that you (generic you) probably fights or runs. At $400, probably not.

            This commitment strategy is rational, even if the act is not. The knowledge that you are the sort of person who will bear sizable costs to keep someone from taking your stuff makes other people less likely to try to take your stuff, and if they don’t try you don’t have to fight them. I have an old article you might find of interest on a positive account of rights, a description of rights not as a moral category but as a description of human behavior.

            Governments try to get around this commitment strategy by convincing people that taxes don’t count as someone taking your stuff, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. They are fighting against the “I earned it fair and square and you are taking it from me” response.

          • They have this deep, visceral, burning anger whenever they think about paying taxes.

            Do you find this response irrational in the context of ordinary theft? Are you surprised if people respond to muggers or burglars with a deep, visceral, burning anger?

          • Brad says:

            Do you find this response irrational in the context of ordinary theft? Are you surprised if people respond to muggers or burglars with a deep, visceral, burning anger?

            No, I don’t. That’s why I why I lead in with the line about “taxation is theft”.

            While I don’t find it convincing as a matter of political philosophy, I have to acknowledge that it does accurately describes an emotional reaction that some non-trivial fraction of the population feels.

          • @Brad

            I think almost everyone has the emotional reaction, for the reason I sketched. People differ in whether they, like you, special case government taking your stuff and so distinguish it from other people taking it.

            Indeed, my best definition of “government” as distinguished from other institutions is an agency against which most people have dropped the commitment strategy they use against other violators of their rights. That might mean not feeling the emotion at all, it might mean feeling the emotion but not acting on it because government has such an overwhelming superiority of power.

            For more details, see.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            like the teacher taking your gold star for getting 10/10 on a test when you’re in First Class and handing it to someone else who only got 6/10 because you already have three gold stars on the classroom chart and they have none. It’s not fair 🙂

            One of the kids I tutor came in seething about how she hates school and she hates her teacher. I asked her what happened, and I learned this little gem: she was getting straight As in all her classes and all her tests, until last week her Geometry teacher changed how the weekly challenge quiz is done. The 4 kids at each table all study the weeks material together, and then they all each take the challenge quiz, without cheating off each other. But now the teacher goes to each table, takes ONE quiz sheet at random, grades it, and all 4 kids at that table get that grade.

            !!!

            What the everliving…

            Public school and public school teachers long ago moved beyond the point of parody, and they are only getting worse.

            This kid had every right to be enraged.

            What is this teacher trying to teach, except maybe for the smart competent kids to hate everyone else even more?

    • soreff says:

      What counts as “benefiting society”?

      Very roughly speaking, what I normally take that to mean is:
      Benefited a typical person. Even more roughly, I’ll approximate that as
      raised the median real income.

      What actually happened to the US economy from 2000-2016,
      https://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/2017/09/19/u-s-household-incomes-a-50-year-perspective
      is that the median income approximately broke even (though they lost for most of that time)
      the 4th quintile lost 2.4% of their income,
      and the bottom quintile lost 9.4% of their income,
      while the economy grew by about 80% in that period,
      https://www.thebalance.com/us-gdp-by-year-3305543
      So, yes, there is a real case where trickle down failed about half of us.

      • The figures you link to are for household income, not individual income. From 2000 to 2016, the average household size dropped by about 4%. So on a per capita basis (ignoring the possibility that the change in household size varied by income, which I don’t have data for) your “4th quintile lost 2.4% of their income” becomes “”4th quintile increased their income by 1.6%” and similarly for the other figures.

        while the economy grew by about 80% in that period,

        You are citing nominal figures (not inflation adjusted) for the economy, real figures for household income. If you follow your link and look at the table for real GDP, you will discover that your 80% should be 33%. Further, that’s a total not a per capita figure. From 2000 to 2016, population increased by about 15%. So your 80% growth in nominal total GDP is about an 18% growth in real per capita GDP, which is what is relevant to real per household income.

        A rather large difference.

  8. onyomi says:

    Re. the previous thread on Catalonia and secession, a good, brief defense of why, all else equal, small states are better.

    • rahien.din says:

      It is kind of jarring that two guys in Deutschland would claim that a group of small neighboring states will tend to interact peacefully with one another.

      • Orpheus says:

        Well, that’s not really a good argument, since the Thirty Years War was mainly north block vs. south block…

        • Gobbobobble says:

          It also had intervention by large foreign powers as a central driver. Maybe if Denmark, Sweden (yes they were stronk at the time), and France were also broken into small states, the war would have been isolated to the Bohemian phase.

          • Montfort says:

            If you only get the small state peace bonus when no large countries exist to meddle in your affairs, then it’s not a real bonus for the foreseeable future. Large states currently exist, and have significant power projection capabilities.

    • Matt M says:

      My favorite vegas-related conspiracy theory was that the dude was an agent of the Spanish government on a wild quest to get them out of the news. Because ye gods, the optics on this whole thing look HORRIBLE for them…

    • Wrong Species says:

      Catalonia is very interesting. Generally, people support independence movements if there is some kind of history of oppression. But the mainstream opinion seems to be that Catalonia has the right to secession simply because of the vote. And yet I don’t think most of the supporters of Catalan secession(other than libertarians) in the US would support secession by Texas and they certainly wouldn’t support it at an individual level. The governments in the world understand better than the common person what the consequences would be which is why you don’t see much official support for Catalonia. I’m guessing that Catalonia won’t become independent any time soon but we’ll see.

      • cassander says:

        by “support”, do you mean encourage and vote for if I had the option? Or do you mean “accept that they have a right to do it”? Because I feel very strongly in favor of the second definition, I have no real opinion on the first.

      • Brad says:

        If there was a strong, serious, and consistent over time desire in Texas to leave the United States I’d support passing a law to create a process for a referendum to be called and for secession to happen.

        If Texans decided to go that way I might well support a hardball negotiating stance vis-a-vis exit terms, but that’s different from saying you can’t leave no matter what.

        • Randy M says:

          Likewise. Although the problems arise in 54% or whatever close margin vote to secede.

        • Matt M says:

          And very different for cracking skulls over a non-binding resolution. I’m no fan of the North’s response to southern secession in the American civil war, but at least Lincoln had the common decency to actually wait for the South to secede. He didn’t send the army in to disrupt the legislate of South Carolina from even talking about leaving in the first place…

          • The Nybbler says:

            He didn’t send the army in to disrupt the legislate of South Carolina from even talking about leaving in the first place…

            He did in Maryland.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Maryland was a special case, because it controlled access to the national capital.

            Yes, it was regrettable. But he only did it once and let them meet again later.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Does Austin have the right to secede from Texas?

          Does downtown have the right to secede from Austin?

          Does an owner of one building have the right to secede from downtown?

          Does an owner of a condo have the right to secede from that building?

          • Brad says:

            If Austin wanted to leave TX and stay in the US, no. Secession and revolution are inherently extra-legal question that aren’t constrained by any legal rules.

            The internal organization of the United States is not such an inherently extra-legal question. It’s a matter for the US constitution which says that no state can be created from the territory of another state without the consent of that state.

            If Austin wanted to secede from TX and the US it would be worth considering but it would be reasonable to conclude that it is too small and too integrated. That’s certainly the case for all your other examples.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Austin has a city level population of nearly a million and 271 square miles of land. The microstate of San Marino, which is an enclave inside of Italy, has a population of 33,000 and an area of 23 square miles. Even if it was a problem, the people could easily ask who are you to decide what is and isn’t reasonable. They want freedom. Why don’t they have the freedom to decide for themselves?

          • Evan Þ says:

            What Bean said about the internal organization of the United States.

            Part of me wants to say that everyone should ideally have the complete right to secede from the country, but there can be reasonable exit taxes and border control. I wouldn’t want to secede if it means the Border Patrol would be stationed all around my house. But then, another part of me reminds myself that I would purchase a (hypothetical) house under the presumption that my neighbor isn’t about to declare independence, declare war on the United States, and start firing across the border – or even just strike up music late at night in total immunity to noise ordinances.

            Still, I favor secession to a very large extent. I’d say a town or county should be large enough to declare independence, and if it doesn’t work out for them, they have no one but themselves to blame.

          • Nornagest says:

            This seems like a good time to mention the Great Republic of Rough and Ready, which seceded from the Union for a year in 1850 over taxes. (Wikipedia says mining; I heard liquor.) No one cared, and they reentered the Union the following year.

            Of course, California in 1850 was a pretty lawless place, and pretty tenuously tied to the rest of the country.

          • Anon. says:

            This is how Lichtenstein works. “municipalities in Liechtenstein are entitled to secede from the union by majority vote.”

    • I’ve brought up my objection to small countries before in SSC, and I don’t think anyone has given me an answer, so I’ll repeat myself.

      My issue with small states is how I would feel about the US breaking into smaller countries. Currently I find it very easy to travel anywhere in the US (crossing state borders is a matter of seeing a sign), working anywhere in the US, using the same money everywhere. I do agree that the government might be more competent if it were smaller (although I haven’t noticed city or county government being very competent). But any gains from better government would be out-weighed by the loss of easy travel and trade within the US.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Very possibly. But, smaller independent states can collaborate on things like that; witness the North German Customs Union or the Schengen Agreement, or even the Articles of Confederation back when all thirteen states really were free and independent. I’d imagine that fifty (or more) smaller American countries probably would collaborate to make commerce at least no harder than passing through a current Californian agricultural inspection station.

      • johan_larson says:

        From just across the border, my impression is that the US is a little too big and a little too diverse, which leads to endless really heated arguments about virtually everything. If the country were divided into smaller pieces along cultural and economic lines, there would simply be less to fight about. For example, I expect Massachusetts and Texas could each separately come up with gun-ownership legislation that would have broad approval within each state, but I rather doubt they could come up with joint gun-ownership legislation that would have broad approval in both places.

        If it were possible to split up the US, I think the cultural and economic areas identified in The Nine Nations of North America would be a good place to start.

        • @Johan. Except that these cultural lines are in truth very mixed up, and I don’t think you’d make people happier by dividing them into regions. I live in Minnesota, and I notice it is included in the “Breadbasket” region in your link. That would put Minnesota in a very Republican region, which would not be a match for much of my state. In the latest election, the biggest split was between urban and rural regions, which are generally close to each other geographically. By the way, I notice thy break up Canada in the link as well as the US, do you agree with this, since Canada is so large geographically?

          Maybe in areas of Europe, one can make countries more homogeneous by breaking them into smaller countries, but I don’t see that working in North America.

          @Evan. Yes, there are mitigations available to small countries, if they work together well, but never as well as being in one country.

  9. Wrong Species says:

    A few weeks ago, we had a discussion on libertarianism. Unfortunately, I don’t think it really got anywhere. I think it’s because I relied too heavily on analogies and for many people, that’s not very convincing. So no more metaphors. I found this article that has some similar thoughts that I do, although I don’t agree with all of it. My question for anarcho-capitalists: in an ancap world, for an individual who doesn’t own property and can’t afford it, how are they in any sense free? Libertarians always say they think people should be able to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, but for our property-less individual, they are always at the mercy of some other individual. Is that what freedom looks like?

    • toastengineer says:

      Well, I vaguely consider myself an ancap. The standard answer would be “everyone would have property.”

      You come in to the world with property under anarchocapitalism/libertarianism; that’s the definition of property under ancapism, property is yourself, anything another person willingly gives to you (and fraud doesn’t count,) and anything derived entirely from your own property (and unowned material like, say, air.)

      Ancapism wouldn’t be particularly nice for the poor and the disabled, but… no system is gonna be particularly nice for the poor, that’s what being poor means. Most ancaps, myself included, would say that no-one in Ancapistan is going to be as poor as the poorest people in the U.S.; in an unrestricted economy everyone would be able to find some way to provide for themselves.

      You should probably visit Reddit’s /r/goldandblack, that’s where all the smart ancaps hang out.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Come on. Self ownership doesn’t mean anything if you can’t express it. And saying that the poor people would be better if you just presupposing one of the main issues of debate. Take the least convenient possible world where people who are homeless in the present would still be homeless in ancapistan. Please don’t fight the hypothetical. It’s tiresome. Now do you think that homeless person is free?

        • Civilis says:

          [Note: while sympathetic to the philosophy, I am not an AnCap. I don’t believe freedom is the only consideration in how society should be run.]

          It’s an odd definition of freedom you are using. Someone who is mute is still free to talk. The problem is that freedom doesn’t lead to perfect outcomes. People will still suffer under a libertarian system, because people are human. That people still suffer doesn’t make them less free.

          Any system needs to deal with the problem of scarcity, that there’s not enough of the things people want to go around. In a libertarian system, scarce things stay with the property owners. This isn’t fair, but because of scarcity, there is no possible fair answer that gives everyone what they want, which would be necessary for things to be fair.

          Leaving things with the property owners and letting them trade among themselves (which we call freedom) rewards production of things people want and thus seems to lead to better outcomes than systems where some central authority controls distribution of scarce things and tries to redistribute things to suit their idea of fair.

        • toastengineer says:

          Self ownership doesn’t mean anything if you can’t express it.

          What exactly does this mean?

          Take the least convenient possible world where people who are homeless in the present would still be homeless in ancapistan. Please don’t fight the hypothetical. It’s tiresome. Now do you think that homeless person is free?

          Homeless people aren’t allowed to go anywhere or use anything they don’t have permission to in our world either.

          In Ancapistan he would be free to walk around on public-access sidewalks, free to work for anyone he wants for whatever pay he wants, free to make use of any unowned property and make anything possible out of the things he has and acquires, free to make love to whomever will have him: just what freedom does this guy have in our world that he doesn’t in Ancapistan?

          • Wrong Species says:

            On private property like malls they don’t allow homeless people to loiter. What makes you think a prudent businessman would do so? They would probably be kicked out any major city. And that’s not even getting in to possible welfare benefits.

          • IrishDude says:

            Lots of people have compassion and want to help those less fortunate, like people that struggle to afford to buy property. Most people don’t think of every interaction as a business interaction and appreciate other aspects of civil society.

            These people would do in ancapistan the things they do under the state, like build tiny house villages for the homeless. Hundreds of volunteers building small, very inexpensive houses, with many people donating money for the materials and land, and even businesses sponsoring the homes for good press.

            Homeless people are at the mercy of donors, but entrepreneurs are at the mercy of consumer choices, workers are at the mercy of people willing to employ them, and people that want to eat are at the mercy of those who grow food. We live in an interconnected world where everyone depends on everyone else, and this doesn’t make us less free, at least not in my conception of freedom.

          • And he would be free to rent housing of lower quality and lower cost than is legally available at present, so might not be homeless.

      • no system is gonna be particularly nice for the poor

        Not all numbers are equal.

      • Aapje says:

        in an unrestricted economy everyone would be able to find some way to provide for themselves.

        So a quadriplegic with low IQ would do…what exactly?

        I have trouble coming up with any jobs except begging.

        • Civilis says:

          The key part of trade is an exchange of value. You want to find things that other people are willing to give you money for. It feels good to give money to help those that truly can’t care for themselves, so in a sense, I’m trading my donations to those in need for a feeling of goodwill. Finding someone that truly can’t produce directly is what drives true charity, the voluntary transfer of goods in return for the feeling of helping someone in need.

          Supply and demand works even if you don’t think of it. If my community has one quadriplegic asking for donations, it’s easy to collect enough voluntary donations to support them. If there are a large amount of people begging, it’s hard to get enough to help all of them. If some of them are likely scammers, the amount of goodwill you get from charity is lower, and thus less people donate.

          If there’s a scarcity of food, it’s likely that in Ancapistan our quadriplegic (or anyone that can’t produce) is going to be one of the ones that ends up short. That’s tragic. But it’s also true that if there’s scarcity of something people need like food in any society that someone is not going to get enough. The trade off to rewarding production of things society needs or wants like food is more food, and thus less of a chance that there will be a scarcity of food and more available for charity to those that can’t produce.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I’ll allocate food in exchange for more food

          • Civilis says:

            I’ll allocate food in exchange for more food

            But I already have the food… why do I need you to give me what I already have?

            Unless you intend to take the food from me, and then give some of it back. And that’s going to require some of the food go to the people doing the collection so they don’t just keep all the food for themselves, people that could otherwise be producing more food themselves so we’re not in this problem. Of course, if there’s a chance there’s not enough food for them and me, you’re going to feed them first, since they have guns.

            Meanwhile, our quadriplegic friend is likely behind both the people taking the food I produced and me in the food line, so he’s still out of luck. Especially because I can’t give him my food, since you took all of it.

          • Incurian says:

            @Thegnskald: I lol’ed

          • Aapje says:

            @Civilis

            If my community has one quadriplegic asking for donations, it’s easy to collect enough voluntary donations to support them. If there are a large amount of people begging, it’s hard to get enough to help all of them. If some of them are likely scammers, the amount of goodwill you get from charity is lower, and thus less people donate.

            Exactly and in our current system, we have a central authority that keeps the number of scammers relatively low compared to laissez-faire. So this results in relatively high levels of charity, which I consider good, so central authority is good.

            Furthermore, individual charity has a tendency to be extremely racist, sexist, ‘lookist,’ neurotypicalist, etc; favoring the pretty person that we identify with over the person with the worst issues. Hence some level of bureaucracy that makes objective rules is good.

            If there’s a scarcity of food, it’s likely that in Ancapistan our quadriplegic (or anyone that can’t produce) is going to be one of the ones that ends up short. That’s tragic.

            ‘Providing for yourself’ involves more than just food, but also housing, healthcare, clothing, etc, etc. That requires way more money than just not starving. However, the actual issue for me is more that having a permanent underclass which never gets the opportunity to use their natural talents because of deprivation is bad for them and bad for society.

            The quadriplegic was only the (extreme) example because the other person claimed that there was a job for everyone, a claim that you’re not actually willing to defend, so you changed the topic.

            If we take a slightly less incapacitated person, who can have kids, it’s bad if this person can’t provide sufficiently for this kid or raise it well, so it can benefit from education to his or her ability.

            This idea that minimizing/privatizing the state results in maximum productivity is a very bad analysis that assumes that people who are not maximally productive merely lack motivation, rather than skills.

            We’ve seen in the past that mandatory and government-paid education created huge benefits for society as many people could not acquire skills they otherwise wouldn’t have acquired, resulting in many people reaching a level of productivity that wouldn’t have happened by merely providing incentives.

          • We’ve seen in the past that mandatory and government-paid education created huge benefits for society

            Two sources of evidence against that claim:

            E.G. West, Education and the State

            James Tooley, The Beautiful Tree

            The first is a description of the history of 19th century British schooling which finds no evidence that the shift to state provided schooling resulted in improvement, some evidence that people in the early 19th century English cities were getting about as much (private) schooling as people in the contemporary Prussian system, which was government provided and compulsory.

            The second describes modern very low cost private schools in third world countries which people send their kids to because the government provided free public schools are so bad.

            What is the evidence on which you base your “we’ve seen” claim?

          • Civilis says:

            Exactly and in our current system, we have a central authority that keeps the number of scammers relatively low compared to laissez-faire. So this results in relatively high levels of charity, which I consider good, so central authority is good.

            Can you explain your logic, please? I thought the problem with proposed Ancap societies was that without a safety net, the poor will starve. Now you’re telling me that for some reason this will cause a lot of people to try to scam the system. If you can be sure you’re going to get benefits if you claim disability, that’s an encouragement to scam the system.

            Furthermore, individual charity has a tendency to be extremely racist, sexist, ‘lookist,’ neurotypicalist, etc; favoring the pretty person that we identify with over the person with the worst issues. Hence some level of bureaucracy that makes objective rules is good.

            There’s nothing stopping the bureaucracy from being any of those things, either, and if the bureaucracy is racist or sexist, there’s no alternative. The bureaucracy is likely to make one-size-fits-all rules that favor the current fashion of the day, leaving gaps not covering the unfavored and allowing scammers to exploit and weaken the system. Private charities like the UNCF sprung up to cover gaps in the system; just about any cause you could name has a private charity to cover it.

            We’ve seen in the past that mandatory and government-paid education created huge benefits for society as many people could not acquire skills they otherwise wouldn’t have acquired, resulting in many people reaching a level of productivity that wouldn’t have happened by merely providing incentives.

            I used food as the easiest to demonstrate example. For the foreseeable future, we’re stuck dealing with scarcity for everything, including education. There aren’t enough high-quality teachers to give every student a top-quality education, and so we have a permanent underclass created by the differential in educational outcomes between places that can afford top-quality education and those that can’t, and we have an upper class with the political skills to game the system and the resources to pay for private education. The best ideas to fix this involve allowing those that want out to take the money they would have been forced by the system to spend on poor public education and buy private education on the market. That doesn’t save everyone, but it incentivizes people to learn to take action to better their kids education, and it incentivizes people to find ways to provide a better education using less resources.

            As long as we’re stuck with scarcity, in every system the poor and disadvantaged are going to get the short end of the stick on just about everything. In order to get rich (or otherwise powerful), you need the skills and connections that also allow you to navigate the system and get the best outcomes in education, or food, or whatever it is, and those skills can’t be taught.

          • Civilis says:

            The quadriplegic was only the (extreme) example because the other person claimed that there was a job for everyone, a claim that you’re not actually willing to defend, so you changed the topic.

            Toastengineer is wrong; there’s not a job for everyone, so I have no need to defend his statement. Any society has to have a way of accounting for those that are actually unable to provide for themselves, like the very young and old, to take more common examples.

            I took the thrust of your point to be that because this person couldn’t provide for themselves, an Anarcho-capitalist society would leave them to die, and I can’t guarantee that, but no society can.

            We’re approaching the problem of the underclass, as you put it, differently. Your approach seems to be to set up a government which will guarantee they get promised the necessities of life, and hope that scarcity never gets to the point where you have to deny them something they need because there’s not enough for everyone. My approach is to set up a society which incentivizes production to minimize the chance of scarcity, and trusts in society to see that charity is provided. Both approaches have their flaws. I’m not an Anarcho-capitalist, I approve of some level of a public safety net, but pretending that it doesn’t come with a very high cost to society, including the underclass, is naive.

          • Aapje says:

            @Civilis

            I thought the problem with proposed Ancap societies was that without a safety net, the poor will starve.

            I have not been arguing this and the comment I made that you replied to did not claim this.

            Now you’re telling me that for some reason this will cause a lot of people to try to scam the system.

            All ‘free money’ situations incentivize scamming and generally require gatekeeping to prevent this. Individual charity givers are probably worse at gatekeeping for various reasons.

            Private charity organizations may be equal or better than the government, but there the issue is a free rider problem where those with less concern for the poor can free ride on the greater willingness to give of others. For example, consider a society of 2 rich people (Bob and Alice) and 1 poor person (David) for ease of calculation. Bob considers the welfare you buy with $10 per rich citizen sufficient, while Alice thinks that $20 per rich citizen is sufficient.

            Depending on your preferences/politics, I think you can argue that there are two fairish outcomes:
            – One where Bob pays $10 and Alice pays $20
            – One where Bob pays $15 and Alice pays $15

            However, in reality Bob can simply choose to pay nothing and get his way, since then if Alice does pay $20, it still averages out to $10 per rich citizen. Effectively, Bob can extort Alice due to her higher willingness to pay.

            So voluntary donations create an anti-democratic outcome that is below the average willingness of citizens to pay.

            As long as we’re stuck with scarcity, in every system the poor and disadvantaged are going to get the short end of the stick on just about everything.

            Per my calculation above, voluntary donations results in extra scarcity for the poor compared to mandatory welfare taxation.

            In order to get rich (or otherwise powerful), you need the skills and connections that also allow you to navigate the system and get the best outcomes in education, or food, or whatever it is, and those skills can’t be taught.

            Why not? Perhaps we don’t teach them now, but most of these are acquired skills and thus are learned. If they can be learned, they can be taught.

          • Civilis says:

            All ‘free money’ situations incentivize scamming and generally require gatekeeping to prevent this. Individual charity givers are probably worse at gatekeeping for various reasons.

            Evidence, please? We know the current gargantuan one-size-fits-all bureaucracies are horrible at gatekeeping.

            Private charity organizations may be equal or better than the government, but there the issue is a free rider problem where those with less concern for the poor can free ride on the greater willingness to give of others.

            The people that are inclined to be free riders are also inclined not to vote to support charity in the first place. And you simplified example is also ignoring all the downsides of that model of charity. If Alice is choosing to spend $20 directly on a charity of her choice, rather than into a massive central pool, she can direct that money to where it is the most effective. Meanwhile, Bob’s likely supporting the politician that promises to only spend $14 rather than $15 of his money on charity, even if that money is being spent less effectively by the government. At the same time, David is voting for the politician that promises $20 from Alice and Bob, even if that’s more than the amount of charity that he needs.

            Further, you’ve indicated the flaw with your own argument: what if Bob’s right that $10 is sufficient? Where’s the extra money going? If he’s right, that extra money is wasted; that’s what gets you the scammers showing up to get the money in the first place. Letting everyone decide how much money to spend crowdsources the problem of determining how much money to spend overall, rather than leave it up to who can best manipulate the political system. In bad economic times, Alice and Bob can decide to spend less, serving as a feedback mechanism that scarcity in resources is starting to be an issue.

            Why not? Perhaps we don’t teach them now, but most of these are acquired skills and thus are learned. If they can be learned, they can be taught.

            Remember, our example that sparked this discussion was a quadriplegic with a low IQ. We started with the assumption that some people can’t do productive work though no fault of their own, and now we’re expecting that we can somehow give them the skills to socially compete at the top levels of society?

          • All ‘free money’ situations incentivize scamming and generally require gatekeeping to prevent this. Individual charity givers are probably worse at gatekeeping for various reasons.

            I would guess the opposite. The public welfare is being run by people who make their living running it, not by people who are doing it because they care about the poor. So they are more likely both to permit scamming if preventing it is difficult and, more generally, to make decisions based on their self-interest rather than the interest of people they are supposed to be helping.

            The same can be true for employees of a private charity, but the distance between the people who want to help the poor and the people actually handing out the money is shorter, so one would expect the principal/agent problem to be less.

            Private charity organizations may be equal or better than the government, but there the issue is a free rider problem where those with less concern for the poor can free ride on the greater willingness to give of others.

            One common solution to this problem is to identify the donor with particular recipients or groups of recipients his donation helps. His thousand dollars will have no visible effect on the total population of poor people, but it means that John’s family eats instead of going hungry or that bright but poor Jane gets to go to high school or college.

            More generally, market failure problems, including the public good/free riding problem, exist in the private system. But they are endemic in the political alternative. Consider the mechanisms for making sure programs sold as helping the poor actually do so. If one voter devotes the energy to finding out and voting against politicians who are helping other people under the pretense of helping the poor, everyone else free rides on his efforts.

            In modern societies, a lot of government expenditure is sold as helping the poor but goes mostly to the not-poor. Consider the subsidy to higher education. The argument is that it lets some poor people go to college who wouldn’t, which is true. But, on average, people who go to college, including government run and subsidized colleges, come from richer families than people who don’t, and are abler so likely to be richer in the future than people who don’t.

            Similarly, programs to raise agricultural prices, in both the U.S. and Europe, are supposed to help poor farmers. But most output in the U.S. (I don’t know about Europe) is from large farms, and higher food prices are a regressive tax–food is a larger fraction of the budget of poorer people.

        • In a world where the only people who can’t produce enough to provide for themselves are quadriplegics with low IQ, begging should work pretty well. It might even be handled via middlemen, aka charitable enterprises.

          What other things would work would depend on how advanced the AI was. At the moment, even people with low IQ are better at some tasks than computers. More advanced technology would reduce the value of an IQ 80 brain but also the costs of being a quadriplegic.

          • Aapje says:

            You are also changing the topic. The statement by toastengineer that I challenged (which you can see by me quoting it) is that everyone would be able to provide for himself by getting a job.

            I just want to hear what real job (providing actual value to others, so not begging) toastengineer thinks that my quadriplegic would do in Ancapistan. No more, no less.

