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OT89: Omen Thread

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

1. The Future of Humanity Institute asks me to advertise that they’re looking to fill two AI safety researcher positions. See their job descriptions for postdoctoral research scientist and research scientist, and see the application process at the link if you’re interested. Deadline is January 10th. FHI is affiliated with Oxford and I can vouch for them as a legitimate organization.

2. Comments of the week: Art Vandelay on how academic anthropology thinks about the rationality of pretechnological societies, tcheasdfjkl on reconciling power-based and cultural-evolution-based models, and CatCube on Bill Clinton’s creepy charisma. Also the subreddit team are highlighting the best comments on the culture war thread there.

3. David Friedman wants me to clarify that the version of his book I linked to earlier is out of date, and there’s a newer draft up online here. Some more of Friedman’s comments on my review of his book here and here.

4. Current Affairs wrote an article riffing off one of my links posts. I don’t think I can pad my response to the length of an entire blog post, but I want to address it here: I stand by my original sarcasm. I said it was silly to be angry at airlines offering a lower-fare standing option, since it’s just adding another choice to your list of choices. CA said I didn’t realize that actually some people are very poor and so couldn’t afford anything but standing room. I do realize that. My whole point was that if you are too poor to afford sitting fare, your only choice used to be “never fly”. Now it is “never fly” or “pay the affordable standing fare”. This is a gain for poor people, and in fact only for poor people (rich people will just sit regardless). This complaint reminds me of those people who put spikes on benches so that homeless people cannot sleep on them. It is true that in a perfect world nobody would have to sleep on benches. But you are not creating that world. You are just making sure homeless people can’t sleep anywhere. Likewise, in a perfect world nobody would have to stand up on flights. But you are not creating that world. You’re just making sure poor people can’t fly at all. If you want to help the poor, give them more money, not fewer options.

5. The Washington DC SSC meetup group is having a Thanksgiving potluck next Sunday. DM the organizer on Reddit or comment here if you need contact information.

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866 Responses to OT89: Omen Thread

  1. ragnarrahl says:

    “We’ve learned a tragic lesson from the opioid crisis: that we must pay early attention to the potential for new products to cause addiction and we must take strong, decisive measures to intervene,” said Gottlieb. “From the outset, the FDA must use its authority to protect the public from addictive substances like kratom, both as part of our commitment to stemming the opioid epidemic and preventing another from taking hold.”

    Is the argument here supposed to imply that “strong decisive measures to intervene” were not taken for opioids?

    Is there some set of opioids that, like kratom prior to this current action, was unregulated prior to whenever we count the “opioid crisis” as beginning?

    • Protagoras says:

      Well, opoids were legal and unregulated for a long time (they’re quite old, and used to be one of the most popular ingredients in quack medicines, as they definitely make the patient feel better). But I doubt that’s what is being referred to, especially as it is arguable that we had fewer problems with opoids back when they were freely available.

  2. Upthorn says:

    In response to number 4, I think both you, and the current affairs article arguing counter to you, miss a significant point.

    When the upright airline chair was invented, what happened was not that airline customers gained a new, lower price ticket option. What happened was that the old coach seating option was completely replaced with a new, lower quality option. It may also happen that the cost of airfare decreased, because demand for the lower quality option was not sufficient to consume the whole supply, but the result was not really that the poor had increased options.

    If a way was found to make standing-room flights viable and safe, the likely result is not just that there will be a new, lower price option for airfare. The likely result is that the currently existing, moderately priced option will be slashed to 25% of its current capacity, re-branded as a low-tier luxury option, and increased in price by a significant margin. That, or disappear entirely. Though the cost of the lowest tier of airfare may decrease somewhat as a result.

    I think that you also overestimate the elasticity of the product — between extremely uncomfortable seating, and the TSA’s ridiculous security theater, the conditions of standard air travel are so bad that people already only opt for air travel when it is the [i]only[/i] reasonable option to meet a significant obligation, or to reach a significant utility.

    Yes, there may be a small class of people who are no longer priced out of travel for weddings and funerals, but there is also a large class of people for whom air travel just becomes even more miserable than it already is, because the only option they can afford is even more dehumanizing than the current one.

    • John Schilling says:

      When the upright airline chair was invented, what happened was not that airline customers gained a new, lower price ticket option. What happened was that the old coach seating option was completely replaced with a new, lower quality option.

      What are you referring to with the term, “coach seating”? Because in standard industry usage, that means the same thing as “economy class”, which has not been completely replaced and which the airline industry is not proposing to completely replace.

      • Upthorn says:

        Prior to the advent of what is currently the industry standard economy class airline seat, economy class seating was a thing. There were many less seats on a plane, but they were much more comfortable and spacious. (This article has some photos of what economy class seating looked like in the 70s.)

        Today, you can not find any airline operator that offers that seat as an option at all.