            My extreme example was not an admission that I think that everyone more capable would be capable of providing for himself; nor that I consider ‘basic needs met’ as sufficient for me to favor the existence of Ancapistan.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            @Aapje,
            I agree with you, but I think an even better example would be someone with a mental illness like severe social anxiety, which prevents them not only from doing labor but from even seeking it out. Such a person wouldn’t even be able to beg; possibly they could dumpster dive.

        • toastengineer says:

          Sell blood & other fluids, expend extra effort on becoming an artist (or programmer, if they’re just “low IQ” instead of severely mentally disabled), rely on family and charity. I’m not saying that person would have a better life in Ancapistan, probably significantly worse, but that person wouldn’t be thrown in the river either.

          If the guy couldn’t move his limbs but didn’t need hospitalization to live, he could work as a security guard or at an information booth or something. Give him mouth controls and he might be able to operate a crane or something.

          I suppose I could forsee some kind of “child insurance” parents take out before conceiving that pays for hospitalization of people who can’t support themselves at all. That’s a long shot though.

          What does happen under the current system, actually? Does the government pay to keep you hospitalized?

          So… what happens to members of a minority when the majority decide their well-being doesn’t matter?

          Ooh, and what happens to someone who signs a severely unfair but not illegal contract? Under the current system the state almost always upholds the contract, there’s no reason for them to care that it was specifically designed so that a layman could never understand it. In Ancapistan a judge who upholds deliberately illegible contracts would lose business pretty fast.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s not uncommon for a judge to throw out a contract. They do it all the time with pre-nups.

          • Aapje says:

            @toastengineer

            Selling plasma currently pays ~$60 dollars per week, which is not enough to pay for rent + food + clothes. If you expect more people to have to do this, the prices will just go down even more.

            The quadriplegic will also have big trouble getting to the clinic. The quadriplegic is a single person who has to do everything himself (my example, so I get to make up the details), so how does he get to the clinic?

            I don’t know what other fluids you think he could sell, I don’t think that sperm banks generally accept uneducated quadriplegics.

            rely on family and charity

            In other words, not a job.

            If the guy couldn’t move his limbs but didn’t need hospitalization to live, he could work as a security guard or at an information booth or something. Give him mouth controls and he might be able to operate a crane or something.

            What the…

            These don’t seem like reasonable suggestions to me, but rather extremely wishful thinking.

            What does happen under the current system, actually? Does the government pay to keep you hospitalized?

            In my country, they do.

            So… what happens to members of a minority when the majority decide their well-being doesn’t matter?

            Why is this relevant? This is no different from Ancapistan, so this is not an argument in favor of Ancapistan.

    • Incurian says:

      If we get rid of racism but some people from minority groups are still disadvantaged, does that mean we should have kept racism?

      • Wrong Species says:

        It’s more like you make things better for some races but makes it much worse off for others. I know libertarians believe that everything about the free markets is Pareto improving but there are really strong reasons to believe that isn’t true.

        • Incurian says:

          Shouldn’t we argue about that then?

        • I know libertarians believe that everything about the free markets is Pareto improving

          I doubt there are any libertarian economists who believe that, and not many libertarians, provided that they know what Pareto-improving means. If a tariff didn’t benefit anybody nobody would lobby for it.

          The more plausible claim is that shifts towards a freer market are usually Marshall improvements (often called Hicks-Kaldor improvements or potential Pareto improvements, but I think that terminology is misleading).

    • but for our property-less individual, they are always at the mercy of some other individual. Is that what freedom looks like?

      There is no individual who they are always at the mercy of. What I think you mean is that they depend on there being at least one individual willing to deal with them.

      Isn’t that true of all social systems? What happens in some alternative society, say a welfare state, to someone who nobody at all is willing to cooperate with?

      • Matt M says:

        There is no individual who they are always at the mercy of.

        A great way of putting it, particularly when combined with the knowledge that in non-libertarian systems, everyone is always at the mercy of the state (aka, the 51% majority)

      • Wrong Species says:

        Welfare systems are set up in a way that that takes away a lot of uncertainty. If I’m over 65 and get sick, I know that Medicare is available. But what about ancapistan? Sure there might be charities but they could lose all their funding or decide to pivot to something else. In theory, the same could happen to states but their nature means it’s much less likely to happen, especially in a democracy where a sizable portion of the population will turn against it.

        • Incurian says:

          It depends on which Ancapistan you’re in. Some states aren’t very stable, generous, or reliable either.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Sure but in a developed country there are molochian reasons to believe that things would be worse for the poorest people. In ancapistan, the organizations that take over from the state are going to need to maximize efficiency to compete with the others. Poor, homeless people are grossly inefficient and would probably be kicked out, especially since there isn’t really any kind of public space anymore.

          • Incurian says:

            In a democracy where the people are in charge of the government, they choose to take care of the poor. In Ancapistan where there people are in charge of society, they definitely won’t?

          • Poor, homeless people are grossly inefficient and would probably be kicked out

            About a century ago, when the U.S. was much closer to a laissez-faire system than it is now, about a million people, mostly poor, were arriving each year. They found jobs, found housing. Why would you expect that not to be true in a much richer future society?

          • Wrong Species says:

            1. If 60% of the people want a welfare system but 40% don’t, then a democracy would probably have more people pay in than otherwise would.

            2. Some people will only do these kinds of altruistic acts if there is a guarantee that others will join in. State coercion is more coordinated than voluntary giving. If somebody shrinks, they go to jail.

            3. Some people like the idea of giving to the poor, but they know they would be tempted to not do so. This makes it harder for them to avoid it.

            4. There is good empirical reasons to believe that welfare decreases poverty. If welfare states made no difference, we shouldn’t see it.

            @David

            Do you think there were no homeless people back then? I don’t really see your point.

          • Do you think there were no homeless people back then?

            I think that almost all of the immigrants were poorer than today’s poor, and few of them were homeless.

            Also that they were much better off than if they had not immigrated, and if the U.S. had had a welfare state then it is likely that immigration would have been restricted, as it is now.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I would like to see evidence that there were very few homeless people back then. Even then, your point has now just turned to open borders being better for the global poor. Understandable, but you can have open borders without eliminating the state. Ancap might have more, stronger borders than now, especially in larger countries like the US where you can travel from one side of the country to the other unimpeded.

          • Even then, your point has now just turned to open borders being better for the global poor. Understandable, but you can have open borders without eliminating the state.

            But you can’t have open borders in a welfare state, as long as there are a substantial number of people elsewhere who are poor enough so that immigrating and going on welfare is more attractive than their present situation.

        • You know that medicare is available if the people handling medicare are willing to cooperate with you.

          The situation in which someone without property in an A-C system is at the mercy of others is one in which all of the others are allied to control him. The equivalent in a welfare state is a situation where all of the clerks find reasons not to accept his medicare application, all of the people in the system who are supposed to keep them from doing that don’t, because they are in on the coalition as well. If they do accept it, no doctor agrees to treat him, because they are in on the coalition as well.

          You are assuming uniform and coordinated malevolence, or at least coordinated exploitation involving millions of people, for the A-C system, and not allowing for the implications of that assumption for the welfare state.

          And it requires much less coordinated malevolence in the state system because if you are in some group they want to get it only takes a majority of the legislature plus a few judges to deprive you of the benefits of the welfare system. Or make it illegal for you to practice your trade.

          • Civilis says:

            You are assuming uniform and coordinated malevolence, or at least coordinated exploitation involving millions of people, for the A-C system, and not allowing for the implications of that assumption for the welfare state.

            This.

            If there’s total discrimination, it’s more likely that it’s because the law requires it than because every possible provider made that decision themselves. Historically, we had the experience of the Jim Crow laws, which made segregation not just legal but mandatory. Nobody will seat you at the lunch counter because the law won’t allow it, even if they want to.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I said that I wouldn’t use analogies but they can simplify the issues.

      A) Take a guy who manages to buy out the entire world throughout peaceful means. Once he establishes control, he says he will never sell. Even though his acquisition of money was peaceful, isn’t he essentially a dictator now? Maybe with the people who sold the land we can say they voluntarily agreed to the situation but their children didn’t. They’re essentially slaves and certainly I would say they are worse off compared to the present situation.

      B) A few years later, he offers to sell some of his property but at a price no one can afford. There is practically no difference.

      C) He then lowers the price to what the next richest guy can afford. That guy has freedom but the situation is the same for everyone else.

      D) He makes it cheap enough that billionaires can afford land but no one else can. Again they have freedom but no one else.

      And so on until we get to…

      Z) The average person can afford to buy property but the poorest people can not. What is the difference for them between scenario A and scenario Z? At what point, did they stop living a life under dictatorial control in to something more free? Democracy mitigates this to some degree because no one individual has complete control over a territory, which is why I think there is good reason to believe that ancapistan could have significantly less freedom for the poor. An individual vote is worthless but collectively, it gives a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t have anything.

      • Drew says:

        Not an ancap, but I think this sort of argument-by-induction is silly. Your bad outcome lasts as long as landowners can collude to keep prices high.

        Informal agreements work if there’s a handful of landlords. But to coordinate 10,000+ property owners? That takes a government.

        And I’m not being flip here. I live in the SF Bay. It’s surreal that people could look at the situation in SF, and go, “You know what we need to keep property affordable? More zoning rules.”

        I’ve also sat on a the board of a condo-association. It’s impossible to get 60 people to agree on a snow-removal schedule. A stable rent-fixing agreement between 10,000 people would take some sort of divine intervention.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You misunderstand me. My argument is the same even if they are charging market prices for the land. Think of it more like the super rich guy was only willing to sell a large piece of land(Russia sized) that had a market value higher than what anyone else could could afford. Then he offers a smaller chunk(Brazil sized) and one guy can afford it and so. It doesn’t make a difference whether there is collusion or not. The poor guy has the same problem in scenario Z as he does in A.

      • toastengineer says:

        Take a guy who manages to buy out the entire world throughout peaceful means. Once he establishes control, he says he will never sell. Even though his acquisition of money was peaceful, isn’t he essentially a dictator now?

        While we’re at it: presume Cyborg Jetpack Hitler rises from the dead and somehow assassinates everyone who isn’t a Nazi and anyone who considers speaking out against him immediately explodes. How does liberal democracy deal with this situation?

        “Assuming your system has been destroyed through some arbitrary and undefeatable means, your system can never work,” while technically a true statement, is not a very effective criticism of a system.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You are missing the point. When people talk about trolley problems the point isn’t to discuss how likely it is that the fat man stops a trolley. It’s to examine your ethical beliefs. If you refuse to do so, you’re just implicitly conceding that you don’t have a good answer.

          Yes, one man won’t buy out the whole world. But scenario Z is obviously plausible. My point is to ask how free the homeless person is in Z knowing that his situation is the same as if he was in hypothetical A.

          • Lillian says:

            As it happens my ethical beliefs are based in how likely the fat man is to stop the trolley, and also on the ramifications of letting individuals push others into harm’s way on the personal belief it is a net good.

            Without those elements it is not a meaningful moral question, because managing risk is an key element of morality. In fact it has long been my suspicion that the reason people will pull the switch but not push the fat man is their inability or refusal to ignore those elements. If people will not accept the premises of your scenario then you are not getting useful information out of it

          • Incurian says:

            Pretty good points.

          • Wrong Species says:

            There are two ethical dilemmas. What to do in the hypothetical scenario and what to do if it was really happening. I would never actually push the fat man, because it’s highly doubtful it would work. But it’s different within the confines of the hypothetical, which is about whether you are willing to murder one to save more. If you handwave it away by saying it won’t work, you’re just avoiding challenging your beliefs. The odd thing is that I never hear libertarians say that The Tale of a Slave is a contrived moral dilemma even though it’s not likely that a slave owner would give their slaves that much freedom.

            Again, I need to point out that my scenario is not about what to do in some unlikely scenario. It’s about the ethical difference between the highly unlikely scenario and the likely scenario.

          • Incurian says:

            What is the value of a hypothetical whose response doesn’t correspond with reality?

      • Civilis says:

        The problem with this is the first statement, “Take a guy who manages to buy out the entire world throughout peaceful means“.

        He has something people are willing to trade land for, and enough of it to trade for everyone’s land. The problem is that the more of it he trades, the less value it has. Also, the less land everyone else has, the more value the land he doesn’t own has. Eventually, he’ll reach a point where there’s nothing he can offer that’s worth the cost of more land.

        The scenario only makes sense if the person already has absolute control of some necessary non-land resource (he owns all the food and water, as an example), and there’s no way for anyone else to get them without trading with him, so he’s already in control of the world. We’re in the sort of theoretical realm we get when we discuss economics while assuming post-scarcity; we’re assuming conditions that can’t exist.

      • The Nybbler says:

        We’re already in the situation where roughly 200 corporate entities own all the land in the world.

  10. AutisticThinker says:

    Can computers be considered autistic?

    (This post is inspired by this article on Psychology Today which I disagree with)

    I believe that computers behave in a way that is similar to at least some autists. Hence in this sense computers can be considered autistic.

    • Evan Þ says:

      In the same way that apes can be considered mentally disabled?

      I think both analogies are stretching the meaning of the respective words far beyond usefulness in most if not all contexts, but I can see how they might be interesting to think about.

  11. johan_larson says:

    Underappreciated works of art anyone?

    I’ll offer the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, based on the Aubrey/Maturin novels. Tall ships, big stars, masculine friendship, exciting sea battles, clever trickery, and a great classical score. Hard to see why this one flopped.

    • Mark says:

      I feel like getting a sequel to Master and Commander is one of the major reasons why we need to hurry up and invent some kind of age reversal technology.

      If you believe Aubrey de Grey, getting to early stage age reversal wouldn’t really be that much more expensive than making the film…

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t think it actually flopped; IMDB reports $212 million gross over a $150 million budget. Kind of meh.
      What it didn’t do, is show the series’ potential for sequels, where the action at sea is complimented by intrigue and even occasional romance ashore. If it looks like just Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany having spectacular 19th-century naval battles with a bit of manly friendship, well, maybe we just saw all we really need of that.

      OK, I haven’t. But look to Pirates of the Caribbean for the way to sell a series of nautically-centered but well-rounded adventure flicks; they didn’t wait until the sequels to bring up the possibility that one of the heroes might actually get to kiss a pretty girl or something like that.

      • johan_larson says:

        The usual rule is that you need triple the production cost to make money. I don’t know if that’s still current in this age of world-wide releases, multiple tiers of secondary markets, and modern marketing campaigns. But the film in question didn’t even pull in double the production costs. And they sure as heck didn’t make another one. It’s a fair bet they lost money, all in all.

    • andrewflicker says:

      It won two Oscars and made a profit. It did not flop.

    • Anatoly says:

      I think the Aubrey/Maturin novels are underappreciated works of art. As a single body of work, they’re by far the best historical novel I’ve ever read, and should be considered one of the great achievements of 20th century literature.

      The movie was pretty good.

    • Well... says:

      The painter Ilya Repin is, I’ve heard, underappreciated outside of Russia. To my eye he’s gotta be one of the most phenomenal painters ever to wield the brush. This painting of his (my favorite) has its own Wikipedia page but I don’t know how much that says about its appreciatedness.

      (Haha, “the most A B ever to C the D” is such a funny, gaudy speech pattern, isn’t it? Where does it come from? Sports?)

      [Edit to add: OK, the Wikipedia page makes it sound like Repin, and this painting, were on the whole not underappreciated. But I leave the link there so people can marvel at the painting.]

      I never heard Helmet’s song “Milquetoast” played on the radio, but I say it’s one of the best hard rock songs ever made. As a band, Helmet has their following, and they’ve influenced a lot of bands that have gone on to fame (e.g. Deftones, Chevelle) but when they tour they still just play small venues and apparently they make little enough that for $10K they’d play your wedding, or your living room. (According to Page Hamilton, during one of his gracefully few between-song monologues.) Though I don’t know if you count as underappreciated once Beavis and Butthead have talked over one or two of your music videos.

      Speaking of which, is King of the Hill underappreciated? Well, by definition I’d say it is, since it would be impossible to appreciate it enough, but in the spirit of the OP…eh, probably not.

      But another TV show that was the predecessor of The Wire–The Corner–is definitely underappreciated.

      I could probably keep going on and on naming more but that’s enough for now and it’s getting close to Miller time.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        He’s definitely not underappreciated. I’d love to see the original Reply Of The Zaporozhian Cossacks or the painting of Ivan The Terrible with his dying son someday. The latter has always struck me as particularly powerful.

      • johnjohn says:

        I never heard Helmet’s song “Milquetoast” played on the radio, but I say it’s one of the best hard rock songs ever made.

        I like Helmet

        But come on. The vocals lack any of the oomph required for a truly great hard rock song

        • Well... says:

          I disagree. There’s something about Page Hamilton’s nonchalant “mimbo voice” delivery that really works great with Helmet’s music. I think it’s because it takes the “drama queen” aspect out of it, which makes it sound heavier and more powerful. Personified, the music would look like a big muscly dude who doesn’t have time for mushy feelings, he just shows up and gets the job done, which is lifting heavy things, pushing heavy things, and smashing heavy things.

          The same approach wouldn’t work with, say, Soundgarden, which needed Chris Cornell’s black-gospel-style belting to complete their more richly layered, often very technical instruments. But with Helmet’s “sonic slab sculpting” I think the vocals are perfect as is.

          For comparison, Snapcase’s instrumentals are very similar to Helmet’s (indeed Helmet was a central influence on Snapcase), yet Daryl Taberski’s incessant “turned up to 11” screaming revs out quickly and loses power. Sometimes you gotta upshift!

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think Noah is the most underrated movie from the last couple years. Good acting, great visuals and thought provoking, he really managed to examine the psychology of someone who was in his position.

    • keranih says:

      Jesus of the People. There have been a number of people who were really quite cranky about the selection of the painting back in 2000. But I like it, and think that it is pretty decent, as far as iconography goes. (A number of people who did think well of the painting seemed to be the sort who didn’t like much art, and even less Catholic religious art, until this one. So, imo, a painting that brought people closer to God. Win-everything.)

      Noah’s Ark by Haruko Takino. A stunning piece, imo. I sat and looked at a framed print for an hour.

      In terms of movies – I *never* got why the Matthew McConnally movie Sahara wasn’t a huge hit with many sequels. This, to me, was such a great rep of visual artistry, acting, character development, and just a plain fun plot.

    • Atlas says:

      I may be partly biased by nostalgia here, but I really, really enjoyed re-reading Eoin Colfer’s YA novel the Supernaturalist, and I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t more popular, given that Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series was (is?) a school library/bookstore YA staple.

      I kind of hate to resort to describing something as “x meets y”, but it’s kind of like “Blade Runner meets Oliver Twist.” It’s a gritty cyberpunk dystopia where the charming and plucky orphan heroes try not to get crushed underneath the jackboots of powerful corporations/governments. Naturally, it has Colfer’s signature environmentalist Aesop.

      It could easily have been full of hackneyed genre cliches, but I think Colfer did an amazing job envisioning a brutal future where amazing technology is exploited by the powerful for short-sighted ends rather than wisely harnessed for the common good. The visual splendor of this world really captured my imagination as a kid, and I found it just as striking rereading it now. I also found the characters engaging, the dialogue witty and the plot compelling. I found myself thinking that it could make an excellent movie with a big enough budget and competent enough director. Indeed, I think it’s too bad that we haven’t seen more of this universe.

      But, at the risk of getting into deeper philosophical territory that I’m totally unqualified to wander into, I think it might be even tautologically impossible to say that art is under-appreciated. There’s simply no objective metric one can use to evaluate the quality of art (and that’s fine, we can still subjectively both enjoy and find depth in art.) Popularity (as the very question implies) doesn’t seem to count that much for most observers, which is kind of interesting when you step back and think about it. What to you seems like an amazing work of cinema could easily be a forgettable movie to me, or what seems like an overlooked masterpiece to me could easily be a middling novel to you. How can we determine that someone is “correct” here?

      I guess this is kind of a trite point, but only so because it seems difficult to think of an obvious counter-argument.

  12. Mark says:

    Lebor Gabála Érenn seems to be a pretty accurate historical record of the journeys of the British people.

    It tells us how Noah’s son Japheth is the forebear of all Europeans (see Japhetites), how Japheth’s son Magog is the forebear of the Gaels and Scythians, and how Fénius Farsaid is the forebear of the Gaels. Fénius, a prince of Scythia, is described as one of 72 chieftains who built the Tower of Babel. His son Nel weds Scota, daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh, and they have a son named Goídel Glas. Goídel crafts the Goidelic (Gaelic) language from the original 72 languages that arose after the confusion of tongues. Goídel’s offspring, the Goidels (Gaels), leave Egypt at the same time as the Israelites (the Exodus) and settle in Scythia. After some time they leave Scythia and spend 440 years wandering the Earth, undergoing a series of trials and tribulations akin to those of the Israelites, who spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. After many years at sea, they settle in the Maeotian marshes, then sail via Crete and Sicily and conquer Iberia. There, Goídel’s descendant Breogán founds a city called Brigantia, and builds a tower from the top of which his son Íth glimpses Ireland.

    The R1b fellas probably emerged from somewhere near the Don river (Maeotian marshes) travelled down to Egypt where they made King Tutt (99% British according to the DNA evidence), sailed up to Sardina, took over Spain, and then headed over to Britain.

    Yet again, the ancient myths are shown to be correct.

    • AutisticThinker says:

      Interesting. I assume that the Tower of Babel/Babylon is still fictional though.

      Myths usually contain factual information, including Biblical myths. Biblical myths did get certain kings and their names right.

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, I was intrigued by that comment about the DNA evidence of Tutankhamun, but since I see the link has the dreaded “Discovery Channel” in the URL, I’m not going to bother.

        This week’s documentary: Were the Egyptian Pharoahs British?

        Next week’s documentary: Were the Egyptian Pharoahs Aliens?

        As for the Book of Invasions, it’s a work that tries to marry Biblical history with native tradition (as many European works of the early period tried) and I wouldn’t put too much stress on any underlying actual history; part of it involves an expedition led by Cessair, the grand-daughter of Noah, who ends up in Ireland and the last survivor, after a plague strikes in the wake of the Flood, is a man named Fintán (or Fionntain) who lives for centuries in the successive forms of “a salmon and later an eagle and a hawk, living for 5,500 years after the Flood, whence he becomes a man again and recounts Ireland’s history.”

        It inspired some popular art, and a story by H.P. Lovecraft “The Moon-Bog”:

        There were secrets, said the peasants, which must not be uncovered; secrets that had lain hidden since the plague came to the children of Partholan in the fabulous years beyond history. In the Book of Invaders it is told that these sons of the Greeks were all buried at Tallaght, but old men in Kilderry said that one city was overlooked save by its patron moon-goddess; so that only the wooded hills buried it when the men of Nemed swept down from Scythia in their thirty ships.

  13. Yaleocon says:

    A question for the mathematically/logically inclined out there. Does it seem crazy to anyone that we can’t divide by zero?

    Obviously, it leads to contradictions and deep trouble for math, but how do we justify making it an illegal operation? It seems like we weren’t willing to do the same thing for Russell’s Paradox, because of which we destroyed and re-created all set theory. Why weren’t we willing to just ban making Russell’s Set, like we do with division by zero? Failing that, why haven’t we destroyed and re-created arithmetic, given the remarkable fact that the set of real numbers isn’t closed under the four basic arithmetic operations?

    • Mark says:

      I don’t know, but if multiplication by zero always results in zero, then there isn’t any way you can divide a non-zero number by zero and expect an answer that corresponds with the rules you’ve defined.

      So the question is whether multiplication by zero should be allowed and what it should result in…

      I guess if it concerned you, you’d have to just stick to the natural numbers.

      Man… I don’t know. Good question. I guess if you only have (non-zero) natural numbers then you’re still going to have to have a load of non-allowed operations – like 1-1 or 1-2. 1 divided by 2. So maybe just having that one operation not allowed is the best they can do?

      • Yaleocon says:

        Multiplication actually seems the least troublesome under a set-theoretical conception! If we’re generating a set of numbers starting from 1, closing it under addition yields the natural numbers, and closing it under multiplication still just yields the natural numbers. From there, you can choose either division or subtraction without yielding a necessarily open set–one is the positive rational numbers, the other is the integers. But it looks like unless you want an open set, you have to pick one.

        To put it a less intensely-mathematical way: if you want it so that you don’t have to make special exceptions for any of your operations (like “you can divide by anything, except zero), you can either have all the (positive non-zero) rational numbers and no subtraction, or all the (+ and -) integers with no division. Otherwise you’ll have to make an exception for zero division.

        • Mark says:

          I guess if you want to privilege operations, you have to be less concerned about equality. Less concerned about the definition of a number.

          But then, the numbers are defined by their relations to other numbers, and the relations are the operations.

          But I guess we could have dynamically defined numbers so that 1-1 is x which is another number exactly the same as any other? x times 1 is 1x?
          But then I think we might have trouble with equality – would (2-2) x 2 + 6 be the same as (2-2) x 3 + 6 ?
          I think you’d have to keep the x in there. So 2x + 6 wouldn’t be the same as 3x + 6.

          [We not only demand the ability to perform certain operations, we also demand certain relations between numbers – it’s the fact that we demand certain relations that limits the operations we can perform. If we were able to perform any operation, we can just say – this operation results in this —- but we can’t then relate that number to numbers outside of the operation (definition) we’ve already performed.]

    • johan_larson says:

      Conceptually, dviding a by b is asking how many times b goes into a. 1/0 is no finite number, since you can subtract 0 from 1 any number of times you want. So 1/0 = inf, then? Assuming you are OK with including infinity in your number system. The limit of 1/x as x approaches 0 is either positive or negative inf, depending on whether you approach from above or below, which seems a bit strange. And what about other operations on inf? How about inf/inf? Is it 1? In some cases, that will seem strange: (1000000/0)/(0.000001/0) = inf/inf = 1? That doesn’t look right. So introduce a second concept, NotANumber?

      I don’t think this line of inquiry is leading to good places.

      • Yaleocon says:

        I’m definitely not OK with including infinity in my number system. And the observation that I’m making is more or less that that no matter what, this goes bad places. But progress happens, in mathematics as elsewhere, when we traipse gladly into the bad places, figure out what makes them bad, and try to fix it.

    • publiusvarinius says:

      Division by n is what undoes multiplication by n. There are a whole lot of operations in mathematics – and in the real world – that cannot be undone, e.g. squaring, the sin(-) function, removing the leading digit of a number, or generally any operation that has the same result for multiple different inputs.

      Operations that cannot be (un)done cause no existential crises in mathematics: we are fine with “we cannot do that and won’t pretend that we can”.

      Why weren’t we willing to just ban making Russell’s Set, like we do with division by zero?

      Division by zero is impossible, so we decided not to divide by zero. Defining sets by unrestricted comprehension also turns out to be impossible: attempting it leads to Russell’s paradox, and a whole family of similar contradictions. So we decided not to construct sets by unrestricted comprehension.

      There’s one major difference between the two situations: back when Russell’s paradox appeared, unrestricted comprehension was literally our only known tool for constructing sets! Every other operation of set theory was defined in terms of unrestricted comprehensions. Hence, we were left with nothing and we had to discover new tools, that allowed us to perform some constructions – not all of the things that what we thought we could do with unrestricted comprehension, but at least some of them.

      It’s an interesting situation. Imagine that inhabitants of the planet Zorblax defined every arithmetic operation in terms of division by zero, only to discover that division by zero was actually impossible! They would stop using their naive Zorblaxian arithmetic (as we did to our naive set theory), and construct a modern Zorblaxian arithmetic, where they can still add, subtract and multiply, but division is restricted to non-zero numbers. Meet the new Zorblaxian arithmetic: it’s the same as old Earth-arithmetic.

      Unrestricted comprehension was a legal operation in the naive set theory, but it is an illegal operation in modern set theory. However, we have sufficiently restricted forms of comprehension that are still available. This should answer your question: we were willing to just ban making Russell’s set, and that’s exactly what we did.

      • Randy M says:

        operations in mathematics – and in the real world – that cannot be undone, e.g. squaring

        Why would I be wrong in saying this is taking the square roots does?

      • Yaleocon says:

        That’s precisely not what set theorists did from a historical standpoint. They created ZF, ZFC, NF, all the others! Why was that necessary, if all we had to do was ban Russell’s Set?

        To put it another way, why not accept the axiom of extensionality and the “Axiom of Minimally Restricted Comprehension”, which is comprehension with the mere addition of “…except you can’t make Russell’s Set”? Why isn’t that enough?

        • Charles F says:

          How do you know that your comprehension doesn’t have a Russel paradox in it somewhere? If you take a set that seems paradox-free, prove something about, then somebody finds a paradox, your proof has to be reevaluated and probably thrown out. So to increase the reliability of math, you want a way to reliably create your sets safely. So you create a set of axioms which avoids the paradoxes you know about and work from there.

          • Yaleocon says:

            If the system I defined (extensionality and minimally restricted comprehension) has a contradiction lurking within it, I’m excited to find what it is–that would be illuminating to discover. Sounds like a cool thing for set theorists to investigate.

            And more generally, to the idea that the possibility of a lurking contradiction is in and of itself bad: if what we want is provably paradox-free logic, which is also axiom-based and powerful enough to express some very basic ideas, we already know that that’s an impossible task from the Incompleteness Theorems. The kind of “safety” and “reliability” you seem to want is already known to be impossible. It’s a cruel world, I know. (Or I’m misinterpreting you, but I don’t think so…)

          • Charles F says:

            I’m rusty, but the system you defined seems correct, but hard to use. Saying “don’t generate this sort of set” leaves it to the reader to decide whether they’ve done so accidentally and that may not be obvious, whereas saying “use these rules to generate sets” gives people an actual method for creating paradox-free ones.

            And I would be curious to know what you mean by basic ideas. The version I know is that you can’t have a consistent set of axioms that can prove *all* true statements about the integers. Which leaves open the possibility that ZFC is consistent and proves almost everything we’ll ever care about, but we’ll never know whether the Riemann hypothesis is true, or even that it can prove or disprove everything we’ll ever consider in all of human history, despite there being some very weird far off true statements independent of ZFC.

          • rlms says:

            “If the system I defined (extensionality and minimally restricted comprehension) has a contradiction lurking within it,”
            Although I can’t think of any off the top of my head, I expect that there a lot of Russell-like paradoxes that arise from unrestricted comprehension.

          • bzium says:

            Yaleocon: your system allows defining the set of all things. This would have to contain all of its subsets. A corollary of Cantor’s theorem is that no set can contain all of its subsets. That’s your contradiction.

          • Yaleocon says:

            Bzium: Directly implied by Cantor’s theorem, right? No greatest cardinal–and thus no set of all sets. Burali-Forti also causes problems. Could we deal with them by further minimal restrictions on comprehension? Just forbid “set of all sets,” and “largest ordinal” too, and keep investigating?

            It seems like we can band-aid them away–just like (it seems to me) we did with division by zero. Or is there one of these that generates such aggressive “revenge paradoxes” that we really have to give up on unrestricted comprehension?

            Alternatively, is this kind of “band-aid” approach just a bad way to go about excising contradictions from set theory?

          • Charles F says:

            I’d just like to repeat that division by zero was never band-aided away. It was never something that was expected. People trying to do arithmetic didn’t do it because it didn’t make any sense, and the people who later formalized algebra did so in terms of multiplication and inverses. That the additive identity doesn’t have a multiplicative inverse was known and expected from the start.

            Russel’s paradox was not meant to be included in set theory and actually made it harder to do math reliably.

        • publiusvarinius says:

          That’s precisely not what set theorists did from a historical standpoint. They created ZF, ZFC, NF, all the others! Why was that necessary, if all we had to do was ban Russell’s Set?

          There is no such thing as “minimally restricted” comprehension: there are several incompatible ways of restricting comprehension to prevent Russell-like paradoxes. ZF and NF set theory explore different trade-offs, but they both revolve around restricting comprehension.

          Bug report: I tried using Axioms>Comprehension to construct the set {x|x∉x}, but it caused a paradox. What now? Sincerely, B. Russell

          Tech Support: From now on, Axioms>Comprehension is limited to subsets of sets already constructed. That should fix the bug.

          Bug report: I used to construct the set P(S) of all subsets of a given set S by invoking comprehension with {x|x⊆S}. Alas, the new update’s limited comprehension does not support this construction. What do I do?

          Tech support: Comprehensions of the form {x|x⊆S} are available again. They are found under Axioms>Powerset.

          Bug report: We used to construct the set of natural numbers – as the set of equivalence classes of finite sets – using the Axioms>Comprehension option. However, the new version won’t let me do that: it’s complaining about some subset limitation or something. What gives? You know how important the naturals are to our industry! Fix asap! Sincerely, outraged mathematician.

          Tech support: The newly introduced limitation does break the construction of the natural numbers. We have to add the naturals to the system manually: you’ll find this option under Axioms>Infinity from now on. Tech Support

          and so on.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            Addendum:

            There is no such thing as “minimally restricted” comprehension

            Once you try to formalize the condition “except you can’t make Russell’s set”, you’ll realize that it’s meaningless. There is no deductive system that is just like naive set theory but without the Russell set.

          • Yaleocon says:

            Thanks for the informative–and humorous–response! My problem is with the first fix “Tech Support” made: was it really necessary for it to be that harsh? Why couldn’t the conversation have gone:

            Bug report: {x|x \notin x} causes serious problems. What now? -BFR
            Tech support: Thanks for the heads-up! We’ve forbidden that operation.

            If we did need to make such a drastic move, then all of the remaining fixes Tech Support makes seem to follow. Re-axiomatizations like NF, NBG, ZF/C seem like the necessary next step, and I’m satisfied–much thanks for your clarifications if that is in fact the case.

            But what makes formalizing the condition “except you can’t make Russell’s Set” render that condition “meaningless”? (Or how would it bring down all of set theory as collateral damage, or produce other seriously bad consequences for naive set theory?) If you could supply an argument to that effect, I would be very grateful.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            The problem is that “except you can’t make Russell’s Set” is vague.

            Russell’s paradoxical set can be constructed in many ways. Invoking unrestrited comprehension as {x|x∉x} is just one way. If you just forbid comprehension on the predicate x∉x, Russell can still construct his set by invoking e.g. {x|∃y. x=y ∧ y∉x} or some similar comprehension instead.

            So now you have to restrict comprehension further, and somehow rule out every predicate that can be used to construct Russell’s set. I.e. we need some kind of syntactic criterion on which predicates are allowed to occur under a comprehension.

            There are many such syntactic restrictions that one could introduce: the choices are incomparable (allow and disallow different paradoxical and non-paradoxical sets), so there is no “minimal” or “best” solution among them. One has to explore the trade-offs.

            For example, we could say that a predicate is stratified if and only if it is possible to assign numbers to all variables in the predicate such that if two variables appear in the same equation they get the same number, and if two variables appear on opposite sides of the set membership sign then the one on the right has a larger number than the one on the left. Russell-like predicates (including x∉x and ∃y. x=y ∧ y∉x and all variations) are never stratified, but restricting comprehension to stratified formulas rules out many non-paradoxical sets as well. This is the approach taken by the Russell-Quine family of set theories (TST, NF, NFU).

            Another choice we could limit comprehension to subsets of already constructed sets. Again, this rules out both paradoxical and non-paradoxical constructions, some of which are added back as proper axioms. This is the approach taken by the Zermelo family of set theories (Z, ZF, ZFC, NBG, KP, MK).

          • Yaleocon says:

            Once again, much obliged for the response. I think we’re really getting somewhere. We might have even already gotten somewhere, such that I should take my question to be answered and stop insisting that there could be a problem here when there isn’t.

            Nonetheless, I still feel obliged to push the thread a little bit further. Dividing by zero isn’t the only problem. Dividing by 1-1 is also a problem; so is canceling out (x-y) from both sides of an equation, where you’ve defined x and y as equal (a move in that sneaky proof of 1=2).

            Could the parallelism stand? Should the possibility of lurking division by zero in arithmetic trouble us more than it historically has? Do we need a similarly syntactic criterion in our arithmetic to make it safe?

          • publiusvarinius says:

            Your original question was how we justify making division by zero an illegal operation, given that we weren’t willing to do the same thing for Russell’s Paradox.

            The answer is that we were willing to do the same thing for Russell’s paradox, the current state of affairs does make forming the Russell set an illegal operation.

            Then you had a follow-up question: how come our new set theories forbid lots of stuff, and not just forming the Russell set?

            The answer is that there is no minimal consistent restriction we can take. Instead, there are many different – incompatible and incomparable – restrictions. For example, there are consistent restrictions which allow the set {x|x=x} of all sets (e.g. NF), and consistent restrictions which allow all sets of the form {x∈S|…} where S is some previously constructed set (e.g. ZFC). However, there can be no consistent restriction that allows both of these.

            Your final question is why we don’t use similar syntactic criteria for division by zero?

            The difference is that there is an obvious restriction we can place on division (indeed there is an obvious restriction of any non-injective function). You can just say that you are allowed to divide by a number N if and only if you’ve already proved that N is non-zero. Having a proof of N≠0 is ultimately a very strong syntactic criterion. As long as we respect this criterion, we don’t need to worry about lurking division by zero.

            (Epilogue 1. In some sense the N≠0 criterion prevents us from doing some divisions that should be legal. There are numbers that are non-zero but not provably non-zero, and we can’t divide by those, even though these particular divisions would never lead to a paradox. This phenomenon leads us straight to Gödel, but I won’t go down that path.)

            (Epilogue 2. There is another parallel, mentioned by other comments: you can have rings where 0≠1, and you can have rings where division by zero is possible, but you can’t have a ring that has both.)

          • Evan Þ says:

            @publiusvarinius, could you expand on your Epilogue 1? Which numbers are nonzero but not provably so?

          • rlms says:

            @Evan Þ
            7 and 23.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @Evan Þ:

            I don’t think it’s productive to expand on this topic any further: for those who know Gödel’s incompleteness theorems the answer is obvious, and for those who don’t, it won’t make much sense anyway. Here it goes:

            Let T(n) be 0 if there is a contradiction of length less than n in ZFC set theory, and 1 otherwise. Let t be the real number in the interval [0,1] whose decimal expansion is given by the function T. The number 1-sgn(t) is non-zero, but ZFC set theory does not prove that it is non-zero.

    • Anatoly says:

      The wrong attitude here is that you should be able to do any operation on any numbers, as an independent value of its own. Kronecker said “God made the integers, all else is the work of man”, but even that goes too far; negative numbers are the work of man, too. Children start out with natural numbers, and the arithmetics you can naturally do with them, and for most of history this was enough.

      “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. Thus cast your mind back to when you were a little child and only knew 7-4 and 6/2, but not 4-7 or 2/6. Does it seem “crazy” that you can 7-4 but not 4-7? Not really, because how can you have 4 apples and take away 7? You’ll run out of apples midway. It’s nonsense.

      Negative numbers are a useful invention, but they’re only useful because it turned out you can invent them while preserving the commutative and associative and distributive laws of arithmetics, so you can calculate the way you’re used to, open parentheses and rearrange terms and the like. Nobody said “I feel a burning need of knowing what A-B is when A < B, so let's figure something out". Instead, they said "I only have 3 coins, but I owe you 5, how can I keep track of that? Maybe I can summarize my financial situation with a single having-or-owing number?" Which helps explain why it wasn't useful to say define A-B to be 0 when A < B, which makes a certain kind of intuitive sense. It breaks that having-or-owing math though, which was the whole point. Same thing with fractions: the only reason they're useful is because they respect the arithmetical laws.

      We started with just 1,2,3… and then went on to invent a whole lot more, but at every step, the motivation wasn't to allow a previously forbidden operation, it was to pack more meaning in while respecting the arithmetical laws. Respecting the laws was the whole point. Now that we went far enough along this route so that everything is possible on the number line except /0, it's easy to see that as a weird exception that signals failure and should be dealt with. But it isn't failure. Since /0 is not possible while respecting arithmetical laws, it just isn't interesting or useful to do. If we couldn't define square roots or 1/5 without respecting the laws, we wouldn't have done that either, and wouldn't have felt the loss. It so happens that /0 is the only "hole" left if you look at operations on real numbers ahistorically as God-given rights and forget they're a patchwork of successive extensions. But to look at them this way is to forget the laws, which have always been the real reason.

      • Yaleocon says:

        I think the key part and underlying principle of this account is where you talk about math as “not God-given” and call ways of thinking which try to treat with math as a pure entity “ahistorical.”

        That’s a fine account, maybe even one I agree with, but it seems very contentious; aren’t there people who believe things like the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, which take math as a very fundamental thing in and of itself? Either this is a serious blow to those views, or else they’re going to have to find another consistent way around the objection.

    • AutisticThinker says:

      @Yaleocon
      TL;DR version: Yes we can divide by zero. However it completely messes up algebraic structures of real/complex numbers and we treasure algebraic structures much more than allowing operations to happen (and for good reasons I will explain in a future post in my series).

      Full version:
      There are many different extensions to real/complex numbers such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_projective_line and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_real_number_line . We can indeed make it possible to have divide by zero. However algebraic (in the sense of algebra2 above) properties will become horrible. Preserving algebraic structures are much more important than allowing certain operations to take place. I think I will explain it in my introduction to algebraic structures post.

      Here is why:

      In mathematics we can indeed redefine a lot of stuff. However definitions need to be helpful. One issue with divide by zero is that we still can not define 0/0 in a satisfactory manner. A much worse issue that appears when infinity/-infinity etc and divide by 0 are introduced is that it ruins the algebraic structure of real/complex numbers.

      The set of real numbers/complex numbers is a field which is a very good algebraic structure. In a field we have addition, multiplication, subtraction (defined as adding the additive inverse of something) and division (defined as multiplying the multiplicative inverse of something that isn’t zero/the additive identity element). So far so good.

      Now we need to define division by zero. This itself isn’t really a problem. We can introduce unsigned infinity which makes our structure https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_projective_line or one of its variants and declare that c/0=infinity for any non-zero c. In fact we can even declare that 0/0=1, 0, infinity or something else if we want to. However this breaks the algebraic structure (field). To make something a field everything other than 0 has to have an additive inverse. However this is no longer possible because infinity literally has no additive inverse. Similarly algebraic structures are ruined when it comes to multiplication. Hence what we have introduced is a legitimate extension of real numbers which unfortunately completely messes up the algebraic structure of reals.

      Similarly we can introduce a +infinity and a -infinity. Now we have https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_real_number_line or one of its variants. Now what the heck is…(+infinity)+(-infinity)? Leaving it undefined completely ruins the algebraic structure to its core. Declaring it to be 0 is just slightly better because associativity of addition completely fails by (1 + (+infinity) ) + (-infinity) = (+infinity) + (-infinity) = 0 while (1 + ((+infinity) + (-infinity))) = 1 + 0 = 1. So what we get is just a really bad algebraic structure.

      If we had a nice extension of real numbers /complex numbers we would probably have used it extensively in math research instead of real numbers/complex numbers. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened and I don’t expect it to happen.

      Maybe I should address this issue in the next post of the Explore Math with AT series?

      • AutisticThinker says:

        WARNING: Please do not attempt divide by zero in homework, exams, etc unless the problem explicitly asks you to explore this idea.

        • Yaleocon says:

          Thanks for the warning, much appreciated–I’ll stick to talking about zero division in my philosophy classes, and go with the traditional approach in my math classes 🙂

          • AutisticThinker says:

            You’re welcome! You can do that in your math classes though as long as you don’t do them in your homework, quizzes, tests or exams. Your math instructor is very likely to be a formal mathematician or someone who at least received an education in formal mathematics so this discussion will go somewhere.

      • Yaleocon says:

        This is an excellent summary of the problems that result from defining division by 0, and 0/0, in different ways. Thank you for the explication–although I had already understood the mathematical problems resulting from it, and was more asking about why we approach a similar problem differently in set theory, and what the philosophical implications of the two approaches are.

        My question (or, at least, the question I was trying to ask) is: if the immense problems resulting from this coerce us to say “do not divide by zero” and merely restrict division to the other members of the field, why didn’t the explosive results of Russell’s Paradox coerce us to say “do not make that set?” Instead, we abandoned the idea of two-axiom set theory as a lost cause (to the extent of now calling it “naive set theory”!) and decided to re-axiomatize from nothing. Why the (seemingly) inconsistent approach?

        • Charles F says:

          Why the (seemingly) inconsistent approach?

          Sets are real, division is fake.

          AT mentions that division is multiplication, but doesn’t give it as much emphasis as I think it deserves. Divide by X means find Y such that XY is the identity (1, in arithmetic) then multiply by Y. There’s nothing you can multiply by 0 to get 1, so you can’t do anything. We already knew that was how algebra works and nobody was surprised by it. For the purposes of calculus/analyses, people did have to figure out how to divide by zero (you disguise it by calling it “h” or “dx”, so math doesn’t notice), but in terms of arithmetic, there wasn’t anything to be gained from a system where zero had an inverse as far as anybody could tell.

          On the other hand, if you’re trying to do set theory, and some sets contain paradoxes, you can’t have confidence that your results will actually hold. People do still use naive set theory talking about things and even for proving things, but if the goal is to have a logical underpinning for mathematics, you can’t just ignore that it’s inconsistent, so people found a way to create the objects we needed without the paradoxes.

          • Yaleocon says:

            if the goal is to have a logical underpinning for mathematics, you can’t just ignore that it’s inconsistent, so people found a way to create the objects we needed without the paradoxes.

            This seems fraught. How are we defining “the objects we need,” independent of naive set theory? And if we’ve already presupposed the objects we’re looking for (with reference to a flawed system, no less), how do we know that the problems lurk in the way we theorized it, rather than the concepts themselves?

          • Charles F says:

            We need to have axioms that allow something to exist. We need to be able map things that axiomatically exist onto concepts we want to describe. “The ordinals of set theory -> the integers” is a mapping that works and has allowed us to translate a lot of results into a pure logical basis. There are certainly other sets of axioms that result in objects we could map to the same things, but sets were in vogue at the time, and so we got formalized sets.

            A common first assumption, I think, is that the universe makes sense –
            it doesn’t have paradoxes – so the problem must live in our systems, rather than the concepts we’re describing. That could be wrong. But that way lies nihilism or something.

          • Yaleocon says:

            Let’s say the ordinals proved something crazy about the integers. I’m not saying they do, but let’s say they somehow did–we got some profoundly unintuitive result, which contradicts our typical understanding of how the integers work. Would we say “ok, I guess 2 and 2 make 5 under some conditions,” or would we (more likely) say “ok, looks like this was a bad mapping for the integers”? (Maybe you’re just totally unwilling to entertain the counterfactual; that’s one way out.)

            I submit that in this case, we would say “the ordinals turned out not to model the integers well.” In that case, we’re letting our intuitions about the integers overrule our “definition” of the integers. That involves presupposing that the integers make sense–and if we’re willing to make that assumption, why do we need a mapping at all? Why not make “the integers” things that axiomatically exist in the first place? It seems like the alternative is just an end-run around that anyway.

          • Charles F says:

            I’m not sure whether by “something crazy” you mean a contradiction like “2+2=5” or something intuitively dumb but logically true. In the first case we’d try to throw out that particular logical underpinning and come up with a new one, saying ZFC was a bad mapping. In the second case, we’ll bite the bullet and say “okay, I guess the integers are weirder than we gave them credit for” unless/until it turns out to actually be a contradiction. People mostly haven’t argued for throwing out the current system because of Banach Tarski, after all.

            And yeah, “the real world makes sense” is a pretty normal assumption, and most people do all their work starting with the integers existing. But if you try to model mathematicians in terms of doing what’s most convenient rather than having “rigorously analyze and define things” as one of their terminal values, you’re going to spend a lot of time confused.

        • AutisticThinker says:

          Because in naive set theory what we have is a true inconsistency in axioms which completely destroys a theory. On the other hand in algebra the problem you described is at most something that isn’t too nice but is still easy to work around. In fact there is a reason why the additive identity (aka 0) in a field explicitly has no multiplicative inverse.

          There are serious consequences if we want to find a multiplicative inverse to 0 aka we destroy even more algebraic structures.

          • Yaleocon says:

            Attempting to define a multiplicative inverse to the additive identity is very bad. Similarly, it seems, attempting to define a set of non-self-containing sets is very bad.

            These both seem like “true inconsistencies in axioms”, at least insofar as “there are multiplicative inverses” and “there is an additive identity” are axioms. (Are these not axioms? If so, how do we recover the existence of non-integer reals, or the existence of zero?)

            In the first case, we resolve the issue by saying “do not attempt to find the multiplicative inverse of the additive identity.” Why can’t we similarly say “do not try to find the set of all non-self-containing sets?” What makes one inconsistency “truer” than the other?

          • Charles F says:

            One difference is that lots and lots of things don’t have multiplicative inverses. If you look at the integers, they have a perfectly acceptable ring (has + and *) algebra, but the only numbers with inverses are -1 and 1. “Things have inverses” is not an axiom, it’s a property that some rings have and others don’t. The most invertable elements any ring can have is everything but 0, and when that’s the case it’s a special ring that we call a field.

            In general, you don’t define inverses. You define your ring and then you find the inverses that exist in that ring. If you tried to define an extension to the reals or complex plane which contained a multiplicative inverse for zero, either it wouldn’t work (as in your new structure would not meet the definition of a ring), or maybe you would get a new additive identity and now that wouldn’t have a multiplicative identity.

          • Brad says:

            The most invertable elements any ring can have is everything but 0, and when that’s the case it’s a special ring that we call a field.

            Not to be a smart ass, but what about the trivial ring? Every element is invertable and it isn’t a field.

          • Charles F says:

            Yeah, I should have specified rings with more than one element. Good catch.

      • Thegnskald says:

        There are other approaches as well; it is an area with a lot of weird explorations.

        So you can construct a mathematical system built on limits which allows this kind of nonsense, but without equals signs, such that infinity approximately equals infinity. The problem goes away, but you deal with other weird nonsense as a result.

        Fundamentally the issue is that mathematical operations always involve losing information – once you notice that “2” conveys less information than “1+1”, you start to see the issue. 0 has unique informational properties (consider that every mathematical equation has an infinite number of terms with a coefficient of 0).

        • Yaleocon says:

          “2” conveys less information than “1+1”

          This is… interesting. If you think this is true, then would you also say that every “definition” is a synthetic, and not analytic, proposition?

          To put it another way, is it possible that “1+1=2”, where “1”, “+”, “=”, and “2” refer to the things we usually think they do (if there are such things at all, mathematical realism is weird) could turn out to be false? Or are they true by definition in an utterly inevitable way?

          Edit to clarify importance: if 2 inescapably conceptually entails 1+1, then it has to convey as much information as 1+1, so for it to convey less information, we may have to do this kind of extreme skepticism about the necessity of analytical truth.

          • Thegnskald says:

            In mathematics proper, they are true by definition. This is different, critically, from how math is actually used by most people, whereby it reflects a truth about reality itself.

            To illustrate the difference, think about linear algebra. Suppose you have a formula to calculate the number of tents and bedrolls your army needs shipped, based on the number that deteriorate in a given month, and the number they have, and you find they have sufficient bedrolls but need 32 tents.

            The mathematical calculation erased the bedrolls, because it is calculation what needs to be shipped – it is a destructive process which strips away all information you don’t need to give you the answer you do need.

            Likewise, knowing that a table is 32 square feet doesn’t tell you whether your 16 square feet map will fit on it. You lost information by multiplying your dimensions together.

    • Zero is a weird number. It’s not really an amount, it is the negation of an amount. It’s a null set. So it makes sense to me that ways in which you manipulate an amount don’t make sense for when there is no amount.

      I am not a mathematician in any sense, but this is what makes sense to me.

  14. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Would having a tagging system (probably one where anyone can tag comments) make it easier to search ssc? Would it be worth the trouble?

    • quaelegit says:

      Does not sound worth the trouble to me, but I’ve never gotten the hang of tags anywhere (even email folders never seem to work out for me…)

      I usually use ctrl-F or equivalent to search for a comment in a thread/post. If I don’t remember what post it was under, google search with ‘site:slatestarcodex.com ‘ usually works.

      • Rick Hull says:

        Tags are fantastic organizational tools, but not without their pitfalls. Contrast tagging with hierarchy or bucketing. An email from my insurance company about late payment — does that go in the insurance folder or the banking folder or TODO or ? TAG ALL THE THINGS

        One problem to solve is tag normalization. If you have 10 things tagged ‘insurance’ and you tag something new as ‘insurnace’, is it lost forever (to your search for ‘insurance’)? Assume tags are lowercase and there are no typos. What about multiple words? Spaces, hyphens, underscores?

  15. Mark says:

    What’s the history of breast size?

    I saw a picture of Francis Howard, who for some reason seems to be wearing an extremely low cut top in all of her portraits, and it got me thinking – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a historical portrait of a woman with large breasts. There are those ones in a cave in Sri Lanka drawn by the horny monks, and I think I’ve seen some in Thailand too… but in general not so much.

    When was the first real woman with large breasts?

    [The reason why I was looking at pictures of Frances Howard is that Terence Trent D’arby’s mother was called Frances Howard, and I read an article claiming that Terence Trent D’arby is half Native Armerican, half hillbilly, and I had always thought he was African-American, so I wanted to see what she looked like.]

  16. AutisticThinker says:

    Prevalence of Amorality

    How to measure amorality in a society? What’s the prevalence of amorality in the West and in the entire world now?

    • Nick says:

      Are you measuring by actions or by belief?

      • AutisticThinker says:

        By belief. Amorality isn’t an action. We can measure crime rates and how antisocial human behaviors are. However it is hard to tell immorality from amorality based on actions.

    • Mark says:

      I would say that amorality is operating on ‘system 1’ where the relevant social incentives have not been designed with reference to human emotions.
      So, I suppose taking a shit in the toilet is a somewhat moral action, because, despite the fact that I’m operating on system 1, the whole idea of a toilet has been designed to prevent disease, keep horrible smells away, etc. and if I was challenged, I could come up those reasons as a justification.

      I don’t know. I guess something that doesn’t really have a good justification? Or an unattractive justification? Like – I kill homeless people – oh… because they are weak? Is a bad justification immoral or amoral?

      Bad justification immoral, no justification amoral.

  17. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Still listening to the de Becker interview, and the bit about unsolicited promises brought back a memory.

    When I was younger I had a few instances of a man saying “We won’t do anything you don’t want to do”. It’s even conceivable that it was the same man forgetting he’d already said it to me before.

    My immediate reaction was that this was not a safe person to be around. At the time my reaction was a mixture of “I wasn’t even worried (arguably, I was naive, but it was also a different world) so why are you bringing this up?” and “I don’t know whether you’re trustworthy, so why should I believe your promise?”.

    Anyway, I was wondering if anyone else has had that said to them?

    It seems to me that de Becker is cherry-picking about evidence for the value of going with intuition, but it doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong.

    And I might as well include this about it being considered rude for a woman to turn down an unwanted hug.

    • Thegnskald says:

      May I recommend you reread the bottom link, and try to interpret it as if a man were writing it, and giving advice to other men?

      Rules of courtesy are intended to de-escalate situations, to build social trust. (Mostly. A few are intended to make it harder to stab your neighbor at the dinner table. But there is an element of building social trust to that too, I guess.)

      I feel like there is a lack of… proportionality, all throughout that post. Implying it is okay to break someone’s hand for touching your shoulder, for example (movies always portray this psychopathic behavior as okay, for some reason).

      The problem of rudeness, isn’t that not showing somebody trust is considered rude – that is part of the core of what rudeness is – the problem is that people simplified “rude” from “A violation of social etiquette” to “wrong”. Most people don’t really quite get why being rude is usually wrong, and certainly don’t get when it is correct.

      This is really old, really important social technology. And yes, there are elements of risk involved in it – that is what allows it to work, to build social trust, like a falling exercise. There is a gulf here, and I don’t know what to do with it.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        You have a point– “There is one thing I try to hammer home–for myself as much as for my students–in an attempt to override that societal conditioning: If someone places an unwanted hand on me, that person has forfeited the right to said hand. If it is on my body, it belongs to me, to do with as I think appropriate for the situation. That might mean a pointed but low-key removal of the hand from my shoulder, or a blatant and painful pinky-finger twist, or something more aggressive.”