        If an avenue were found to remove seating entirely. The ultimate result would probably look somewhat similar to what happened when smaller, less comfortable airline seats were invented.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          I flew in the 1970s, albeit not often. As can be seen in the few pictures from that site that are actually of 1970s economy-class seats, they have not changed all that much.

        • John Schilling says:

          (This article has some photos of what economy class seating looked like in the 70s.)

          As Paul hints at above, hat article has almost no pictures of what economy class seating looked like in the 1970s. It has many pictures of what first-class seating looked like in the 1970s, and a very conspicuous photo of a mock-up of an economy-class cabin that wasn’t built. The impression you have formed of 1970s airline travel from that article, is not accurate. And almost every feature that was shown in that article, is still available today and at a cheaper real-dollar price.

          The one exception, explicitly called out in the text and visible in the handful of pictures of economy-class seating buried in the article, is that you could then and cannot now buy a ticket for an economy-class seat which didn’t include an overhead bin for carry-on luggage. The resulting sight lines make the photographer’s job easier, but is that something you really want to buy for yourself?

  3. Nornagest says:

    test

  4. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve noticed that I find it much easier to remember significant digits (the leftmost number) than order of magnitude, even though order of magnitude is much more important for most numbers. I’ve seen other people who remember things the same way.

    Any thoughts about becoming more sensitive to order of magnitude?

    Also, and unrelated: Great photo in the OP!

    • rlms says:

      Try to think of things things as x.yz * 10^n?

    • quaelegit says:

      Like rlms said, think of numbers in scientific or engineering notation. “The population of the U.S. is about 3e8.”

      A fun game to practice thinking in orders of magnitude is Fermi estimation. I got into this from a high school Science Olympiad event, and my sister and I still play sometimes when we’re bored. Some of our favorites:

      * How many gallons of milk are consumed in the U.S. every year?
      * How many Jesuits have there been (in the entirety of history)?
      * How many words of classical Latin have ever been written?

      The first two I think you can just look up I think, but its more fun to try to estimate yourself first. The last one I don’t think we agreed on an answer.

    • actinide meta says:

      Arguably to address Nancy’s concern, an exponential notation that puts the exponent first would be best:

      9:4.2 –> 10^9 x 4.2

  5. I’ve made a lot of adjustments to the Bayesian-statistical-educational browser game I mentioned last Open Thread, so if your opinion then was ‘cool concept, but horribly slow and/or unpolished’ you may be pleasantly surprised.

    I continue to be very interested in feedback, and I continue to actively solicit the kind which tells me how you think I can improve.

  6. johan_larson says:

    This YouTube video contains a clip of the most popular song from every year from 1940 to 2016.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAb7YyU_2E4

    Pop music takes a lot of heat for promoting all sorts of bad stuff, but these songs are remarkably innocuous. Lots and lots of sappy love songs.

    OK, not “Tik Tok”, no. That one’s different.

    • Matt M says:

      Tik Tok probably isn’t meant to be taken literally.

    • Matt M says:

      After actually watching, this is super interesting to me. A few stand-outs.

      You’re right that most of this is saccharine generic stuff. A couple dark ones manage to slip through (Ghost Riders in the Sky is basically a vision of cowboy hell complete with a warning that the protagonist is on his way there, Every Breath You Take is a dark song about stalking cleverly disguised as a romantic ballad).

      There’s a couple “event-based” songs that would make no sense to someone who lacked the greater context (We Are The World, Candle In The Wind in the 90s!)

      The occasional ethnic fad manages to pop out (Manana, Macarena)

      50 Cent and Flo Rida being the only legitimate rap songs on the list was somewhat surprising to me.

      Some generic surprising omissions (no Michael Jackson, but Janet is on there TWICE?)

      And generally surprised that every decade seems to have at least one song I swear I’ve never heard before in my life.

      • Wrong Species says:

        What surprised me is that you can probably count on one hand the number of straight up rock songs for the entire time period. It looks like the number one hits don’t really reflect the time period all that well.

        All in all, these songs are generally pretty lame and don’t hold up.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I feel like “pop music from the 70s-80s” has almost become lost to history in a way. “Classic rock” stays alive as an independent genre, “oldies” (pop music from the 60s and before) does as well. “80s music” is essentially an independent genre of its own, and includes stuff like Blondie, but not a lot of the other songs that pop up here during that time…

          I don’t know that a radio station exists that plays those songs in its regular rotation… I don’t even know what terms you’d look for to find them.

          • hlynkacg says:

            There’s a radio station in my neck of the wood that does “80s music” as it’s genre. Lots of Bowie, Springsteen, and Cindy Lauper, Et Al. Based on the adds it’s primary demographic is little-league moms and dads.

          • Matt M says:

            Right, but watch the video. Most of the songs from the 80s aren’t what we recognize as the “80s music” genre (Livin On A