        That’s very extreme, though even there she’s mostly talking about responses well short of breaking bones.

        On the other hand, what do you make of this? “If you tell a woman her “appropriate” boundary is within an unwanted hug–when her ability to strike is impaired, her ability to flee gone, and her body possibly at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass–you’ve decided you’d rather see her come to harm than upset the “civilized” nature of an event.”

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “If you tell a woman her “appropriate” boundary is within an unwanted hug–when her ability to strike is impaired, her ability to flee gone, and her body possibly at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass–you’ve decided you’d rather see her come to harm than upset the “civilized” nature of an event.”

          Perhaps the author ought to consider what happens when people decide that civilisation isn’t important. It isn’t generally very good for women, or anyone else for that matter.

        • Charles F says:

          I think it’s clearly true that people ought to be able to refuse hugs. But I think there’s a big difference between being grabbed in an alley, where realistically if they get a grip on you you’re no longer in control of the situation, and being hugged at a social event. There seems to be a common trend for martial artists to end up living in a sort of “code yellow*” world, and forgetting that we have society so that you don’t have to do that. I think the world where we agree to be considerate about touching people and to shun people who violate that instead of reacting violently is way better than the one where a hug in any situation can be grounds for violence.

          *code yellow

          • Rick Hull says:

            Interesting about martial artists and code yellow. I had a roommate I was good friends with who was a serious scholar and practitioner. Myself, not so much, but we both used to love watching MMA and UFC. Once at a party, it seemed like fun (to me) to lightly roughhouse, in the manner of a very lighthearted slapfight. Like, put your dukes up and see if you can get touches in. I was rewarded with a stunning blow straight to the bridge of my nose which honestly took me about 5 minutes to recover from, in terms of being able to relax and have a good time again. He apologized many times and said I shouldn’t have done that, and it was his training responsible for the snap reaction.

          • Barely matters says:

            There’s a common trend for low grade, overcompensating martial artists to live in constant code yellow. It sounds like your friend was on the up and up by virtue of realizing that he made a big, unreasonable mistake and all was well, but disproportionate response like that really isn’t okay or even understandable.

            If “But my training” is someone’s excuse for misinterpreting benign play as a serious threat and instantly escalating in reaction before having a chance to think, they need to stop that brand of training immediately and replace it with something better at distinguishing genuine threats from normal social behaviour.

            FWIW, I don’t think you were at all out of line, and I hope your buddy eventually got a handle on himself.

        • Thegnskald says:

          That is the simplification of rude to wrong, although “appropriate” is used.

          On the one hand, if someone tries to shake your hand, it is rude not to reciprocate.

          On the other hand, if they just sneezed into that hand, being rude is – well, appropriate.

          You can be politely rude about it, say, “I am sorry, I am a bit of a germophobe” (most people won’t recognize the right word there). Likewise, for a hug, “I am sorry, I am not comfortable with that.”. There are levels of social escalation.

          I get the impression the woman who wrote that doesn’t want to deal with the layers of social etiquette, and feels constrained by them. But she has somehow arrived at the conclusion that the etiquette is designed to hamper women, and women’s ability to defend themselves – rather than largely being built around building sufficient trust to make people feel like they don’t need to, because people who feel like they need to defend themselves are overly quick to, say, break somebody’s hand for touching them.

          So it comes across as intensely paranoid.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Okay, a man took my hand to kiss it. How do you think I should have responded?

          • Randy M says:

            “I’m flattered. Also married[/dating/currently enjoying being single/a lesbian/not a big fan of saliva].”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My hand is already in his hand. What do you suggest I do physically?

          • Charles F says:

            If you’re trying to kiss somebody’s hand, you’re more gently lifting it than holding it. You can pull your hand out easily. (and hopefully smoothly offer it to shake, as a way to salvage everybody’s face)

            If for some reason he’s gripping your hand and you wouldn’t be able to accomplish the first one, say ow, twist your hand out of his grip (the trick is to put pressure on the side being held by his thumb) and shake out your hand with an offended look on your face.

          • Incurian says:

            You can jerk your hand away, but you don’t need to shoot him in the face.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I pulled my hand out hard. He said “You didn’t have to do that” and gave me a dirty look. End of interaction.

            I don’t see that I owed his feelings much of anything.

          • Randy M says:

            My hand is already in his hand. What do you suggest I do physically?

            Generally the only time men kiss women’s hands, afaik, is at social events when being introduced. Assuming this was the case, I don’t see why physical response is necessary. A jerk back is probably not unwarranted if you are particularly uncomfortable with physical touching, but it does escalate slightly from faux pas to almost a struggle, though if he did not promptly let go he would come off looking worse.

            If someone you don’t know tried kissing your hand outside of introductions at a party or some sort of expected foreplay, that’s pretty weird. I expect it’s the kind of thing only done if someone is being excessively formal and overtly old-fashioned, or trying to suggest the beginnings of a romance.

            I don’t see that I owed his feelings much of anything.

            Well, that’s a philosophical point, I suppose. Who’s feelings do you feel you owe consideration?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Depends on the setting.

            Unless you attend much nicer parties than I do, you can just – gently – take your hand back.

            I say gently, because if he restrains you, it will come as a total shock when you then punch his throat. Or, you know, whatever.

            The trick there is making him escalate to physical force first.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It was not a social event. It’s been a while but I think I was huckstering. (Selling my wares at an sf convention.)

            If I had to guess, he’s heard of hand-kissing, thought it sounded cool, and thought it was a way to get more intimate contact than he usually could.

            I actually did think I owed his feelings something, in the sense that I didn’t attempt to injure him, verbally insult him, or damage his reputation.

            On the other hand, was it unreasonable for me to impose some cost on him? The suggestions here have mostly been that I should have handled matters in some way that didn’t leave him feeling bad at all.

          • Witness says:

            @Nancy

            I don’t think anyone here thinks you need to worry too much about his feelings in this case. (Anyone here, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

            In a more formal setting where hand-kissing might be seen as socially appropriate, maybe a little (him feeling bad is fine, but giving him some mechanism to save social face would be appropriate).

          • Randy M says:

            Eh, from the telling of it, he made the bigger error. Not sure I’d even say you made an error, though I could imagine particularly graceless ways to remove yourself, I assume it wasn’t a scene.

            Basically, think of the other thread, Different Worlds. You can interpret his behavior as attempting to steal a bit of unearned physical contact, or of someone with foreign customs or lacking social skills. Both you and him are probably happier if you assume the latter than the former, in which case you endure for a split second and it’s done. After which time, you probably step back and angle you body away from him or otherwise give signals that you aren’t open to contact, and if he persists, it gets harder to interpret charitably, and you likewise get more explicit.

          • Brad says:

            Would you be willing to endorse for a split second a kiss on the mouth from a strange man under the assumption that he just must have poor social skills or foreign customs, Randy M?

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, but no tongue.

            Seriously, though, a kiss on the mouth is at least a couple steps above a kiss on the hand, intimacy-wise. I might still tolerate it — briefly — if I had a good reason to think that it was meant innocently, but that’s a lot more of a stretch. Foreign customs are about the only plausible explanation.

            Kissing on the cheek is a lot more plausible as a gender-neutral equivalent. And tolerating it does seem like the polite thing.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think all body parts are analogous.
            If a strange man is kissing people on the cheek, I’m not getting in line; but if it happened in the course of introductions, I would let it pass. Not that I’d make it easy on him or reciprocate, but at that point, what’s the benefit of making a scene? And I know there are cultures where that’s done, so…

            Nancy did not ask for advice on what to do if a man kisses her mouth. Hands are generally less intimate than mouths (do need to break down the list in more detail?). Note in my initial response, I also recommended gently rebuffing him in the not unlikely event it was a tentative romantic gesture.

            I also said her jerking back isn’t unwarranted and she didn’t make any error. Not sure what box you’re trying to put me in here.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Pondering the etiquette involved in the specific situation…

            So, he committed the first faux pas, in initiating an inappropriately formal / familiar gesture. (As, in a non-formal setting, hand-kissing is considered a pretty familiar act.)

            You responded in a way that called out his faux pas – which, amusingly enough, is itself a faux pas, as you aren’t supposed to call attention to other people’s minor breaches of etiquette. (I’d also guess you were reacting in startlement to a social situation you had no reason to anticipate being in, and not deliberately.)

            Then he responded in a way which called attention to that, committing the exact same social error. I’d guess he was expecting your reaction about as much as you were expecting him to try to kiss your hand.

            I would hazard a guess that you actually do feel kind of bad/guilty about the situation, because it has stuck with you.

            The short of it is – he created an awkward situation, probably out of ignorance, and things got predictably awkward. If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else, sooner or later. You just happened to be the lucky individual who got to show him the error of unilateral out-of-context period formality.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Honestly, this sounds to me like a genuine, in-the-wild case of “m’lady.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I know someone else who did m’lady.

            For years.

            I disliked him intensely (not the the only woman who did), but he never crossed the line to an extent where I was willing to lose my temper with him.

          • Barely matters says:

            Honestly, I think you were fine just pulling your hand away, and your reaction seems appropriate.

            The consequence of letting him do it would be slight discomfort and no tangible harm, so in terms of proportionality, that’s the cap for the costs you can reasonably impose in retaliation. There don’t seem to be any systemic effects or feedback loops in play (If we don’t punish this now, think of how things will be if everyone starts trying to kiss hands as a greeting! Madness!).

            So he made a failed advance, you removed your hand, he gave you a dirty look, you gave him a dirty look back. This all sounds pretty reasonable to me.

        • keranih says:

          “If you tell a woman her “appropriate” boundary is within an unwanted hug–when her ability to strike is impaired, her ability to flee gone, and her body possibly at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass–you’ve decided you’d rather see her come to harm than upset the “civilized” nature of an event.”

          I think the person who decided that the point at which a woman is physically “at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass” is within an unwanted hug has never actually been a woman grappling with a man. The actual boundary where you are living at the mercy of another person’s good will is a hell of a lot further off than that.

          With a firearm, you could draw the line at 20 foot or so. Before the invention of Samuel Colt’s equalizer, it was much much further away.

          We live our lives within murdering distance of each other, all the time. When we are talking about “civilized conduct” we are talking about how to define what is appropriate inside that distance. And it’s perfectly legit to argue about this. It’s well established that different cultures have different social distances, and different acceptable body motions.

        • John Schilling says:

          The use of violence in self-defense, the infliction of actual physical injury on others, is only permitted when one holds a reasonable belief that one is them in imminent danger of physical injury(*). That is the law of the United States and most of the Anglosphere, and I believe the standard of most civilized societies everywhere,

          And in most every civilized society everywhere, it is very much Not Reasonable to believe that an unwanted hug or hand-kiss in an otherwise amiable social context is likely to lead to injury. Pull away, yes. Shout, demand the ostracism of the offender from that social group, summon the police to arrest a persistent offender, you have options. Some of these options may involve briefly surrendering to a minor indignity to avoid escalation to violence, which civilized society does expect you to do. Sorry if you were mislead on that point.

          When people talk about not just violence but literal maiming as a response to exceeding social boundaries, “that person has forfeit the right to said hand”, then they and not the unwanted toucher are proposing to replace civilization with something else. And it will be fun and rewarding at first and it will satisfy your sense of justice and mine in this instance, but it isn’t going to end with something just like civilization except that women are allowed to do violence to creepy guys who deserve it.

          * Or if they are protecting a third party from imminent injury, or some other rare cases of no particular relevance here.

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/john-ringo/a-theory-on-las-vegas/10155111388257055/

    This is a discussion of “psychotic breaks” caused by rare reactions to psych meds– Ringo’s wife had one, and it’s not a crazy theory that the Vegas shooter had one. I’m sorry for the facebook link, but the discussion has some good stuff.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Probably too much planning for a psychotic break.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Did you read the post? His wife spent months on a psychotic break carefully planning to kill a bunch of people. She had their names and addresses and was tracking their movements.

        I’m skeptical, but all the easy answers are gone here. Maybe he was converted by ISIS months ago. Maybe he had a months-long psychotic break.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, the more that comes out, the more it sounds a _lot_ like Ringo’s post. I hope it doesn’t turn out to by Cymbalta or similar drug; that seems likely to trigger a “war on the mentally ill” where anyone who has ever seen a psychiatrist is suspect. (much as Columbine resulted in a “war on the bullied”). At least if he really was a ISIS agent, we already hate those guys pretty maximally anyway.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          But he started buying the guns a year ago. A 12 month psychotic break that no one noticed?

          ETA: And yes I read the article, and I’m not sure the “I wanted to do it right” idea works either, because he could have done a lot more. He didn’t even set off the bombs he brought.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            A 12 month psychotic break that no one noticed?

            I know a couple of guys who could do that. Retired, wealthy enough, widowers or singles, focused on their hobbies, decent house, far rural land, very few friends.

            I visited one a few months ago, he was a teacher of mine from many years ago. I think we exchanged less than 100 words in a two hour visit. But I did notice that my Christmas cards were still up on his fireplace. The past 5 years worth.

            There are more of those men than you want to be comfortable knowing they exist.

  19. Brad says:

    Regarding the equifax hack:

    1) I think it is pretty despicable that they were hacked in the manner they were hacked (i.e. an unpatched server) and speaks to something like negligence. There’s no way to be completely safe (see #3 below) but they could have and should have done better than this.

    2) But I find myself annoyed at the righteous indignation of Senators and Congressmen. The organization they lead — the US Federal government — had its own massive, terrible hack and the responses to that were very different. None of them called for Obama to be impeached, but several have called for the CEO of Equifax to be fired. None of them proposed laws providing compensation for those whose information was disclosed by their organization but they are demanding Equifax provide compensation. I don’t think any of them are aware of the full technical details of how the organization they lead was hacked but expect the CEO to have that info at his finger tips. Etc.

    3) The larger, insoluble, problem is that we are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to prevent this kind of thing from happening. We could have “jet liner” quality engineering in software but it would mean much much higher costs for development. Which not only means directly higher costs for what software would exist but it would also mean many fewer features. Not everything could be online and instant and free and super convenient. Revealed preferences say people don’t care.

    We can try to legislate some sort of penalties that will force companies to care but if the choice is between going out of business now because everyone prefers your competitor with better prices, more features, and a super convenient purchasing process or going out of business later because you got hacked and owe umpteen billion dollars in damages rational business people are going to pick the latter every time.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Personally I am deeply annoyed that they attach a contract to the ability to find out if your information was stolen. Seriously not cool. Like, fuck you guys, and I half want my information to be stolen so I can sue you. And then on top of that they offer “free” identity protection for a year – after which they’ll auto-renew and bill you. Fuck you guys twice.

      Data leaks and hacks happen; that is regrettable, but for practical purposes unavoidable.

      For the way they have handled it, however, their organization should be burned, and the ground salted.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I would be interested in talking shop with the other developers around here about how to protect against these sorts of hacks.

      Last I heard, it was a bug in a third-party library that allowed for arbitrary code execution. Let’s put aside for the moment the importance of keeping libraries updated with the latest patches. Assume that, given zero-day exploits, there’s probably a code execution hole somewhere in your stack.

      What can I, as a developer, do to mitigate against that threat? I’m coming up empty.

      • Brad says:

        There’s are two things I can think of.

        First, at the architectural level you can specify things that can prevent or mitigate the damage from code having exploits. Things like stack randomization and W^X. They may also be language specific configuration or settings that likewise can help.

        Second, you can defensively code around library boundaries. For example, if you are passing a string from the user to third party display library you can sanitize and/or bounds check it yourself even if the framework claims it is doing so for you. This has the downside of reducing the benefit of using the third party library in the first place.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Logging.

        More logging.

        And then auditing.

        You should ask yourself “what if someone got a foothold on any of my app servers? How would I know?”

        For sensitive data, when your application needs it, it requests $SUPER_SENSITIVE_DATA from a different server. That server, in turn, logs your application’s request, decides on its own if you are allowed to have it, and then gives it back to you if you are.

        This audit log should be reviewed both manually and programmatically. Generate a report of how many requests were made for SUPER_SENSITIVE_DATA every day, and if it’s more than a stddev over normal for that time period, throw an alarm. Maybe if a threshold gets passed it generates an alert and stops responding to that specific application server until a manager figures out what is going on.

        Be very sure that your audit log doesn’t become a source of attacks. Don’t log raw requests without encoding, and don’t log sensitive information without encryption. (Ideally this is asymmetric encryption, where you can write it with the key on your server but you cannot decrypt it because that key isn’t on your server.) This has the benefit of meaning you can give relatively junior people the job of analyzing the logs because there is no sensitive data in them.

    • Civilis says:

      A lot of the indignation around the Equifax hack concerns the implications that the senior management was aware of the breach and covered it up while they made arrangements to mitigate the damage to themselves. It’s like discovering the captain of a sinking ship got away in a lifeboat, then announced to the passengers that the ship was sinking.

      Security breaches are a part of life, and I can’t fault a company that’s done at least some amount of effort to prevent that for having one. But if you have my data, and you get breached, you are obligated to let me know in a timely fashion. There may be innocuous reasons that it took so long to announce the breach, but there’s definitely evidence of misconduct. If the possibility of a breach is so great you need to CYA by exercising stock options, it’s already well beyond the point where you should have informed the public of a potential breach.

      The issue with the US government is the massive scale and division of responsibilities. As someone affected by the OPM hack, I’m pissed at the stupidity of the government, but there’s no evidence that there was an attempt by anyone in the government to profit or otherwise benefit from a failure to do their duty to inform the public. If the buck stops anywhere for the OPM leak, it’s at the head of the OPM, who should have been called before congress and asked the same questions the head of Equifax was asked about the breach itself, but there’s no evidence the head of the OPM was criminally negligent.

      Congress acts as our representatives in the political process. As our representatives, they have a duty to act on our behalf by asking questions. There’s a sort of conflict-of-interest involved in their investigation of the OPM breach. In the case of the Equifax breach, Equifax senior management needs to answer questions by both those they have a fiduciary duty to represent (the company’s investors) and by the public as stakeholders in the information that was lost, represented in this case by congress. In the case of the OPM breach, congress is both a very divorced senior management with little direct oversight (OPM is an independent agency of the Federal government) and representative of the stakeholders (US citizens who had their data lost).

      As far as making data breaches impossible, it’s not going to happen. What’s more important is setting up multiple layers of defense: making the data less valuable if stolen, making it harder or riskier to use stolen data, and (most relevant) making sure appropriate action is taken to minimize damage when a breach occurs.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      There was nothing practically gained by Congressmen yelling at Equifax, but it’s one of the reasons you get compensated for being a CEO: because a bunch of petty tyrants can force you to testify and they yell at you.

      Consumers were not choosing convenience here. As much as Equifax keeps on calling us their “customers” we are their product. They acquire information about our creditworthiness and sell it to others who want that information.

      Also, the head of OPM was indeed fired as a result of the breach.

  20. Peffern says:

    Did HFAR change his name?

    • AutisticThinker says:

      Yes. I did because Scott believes that it is a bad idea for me to have the term “rationalist” in my name.

      • Don_Flamingo says:

        Yeah, I think that’s for the better.
        I remember thinking, that those institutional Rationalist/CFAR people
        are way weirder, than I thought after reading some of your comments. I have no problem, that you think you are super rational and all, but that brand is already taken.

  21. Jaskologist says:

    More Babylon 5 talk.

    John Schilling in a previous thread talked about how Sheridan basically appoints himself dictator-for-life and probably is not a good guy. But our Terracentric view has caused us to ignore the real monster in the series: Delenn.

    She had no respect for the institutions that made the Minbari great, and brooked no dissent. We get hints of this early in the series, when she steals a body from the Warrior Minbari because she doesn’t approve of their showmanship. She lets the humans take the fall for this, exacerbating an already tense political situation, until she is finally caught, at which point she humiliates the Minbari warrior in question and pretty much tells him that she’s in charge and he can just suck it. Shockingly, that character recurs as an antagonist to her in the future.

    Later, when the Grey Council did not act the way she felt they should in the Shadow War, she summarily disbanded it. This ruling council had kept order for a thousand years, to the point where intra-Minbari murder did not exist. After Delenn’s stunt, the society almost immediately fell into civil war.

    Delenn, having learned nothing, and not actually seeming to consider her own responsibility for all of this, charges in again to the rescue. She sets up a surrender, and then changes the terms at the last minute, ultimately leading to her having near-unilateral power to re-make the government as she sees fit. So what does she do? She sets up a new Grey Council, but this time, we are assured, it will serve the interests of the “workers.”

    We don’t see how that all turns out, but I think we’ve got enough examples from Earth history to guess.

    Oh, there’s one more thing I forgot to mention. Before any of this happened, Delenn was almost single-handedly responsible for the Earth-Minbari War, which nearly annihilated humanity.

    None of these experiences ever cause her to doubt herself.

    • The Nybbler says:

      What your analysis — and John’s, to a lesser extent — ignores is that this was the year of the Shadow War, a once in a millennium occurrence with the stakes literally being the fate of the galaxy (and with THREE likely dystopian outcomes — domination by the Shadows, domination by the Vorlons, and extinction of most of the younger races to deny them to the other side during the war). So the concerns which applied during the inter-war period were far less important. Civil war among the Minbari? Who the f— cares, if keeping the peace means the Shadows win?

      • John Schilling says:

        Civil war among the Minbari? Who the f— cares, if keeping the peace means the Shadows win?

        Except that it is civil war among the Minbari that lets the Shadows win. Or would have if the story had played fair, though perhaps the forced abbreviation of the fourth season cost us too much of that plot to see clearly.

        The ultimate victory in the Shadow War came mostly from the younger races making a united stand behind “A pox on both your houses; though the cost be extinction we will not be pawns in your game!”. The Minbari, especially, can convincingly do that so long as they do stand united. As it was, the Shadows and Vorlons both should have just laughed at that empty posturing and gone recruiting among the various anti-Delenn factions of the Minbari civil war (and Earth’s, and the recent Centauri dynastic conflict, etc).

      • Jaskologist says:

        Does Delenn actually care about the Shadow War? When Delenn ordered that humanity be wiped out, she already knew that the Shadow War was coming, and that humans had an important part to play in it. But she had a sad, so screw all that.

        Remember, all of that is before the series proper. You’d think nearly obliterating a sentient species would have given her a little less certainty about the clear righteousness of her actions.

        • Witness says:

          My recollection is that Delenn didn’t find out about humanity’s role in the Shadow War until after she voted to exterminate us.

          And “she had a sad” is pretty uncharitable here. She was asked for her vote literally while she was holding her race’s great leader – and her personal mentor – dead/dying in her arms.

        • John Schilling says:

          Witness has it right, I think. The Minbari had just gone through their version of 9/11 and Sarajevo combined, on first contact with an upstart new race, and Delenn was on the spot for the worst of it.

          “We are at our best when we move together, and we are at our worst when we move together. When our leader was killed by your people, we went mad together. We stayed mad for a very long time, a madness that almost consumed your world, until finally, before it was too late, we woke up together. ”

          And Delenn was front and center for that part as well, the first to look into the soul of what it meant to be human, or at least what it meant to be one particular human, and offered up the biggest “Oops!” in the history of two worlds.

          Delenn + Sinclair, that’s a team I might have trusted to rule the galaxy if it were not fated otherwise on at least two levels. Delenn + Sheridan, brought out the worst in each other.

          • Deiseach says:

            Delenn + Sinclair, that’s a team I might have trusted to rule the galaxy if it were not fated otherwise on at least two levels.

            Yes, because Sinclair is not the Great Hero and Successful Kid that Sheridan was! His career is stalled when we meet him, he’s regarded with suspicion because of what happened during the Battle of the Line (unlike Sheridan, who comes away with a glowing reputation as Star-Killer and the ego-boost for Earth of being the Only Human To Defeat A Minbari Cruiser), and he’s a colony kid. He’s someone who knows self-doubt, struggle, and what it’s like to be at the mercy of those with power over you – both your enemies and your superiors. He’s someone who has learned to choose mercy the hard way, having been tempered in the fires. He was regarded as a failure; his posting wasn’t a plum job, as Babylon Five was regarded as a white elephant (and possibly cursed with it) and the mood had swung from peaceful co-operation to a much more jingoistic one on Earth, so he was sent there as “we have to keep the Minbari happy so we need to send someone, but if you screw up – as you probably will – we don’t really care and if we need to throw someone to the wolves to keep the powerful aliens happy, you’ll do because we don’t care about you and you’re not important enough to matter”.

            And I loved his argument for why it was still possible for the Narn to perform their ceremony (you could tell he’d been educated by Jesuits).

            Delenn and Sheridan reinforced one another, because of their similarities, which unfortunately included the training of “you don’t question the captain’s orders”. They had both been put on the path to success, both were accustomed to succeeding in what they did, and both of them had the view that they were sincerely trying to do what was right. Sinclair knew the value of doubt and could have moderated Delenn; Sheridan was primed to never let doubt get in the way of achieving the goal.

    • John Schilling says:

      None of these experiences ever cause her to doubt herself.

      Yes, that part was quite clearly on display in “Comes the Inquisitor“. Though JMS was perhaps showing some level of self-awareness there, in that the two people in that story with maximal self-assuredness in their own self-righteousness were Satai Delenn and Jack the Ripper.

      I do think Lennier may have been on to something when he noted that Delenn’s greatness was her ability to inspire other people to try to create the more perfect world that she insisted on believing in. But those other people weren’t Delenn; even Lennier couldn’t live up to that standard, and as you note, bloody civil war ensues.

    • Deiseach says:

      I rather liked Delenn, at least in the earlier seasons, but yes – the prospect of her and Sheridan teaming up to rule the galaxy (for its own good, of course, since the galaxy couldn’t do it for itself) should have had everyone running screaming to the Shadows/Vorlons for protection because living under the Benevolent Rule of Your Wiser And Better Despots For Life who can use the combined military might of two worlds and a quasi-paramilitary force (the Rangers) to invade and overthrow your regime/planet if you fail to appreciate the wisdom and grace of their better way – yikes!

      Both of them absolutely self-assured that they were doing the right thing, and no qualms about mutiny, knocking down structures in place to govern and resolve disputes, setting themselves up as the new sheriffs in town to be obeyed (or else) – Sheridan telling the minor worlds in the League that they could bow to his wishes or they’d be steamrollered over – did he not notice any vague resemblance in his methods and attitudes to President Clark? Worse, they both go through various tests to inculcate self-doubt and come right out the other side with not a scratch on their amour-propre thanks to their wills of adamant, even more convinced that they are doing the right and only thing.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I’m starting to seriously think that Delenn really is a monster and force for evil. I’m only halfway to Schilling’s Sheridan position. I think he was a decent man whose actions during the Shadow and Earth Wars were for the best overall. Where he failed was in setting up institutions that would live on after him; especially egregious since he knew he was living on borrowed time.

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh I don’t think she was a monster. But I do think the show wasn’t able to resist the temptation of “If they can’t be good on their own, then we’ll make them be good – for their own good!”

          That is, they set up Sheridan and Delenn as the Voices of Reason and Only Sane Men in their respective political/planetary establishments, and since they were fighting for the right and for the survival of the younger races, then anything they might have had to do to attain those ends was justified. And of course, being the heroes, despite some attempts at shades of gray and morally dubious areas, basically they were the Good Guys.

          It was the whole problem of “We don’t torture anyone, only the Bad Guys do that and we’re the Good Guys, so when we do it it’s not torture, it’s enhanced interrogation or the ticking time bomb or whatever”. President Clark was a bad guy out for personal ambition and what he thought was right, making dicey deals with the Shadows, and acting autocratically and unilaterally and setting up behind the scenes plots where he had people assassinated but could have the appearance of keeping his hands clean (and I’m not for one minute disputing that Clark was a bad guy). Sheridan declares mutiny and takes over the space station and lets shitty crap go on like how Lyta Alexander was treated (she did a lot for The Cause but when it came to letting her have living quarters aboard Babylon Five when she had problems finding independent employment, it was all “Sorry babe, we’re now running this place as a commercial business and if you can’t pay rent, you’re out”, thus driving her back into the devil’s bargain with PsiCorps and demonstrating that the brave new world of Sheridan’s revolution wasn’t too accommodating to those who fell by the wayside. Since Lyta had suffered a lot through her contact with the Vorlons, I thought this was very shoddy, given that for fuck’s sake couldn’t Satai Delenn at least put her on the embassy pay roll and pay for her quarters or something? “She was eventually arrested aboard Babylon 5 for supporting terrorism by John Sheridan (whose contact with Vorlons gave him immunity to her Vorlon-enhanced telepathic abilities) in late 2262.” Yeah, well maybe if you hadn’t fucked her over in her hour of need, Sheridan, she wouldn’t have ended up driven to these extremes? He commits mutiny and seizes the station and starts his own freedom fighting struggle – including shooting on ships with former colleagues – that’s great. She starts fighting for her own cause, she’s a terrorist. Also please note Sheridan’s Marty Stu abilities granted as needed for the plot – he’s not a telepath, nobody can have contact with the Vorlons without adverse effects, she’s now super-powered due to Vorlon interference, but HE CAN RESIST HER. Bah, humbug!) – anyway, Sheridan acts like a little tin god at times but that’s cool because he’s the Good Guy.

          But at the end, (or at least this is the impression I get), Sheridan is very much amused by any notion that EarthGov can discipline him (or even have the right to do so), and that it’s purely at his own pleasure that he returns to answer charges, and doesn’t take over power. He does give off the impression of “Well, sure you could put me on trial over charges of mutiny and seizing the space station and firing on EarthGov military ships and all that, but hey, look out the window – there’s the White Star and you know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it started blowing this city to hell if I don’t come back aboard. And it just so happens I’m married to the new head of the Minbari Ruling Council, and if you try locking me up, Minbar might kind of declare war and you wouldn’t like that. And by the way, President of Earth is too small a job for me, so you can keep it; I’m going to be President of the new Interstellar Alliance that means Earth’s ambitions to be the power in the galaxy are overturned and if Earth doesn’t behave itself it’ll pretty much be a backwater. Oh, you’re dropping all charges and letting me go and maybe giving me a medal to boot? Yeah, probably the best decision all round”.

          • cassander says:

            I will grant you that the particular ways the shows her being treated, literally tossed out of her apartment, are basically lazy and contrived, but the basic idea that our heroes would treat her like crap is totally plausible.

            Most of them are human, who have spent their whole lives in a society that hives telepaths off from the rest of society as much as possible. They’ve been trained all their to think about telepaths as little as possible, and would have had not the super creepy organization that runs the separate telepath society worked to corrupt and overthrow their government.

            One of the best things about B5 is the way it portrays telepathy. It takes it seriously as something transformative and downright terrifying for the mundanes, postulates responses to its existence, and takes them seriously. Lyta’s story is a good example of that, problems with byron aside.

          • Deiseach says:

            The “used and tossed aside” storyline for Lyta would have been bad-tasting but acceptable, if it were carried through consistently for everyone, but it wasn’t.

            We see Garibaldi being treated as carelessly, and it’s hard to escape the thought that this is pay-back for him not being enthralled by the Cult of Sheridan; yes, Bester’s meddling with his mind is at the back of it, but at the same time, somebody needed to point out to Sheridan that a cult of personality was forming and this was not a desirable trait for the resistance if they ever hoped to make it out the other side and have him as galactic figurehead, else they’d just be replicating the same old patterns that made it necessary to remove Clark from the office he’d schemed to get.

            Byron and the telepaths sub-plot never quite worked, because it was all too easy to make jokes like “In the end the mass of hairspray Byron applies every morning spontaneously combusts and the tragedy is complete” (I have never seen such a mass of glossy hair in one place at one time as when all the rogue telepaths were gathered together). It didn’t work for me because they all behaved more like sulky teenagers than people who really were suffering under the regime as it was. And the non-human worlds seem to have different attitudes to telepathy, though yeah, if they’re biased against humans, it’s probably not so easy to get asylum there whether or not you’re a telepath as well.

            But the wider point about how Lyta was treated was that it sent the message “Join the rebellion and once they’ve squeezed all the use out of you that they can, you’re tossed aside – unless you’re a favourite of one of the leaders”. Really, you’d be better off sticking with the baddies (Earth’s government and the Shadows) than throwing your lot in with the good guys!

            I suppose the real-world explanation was that Patricia Tallman was fighting with the producers over her salary which is why her character was replaced by Talia Winters for the second season (and why, according to Wikipedia, she didn’t appear in any of the post-show material: “Lyta was intended to appear in the Crusade episode “The Path of Sorrows” as part of a flashback, but Tallman’s salary could not be negotiated”) so maybe this was why she was written out, but the way she was written out seems, in conjunction with the disputes over money, like a rather uncomfortable way to remind the actress to “if you don’t play ball with us, you won’t work on this show”.

      • MrApophenia says:

        It’s been a long time since I watched the show, but wasn’t membership in the Interstellar Alliance an entirely voluntary affair? Also, the Alliance doesn’t actually run any of the member states; they continue to be ruled by whatever internal government was there before.

        It’s basically just the same Space UN as they already had on the station, except with all member states given an equal vote instead of everyone in the League of Non-Aligned Worlds getting lumped into a single vote, and with its own military.

        Now, the UN having its own military might be problematic in all kinds of ways – but Sheridan did not actually run anything inside the government of the various member states. He was basically the Secretary General of the UN, if they had a navy.

        • John Schilling says:

          It’s been a long time since I watched the show, but wasn’t membership in the Interstellar Alliance an entirely voluntary affair? Also, the Alliance doesn’t actually run any of the member states; they continue to be ruled by whatever internal government was there before.

          The Centauri Republic volunteered to join the Interstellar Alliance. Then Sheridan held a closed-door meeting, the Centauri ambassador explicitly not invited, wherein the rest of them decided to expel the Centauri and wage total war against them, leading ultimately to the orbital bombardment of their homeworld and a surrender under rather Versailles-esque terms.

          I do not believe they volunteered for this, and I do not believe they would have been spared this if they had refused on principle to join the IA in the first place.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I had to do some Googling to refresh my memory, but from what I’m seeing in various Wikis, it’s not like they declared war on the Centauri because they tried to oppose the Alliance, or refuse membership, or something. They declared war on the Centauri because the Centauri military were attacking civilian ships without provocation. (Due to the Drakh trying to get another war going, although of course they didn’t know that.)

            Also, the war declaration was over the strenuous objection of Sheridan, complete with him getting a big dramatic Bruce Boxleitner monologue about how awful the member states were for demanding another war so soon after the last one, but he did it anyway because those were the terms of the Alliance, which doesn’t seem to support the whole ‘Sheridan as dictator’ narrative.

          • John Schilling says:

            (Due to the Drakh trying to get another war going, although of course they didn’t know that.)

            They actually did know that, or at least very strongly suspect it. In a private conversation with, iirc Delenn and Garibaldi, Sheridan said that he didn’t believe that Mollari at least was involved in the attacks and that someone else was pulling the Centauri’s strings. He went ahead and orchestrated the war with the Centauri anyway.

            And, again, he did it without giving the Centauri ambassador a hearing. No matter how evil you think someone’s actions may be, if you can’t be bothered to hear out their ambassador before starting a bloody total war, I get to call you a bloodthirsty murdering tyrant.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I feel like that may be a fair charge against the Alliance in general, but since Sheridan made basically that same argument and was overruled by the voting members, I still feel more sympathetic to him.

            (I am apparently unusual around these parts in that I actually quite liked Sheridan.)

          • Deiseach says:

            a big dramatic Bruce Boxleitner monologue about how awful the member states were for demanding another war so soon after the last one, but he did it anyway because those were the terms of the Alliance

            A real Pontius Pilate moment; washing his hands of the blood but letting the war go ahead. He could have said “If you want a war, get someone else to lead it for you” and stepped down, but he didn’t of course (because if he’s in charge at least he can put some limits on it and steer the course of future history to a better place and so on and so forth).

            I know I’m rather unfair to Sheridan, but JMS did write him as this Big Freakin’ Hero and even his mistakes are glorious, and he is the Destined One of Prophecy and all the rest, which put me off a bit.

            But then again they needed the Centauri War to set up the Drakh for the new spin-off series Crusade, given that the Shadows had gone over the event horizon. That Crusade more or less sank without trace was ironic.

          • John Schilling says:

            Sheridan knew the Centauri weren’t ultimately responsible for the attacks on non-aligned shipping, and therefore someone else was, and he sat on that information. He denied the Centauri ambassador the opportunity to make that case on his own. He said and did nothing to stop the League from voting for a war he knew to be unjustified, and then offered up his personal forces to support the war. When the Narn and Drazi launched an unauthorized orbital bombardment of Centauri Prime, he took no action against them in spite of their megadeaths worth of war crime vastly exceeding the alleged Centauri offenses that supposedly justified that war in the first place.

            Sheridan’s every word and action, and every strategic silence and inaction, led inexorably to that outcome. Either Sheridan was an incompetent buffoon, or Sheridan preferred that outcome to the alternative, and in neither case is “look what you made me do” an adequate defense.

            Reasons why the president of a dubiously legitimate new administration might want to start a short victorious war against an enemy that everybody else already hates, are left as an exercise for the reader. Fortunately, this can have no possible relevance to current events.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s been a long time since I watched the show, but wasn’t membership in the Interstellar Alliance an entirely voluntary affair?

          My impression of that is that, post- the whole Shadow war and overthrow of Clark’s regime and shake-up of the galactic power structure, membership in this was more along the lines of “nice solar system you got here, be a pity if anything happened to it” – that is, anyone determined to go their own way would be in danger of being regarded with disfavour as “What, don’t you trust Good Dictator for Life President Sheridan, Hero and Saviour of the Galaxy? What have you got to hide, you freedom-hating Shadow lover?”

          But then, I mistrusted Sheridan hugely by the end of the whole arc, so my impressions may not be credible 🙂

          • cassander says:

            that’s definitely harsher than it was portrayed as, though I grant you I don’t think you’ll like “All the species joining up under Hero Sheridan because he’s just so damned awesome, only for them to sometimes squabble until the great patriarch reluctantly gives them their well deserved paddling” any better.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      You have some interesting points about Delenn, but your analysis is also flawed in several respects. For example:

      We get hints of this early in the series, when she steals a body from the Warrior Minbari because she doesn’t approve of their showmanship.

      Branmer (the dead Minbari leader) had been a high-ranking leader in the Religious Caste for most of his life. As the child of a mixed-caste marriage he had the option of changing castes, and did so during the Earth-Minbari War out of a sense of reluctant duty. He had explicitly stated his desire NOT to be a symbol of war, and his wishes were specifically that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered in Minbar orbit.

      Instead, the Warrior Caste used his body to wave the bloody flag, explicitly disregarding both his stated values in life, and his wishes for how his remains were to be treated.

      In that context, it’s pretty clear that Neroon and company were very much in the wrong. The reason he had no recourse but to “Suck It” is that a complaint that “How dare she take her friend’s body and dispose of it in the manner he explicitly requested! We were using it to stoke up political dissent against the stated policy of a majority of our ruling executive body!” (6-3 split, Worker and Religious caste council members voting against the Warrior caste) would not go over well.

      I’d also add that she doesnt’ “disband” the council. What she did is make a speech stating that if the council was so deadlocked and useless that it couldn’t act against a clear and present danger not just to an ally but to their own people, then it was no longer a legitimate authority. After years of building tension and dissatisfaction, that crisis was the tipping point that led to the dissolution of that government, but it’s hardly the case that “Everything was going just fine until Delenn came along and dissolved the peaceful, stable, healthy, and fully functional government”. There’s quite a lot of worldbuilding and foreshadowing going on establishing that under the Utopian Space Elf Crystal Spires And Toga society of the Minbari lies quite a lot of festering wounds, simmering tension, and unresolved social and political strife.

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s been years since I watched the show and I’m going on shaky memory, so you’re correct about Delenn’s motives but I do remember thinking it was terrible implementation.

        Now, maybe she and the Religious Caste went to the Warrior Caste and politely asked them to hand over the body per the deceased’s requests, but I don’t remember that.

        I think the problem was that in this episode the show went for the cool “mystery – intrigue – whodunnit?’ plot and then gave us Delenn’s justifications in the end as a resolution, but not realising (or caring?) that it made no sense – so instead of trying to resolve this sensibly, the Warriors are telling the Religious get knotted (and y’know, I could understand why they’d do that; for a ‘three equal castes’ society, the Religious caste does seem to go about acting like “we are the boss of you”), then Delenn does some sneaky body-robbing and lets the suspicion fall on Earth as the patsy (not very good way to avoid re-starting the Earth-Minbar war) and only at the very end is the justification as above “he wanted this and not the big Warrior State Funeral” pulled out to keep us thinking well of Delenn (instead of “why is this kook allowed to be the Minbari Representative when she damn near kicked off another war and is fomenting division at home?”)

        As I said, I mostly liked Delenn, but the show had a distinct tendency to let its favourites (the designated Heroes) pull very autocratic stunts and get away with them because They Knew Best.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The Warrior Caste was absolutely acting poorly. That doesn’t mean Delenn acted well.

        If she didn’t like what they were doing with the body, she could have appealed it to the Grey Supreme Court, or whatever institution Minbari use to resolve disputes. If that didn’t come out with the verdict she would have preferred, the proper thing to do is nothing. Sometimes you don’t get your way. Delenn doesn’t seem to have such a concept; she is an authoritarian to the core, and anybody who disagrees is simply steam-rolled over.

        As you said, Minbari society hah a lot of unresolved social and political strife. It hah that in large part because of Delenn. Delenn says, “We stayed mad for a very long time, a madness that almost consumed your world, until finally, before it was too late, we woke up together,” but that “we” isn’t actually true. The Minbari race did not wake up from the madness. The Grey Council never told them why they had surrendered unconditionally to a defeated Earth, tossing away all the sacrifices they had ordered the Warrior Caste to make in the first place.

        That’s why the warriors were still waving the bloody shirt. And when Delenn continued to respond to any differing opinion by shutting it down entirely, she prevented any of that tension from getting released in a healthy manner. Instead, it was bottled up until it exploded into a civil war.

        The great project of civilization is figuring out a way for people who want different things to accept that sometimes they don’t always get their way. If you have a vision of politics where you never lose, you are envisioning a polity that exists as your slaves. If that group decides they don’t want to be your slaves, things fall apart quickly. You have to be able to lose.

        tldr; Delenn is How You Got Trump.

        • Deiseach says:

          tldr; Delenn is How You Got Trump.

          Delenn is How You Got Sheridan 🙂

          Poor Sheridan, I’m very hard on him! I think he’s a good military leader, which doesn’t necessarily translate into he’s a good peace-time leader. And the set-up for Crusade, where Sheridan (for good reasons in the plot) ends up resuming a role as captain in a space battle does not help the impression of Generalissimo Sheridan, El Presidente. The main fault, though, is the kind of behaviour described here:

          Galen provides him with descriptions of three individuals who will meet him at Babylon 5 to assist him, but explicitly warns him to never explain his actions or mission to anyone under any circumstances.

          This means that Sheridan issues orders and acts unilaterally in ways that require blind obedience from others – “I can’t tell you how I know, I can’t tell you why I’m doing this, but you have to obey me to the letter and just believe me that there’s a good reason for it”.

          People questioning this are behaving sensibly, but because we the viewers know what is going on and they don’t, they look like the bad guys obstructing the really vital things that need to be done for the safety of Earth and Sheridan looks like the hero.

          If we didn’t know what was going on, we’d have to decide for ourselves whether or not to trust Sheridan, but we never have to make that decision since JMS makes it for us – we get the information that the others don’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            Liberation movements are how you get dictators generally. Hugo Chavez, Hafez Assad, Park Chung-Hee, all the way back to the Little Corporal and beyond. It’s a recurring formula. Start with one corrupt government, doesn’t matter what kind, democracy, monarchy, another dictatorship, but almost certainly a strong kleptocratic component leading to gross economic hardship for everyone else. There will be protest movements and revolutionary cells, of course, but they won’t have the power or the organization to do anything.

            There will be an army, of course, and it will be organized and powerful, and however much everyone else is suffering the army will at least be well-fed. Now add a charismatic field-grade, or maybe low-end general grade officer (not the Supreme Commander) who notices that lots of people are going hungry, the army has the power and the organization to stop this, and nobody else does. Maybe he should start talking to his fellow officers and do something about this?

            Fast forward one bloody little civil war, and our heroic military officer is now a President. Maybe he even won a fair election; who else is anyone going to vote for? But he’s not a politician, he’s a military officer. He’s got a big hammer, and all his problems look like nails. He makes decisions, and he thinks they are good decisions (they probably mostly are), made in consultation with his trusted advisors, and people aren’t doing what he orders them to do. To a military officer, that’s mutiny. There’s still a war going on, more or less, and anyone who doesn’t obey orders in wartime needs to be shot. He’s got men with guns to do that. Anyone who isn’t one of his obedient subordinates, must be the enemy because there is no third category. And the peace and prosperity that are supposed to come at the end of the war, never quite do because there is always opposition and that opposition always looks like (incoming self-fulfilling prophecy) enemy action.

            That, and not Evil Politicians scheming and blackmailing and murdering their way to power, is how dictators tend to come about in the real world. And after giving us the cartoon version with President Clark, I was hoping and half-believing JMS was willing to sacrifice the reputation of his favorite character to show us the real version in action. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done properly on the big or small screen.

            Still waiting, alas.

          • Deiseach says:

            people aren’t doing what he orders them to do. To a military officer, that’s mutiny.

            Exactly how Sheridan comported himself after taking over Babylon Five and declaring independence, and ironic to me because he was the original mutineer, so having smashed the chain of command, what leg are you standing on, again?

            I was hoping and half-believing JMS was willing to sacrifice the reputation of his favorite character to show us the real version in action.

            I think he was hamstrung by having written his ending already and giving glimpses of it all along; we knew how the end was going to work out (Sheridan had twenty years left and then would go off with Lorien, etc) before we got to season five and the way post-successful rebellion Earth and the Interstellar Alliance would work out, so Sheridan had to be this glowing, heroic character of legend that we knew he would become; the flash-forwards to the future where Ivanova and others are all saints and quasi-Arthurian legend figures surviving in the myths and stories and real history is lost, jumbled, or suppressed helped set that up.

            If they’d dropped the silly telepath sub-plot and worked on “The glowing heroic legend is Delenn’s work in creating and fostering and spreading the legend because she is blinded by love but also because it’s politically useful, the winners get to write history, and she never learned to re-assess her own sense of utter certitude so she has to push the story that everything they both did was for the greater good and worked out for the best, but the reality beneath that was a lot messier and darker”, it would have been better.

            But that would have been another show, and really all-in-all, Babylon 5 was something new and never tried before, and we can’t carp too much that it wasn’t perfect and perfectly done, given all the bumps they hit along the way 🙂

    • cassander says:

      to be fair, none of the Minbari politics in the show make much sense. the shadows are running around blowing stuff up, and the warrior cast still doesn’t want to get involved, despite the fact that fighting for the vorlons against the shadows is basically the organizing principle of minbari society.

      Of course, there’s also the problem the whole basis for their society is proven to be a lie, and no seems to even notice it, much less deal with it in any way.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, Minbari social organisation seems to be sorely lacking. The Worker Caste seem to have a very raw deal, with both the Warrior and Religious Castes ordering them about and making decisions that affect them with little to no consultation from them. I was half-expecting the civil war to break out when the Workers said “To hell with the both of you”, downed tools, and used their expertise to build weapons to take on both Warriors and Religious, but that’s not how it happened.

        Because Delenn is Religious Caste, we get everything filtered through that lens, and the only good Warrior Caste members are the ones who come over to her side. I can see why the Warriors would hold off on getting into a war purely on the say-so of the Religious Caste, because it is a matter of internal politics; but because the Shadows are (up to a certain point before the whole of the truth is revealed) the Bad Guys, their reluctance makes them look bad, while it isn’t unreasonable (if the Grey Council never told the whole of Minbar why they stopped the war with Earth): “you started a war, then you stopped that war without telling us why, now you want to start another war and there’s every chance you might decide to stop that as well without giving us any reasons; maybe we don’t want to do that?”

        • cassander says:

          the official JMS explanation was that the minbari civil war gets short shrift because of compression required by the need to compress everything for season 4. I don’t really buy this.

          I mean, if I squint right, I can see it. One of the points of the series is supposed to be that the Vorlons really are just as bad as the shadows, in their own way. The show hints* at this I can’t help but think the original plan** was to have the big shadow/vorlon showdown come towards the end of season 4 instead of the beginning. I assume that some of that extra time would have been used to show that the Vorlons were not the good guys, and one way to do that would have been through the societal collapse of the Minbari, who were always their favorite kids. But I fully admit that this would be a dramatic re-ordering of events, and given the total lack of interest JMS seems to have in exploring the notion that the vorlons were bad once they depart the stage, I have to admit that it’s probably wishful thinking. But I tell you, the version of the story where the Vorlons take a more active role, where their authoritarian ideology (and its failures) is made explicit, and where Sheridan comes to articulate a meaningful third way, is fantastic.

          * hint is not really a good word for B5, which has the subtly of a sledgehammer. This is by no means always a bad thing.

          ** original in this case meaning the direction JMS was planning for season 4 while writing late season 3, not the imaginary original plan that he’s always sworn to have in his back pocket.

  22. Thegnskald says:

    Related topic; a few less-known board-ish games.

    2-6 players:
    Concept: A language game in which you try to convey something using a polysynthetic language made out of pictures. Quite cool, ignore the points system.

    The Captain is Dead: Coop board game in which you are in the middle of the worst Star Trek episode ever. Quite fun, hard to.play with fewer than four people.

    Mysterium: Clue + Dixit. Psychics try to solve a murder using dreams. A co-op (ish) game which may lead you to despise the ghost dispensing the dreams.

    Dixit: Technically a better known game, Target often has it, but to clarify the above: A game with a bunch of cards with weird artwork, one player puts a piece down with a phrase intended to convey the artwork well but not too well, everybody else puts down artwork to try to deceive the others into picking theirs, then everybody but the original player votes on which art they think was the original. The original player gets points iff at least one person gets it right and one person gets it wrong; everybody else gets points based on whether they guessed right or if they tricked somebody into picking their artwork.

    7-12:
    Telestrations: Telephone Pictionary. Each person draws a picture to communicate an idea, hands it down the line; the next person writes down the idea they get, and pass that down. Until everything is hopelessly mangled, then everybody shows the history of their original idea, and where it went horribly wrong.

    Funemployed: A mixture of improv and Apples to Apples. Some of you may seriously hate this game, others will love it, fundamentally you have to be able to enjoy playing the fool for laughs.

    Deception: Social deduction game in which everybody plays a detective, one of whom is a murderer, and one of whom is the forensic scientist, who knows who the murderer is but can only communicate this with a limited set of highly-interpretable hints.

    • Nick says:

      I’ve played Mysterium and own Dixit, and I can recommend both games. Mysterium was fun and I’d like to try it again—we weren’t doing so hot most of the game, but we figured it out on our last chance! Dixit we’ve played a few games of; it’s well-received, but I find we don’t quite have a strong enough pool of references for it to go too well. I also always lose, which annoys me to no end. 🙂

      • Thegnskald says:

        Deception has a very similar “feel” to Mysterium, in spite of being radically different games. Part of it is that the ghost/forensic science play very similar roles, part of it is that the aesthetic somehow meshes well. Either way I recommend it.

        • Nick says:

          My friends and I have always loved deduction/deception games like Werewolf and Resistance, so I’ll check it out, thanks.

    • smocc says:

      I love Concept but I am terrible at the hardest difficulty level. I want to be good at it, and I am usually pretty good at “guess what I’m thinking” games, but it is just beyond me in a way I can’t figure out.

      Everyone should try it once just for how mind-bending it is. I like to describe it as “Kanzi the bonobo, the board game.”

    • RDNinja says:

      There’s a game on Steam called “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.” One player is on the computer, and is confronted with a “time bomb” which must be defused by solving a series of logic puzzles. All the other players have copies of the bomb defusal manual, and must interpret the puzzles the defuser describes, and look up how to solve them in the manual, and relay the answers to the defuser. This often involves multiple back-and-forth instructions on how to get the defuser to (safely) uncover the next clue.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      One that is a regular hit with family and friends for me is Codenames a game with a grid of words where one person on each of two teams alternate giving out a clue and the number of tiles it applies to. The two clue-givers can see the solution of which tiles are theirs, which are the other teams, which are neither, and which one is the “auto-lose” for whichever team selects it. They have to get their team to find all their tiles first, but the bigger the number they give, the wilder their team’s guesses might get based off that one clue.

      Spyfall is fun as well, where everyone except on person know what the location is. Players then take turns choosing one person and having them answer one question, then the answerer gets to pick another person to ask a question to. Players cannot ask a question of the person that just asked them one. The spy can stop the timer at any time to guess the location but loses if they are wrong. Everyone can attempt one accusation during the game, and if it is unanimous save one person, the game ends and the role cards are checked, otherwise play resumes. When the timer ends, players deliberate and try to vote on who the spy is, if they are wrong, the spy wins, otherwise everyone else wins. It is a fun game of trying to be vague in referencing the location to suss out who doesn’t know it without giving away the game to the spy. It usually ended with someone going too far with puns and tipping the spy off to the location.

      My personal favorite is Avalon, by the same people that made resistance but many of the roll cards have special abilities with fun interactions, like merlin knowing who the evil people are or the assassin who can guess who merlin is at the end to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The game itself is political voting to choose teams to go on quests by a rotating “leader”, that when the vote succeeds, give the quest goers chances to secretly defect if evil. Evil wins by causing total gridlock on the quest-goer selection for five failed votes in a row or causing the group to fail three or more quests. Add in some opportunities for players to view other player’s role cards, and the political machinations turn into conspiracy theory laden he-said, she-saids.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Avalon always plays exactly this way for me: Good guys get enough quests, bad guys win some of the time by killing Merlin. I have never seen the bad guys successfully mess up the quests.

        (Too many veterans of social deduction games in my crowd, and too many of the players know one another’s tells.)

        • rlms says:

          Regarding social deception games like Avalon, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is good. I also quite like Coup. I don’t think it’s any better than similar games with multiple players, but unlike Avalon/Mafia/etc. it can be played with two people (it feels like a more fun version of heads up poker in that format).

          • Charles F says:

            If you play Coup, make sure you’re playing the rebellion version. I thought the original was pretty boring, and the extra mechanic makes the game worthwhile.

        • AnarchyDice says:

          Have you tried mixing in some of the other roles like lancelot, oberron, or Mordred? I find that they tend to shake things up for a game or two after we switch them in. But I’m biased towards Oberron, because evil one all three times I got him. Also my group tends to have a certain meta-strategy that works sometimes that we call “playing the long game” (also gets thrown as an accusation a lot “they’re not good, they’re just playing the long game!”) where evil players worm in early by helping the first or second quest, then helping to fail the later ones. This mirrors our other meta-strategy of the “dream team” where once a team succeeds there is a lot of momentum to keep them on future quests, with new additions being the ones more scrutinized for failures. Evil tends to win more on quests when we get higher in number of players too.

      • Iain says:

        I second Codenames as a good party game.

        • Matt M says:

          Since I have at least two people here who know codenames, I want feedback on the following scenario.

          I was playing a game and I was the “codemaster” or whatever. We quickly fell behind by a couple points when, in an early round, I gave a clue and a #5 and they only got 2 answers before uncovering an enemy card. So after this, in future rounds, I adopted a strategy of intentionally giving more numbers than I had in mind for a particular clue, under the logic that my team “needed more guesses” to catch up, and that they could use the clues from the past rounds that they didn’t fully guess, combined with my new clues, to find the crossover and catch up.

          But instead, they gave up once they exhausted the obvious answers to my clue, leaving guesses on the table. Eventually this obviously failed and the other team won.

          After the game, when discussing the strategy, I was annoyed at them and they were annoyed at me. My position was “we were behind, guesses were valuable, so I intentionally gave you more and you threw them away!.” There’s was “the number is a part of the clue that has value, and by choosing a number that did not represent the actual amount of clues you identified, you made that piece of information useless, making it harder to win!”

          We still argue about my brilliant/terrible (depending on who you ask) codenames strategy to this day.

          So who is in the right here?

          • Charles F says:

            I don’t have the rulebook handy, but I thought there was a part that said if you get to the number given, but you missed some for a previous clue, you get to pick one more to try to make up the ones you missed. You should have trusted your spy to take advantage of that and only given a high number as a last resort.

            ETA: Looked up the rules, my memory was correct-ish they can guess up to what you said+1, whether or not they missed something before. So if you could have caught up by getting one extra per turn, you should have given good numbers. If you didn’t think that could work, might as well give them the chance to guess, though it’s hardly in the spirit of the game.

            ETA2: Apparently you’re allowed to say “unlimited” so that would have been better than high numbers.

          • Matt M says:

            Charles, yes, that’s correct.

            And I did consider that, but we were sufficiently behind that I was in “last resort” mode and figured they would need more than one “extra” guess.

          • Witness says:

            So who is in the right here?

            Nobody, really. You were trying (and failing) to communicate a different piece of useful information than they expected, which is well within the spirit of Codenames.

            I seem to recall a rule where you could state “0” as your number, at which point your team could keep guessing until they missed, which would probably have worked better (although it’s an obscure, and maybe optional, rule).

          • AnarchyDice says:

            Is that after accounting for the extra guesses they get? Per the rules, the guessers can guess one more than the number given by the codemaster. I’d say that its a mix of failures. They were in the wrong on a few turns after leaving so many on the table by not guessing to try and connect with those initial five, but you are wrong after that for not readjusting your strategy on the fly to their tactics.
            Plus, you could always go with an absurdly high number on the last turn you think you’ll have to tell them to swing for the fences rather than obscuring your hint information on other turns.

          • Matt M says:

            Plus, you could always go with an absurdly high number on the last turn you think you’ll have to tell them to swing for the fences rather than obscuring your hint information on other turns.

            I strongly considered doing this, but at that point it was clear to me that they weren’t getting my point, so I went with the exact number they would need to clear the board and win the game. Which only failed because, with only one left, they accidentally revealed the last enemy spy and won it for the enemy.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I highly recommend Hanabi if you enjoy this sort of “how do I convey this information within the scope of the rules”. It’s a ton of fun with the right group but can be frustrating with wide gaps in players’ logicomancy.

          • Iain says:

            Giving a higher number than the actual number for the clue is a totally reasonable part of the game’s strategy. (I actually thought it was mentioned in the rulebook, although I don’t have it handy to check.)

            You have to play it by ear. If I had just given a clue with 5 matches, and they left some of them on the board, but their discussion was going in the right direction, then I might pick the hardest of my remaining words, give a clue very tightly tied to that word, and then add guesses equal to the number of words from my previous clue they had been considering. For example: if I said “Place, 5”, and they guessed London and Japan before running into the enemy’s America, but Mexico, China, and Buffalo were the three remaining words that they had been considering, then on my next turn I might say “Arachnid, 4”, hoping for them to guess Spider, Mexico, China, and Buffalo. If they got stuck on Buffalo as an animal and their discussion had not mentioned Buffalo as a place, I might say “Arachnid, 3” instead.

          • Matt M says:

            For example: if I said “Place, 5”, and they guessed London and Japan before running into the enemy’s America, but Mexico, China, and Buffalo were the three remaining words that they had been considering, then on my next turn I might say “Arachnid, 4”, hoping for them to guess Spider, Mexico, China, and Buffalo.

            Yeah, this is basically exactly what I did, except they got to Spider, and then quit, because there were no Arachnid words remaining.

          • Iain says:

            I’m on your side, then. It’s reasonable for them not to have figured out what was going on at the time, but it was a good play on your part.

          • Skivverus says:

            For example: if I said “Place, 5”, and they guessed London and Japan before running into the enemy’s America, but Mexico, China, and Buffalo were the three remaining words that they had been considering, then on my next turn I might say “Arachnid, 4”, hoping for them to guess Spider, Mexico, China, and Buffalo.

            Very different mindset from how I’ve played the game: if I say there are X that match, there are X that match, not X-???. If they guess wrong on round N, that might mean I try to pick words that match more in round N+1 to catch up, but I’ll still accurately say how many words match; that way they can use the extra 1/round to catch up by round N+2 or N+3 without second-guessing “wait, did he mean there were really four that matched [N+1 word], or was it only two and he’s trying to catch us up, or really six and he got burned by our missing some the last time?”.

            On the other hand, I only played it on two occasions; not enough time for a metagame to coalesce, really. (Bridge comes to mind; “two clubs” means different things under different conventions)

          • Iain says:

            The entire game revolves around interpreting the spymaster’s ambiguous clues. Uncertainty about which numbers apply to which clues is a difference in degree, not a difference in kind.

            I have seen this strategy succeed in practice, and I can’t think of a time when it’s backfired.

    • lvlln says:

      My ultimate team captain runs board game nights at his place every month. I don’t go often, but the last time I went, there was one simple game that I found really fun, which would work for 4+ people, called Snake Oil. There were 2 decks of cards: one with types of customers (e.g. beach hobo, cheerleader, rapper, etc.) and the other with nouns. Each round, one person is the judge and picks a random customer card. Everyone else has 10 noun cards in their hand, and they get to choose 2 of those to put together to invent a new product, and they have some amount of time to give a pitch to the customer for why they need their product. Whoever the judge chooses as the best pitch wins that round. For example, someone tried to sell a Pizza Slide – a slide with pizzas at the bottom – to a beach bum, or a Glitter Toilet to a cheerleader.

      Very simple game but a lot of fun and a good way to provide introverted people with a good excuse to let loose at a party. And it’s a game that’d be pretty easy to create oneself, just by making their own cards – or some other card-less method for distributing words. Also easy to modify. I’m tempted to try playing this with some friends using a Cards Against Humanity deck.

      (As an aside, some friends and I once tried to play pictionary with a Cards Against Humanity deck. It didn’t work very well. I had the card “A robust mongoloid” and had a heck of a time trying to express the Greek letter rho, a statue bust, and the country of Mongolia by pictures and then get people to string them together. I failed).

    • Gobbobobble says:

      If you can get over the “your hand must stay in order” hurdle, Bohnanza is another good gateway game.

  23. Thegnskald says:

    So, because it occurs to me these things might be useful to some of you, the introvert’s low-effort guide to being popular (as an adult):

    First, read Geek Social Fallacies. Those are important. Particularly the part about mixing friend groups.

    Pick a group. Given the audience here, pick a weird group. Normal people are boring. Board games and swing dancing tend to have a good balance of introverts and extroverts – you want a few extroverts, if for no other reason than that they usually like to keep tabs on the social group. Make friends with a few. If you fancy, you can think of them as your spy network. (How do you make friends? Walk up to somebody you want as a friend and tell them you want to be friends. Yes, that works.)

    Planners are popular people, and small gatherings are way more efficient, in terms of both time and social energy, than one-on-one communication, in terms of gathering a social group. Start attending somebody else’s stuff, accumulate a small group of friends and acquaintances, then start planning yourself – work with other planners to avoid conflicts, and they’ll be happy to have somebody else helping out. Preferably stuff that is different from what you or other people normally do; escape rooms, tea parties at a local tea place, bowling, putt putt – whatever – but for some groups, staying in and playing board games or one-shot D&D works too. Keep the group less than ten people. Six is a good size for most activities. Once you have a few people attending smaller gatherings, you can move on to larger; that is its own topic, however.

    Basically, it comes down to this: People who plan stuff to do are in way shorter supply, in any given group, than people who want to do stuff. Somebody mentioned in one of the previous threads a D&D group that fell apart, and I think someone else suggested the host was really the only friend everyone had. Not necessarily; nobody else is a planner, so nothing got planned.

    • Mark says:

      This seems like good advice for ‘geeks’. Do you have any recommendations for ‘nerds’?

      [A geek is an unusual person with normal social desires, a nerd is someone who has discovered something more interesting than social stuff.]

      • Thegnskald says:

        I am uncertain what you are looking for; if you desire popularity, this will work. If you don’t, then I am not sure advice on popularity is useful?

        • Mark says:

          I want to be popular with a few people, say five, but not a group of five people.

          Just have five friends who may or may not know each other, who I can commiserate and celebrate with when something noteworthy happens.

          But I don’t want to have to do some mad juggling act of all the social dynamics of five people. Just have five relationships with five cool people. And not have to do anything in particular to maintain those relationships.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Relationships generally take maintenance; your best bet is to find five people who also don’t like putting maintenance work into relationships, and ignore each other most of the time.

            But to a certain extent, what you are asking sounds kind of like “I want a dog, but I don’t want to have to feed or walk it” – that is, it doesn’t sound like you want five friends, it sounds like you want the idea of having five friends.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah, maybe. I feel like I’ve been abandoned by friends quite a few times – it’s very sad. I guess it might be a kind of effort-relationship-maintainance mismatch thing.

            Where can I find people who are like me?

            How can you tell if there is something seriously socially wrong with you? Is that the kind of thing you can go to the doctor about?

          • Charles F says:

            @Mark
            I think I’m a bit like you there. My recommendation is to have activity-buddies more than friends. Find somebody who goes to the gym regularly and lift weights with them once or twice a week. Find another person who runs and run with them. Go to a trivia thing or a pickup game with other people. They won’t expect/want a lot of interaction outside of the activity you do with them, but they’ll be available to talk to.

            You can go to a therapist, they might be able to help with that sort of thing.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Effort mismatch is a probable cause; also, most people are incredibly insecure and assume you don’t like them if you don’t make that effort.

            Activity partners is a good suggestion.

            You might also look at the reasons for your interactions, or lack thereof; if you just don’t enjoy being around other people most of the time, that is a different situation than if you, like me, just have trouble remembering that it has been three months since I have talked to X person.

            I have a fairly low amount of social mana, and frequent interactions make me feel like I am mentally unraveling. (The closest analogue I can think of is going without sleep for a few days). So my recommendations are kind of built around that – by having less frequent interactions with more people, I get more efficient use out of my limited people-time.

            So I guess the start of a strategy is figuring out what you need to strategize for.

            As for people like you – well, I see something of an issue there, in that you don’t seem like you would want to be in a group, so a group would be a bad place to look for you. A bit of a conundrum; I suspect you might need a matchmaker of sorts, but the specifics would depend on the social resources you have available.

  24. johan_larson says:

    The US Supreme Court has nine justices. Three are Jewish (Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer); five are Catholic (Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor); one was raised Catholic but may now be an Episcopalian (Gorsuch).

    I understand the Jewish over-representation. But why so many Catholics? Catholicism is popularly associated with many things, but elite work of the mind isn’t one of them.

    • Are you trying to make Deiseach literally explode, or something?

      • Deiseach says:

        TheAncientGeek, thank you for your concern for the state of my continued bodily integrity 🙂

        johan_larson, a previous link post of Scott’s explained it all. It’s all the fault of the Jesuits and their evil plotting for world domination (naturally).

        Good to see the Secret Global Domination Plan is proceeding successfully! 😉

        • Nick says:

          Shhh! We don’t want them on to us! Or so advises my Jesuit confessor.

          • Deiseach says:

            No, no, Nick, it’s okay! This is the Internet, nobody will ever see it, pick it up, and broadcast it to all and sundry! 😀

    • Nick says:

      Because Catholics are awesome, that’s why.

    • hyperboloid says:

      Mostly because Catholic social, and political thinkers have been the intellectual core of the anti abortion movement; and appointing “pro life” judges has been a major conservative political priority ever since roe v. wade.

      Catholicism is popularly associated with many things, but elite work of the mind isn’t one of them

      Given the shift in the center of gravity of American protestantism from WASPy northern Methodists and Episcopalians, to southern evangelicals; I suspect that non Hispanic Catholics, as a highly urban northern population, have above average educational achievement compared to other Christian groups.

      • What’ average achievement got to do with anything? The average 13th century catholic was an illiterate peasant, but Aquinas was still Aquinas.

      • Rick Hull says:

        Mostly because Catholic social, and political thinkers have been the intellectual core of the anti abortion movement; and appointing “pro life” judges has been a major conservative political priority ever since roe v. wade.

        This has intuitive appeal. But does it match Sotomayor? What is the actual record for Republican / conservative appointees since Roe v. Wade?

    • SamChevre says:

      Catholicism isn’t popularly associated with “elite work of the mind”, but that’s because it’s huge and theologians and canon lawyers are a small subset. But it has a very deeply rooted legal and philosophical tradition–much more so than any Protestant group (because it’s older and larger, among other things).

      The Catholic theological tradition has a lot of similarities with legal scholarship: multiple authorities, most of whom were wrong about at least some things, and very few of whom are self-evidently applicable to the question at hand, spread over a lot of times and places. (Just for an example–St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, almost certainly the most important systematizer of theology, argued strenuously against the Immaculate Conception which was stated as official doctrine 600 years later.) And Jesuits in particular are famous for “casuistry”–the application of general principles to specific cases–but it’s a key piece of the Catholic toolbox generally.

      So the intellectual training of Catholics and Jews aligns well to the kind of scholarship needed for lawyers–how do you make sense of the disparate authorities, and apply them to the specific case at hand?

      There is also a political reason: Catholics are perceived on the Right as less likely to “evolve” toward whatever is currently fashionable than others. While this isn’t true all the time (see Kennedy, Anthony) it is probably an accurate perceptions.

      • Deiseach says:

        There seems to have been some comment back at the start of September over a nominee to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (I don’t know if the woman in question has been appointed or not). Background – she’s a Catholic mother of seven who is a law professor at Notre Dame and has written on Catholic Judges and Capital Cases. She may be anti-death penalty but that doesn’t mean she’s one of the good Catholics, like Justice Sotomayor:

        “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

        ‘Cos you know, she might be sorta anti-abortion in her personal views and plainly can’t keep that out of her legal decisions. Unlike all the pro-choice judges who are perfectly capable of not letting their decisions about abortion law cases be affected by their personal views and beliefs that abortion is a woman’s right. I’m using abortion as an example because that seems to be what Senator Feinstein is really worried about:

        “Professor Barrett has argued that a judge’s faith should affect how they approach certain cases. Based on this, Senator Feinstein questioned her about whether she could separate her personal views from the law, particularly regarding women’s reproductive rights.”

        Yes, I’m snarking, because by her views in the linked paper, she’s not one of the ‘hanging and flogging’ crowd, but that’s just not good enough for Senators Feinstein and Durbin. Imagine if a senator had asked Judge Kagan about her Jewishness and was she an “orthodox” Jew (or one of the nice, liberal Reform kind instead EDIT: seemingly she was raised in an Orthodox tradition but now identifies with Conservative Judaism)?

        Abstract

        The Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty places Catholic judges in a moral and legal bind. While these judges are obliged by oath, professional commitment, and the demands of citizenship to enforce the death penalty, they are also obliged to adhere to their church’s teaching on moral matters. Although the legal system has a solution for this dilemma by allowing the recusal of judges whose convictions keep them from doing their job, Catholic judges will want to sit whenever possible without acting immorally. However, litigants and the general public are entitled to impartial justice, which may be something a judge who is heedful of ecclesiastical pronouncements cannot dispense. Therefore, the authors argue, we need to know whether judges are legally disqualified from hearing cases that their consciences would let them decide. While mere identification of a judge as Catholic is not sufficient reason for recusal under federal law, the authors suggest that the moral impossibility of enforcing capital punishment in such cases as sentencing, enforcing jury recommendations, and affirming are in fact reasons for not participating.

        I mean, if recusing yourself because you don’t think you can give an impartial judgement is not good enough, what do they want? “No I’ll never recuse myself, I’ll make a judgement based on what I personally think the law should mean”? Or is that only okay for judges helping the moral arc of the universe to bend towards the right side of history via emanations of penumbras?

        • Nick says:

          What you’ve said re the ridiculous Senate proceedings is right, Deiseach, but I have to point out that that abstract is misleading; the Catholic Church does not oppose the death penalty in the way it opposes, say, abortion or euthanasia, and Catholics are free to disagree and believe that capital punishment is licit. See the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later bishop of an obscure province:

          3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well, I am glad to see that Senators Durbin and Cruz are in accord: you don’t like abortion, you don’t like the death penalty, what good as a judge are you gonna be if you don’t like killin’?

            Durbin’s communications director also pointed to Texas senator Ted Cruz’s line of questioning yesterday, in which Cruz asked Barrett, “I’ve read some of what you’ve written on Catholic judges and in capital cases and, in particular, as I understand it, you argued that Catholic judges are morally precluded from enforcing the death penalty . . . please explain your views on that because that obviously is of relevance to the job for which you have been nominated.”

            I mean, it’s not like there’s been any work done by the Church on a consistent approach to these matters, like the Seamless Garment or nothing. The temerity of a judge having principles by which they approach how they live in a consistent manner, including their philosophy of their work! Thank goodness for all the judges on the progressive side who said, with tears in their eyes and a crack in their voices, “I really really believe in this issue but I’m so sorry, the law won’t let me decide in favour of you getting an abortion/same-sex married/voting while being black. I personally hold these as my principles, but the stern voice of duty holds me back from filtering my judicial decisions through the lens of personal ethics”.

            Such a pity nobody can get gay married in the USA because the Supreme Court judges all agreed to set aside their ideological positions and only rule on the law as the law! Oh, wait…

            I suppose I’m mostly annoyed over this because of the whole tussling over the appointment of judges in America due to “we need to get one of Our Guys on the bench because they have the Right Beliefs and they’ll progress our cause”. The Democrats do this every bit as much as the Republicans, so it’s a bit disingenuous of Senator Feinstein to be all “Judge with strong personal beliefs? That they don’t compartmentalise from their everyday life? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you!” She’s made it pretty clear that she’d love a judge who had elsewhere written or stated in a speech that “I am really strongly convinced that abortion is indeed a right, and I’m going to push hard in my judgements to further the cause of reproductive justice”, so it’s not ideology qua ideology (or even religious belief) she objects to, it’s “your beliefs are the wrong kind because they don’t chime with what I believe is right, true and proper”.

            Like, I’d respect Feinstein’s position if it were “I don’t think judges of any stripe – liberal or conservative – should make decisions outside of strict interpretation of the law and law alone”, but it’s not: it’s “you’re not on my side so I’m afraid you’ll make decisions our side won’t like, and never mind what the law will or won’t support when it comes to that”.

          • Nick says:

            It’s funny you bring this up, Deiseach, because I had the same inkling reading this New Yorker article this morning (don’t ask me how I arrived at a seven year old article). Sorry, enormous quote coming:

            Breyer is clearest on what his approach is not. The most striking part of his book is his denunciation of originalism, the interpretative technique embraced by Scalia and Thomas (whose names do not appear in the text). Originalists assert that the meaning of the Constitution was fixed at the time of its ratification, and that the understanding of the framers should bind judges for all time. In practice, originalism often proves fatal to claims that the Constitution offers broad protections of civil liberties—say, the right to choose abortion. As championed by Scalia and Thomas, originalism complements and reinforces conservative politics.
            Originalism now holds powerful sway in the broader Republican Party. As Senator John Cornyn, of Texas, framed the issue at the Kagan hearings, constitutional law amounted to a contest between “traditionalists” who feel bound “to a written Constitution and written laws and precedent” and judges who believe in “empathy, as the President has talked about it, or a living Constitution, which has no fixed meaning.” Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, said that any view of the Constitution except “original intent is going to give a lot of people in this country heartburn, because what it says is our intellectual capabilities are better than what our original founding documents were, and so we’re so much smarter as we’ve matured that they couldn’t have been right. And that’s dangerous territory for confidence in the Court.”
            Even Souter, the reclusive former Justice, joined the fray. In the commencement address at Harvard this year, Souter rejected the idea that “the Court is making up the law, that the Court is announcing constitutional rules that cannot be found in the Constitution, and that the Court is engaging in activism to extend civil liberties.” Souter said that the originalist premise “devalues our aspirations, and attacks our confidence, and diminishes us.” The only true way to interpret the Constitution, Souter said, is “by relying on reason, by respecting all the words the framers wrote, by facing facts, and by seeking to understand their meaning for living people.”
            With less eloquence but more specificity, Breyer builds a similar case in “Making Our Democracy Work.” He gives a comprehensive denunciation of a purely originalist approach, noting first the difficulty of divining what the framers might regard as the legal status of “the automobile, television, the computer, or the Internet.” And he argues that the framers themselves wanted the application of the Constitution to change with the times. They gave Congress a great deal of flexibility in regulating interstate commerce, and “intended the scope of that word to expand, covering more and more items, as commerce itself expands, as technology advances, and as commercial activities in one state affect those in another.”
            If not originalism, then what? Here Breyer is less compelling. “I belong to a tradition of judges who approach the law with prudence and pragmatism,” he told me. “And that is a tradition that has existed throughout American legal history. That’s the tradition of judges whom I admire—Cardozo, Brandeis, Holmes, Learned Hand. That tradition is not subjective, and that tradition is not politics. It is a tradition that tries to understand the values and purposes underlying the Constitution and the laws. It’s a tradition that says there’s a need to maintain stability in the law, without freezing the law in a way that would prevent Brown v. Board of Education”—which overturned the case of Plessy v. Ferguson and its notorious doctrine of separate but equal.

            At the same time, conservatives regard Breyer’s talk of pragmatism as little more than a smoke screen to cover his embrace of such liberal-agenda items as abortion rights and affirmative action. “It’s only been a handful of occasions when he’s deviated from the liberal line,” Edward Whelan said. “His so-called pragmatic approach just leaves him wherever he wants to go.”

          • Nick says:

            Oh, and lest my feelings on that long quote be mistaken, let me say I have literally no idea what “relying on reason, by respecting all the words the framers wrote, by facing facts, and by seeking to understand their meaning for living people” means, or what “want[ing] the application of the Constitution to change with the times” entails, or what “understand[ing] the values and purposes underlying the Constitution and the laws” means. As far as I can tell, these are about one million times more subjective than relying strictly on the text of the document, read according to the meanings which the words held at the writing of said document. The New Yorker will tell me that’s a very convenient philosophy for someone whose worldview is conservative, but as far as I can tell, that’s just the pot calling the kettle black.

          • Incurian says:

            I don’t know what could be more liberal than an originalist reading of the 9th and 10th amendments.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          TBF, prior to 2016, Senator Feinstein was Capitol Hill’s Most Likely To Be An Agent of Satan, followed closely by Lamar Smith.

        • Nornagest says:

          That abstract sounds an awful lot like a better-written version of some of the anti-Catholic pamphlets from the Twenties that I’ve come across.

    • BBA says:

      The explanation I prefer for the dearth of Protestants on the High Court is that judges need a proper understanding of guilt.

    • . says:

      We’d need to know where in the pipeline the disproportion shows up. What is the Catholic proportion of
      1) lawyers
      2) prosecutors
      3) judges
      4) graduates of the big four law schools
      5) prosecutors from the big four law schools
      6) judges from the big four law schools

      • Deiseach says:

        It seems the Supreme Court used to be majority Protestant (the Episcopalians, who are a tiny denomination but over-represented historically in positions of status, power and influence) with a lone Catholic here or there, until Antonin Scalia’s appointment in 1986 which seems to have been the start of a flurry of Catholic nominees, resulting in the situation today.

        I wonder if during the days of the Moral Majority etc., Catholics were seen as compromise choices? They ticked off some of the boxes on the Republican list and some on the Democrat list, so if nobody was willing to give in on appointing A over B, well how about C?

        Re: the queries in the comment above, I have no idea what the big four law schools are, but according to Wikipedia:

        John Roberts College: Harvard Law school: Harvard
        Anthony Kennedy College: Stanford Law school: Harvard
        Clarence Thomas College: Holy Cross Law school: Harvard
        Ruth Bader Ginsburg College: Cornell Law school: Columbia
        Stephen Breyer College: Stanford Law school: Harvard
        Samuel Alito College: Princeton Law school: Yale
        Sonia Sotomayor College: Princeton Law school: Yale
        Elena Kagan College: Princeton Law school: Harvard
        Neil Gorsuch College: Columbia Law school: Harvard

        • Nick says:

          Huh? Justice Thomas’s law school was Yale, not Harvard. I recall this because he really hates Yale now. He thinks they admitted him on race and not merit.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Aren’t Episcopalians pretty much the closest you can get to being Catholic without actually being Catholic?

          • Nornagest says:

            They’re basically the American branch of High Church Anglicanism, so yes. I was surprised to find there’s only a million and a half of them; it’s been one of the larger churches in most of the places I’ve lived.

          • Nick says:

            Not after Episcopalianism’s liberalization, at least as far as Catholics are concerned. Those who don’t care about doctrine may find the church architecture fairly similar, though.

          • JonathanD says:

            No.

            Source: am Episcopalian.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Depends on what aspect of Catholicism you want. Church services focused around communion [1]? We got that. Smells and bells and classic hymns? Not universal but easily found. Pomp, circumstance, cathedrals, rituals for days? Ditto. Properly recited creeds? Sure!

            What do we actually believe? Fucked if I know. Seriously, I was raised Episcopal and all I know of what we are supposed to believe is “Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.” I really couldn’t say what church doctrine is on deep theological issues, or if we have any. I think far fewer episcopals care.

            The one doctrinal difference that is important to me: Catholic mass is a closed sacrament for members of the church in good standing (don’t ask me the details.) Episcopal churches, by in large, openly and explicitly offer the blood and body to whomsoever wants it. Since communion is, to me, the heart of the ritual, I find episcopal service much more welcoming (though it’s been a long, long time since I saw a catholic mass.)

            (I am told the reason Catholics restrict communion is that the sacrament is sacred, powerful, and could do theological damage to those who aren’t properly prepared for it. I am not sure why, see above, Episcopals disagree; if I had to guess, I would say that we decided Christianity is about spreading the good news and the salvation.)

            [1] I was, like, 22, before I realized that Communion wasn’t the defining aspect of a church service for some Christian denominations.

          • Nick says:

            (I am told the reason Catholics restrict communion is that the sacrament is sacred, powerful, and could do theological damage to those who aren’t properly prepared for it. I am not sure why, see above, Episcopals disagree; if I had to guess, I would say that we decided Christianity is about spreading the good news and the salvation.)

            Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11,

            Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.

            Much can turn on the meaning of the word “unworthily,” of course; if the Episcopalians have some theological explanation for all people being worthy, then power to them.

            Regarding the Catholic practice, a nondenominational Protestant friend once made the argument to me that, since the Eucharist is a source of grace, why shouldn’t that grace be available to everyone? Well, by Paul’s admission, it shouldn’t be available to everyone, which he agreed with, but he disagreed that anyone who believes himself worthy should be denied. Yet for Catholics there are further restrictions in the case of obstinate, manifest grave sin: that is, someone who persists in their sin despite warnings, and whose act is objectively sinful (there are some acts, obvious ones being murder, rape, etc., which are always wrong, even if someone, say, has no culpability for them whatsoever), and whose sin is grave in matter (some sins are more serious than others). I think the justification for this more or less speaks for itself: being “manifest,” i.e. being objectively sinful rather than something that simply happened in their minds or something, it is therefore clear to everyone involved that the person is sinning (again, even if they have no culpability whatsoever; we are not judging the state of their souls, just the sinfulness of the acts themselves), so it is imperative that the priest protect the person from harming themselves further the way Paul suggests they would.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            50 years ago, yes. But today I pattern match Episcopalians to “mainstream liberalism + Nice Jesus.”

            I think this is also the cause of their dramatic decline in membership. When you can’t get any better moral teaching or standards out of church than you would from watching Rachel Maddow, why bother getting up on Sunday morning?

          • Nick says:

            I think this is also the cause of their dramatic decline in membership. When you can’t get any better moral teaching or standards out of church than you would from watching Rachel Maddow, why bother getting up on Sunday morning?

            This is a heavily contested topic; Catholicism saw a dramatic demographic change in the 70s which is variously attributed to the liturgical and catechetical confusion following Vatican II, to rebellion from Humanae Vitae and sexual ethics in general, to some effect from outside culture, to the increasing cultural acceptance of Catholicism destroying its distinctiveness—and in America we’d be in straits just as bad as Episcopalianism if not for Hispanic immigration. I’d say that, to put it neutrally, the failure was of previous generations of Catholics to impart to newer generations what the faith was and why it was important, but as to whether to blame Vatican II, or the failure to really respond to the sexual revolution, or what, I don’t really know.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Sounds like the consensus is roughly “yeah, they used to be” – which coincides with the period Deiseach said they ran SCOTUS. And ~roughly when Episcopalians became more distinct, SCOTUS started to have more Catholics.

            Wouldn’t this support the notion that there’s something Catholicism includes that leads to over-representation in the judiciary? As opposed to them being a compromise group.

            Side question: Episcopalians are no longer as close to Catholics as they used to be – is it so much so that some other Protestant sect would be the closest now? I feel like some responders interpreted my post as “aren’t Episcopalians basically Catholic?” I was, admittedly ineffectively, more getting at “maybe Episcopalians got the job because something both sects have is good at it, but Popery had too much baggage for Catholics to join them”

          • Nick says:

            Side question: Episcopalians are no longer as close to Catholics as they used to be – is it so much so that some other Protestant sect would be the closest now?

            I suspect, though I haven’t really looked into this, that Catholics have more in common these days with Lutherans. Rather incredibly, we even agreed on a joint declaration on justification, which was one of the primary stumbling blocks to Catholic-Lutheran unity (although there are many). (A lot of Methodists signed too!) And of course, there are the Orthodox, though they aren’t Protestants.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Thanks!

            And of course, there are the Orthodox, though they aren’t Protestants.

            D’oh, of course. I’ll have to go turn in a Crusader Kings card for forgetting about them.

          • Deiseach says:

            Aren’t Episcopalians pretty much the closest you can get to being Catholic without actually being Catholic?

            Church services focused around communion

            Oh, these are vexed historical questions! Episcopalianism is a branch of Anglicanism, and depending on the particular era of history, either or both was more Protestant than at other times. The official name before today’s name change of The Episcopal Church was The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Due to the Anglophilic tendency from its heritage, you had tussles between the High Church party and the more Reformed tendency over whether Episcopalianism/Anglicanism was Catholic or not (please note, not Roman Catholic; Branch Theory was developed to uphold the claim that the Roman Catholics were a Catholic Church but not the Catholic Church and there could be other Catholic Churches).

            Episcopalianism has always been small and has been haemorrhaging numbers over the past forty years or so, but since it was the Established Church pre-Revolution and kept a fuckton of property, money, and influence as the church of the leaders in society (George Washington was raised Anglican and buried in the Episcopal Church) – see the National Cathedral, which is an Episcopalian church.

            It gets confusing, but pretty much: see Ritualism and Tractarianism.

            As for Communion, again, vexed question. Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion? Depending on your theology which it is, and prior to the late 19th/early 20th century, it would have been a morning service once a month specifically for the celebration of Holy Communion, not a weekly service.

            Really it was post-Vatican II changes in Catholicism and the upheavals within Anglicanism that led to weekly services of Communion as the main service modelled loosely on the Mass, but naturally some of the High Church/Anglo-Catholic types in both Britain and America had been doing this in their own way for years 🙂

          • BBA says:

            The Anglican/Episcopal Church wasn’t established in all of the colonies. In Connecticut and Massachusetts the very low church Congregationalists were state-sponsored, even after the revolution (since the First Amendment didn’t apply to the states before the 14th Amendment). A few centuries of schisms and mergers later, the largest descendants of these churches are the painfully liberal United Church of Christ and the even more painfully liberal Unitarian Universalists, who don’t even consider themselves “Christian” anymore.

          • Deiseach says:

            BBA, you are of course correct; the religious history of America is complicated by the fact that the most famous group of settlers, the Plymouth Pilgrims, were Dissenters and that America was seen as a place to escape whatever form of state church control you had at home (so this is why Maryland was heavily Catholic in spite of being settled under an Anglican king) and the tendency from the start to fission off into their own little sects and sub-sects. It would have been more correct to say that Episcopalianism as a branch of Anglicanism was the established church de jure but not de facto, but I do think it is largely correct to say that it was always socially and sometimes temporally (thanks to land grants from various monarchs and having rich parishioners) powerful, disproportionate to the number of members.

          • SamChevre says:

            Catholics restrict the Eucharist much more tightly than Anglicans/Episcopalians, because they think of it differently–they think it’s much more powerful.

            To use a very non-religious analogy: Episcopalians and most Protestant think of the partaking of Communion as similar to a puff off a joint; you could reasonably offer it to an acquaintance, and it’s very unlikely to do any significant harm (or good). Catholics and the Orthodox think of it as more like a really high dose of acid; no one who knows what they are doing would give it to someone who isn’t well-prepared.

      • Brad says:

        There is no big four, there’s a big three: Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. And Stanford is iffy.

    • Brad says:

      Law as a profession is something immigrant groups in the second generation have traditionally gone into. The small firm and solo practitioner model means that lawyers can bypass discrimination that existed or exists in a lot of other fields.

      The Italian and Jewish judges (Scalia, Alito, Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer) are decedents of the Ellis Island generation, and Sotomayor is a product of the Great Migration from Puerto Rico to NYC which peaked in the 1950s.

      Although Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy are also Catholic, I would bracket them separately from the above judges. Thomas in particular is sui generis. HW Bush needed a black conservative plausible supreme court justice. There weren’t that many to choose from.

    • quaelegit says:

      Something weird I just noticed is that The West Wing has the same imbalance: all of the first season regulars are Jewish or Catholic except Sam and Charlie (who don’t seem to have a specified religion).

      Apparently Sorkin made Bartlet Catholic at Martin Sheen’s request, so of course his wife Abbey is Catholic. Toby and Josh are Jewish. But what surprised me is that Leo and C.J. are Catholic. They are both from the Midwest, which I’ve always thought of as generally very Protestant (outside of Chicago — Leo’s hometown, so I guess that explains him?). Particularly, C.J. is from Dayton — are there a lot of Catholics there? (Martin Sheen’s hometown, apparently, so that’s one! Wow the internet is good at collecting trivia.)

      On the one hand, Sorkin isn’t careful with continuity, so its possible he made them Catholic because it was handy for one scene and the internet has never forgotten (Idk what that scene is — in fact I never remember C.J. or Leo’s religion being mentioned in the show, but then not sure I would). But I wonder if Sorkin chose unusual spread spread intentionally, or if unintentional whether he realized it.

      • JonathanD says:

        Quoting from old memories, so take this with a grain of salt. I remember hearing an interview with a member of the cast of the Wonder Years, and at one point the subject of the episode that took place during the Apollo 13 mission came up. During that episode the mom stops in at a church and lights a candle. And the actress who played her objected, pointing out that for that time and part of the country and social class, there was no way her character should be a Catholic.

        To which the powers that be replied, “You’re right, but don’t worry about it. The candles look great on camera.”

        Which is a very long-winded way of saying that we shouldn’t read too much into what people do on TV.

      • Nick says:

        For a long time Catholics were a prominent Democratic caucus. Part of the reason many have split for the Republican party in more recent decades is social conservatism (abortion being probably the primary issue here). It’s still a deep divide, though; you have a lot of Catholics, especially in Blue areas, taking positions like that they believe abortion is wrong but a woman has a right to choose.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, looking up facts on Dayton, Catholics seem to be the single largest Christian denomination at 15% – seems to be only 48% religious, if this is to be believed, but hard to know how that is derived: church memberships, people in the census ticking off religious or not, or what.

        So going by this, if you’re from Dayton and you’re religious, best chance is that you will be Catholic.

        • Nick says:

          Dayton has the University of Dayton, which is run by sisters, I think maybe Marians? It also operates charities of some kind in the city, because a friend of mine went to work there after graduating; I don’t think it was Catholic Charities, but I don’t remember what it was.

          • quaelegit says:

            Thanks to both of you (Nick and Deiseach)! This was illuminating, and now I’ve got another website to check demographic factoids when Wikipedia falls down on the job 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            We can always blame the Jesuits: packing the Supreme Court, the West Wing, what next? 🙂

  25. Aevylmar says:

    I have a low pain tolerance, and I’d like to have a higher pain tolerance. Preferably without, you know, suffering lots of pain in order to do it, but it’s getting in the way of things I want to do, like give blood. Any suggestions? (I ask here because SSC tends to have dozens of experts on all sorts of bizarre fields, even ones as strange as this.)

    Thanks.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Lift weights to failure.

      You can start small and work progressively up. This one activity will totally reset your attitude towards “difficulty”, and not just in physical areas.

      • onyomi says:

        That is quite an interesting idea. I feel similarly about extended periods of water-only fasting. It sort of lowers your hedonic threshold or something.

        I am also curious whether others have other ideas about achieving similar effects. Cold water baths come to mind.

        • Orpheus says:

          How extended are we talking?

          • onyomi says:

            Personally I’ve gone as long as 9 days, though that’s actually not that long by the standards of some. Done 5 days several times and 1-2 days countless times. The effect gets more profound in various ways the longer you go (that is, not eating for 24 hrs on five separate occasions is in no way equivalent to not eating for 5 days, though it may be calorically), but even 24 hours has some effect, I think.

          • Orpheus says:

            @onyomi
            Cool, might give this a try.

          • onyomi says:

            @Orpheus, if you haven’t done it before, I have a lot of thoughts and experiences I can share in more detail at some point if you’re interested, but the number one recommendations are: drink lots of water, don’t try to be too active (it can actually be tempting because it can make you feel more energetic but results are better if you rest as much as possible), get up slowly from lying down (you’re likely to experience orthostatic hypotension after the first day or two), and begin eating again gradually, ideally with something light and high in water, like fresh fruit.

            All that being for fasts of more than 36 hours or so. If you’re just doing say, 24 hours, it’s more like “intermittent fasting” and you can pretty much do whatever you’d normally do (if anything you may find you have more energy than usual sometimes).

            Of course, it is absolutely contraindicated in cases of anorexia, malnutrition, and type 1 diabetes (I’m assuming you don’t have any of those, but just in case).

          • Orpheus says:

            @onyomi I will keep that in mind, thanks!

      • Aevylmar says:

        Hmm. Thanks for the recommendation. Any particular recommendations for sites explaining how to learn to do that by myself? I hear there’s some danger of hurting yourself if you do it wrong, and I’d prefer something I can do at home to some to something where I’d need to go to a gym to do it first.

        • onyomi says:

          Two suggestions: go to failure on a machine (or with body weight exercises), not using free weights, at least not without experience and a spotter. You’re in much bigger trouble if your muscles give out with a heavy bar sitting on your shoulders or above your chest than sitting on a leg press machine or doing pushups.

          Second, use slow movements, especially on the negative. This will not only increase the intensity of working with lower weights (and using lower weights itself reduces the chances of injury), it eliminates momentum, which is a common cause of joint injury.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          You could get a half cage squat rack with spotter bars for not too wildly much money. I’ve got a Bodymax CF415, which splits into two sections that you can store in the corner of a room, so it doesn’t even take up that much space. That has adjustable height spotter bars so that it’s basically impossible to get yourself trapped under a heavy bar unless you’re really going out of your way to be an idiot.

          [edited to add: a lot of people on the internet recommend either Starting Strength or Strong Lifts 5×5 as good sites to teach you proper technique. I try to follow the latter programme and he isn’t really into the whole lift-to-failure ethos for the purposes of building strength – he considers adding a bit of weight each time to be far more important – but perhaps lifting to failure is more important if it’s not strength but pain resistance that you’re specifically trying to increase]

          • lvlln says:

            I used both Starting Strength and Strong Lifts 5×5 as guides when I started lifting about 8 years ago. I think they were helpful, though obviously I don’t have a parallel world to check against where I started lifting using some other program as guides or just looking at YouTube videos (of which there are a heck of a lot more today than there were back then). At the least, I haven’t ever hurt myself lifting, and I’ve had good success building both mass and strength in response to the lifting.

            I think the good thing about those is that they offer simple easy-to-follow programs of a handful of lifts that cover a huge portion of your muscles.

          • Is there any reason why, for the stated purpose, weight lifting is better than just doing pushups or situps, which require no equipment and not much instruction?

          • Nornagest says:

            After a certain point, doing more reps at a given weight (including bodyweight stuff) is basically just doing cardio. Doing cardio to failure is certainly unpleasant, but it’s a different type of unpleasant than lifting heavy, and I don’t think it scales in the same way.

            Situps in particular are also a lot harder on your back than most of the weighted alternatives. Pushups can give you RSI problems in your elbows too, but that can be mitigated with correct form.

          • onyomi says:

            Just as a sort of… anti-testimonial data point:

            A few years ago I stopped my usual routine of mostly machines and body weight exercises+a few free weight exercises to try strong lifts 5×5 and starting strength almost exclusively for a year or two… and got weaker.

            Perhaps it was due to a previous back injury from deadlifting, but I spent so much time and effort trying to avoid injuring myself with the squats and deadlifts by maintaining perfect form, etc. that the actual intensity of the exercises went way down. I just won’t dare go to failure or even close to failure on something like a heavyish squat or deadlift. The result was my muscles were ultimately not working as hard as I could safely, comfortably work them on the machines.

            Also, some of my smaller muscle groups got weaker: people claim a good squat, deadlift, overhead press, or bench press will still work your abs… yeah, maybe a little, but not to the extent actually doing situps will.

            @lvlln

            No offense meant as it is certainly possible it was the best choice for you or you did the program better than I did, but one thing to take into account: if you had little previous weightlifting experience, any program of resistance training you had started would have resulted in significant gains because that’s what happens when you first start weight lifting, be it with machines or free weights.

    • onyomi says:

      Do you like spicy food? Do you think you could grow to like spicy food?

    • Anonymous says:

      Raise your blood pressure. Holding your breath may work for that.

      http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/577601/Needles-frightened-hold-breath-study-Spain

      • Aevylmar says:

        That looks like magic, but it might work. A lot of strange body-magic turns out to work. Thanks!

    • hlynkacg says:

      I’ll echo Win’s exercise suggestion but recommend body-weight exercises, at least to start, to minimize chance of injury. Get to the point where basic push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc… start feeling trivial then start adding weight.

      Cold showers also help.

      • Aevylmar says:

        Hmm. If you think it’ll work… thanks.

      • lvlln says:

        I started taking cold showers this summer as a way to cool my body after I decided to take on an arbitrary challenge of not installing my window AC unit at all and relying purely on a fan (so far, so good!). From my experience, I think they might indeed be useful for increasing pain tolerance.

        I prefer my showers stinging hot, and I found cold showers quite painful at first. I’d usually stand it for about a minute at most, feeling pretty miserable the whole time. I began to practice mindful meditation during these sessions, and I found that this helped me tolerate the pain better, and that tolerance became better as I practiced meditation more. Paradoxically, I could feel the shocking coldness of the water more viscerally and more palpably than ever before, but I felt the accompanying pain and unpleasantness much less than before. It felt to me more like I was noticing the cold and experiencing it for what it was, instead of causing that cold to make me feel pain. I wonder how much the rational knowledge that I could step out of the shower at any moment and thus the shocking cold presented no actual danger to me played a part in making the more palpable sense of cold translate to a less palpable one of pain.

        So my pet theory is that cold showers can help pain tolerance to the extent that it’s a way of practicing mindful meditation under conditions that normally cause pain. I think mindful meditation in general and also under similar conditions might be worth a shot for raising pain tolerance.

        I should also note that this didn’t suddenly make cold showers completely pain-free or pleasant for me. Well, I do enjoy it occasionally, but on cold days particularly, the additional cold is just too much and I do need to get out of the shower after like a minute. But I also think that my ability to handle those are marginally better when meditating and due to practice meditating.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Uh. Is there a reason you want a high pain tolerance?

      Personally, it means I often bleed all over the place before I notice I have been hurt, and have frequent unexplained bruises. (“How did you do that?” “No idea, probably ran into something”)

      Also, since I often don’t notice pain, when I get, for example, joint injuries, I frequently re-injure myself because I don’t notice when I am doing something that hurts.

      Pain is kind of useful. We have it for a reason.

      • Charles F says:

        I think there’s a bit of a distinction between a high pain threshold and a high pain tolerance. If I’m not expecting it, I can react embarrassingly strongly to pretty mild hurts, and I’ll pretty much never have an unexplained injury from normal daily life. But if I know to expect it, and I don’t psyche myself out too much, I can do a pretty good impression of being a tough guy. I think the second part is what @Aevylmar is looking for, and I’d second cold showers and difficult exercise, but the exercise has to be something you enjoy. Making yourself do something you hate because it hurts is not going to have any good results.

      • Aevylmar says:

        It’s not that I want a pain tolerance of 100/100, or even 90/100. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories along the lines you’re giving, and I don’t want to be all the way in that direction. I just feel that I have a pain tolerance closer to 20/100, and I’d like to get up to 50 or 60 or maybe even 70, if that makes sense.

    • Matt M says:

      I feel like there are probably studies out there proving me wrong, but I’ve always felt like there’s no such thing as a general “pain tolerance” and that you have a different tolerance for different kinds of pain, depending on your history, exposure, physiology, etc.

      In general I think I have a very low tolerance for most things (especially heat/burning, I always burn my tongue on coffee that others can drink). But I also have a skin condition that occasionally results in quite painful boils that have to be dealt with medically, and during these painful procedures, the doctors often comment that I have a high pain tolerance compared to most people they see for those things.

  26. Any followers of Sidrea’s blog have a list of top posts they recommend? Julia Galef tweeted this post today, I really liked it and realized this is the blog Scott links to in his Staying Classy piece.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve been waiting for the CW OT to post some recent siderea.

      Medications dangerous to the elderly. Did you know a person can be taking a medication safely and usefully for years, but then they get older and their body can’t handle it as well? I didn’t know this, but there’s even a handy list. I’m not linking to the list because there’s a lot of sensible stuff in the post.

      Liberty-Loving Female Physicians. Surprisingly, this isn’t about abortion. It’s about EHR and HIPAA.

      Doctors, Aging, and the Great Advice You Cannot Take This is about the extent to which old people have specific medical needs, and it’s good to have a specialist. However, in the US there aren’t nearly enough specialists, at least partly because Medicare doesn’t compensate them adequately.

      Culture war:
      “(Personally, I think that Medicare doesn’t demonstrate that single payer is the answer to the problems of the American healthcare system; Medicare demonstrates that the problem with the American healthcare system is that it is run by Americans. Single payer may be a great idea, but an American single payer system will continue to manifest the problems of systems run by Americans; I’m pretty sure Americans would figure out a way to implement single payer which is horribly bureaucratic, ridiculously costly, provides terrible care except to rich people, and somehow isn’t actually single-payer any more. It’s our gift.)”

      Massless Ropes, Frictionless Pulleys: Coordinative Communication— Here’s an important older post. Communication takes time, effort, and sometimes money, but the costs of communication tend to be neglected.

      Speaking of people getting paid– I’m underlining that siderea has a Patreon. This is a hint. She writes good stuff.

      • Brad says:

        Doctors, Aging, and the Great Advice You Cannot Take This is about the extent to which old people have specific medical needs, and it’s good to have a specialist. However, in the US there aren’t nearly enough specialists, at least partly because Medicare doesn’t compensate them adequately.

        Eh. Not entirely convinced. The argument seems to rely on calling a geriatrician a specialist. But in the sense that the word is used in American medicine they aren’t specialists. They are first line doctors like pediatricians and primary care physicians. In the pay part she compares them to dermatologists but doesn’t mention the average compensation of peditricians which is the closest analogy. It turns out pediatrics is right down there with family medicine (without OB) and internal medicine.

        Then on the question of adequate compensation, if the basis of comparison is the wildly overpaid American specialist doctors like radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology and dermatology you get one answer, but if you compare to physicians around the world (yes, even after accounting for medical school costs and malpractice insurance) you get a very different answer.

        Perhaps the upshot should be reducing the compensation of orthopedidic surgeons and not increasing that of geriatrician. That will reduce the gap and make geriatrics a relatively more appealing option.

      • keranih says:

        Nancy –

        Thank you! I particularly liked that one about transaction costs (but I do wish Siderea could take the next step and realize the implications for regulation.) That one means that there are at least a couple Siderea posts that I find valuable in depth.

        Please feel free to post the CW one on the OT.

  27. yodelyak says:

    Quote of the day at ColoradoPols.com’s open thread (a widely read Colorado politics blog): “All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.” — Scott Alexander

    Neat.

    ETA: actually only “All good is hard. All evil is easy.” is quoted, which leaves off the main point about “stay away from easy.” As is, it could as easily be read as an exhortation to evil. Sigh.

  28. Andrew Hunter says:

    This is a question that, to ape the subreddit, is very much discussing, not waging the culture war. Please attempt to do so as much as possible in replies.

    What’s a group that I should feel acceptable about using as a central example of low status? I was having a conversation where I wanted to utter the sentence “I mean, obviously I wouldn’t want to be associated with Xes, that’d make me look terrible!” but realized I didn’t know what a value of X I should feel good about using would be. The obvious answer that enters my head is “furries” or “bronies” but both of these I don’t feel good about because they’d be punching down; it’s true that furries are generally low status and I’d rather not people paint me as one, but I don’t like emphasizing them as losers–I’m sure many are nice people who don’t deserve sneers.

    “Nazis” or “the KKK” is another possibility, but both feel too likely to raise political tensions/issues where I don’t necessarily want them. (Also, recent events make it clear that they have a bit of a motte/bailey thing going on; I’m happy to say I oppose lynching, but when Seattle politicans brand cleaning sidewalks as white supremacist….)

    Is there some group which is clearly identifiable, not likely to raise political passions or have a motte/bailey thing going, which the majority of interlocuters will recognize as low status, and that I shouldn’t feel bad as reinforcing in that status?

    • Charles F says:

      Best practice is probably to use a group that was low-status but is now pretty much gone. Maybe gypsies? The Cagots are probably *almost* perfect except that they’re not very well-known. Second best option I think is carnies. Yeah it’s punching down, but you probably aren’t going to meet many and most of them are probably just there temporarily, it’s not part of their identity, it’s just a particularly bad part time job.

      • Nornagest says:

        Gypsies still exist as an ethnic group, although prejudice against them is not really a going concern in the United States. Is in the UK and parts of Europe, though.

        I do like “carnies”.

      • onyomi says:

        Luddites seem to be a common example.

      • Matt M says:

        Juggalos

        (I originally intended that as a joke but it may well be the best serious answer as well)

    • Evan Þ says:

      So you want a universally-low-status group that deserves their status and wouldn’t raise political tensions?

      I’d say “Stalinists,” except that probably isn’t as universal as you want. Maybe something like “pedophiles,” except people might think of you as weird for bringing them up out of nowhere, plus there’s some overkill going on there too (with, say, fourteen-year-olds being arrested for having sex with each other.)

      Really, the best idea would probably be to name something mildly humorous, totally out of left field, and nonexistent, like “The Coalition to Torture Cute Kittens.”

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Really, the best idea would probably be to name something mildly humorous, totally out of left field, and nonexistent, like “The Coalition to Torture Cute Kittens.”

        Agreed. Or just completely lampshade it by saying, “look, I would never want to be included with ‘insert low-status group you don’t like here’, but…”

        Back in the Before Time, in the Long, Long Ago (so like 2006 before social media shaming and the Culture War were a thing), I had a joke I used occasionally that “hey man, I am the least racist person you will ever meet…except against Eskimos. Blubber chewing bastards…” As a southerner, saying that in the south, it’s a little funny because…how could anybody possibly hate Eskimos? Neither I nor anyone around me has ever met an Eskimo. It’s absurd. Would get a chuckle.

        Well one day I was in Oregon with a group of people and I made the joke, and an Asian girl looked at me completely deadpan and said “I’m an Eskimo.” I blanched and started apologizing profusely and she said “nah, just fucking with ya, I’m Japanese.” Got me so good.

        I don’t tell that joke anymore.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      SSC commenters?

    • Nornagest says:

      If you want a group that both Red Tribe and Blue Tribe recognize as low-status and yet feel no sympathy for or tribal valance toward, the answer is “tweekers”. Or maybe “NAMBLA”.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t see how you can use a group as an example of low status without punching down. The very act of distinguishing yourself from them is you saying they are losers.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        In principle there are low status groups that I am, or should be, ok punching down to. Bronies aren’t one, just because they’rem ostly nice/fine people who just have a particularly dweeby hobby.

      • keranih says:

        I mostly agree. If the question is “what group do we all despise” then the “most correct” (or “most Christian”) response is “we should not despise anyone, and certainly not whole groups of people by default.” But I think the question isn’t quite right…

        When Andrew Hunter (OP) says

        What’s a group that I should feel acceptable about using as a central example of low status?

        The context seems to be “what is a group whose name I can use in illustrative examples of “bad-despised people” where ‘everyone’ agrees with me that this group embodies that status and won’t be upset with me for saying so”.

        To which I say, “good luck” – this is asking for permission to do impermissible things. Our multicultural society has multiple outgroups and an over arching ideal that *no one* be an outgroup. (No wonder we’re jacked up.)

        Some examples that might get you further than others – either “felon” (or “violent felon”) or “slumlord”.

    • yodelyak says:

      If you put the sentence “I worked hard for years before becoming a medical doctor” into a low-grade translation algorithm, and then translate it back into English, it might come back: “I worked hard for years, but then I became a drug dealer.”

      I think it is broadly relatable that a person would resent a translation error that caused them to be introduced at a professional conference, by virtue of a translation mistake, as a lazy drug dealer instead of a hard-working doctor. It’s not likely to offend any group you don’t mind offending. It’s still probably not universal.

    • . says:

      Any example of low status will raise political passions, because the more utopian leftists think the whole status system is counterproductive. You can probably get away with using ‘cockroaches,’ since all us inferior, less well-adapted organisms resent their perfection, but even that might not fly in hard utilitarian circles.

      • keranih says:

        The utopian leftists are not alone – there’s a bit of conventional Christian thinking that looks at the dismissal of class and status as an ideal as well.

        • hyperboloid says:

          It should be noted that utopian leftists and Christians are not mutually exclusive categories.

    • johan_larson says:

      My go-to ok-to-ridicule group is NAMBLA, a group working to make pedophilia more socially acceptable. Way, way outside the Overton Window.

    • Civilis says:

      As recent events have shown, the Juggalos almost seem to revel in their low-status position.

      The Amish are unlikely to complain if you use them as low status.

      A Weeaboo or Weeb is essentially a low-status anime/manga/Japanese culture fan. It’s unlikely to offend too many people because the rest of us anime fans are convinced we’re not the Weeaboos.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Actually, Juggalo seems like a pretty good choice.

      • Amish are unlikely to complain–they are in favor of humility. Stricter Amish affiliations are referred to as “lower.”

        But I don’t think they are generally viewed as particularly low status.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Stricter Amish affiliations are referred to as “lower.”

          Sounds like a real-world analogue of Terry Pratchet’s dwarves who hold it far more noble to live one’s life in the depths of the mines than to spend too much time interacting with the world above ground, such that the title of Low King signals great honour.

    • Witness says:

      Sneetches.

    • SamChevre says:

      In an office-work context, secretaries and people who work in the call center.

      Which highlights how stupid status can be: good secretaries exemplify the old joke about “do you want to talk to the person in charge, or the one who knows what’s going on”.

      But it is true: early in my career, it became obvious that groups that had a lot of secretaries and call center employees were lower-status. (For example, the Toastmasters group at a former employer; no professionals joined it, because most of the people involved worked in the call center.)

      • Randy M says:

        In an office-work context, secretaries and people who work in the call center.

        This is pointing in the right direction. Try this:
        Telemarketers.
        If feeling generous, prefix with “rude” or “persistent.”

        • Civilis says:

          If you’re going to go profession wise, there are a lot that are disreputable as a group. Charles F said ‘carnies’, above. As an IT person, spammers. Classically, used car salesmen.

      • Deiseach says:

        In an office-work context, secretaries and people who work in the call center.

        As you say, stupid, because do you really think secretaries and reception staff don’t know who does and who does not have the “ugh, the little people” attitude? And that they aren’t more willing to do favours, extra work, etc. for the ones who don’t have that attitude, whereas for the others it’s “The phone is ringing in Mr X’s office? Well fuck him, it’s technically five minutes past my quitting time and I’m not going to lift a finger outside of the hours I’m paid to work for him. See how he feels about the work the ‘little people’ do then!”

    • Charles F says:

      In your situation, why not just say “I wouldn’t want to be associated with those people.” Is there some reason you’d need a specific group to point at?

    • beleester says:

      If you’re just looking for something you can use as an example and not actually trying to look down on someone, you could pick something humorous: “If people spread rumors that I’m into high-stakes Morris dancing, I’d be ruined!”

      That’s too absurd for people to think that you really do hate Morris dancers.

    • SamChevre says:

      Reading the question and the responses, it seems to me that there are at least three kinds of “I wouldn’t want to be associated with X’s.” Deciding which category you are looking for might make choosing easier.

      Category #1: “Those people pursue bad goals and/or by inappropriate means”–everyone agrees that they are a BAD group. This cluster gets Black Bloc, KKK, various kinds of predatory criminals, and so on.

      Category #2: “Those people pursue really weird goals and/or in really weird ways”–everyone thinks they are nuts. Here you get bronies, Juggalos, high-stakes Morris dancers, and so on.

      Category #3: “These people are low-status, but what they do is important and valuable” –everyone wants them around, but… Here you get secretaries and shelf-stockers at Wal-mart, janitors and call center workers, and so on.

    • Iain says:

      Lawyers? Politicians?

      Is there a reason that they have to be actually low-status, instead of “high status but people like to hate them”?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      How about smokers?

    • soreff says:

      >What’s a group that I should feel acceptable about using as a central example of low status?

      Well, it doesn’t have to be an ethnic or occupational group…
      How about axe-murderers?
      On second thought, to pick a somewhat lower status group,
      How about unsuccessful axe-attempted-murderers?

  29. Evan Þ says:

    Why We Never Talk about Black-On-Black Crime: A friend on Facebook (okay, you can stop snickering now) linked me this article earlier this week, which – referencing its sources against the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI every step of the way – argues that:

    * Both white and black violent criminals normally victimize people of the same race.

    * Both white and black poor people have roughly the same violent crime rate.

    * Therefore, they conclude, “black-on-black crime” is not a serious problem. The problem is poverty, and that stems from white supremacy, and the solution is more social programs.

    Thoughts? The only hole I can see in their argument is the last step where (together with throwing in a non sequitur on white supremacy, when the statistics actually point more toward class warfare if any progressive cause) they say we need more social programs to help poverty instead of programs to help poor people become more law-abiding. However, I’m definitely not the most conversant with crime statistics, so I very well might have overlooked something.

    Regardless, they do seem to have shown that we should at least rephrase the problem as “poor people crime” instead of “black people crime.”

    • Atlas says:

      * Both white and black violent criminals normally victimize people of the same race.

      Obviously, but the rates are vastly different: African-Americans commit homicide at about 8 times the rate of whites. (538 source.)

      Both white and black poor people have roughly the same violent crime rate.

      I don’t think that this is true; see RCA’s post on racial differences in homicide rates being poorly explained by economics.

      Consider also that Hispanics, in terms of metrics of economic success like household income and unemployment rate, are very similar to African-Americans, but commit homicides at around 1/4th the rate. (There may be various mitigating factors, but not enough to explain the massive difference from what you would predict on a monocausal theory of poverty—>crime.)

      Consider also that economic downturns and upswings don’t lead to the kind of changes in the violent crime rate one would predict on this theory—e.g. neither the Great Depression of the 1930s or Great Recession of the late 2000s lead to a corresponding spike in violent crime. Inversely, the economy was doing pretty well on a number of metrics during the 1960s, which saw a huge increase in the rates of major violent crimes.

      Therefore, they conclude, “black-on-black crime” is not a serious problem. The problem is poverty, and that stems from white supremacy, and the solution is more social programs.

      This is a non-sequitur—it’s like saying smoking isn’t a problem, cancer is a problem, and the solution to the so-called problem of smoking to implement policies that will decrease smoking.

      This argument is flawed in two ways—one, because by any standard under which black-on-black crime, which results in ~5,000 fatalities per year (at least 75% of which are “excess” relative to the “normal” rate of other ethnic groups), is not a serious problem, the death of ~350 African-Americans per year (as per e.g. the Guardian and WaPo) in police shootings is not a serious problem.

      Secondly, because the high rate of violent crime among African-Americans is not just some random human tragedy that bears no relation to police shootings like the Syrian Civil War or something, it’s the obvious primary cause of the disproportionate rate at which blacks are killed in police shootings. (Just like the fact that men commit violent crimes much more often than women is why they’re disproportionately killed by police.)

      If you’re interested in reading a different perspective, replete with statistics, on these issues, than the one you’ll find in such articles you might want to check out Barry Latzer’s book “the Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America” and Heather MacDonald’s book “the War on Cops.” (Note that, despite the latter’s garbage tier inflammatory title, it’s actually a rationally argued, data-filled polemic.) Also, MacDonald debated these issues for Intelligence Squared.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Obviously, but the rates are vastly different: African-Americans commit homicide at about 8 times the rate of whites. (538 source.)

        Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

        I don’t think that this is true; see RCA’s post in racial differences on homicide rates being poorly explained by economics.

        Interesting, especially when put together with the BJS report. If you take both at face value, they don’t seem to make sense; one or the other probably has some statistical error? Either that or the effect’s far more complicated than I thought.

        Consider also that economic downturns and upswings don’t lead to the kind of changes in the violent crime rate one would predict on this theory

        A very cogent point. Perhaps the issue is more generational poverty rather than temporary poverty stemming from economic downturns? That’d make sense, since it seems to me it’d work through intermediates such as ingrained bad habits and subcultural norms.

        the high rate of violent crime among African-Americans is not just some random human tragedy

        Indeed; what I’m arguing is that if these statistics are true, we should attack it from the right direction and get at its actual cause.

        • Aapje says:

          Interesting, especially when put together with the BJS report. If you take both at face value, they don’t seem to make sense; one or the other probably has some statistical error? Either that or the effect’s far more complicated than I thought.

          A possible explanation for the apparent paradox is that poverty can have a strong impact on the culture of a community, but not so much on the individual. In other words, the rich person in the poor community is a more criminal than the rich person in the rich community.

        • keranih says:

          Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

          I’m not sure their conclusion is supported by the data, and I’m pretty sure the conclusion isn’t what you’re stating here.

          From the BJS summary:

          Poor urban blacks (51.3 per 1,000) had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites (56.4 per 1,000).

          As you say, re-bining people by poverty level appears to change the ratios of violence. However:

          The overall pattern of poor persons having the highest rates of violent victimization was consistent for both whites and blacks. However, the rate of violent victimization for Hispanics did not vary across poverty levels.

          Additional confounder: to what degree are WNH and Hispanic Whites well divided? If those categories aren’t being clearly reported, then the whole set might be…well, not useless, but certainly suspect.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that [blacks committing homicide at 8x the rate of whites] seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

          How does a study of nonfatal violent victimization explain anything about who is committing homicides?

          The BJS study you cite, suggests that there is a modest and non-racial tendency for poor urban residents to beat up their wives/husbands/neighbors, and to point guns at each other, more often than rich urban residents do such things. Rural residents, maybe the same but they are less likely to call the police about it. This seems fairly common-sense obvious to me; there’s a whole cluster of behaviors that involves A: beating people up for no good reason and B: kind of not being good at making money.

          But you don’t figure out who is killing people, and why, by looking at who is getting beaten up and why. Killing is very different than beating, and perpetrators are often different from victims.

          • Evan Þ says:

            But you don’t figure out who is killing people, and why, by looking at who is getting beaten up and why. Killing is very different than beating, and perpetrators are often different from victims.

            Your argument makes facial sense, but AFAIK sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates. Cf. Scott’s monumental “Anti-Rxionary FAQ” where he looks at the homicide rate for the last century and a half to show that Progressivism doesn’t increase violent crime.

            Now that I write that out, I see that judging changes in violent crime across time is different from judging them across ethnicity – is that what you’re getting at here?

          • Randy M says:

            The one characteristic every victim shares with his or her killer is having lived in the same moment.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Your argument makes facial sense, but AFAIK sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates.

            The BJS study is doing the opposite, measuring violent crime excluding homicides (and also measuring victims as opposed to perpetrators). It’s exactly the wrong way around.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Evan Þ

            …sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates. Cf. Scott’s monumental “Anti-Rxionary FAQ” where he looks at the homicide rate for the last century and a half to show that Progressivism doesn’t increase violent crime.

            Murder rate has the advantage that it’s the violent crime most likely to come to light, but the disadvantage that better health care turns murder into attempted murder or aggravated assault. Hundred years ago, if you got shot in the gut, your chances of living are much worse than today. If you look at the FBI crime stats, reported violent crime in total is something like 2-3x as high as it was when they started counting (1960, as I recall).

          • Nornagest says:

            If you look at the FBI crime stats, reported violent crime in total is something like 2-3x as high as it was when they started counting (1960, as I recall).

            Trauma medicine’s a lot better now and that’s probably made a mark on the murder stats, but “reported violent crime” has some pretty serious issues too, because the culture around low-level violence is changing. I’d bet at fairly long odds that if I punched an acquaintance in the face today over some minor quarrel, they’d be much more likely to report it as an assault than if my grandpa had punched an acquaintance in the face in 1960.

            The reverse might be true of someone in a culture where trust in the police has been declining over that period, but that just underscores the problems with using reporting statistics to make intercultural comparisons. For all the problems with murder as a basis, it’s at least pretty hard to hide a dead body.

          • John Schilling says:

            AFAIK sociologists do normally measure homicides as a good way of measuring violent crimes across different reporting rates.

            Sociologists spend a lot of time looking for their lost keys under streetlights. I understand that it may be difficult getting statistically sound data out of the genuine darkness that is so much of human social interaction, but that doesn’t make the streetlights a valid sample.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nornagest

            I did note that’s the advantage of looking at homicide rate. Still, saying “well, the homicide rate is lower than it was in 19xx” can miss a lot.

        • cassander says:

          Yes, but according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, that seems to be adequately explained by their different poverty levels.

          It definitely does not, according to the FBI stats. Those state that whites and blacks commit roughly similar numbers of crimes. There are ~9 million blacks living below the poverty line compared to ~25 million whites, meaning even if you attribute all crime to those below the poverty level, blacks are still committing crimes at 3x the rate of whites.

          https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf

          • rlms says:

            You also have to control for population density. Someone here presented fairly convincing evidence that poor black urban people still commit more crime than poor white urban people, but I haven’t looked into that study too closely (I would highly appreciate a critical analysis of it).

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Consider also that Hispanics, in terms of metrics of economic success like household income and unemployment rate, are very similar to African-Americans, but commit homicides at around 1/4th the rate. (There may be various mitigating factors, but not enough to explain the massive difference from what you would predict on a monocausal theory of poverty—>crime.)

        I’ve read that one unfortunate side effect of integration was the decline of black-owned small businesses. If that’s sufficiently true and relevant, perhaps the language barrier provides some shielding from that effect for Hispanics. Yadda yadda yadda, more stability, less hopelessness, etc?

        Not to say this is the only factor, of course. Just thought it was an interesting hypothesis.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      * Both white and black poor people have roughly the same violent crime rate.

      Neither The Root nor BJS says this.

    • S_J says:

      Many years ago I read a book about crime and the use of guns in the United States.

      In the first chapter, almost as an aside, there was data indicating that Blacks in the rural areas of the United States have lower rates of violence/homicide than Whites in rural areas of the United States…while the reverse was true in urban areas.

      It’s possible I’m mis-remembering. I can’t find the data right now. Maybe the ratio of urban/rural homicide rates was incredibly different for Black than it was for White.

      Which leaves me with questions:

      1. How many researchers have compared urban-vs-rural rates when they compare homicide rates in the United States?

      2. Do those comparisons complicate the Black-vs-White comparisons?

      3. Do those comparisons complicate the poor-vs-non-poor comparisons?

      • cassander says:

        I imagine that the results of such a study would depend almost entirely on how one decided what counted as urban vs. rural. Not in a cherry picking to find the desired result sort of way, just that any such distinction is going to end up fairly arbitrary, with lots of reasonable sounding ways to cut off, any one of which would produce dramatically different results.

  30. Atlas says:

    Does anyone have thoughts on what impact increased deployment of US ground troops to Cambodia and Laos to interdict shipments of supplies to communist guerrillas in South Vietnam relatively early in the war might have had?

    And, actually, if anyone has thoughts on the Vietnam War in general and/or the recent Ken Burns documentary, please feel free to share.

    • Sfoil says:

      If the US sent large troop formations into those countries early in the war to interdict supplies, they would/should have gone whole hog and established (actually, extended) the DMZ along the 17th Parallel across the entire peninsula. That would likely have been decisive; subsequent events showed that the guerrillas in South Vietnam weren’t enough to topple the government there. However that represented a much larger political, diplomatic, and military effort than the US was willing to exert at the time (possibly ever).

      As for the hypothetical effect of reactively attacking supply lines and depots across the western border, the effect probably would have been the same as later on: a decrease in enemy activity in South Vietnam until those efforts ended, followed by a resumption after a few months of recovery.

    • hyperboloid says:

      First, It almost certainly would have radicalized the populations of Laos and Cambodia, strengthening the Pathet Lao, and Khmer rouge. Second, even if you succeeded in somehow completely closing the Ho Chi Min trail through either country, all it would have accomplished is to drive the Vietcong supply lines into eastern Thailand.

      If the US sent large troop formations into those countries early in the war to interdict supplies, they would/should have gone whole hog and established (actually, extended) the DMZ along the 17th Parallel across the entire peninsula.

      And then what? I suppose, extend the demilitarized zone all the way to Rangoon.

      • Sfoil says:

        The proposed DMZ would have indeed extended all the way to Burma. The idea would be to put the Southern Vietnamese guerrillas in the same position as the South Korean guerrillas, who you’ll notice didn’t accomplish much. You joke about Rangoon but Burma and Thailand were both pretty easy sells, Laos and Cambodia were the sticking points.

        It almost certainly would have radicalized the populations of Laos and Cambodia

        Compared to what? The Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge both eventually overthrew the incumbent government. How much worse could they have gotten? That indicates to me that the Laotian and Cambodian governments ought to have abandoned neutrality in favor of a US-backed alliance. Ultimately their neutrality didn’t keep them out of the conflict.

      • hyperboloid says:

        The Khmer rouge only took power in Cambodia after we first helped to overthrow the government, and then invaded the country in search of Vietcong supply lines. Up until that point the Sihanouk government had been very effective in maintaining a careful policy of neutrality with regards to the conflict next door. Similarly, the Pathet Lao owed much if its strength to the resentment that rural Laotians felt against the American bombing and intervention in their country.

        The northeastern provenances of Thailand were the base of the Thai communist party, that was waging a low grade insurgency against the government in Bangkok. Try to extend the McNamara line, gravel mines, napalm, marine fire bases ext., all the way across Laos and over the Mekong, and all you’ve done is traded a war in Vietnam for a war in Thailand. In one sense the domino theory was very true, and every American bomb knocked a dozen a dominoes.

        The idea would be to put the Southern Vietnamese guerrillas in the same position as the South Korean guerrillas

        This notion rests on the basic fallacy that led to so much misguided American policy in southeast Asia, the idea that Vietnam was another Korea. In reality the situation was almost exactly reversed. In Vietnam, you had a southern regime that was dominated by colonial era collaborators, and held little in the way of legitimacy in the minds of it’s citizens, in the north you had a nationalist government dominated by the people who had led the fight against the French and Japanese. In Korea, it was the northern Communist regime that was imposed by foreigners, and the south that had the genuine nationalist credentials. To put the Vietcong in the same position as the Communists of south Korea would have required completely transforming the political realties of Vietnam. And short of occupying the country for decades, or committing genocide, it’s not clear how that would be possible.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The second paragraph hits on one of the important points – the Southern government didn’t really have the confidence of its people, not to the extent it needed to fight off the North.

        • cassander says:

          @hyperboloid

          >This notion rests on the basic fallacy that led to so much misguided American policy in southeast Asia, the idea that Vietnam was another Korea. In reality the situation was almost exactly reversed. In Vietnam, you had a southern regime that was dominated by colonial era collaborators, and held little in the way of legitimacy in the minds of it’s citizens,

          The north Vietnamese government was, in absolutely no sense, a popular or legitimate government. Millions fled from the north to the south when the communists took over, and millions more fled the south when the north conquered it. there were many flaws in the South Vietnamese government, but its opponents were a totalitarian nightmare, and the Vietnamese repeatedly demonstrated, at great personal risk, that they did not desire communist government.

          @dndnrsn

          The second paragraph hits on one of the important points – the Southern government didn’t really have the confidence of its people, not to the extent it needed to fight off the North.

          They fought off the north, for more than a decade, and could have continued to do so had congress not made it illegal to give them the ammunition and spare parts their lavishly equipped army required to function.

          • dndnrsn says:

            And air support. The South Vietnamese military relied on US logistical and organizational support, far beyond just giving them stuff. They suffered from huge desertion problems and significant corruption. The civilian government was no better. They probably could have held off the North indefinitely as long as the US propped them up, but they were never going to be self-sustainable. It was a major mistake on the US’ part not to push harder for reform early on.

      • Sfoil says:

        If Sihanouk’s neutrality policy was so effective, why were the NVA running forward operating bases in his country? Anyway, establishing an Indochina DMZ in the early 60s would have meant no need to invade or bomb either country. The whole point is that it would have been a better policy than what actually happened (the US takes one step at a time into the muck).

        Full disclosure, I believe the only real difference between Korea and Vietnam were a) geography and b) the North deciding wage a guerrilla/propaganda campaign before launching the invasion. I also believe the latter factor to have been the result of lessons learned from the Korean War on the part of the NVA.

        Whether the North Korean government was “imposed” by foreigners is a matter of semantics but Kim Il Sung and crew absolutely were heroes of the resistance against the Japanese. The Southern government on the other hand contained large numbers of Chalabi-style expats and outright collaborators. I’ll also note that South Korea in fact was occupied for decades and rooting out the guerrillas involved actions which, while perhaps not “genocide”, did involve killing a lot of people.

  31. onyomi says:

    So I think we’re past the “don’t politicize tragedies” window on Nevada, though it seems the motive is still quite unclear. But a few meta-thoughts I think may hold true even if the motive turns out to be very different than expected:

    We were recently talking about “different worlds,” which, to me, really emphasized just how important the “narrative weavers” are in society. Different people may unconsciously chose to watch different “movies,” to use Scott Adams’ term, but the “movie makers” are also super important because they provide the options.

    It seems to me lately that the “movies” on tap are increasingly… enraging, for lack of a better word. In the US, for example, the two mainstream “movies” are:

    a. a narcissistic, racist, sexist, billionaire with poor impulse control just got elected to the highest office because a bunch of idiots and white supremacists hate foreigners and experts and may well start a nuclear war. or

    b. all the elite institutions of government, academia, and the media are staffed by crypto-Marxist globalists intent on betraying Joe Sixpack’s interests in favor of destroying the traditional culture in hopes of achieving an impossible utopian ideal.

    Of course, there are other, less bleak (and more bleak) narratives one can find if looking hard for them, from the economists “we’re richer and living longer than at any other time in history” to the techy’s “AI Jesus will save us,” but none of these are mainstream.

    The shooter’s brother noted that the shooter could be a very “confrontational” guy. For example, people smoking near him so enraged him that he would carry around a cigar for the purpose of blowing smoke in their faces.

    At any given time a certain percentage of the population consists of eccentric, angry, confrontational people. Yet in some societies there are mass murders and in some there are not (no, it can’t just be the presence or absence of guns, though it’s arguable that effects the extent and nature of the carnage; someone intent on killing people and himself could plow a car into a crowd, set up a bomb, etc.). It sounds like the shooter was an angry, confrontational guy. There is probably no version of reality in which someone with his genetics+environment did not grow up to be an angry, confrontational guy. Question is, is there a version of reality in which he doesn’t become a mass shooter.

    We recently had a very similar, if less competent attack on congresspeople playing baseball. That shooter’s motivation was explicitly political. We don’t yet know if Paddock’s motivation was political. But what I am wondering is whether we aren’t setting ourselves up for this sort of thing, essentially, by purveying only “toxic” narratives.

    I mean, even I find politics today incredibly enraging and I am a pretty meek guy. There is no possible narrative that will turn me into a mass shooter because I’m probably just genetically not a confrontational, risk-taking person (a coincidence he was a professional gambler?). In a personality with no “sparks” you can pour any amount of gasoline on it and it won’t explode. But at any given time there are always a few people in society with “sparks”: question is, do they stop at blowing smoke in peoples’ faces or something much, much worse?

    • jlister says:

      A 30 day cooling off period should be instituted, after which it becomes mandatory to politicise a mass tragedy. Perhaps a citizens council of a few hundred people randomly drawn from across the nation with a few also from the victims families could debate the way forward with testimony from academic experts and pro and anti lobbies. Legal expertise would be provided to draw up laws for each position and point out their wider implications, then the laws are changed (nor not) from the council’s majority vote.

      Something to consider:
      Should a mentally ill person be allowed to own a gun?
      What is the lifetime chance of mental illness?

      • Evan Þ says:

        Should a mentally ill person be allowed to own a gun?

        Yes, someone with an eating disorder, or high-functioning autism, or any number of other things that fall under the fuzzy category of “mental illness,” should be allowed to own a gun. So should everyone else, until it’s proven otherwise by due process of law. We need some more specific criterion before you go stripping people of the right to self-defense, or anything else that falls under the category of Constitutional rights.

      • BBA says:

        Who defines “mentally ill”?
        Can opposition to the ruling regime be deemed mentally ill?

        And why does it fall on me, the Democratic straight-ticket voter Manhattanite who thinks this city’s ultra-strict gun laws work just fine, thank you very much, to point out this hole?

        • The Nybbler says:

          In many parts of the Internet, proposals to restrict guns from the mentally ill are always accompanied by someone suggesting that wanting to own a gun is proof that you’re mentally ill.

        • Are you Ok with mentally ill people flying planes, then? The problem you are complaining about is a special case of one that has to be solved in many other cases.

          • Matt M says:

            Their own planes? Yes, absolutely.

            I wouldn’t want them flying a commercial airliner, but I don’t need the state for that – I’m reasonably confident that American Airlines isn’t going to hire a raving psychopath as a pilot.

          • John Schilling says:

            Germanwings, on the other hand…

            But as has been pointed out elsewhere, the actual effect of “we shouldn’t let mentally ill people do [X]” is really only that you lose the ability to diagnose mentally ill people in any vaguely X-adjacent space except after the fact.

          • Matt M says:

            Lubitz kept this information from his employer and instead reported for duty.

            Seems to confirm my point below, that laws banning the “mentally ill” from doing X will only serve to discourage people from seeking mental health.

          • bean says:

            I’m reasonably confident that American Airlines isn’t going to hire a raving psychopath as a pilot.

            You’re right. They’d hire him as an executive instead.

          • @Matt

            Do you believe that someone flying their own plane cannot harm anyone else, or that the right to property overrides the right to life?

          • Matt M says:

            Do you believe that someone flying their own plane cannot harm anyone else, or that the right to property overrides the right to life?

            Of course they can. And people can also harm others with cars, or pressure cookers, or fertilizer bombs. And yet, we don’t forbid the “mentally ill” (one of the vaguest common terms we use in society) from driving, cooking, or planting a garden.

            The right to life and the right to property are one and the same, BTW.

          • Evan Þ says:

            The right to life and the right to property are one and the same, BTW.

            So I take it you approve of debt slavery?

            I believe there’s a distinction between the two precisely because I don’t approve of that and a category of similar things.

          • Seems to confirm my point below, that laws banning the “mentally ill” from doing X will only serve to discourage people from seeking mental health.

            People with a mental health record can end up being restricted in certain ways, and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

          • Matt M says:

            So I take it you approve of debt slavery?

            Yes, I do.

            People with a mental health record can end up being restricted in certain ways, and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

            I didn’t say the sky would fall in. I said that people would be marginally less likely to seek treatment for mental health concerns. Given that death from suicide is a couple orders of magnitude more common than death from mass shootings with semi-automatic rifles, this seems like a fairly important consideration. I’d also throw out that conventional wisdom seems to be that even under present circumstances, the biggest thing we can do to prevent suicide deaths is to encourage people to seek help – and that social pressure to not appear mentally ill is the primary reason they do not do so.

          • Might taking the guns way from your unstable veterans lower their suicide risk?

          • Matt M says:

            Might taking the guns way from your unstable veterans lower their suicide risk?

            It might, but I doubt it. There are other countries where gun ownership is virtually zero (I’m thinking Japan here) that still have high suicide rates.

            But this is a debate worth having. Is suicide largely a product of easy access to guns, or is it largely a product of untreated mental illness, and to what extent will taking rights away from those who are diagnosed with mental illness discourage people from seeking treatment?

            I don’t have the magic answer to any of this, but these are important questions that need to be discussed, not just dismissed with loud shouting about the rate of mass shootings in England or whatever.

          • John Schilling says:

            Might taking the guns way from your unstable veterans lower their suicide risk?

            The act of saying, “we should take guns away from unstable veterans”, increases the difficulty of identifying unstable veterans in the first place. Since unstable veterans are subject to (and sometimes the cause of) many harms beyond just suicide by firearm, this is unlikely to be a net win.

          • Take it to the point where someone is holding a gun to their head. You would still do nothing?

          • Matt M says:

            Take it to the point where someone is holding a gun to their head. You would still do nothing?

            I would, but I admit to having some rather non-mainstream opinions about freedom and autonomy.

        • JayT says:

          How exactly will the people doing the background checks know that someone is mentally ill? Will HIPPA privacy laws not count for mental illness, but any time you are diagnosed, that information is sent off to the government?
          Can you stop being mentally ill, or if you have a single nervous breakdown in college do you lose that right forever?

        • AnonYEmous says:

          I don’t like this argument. To put it simply, “mentally ill” is something which is already administrated by many experts and taught in colleges and so forth; it seems like there’s already a lot of ambient defenses against simply declaring someone with certain political movations “mentally ill”. I guess I could see it happening to, say, Trump supporters, but I think there’s enough cultural agreement on the issue as to make this a bit different from similar issues.

          • The Nybbler says:

            it seems like there’s already a lot of ambient defenses against simply declaring someone with certain political movations “mentally ill”. I guess I could see it happening to, say, Trump supporters,

            OK, we can stop right there, as you’ve just said that over 40% of the country might fall under such an abuse.

            In fact, while there is (fairly recent) strong protection against long-term commitment, there is almost no protection from being declared mentally ill. Laws like Pennsylvania’s Section 302 and California’s Section 5150 allow anyone to be committed for 72 hours based on the word of a mental health professional or a police officer. Holds under these laws can be and are used to permanently revoke firearms rights. Gun rights advocates are well aware of this, and suspicious of any expansion.

          • it seems like there’s already a lot of ambient defenses against simply declaring someone with certain political movations “mentally ill”.

            Back during the 1964 campaign, quite a lot of psychiatrists polled by Fact magazine diagnosed Barry Goldwater, whom they had never met, with various forms of mental illness, including “paranoid,” “schizophrenic,” “obsessive,” “psychotic,” and “narcissistic.”

          • Matt M says:

            No shortage of Washington Post columns claiming the same about Trump on a daily basis.

          • Lillian says:

            And this is why we have the Goldwater Rule! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldwater_rule

      • onyomi says: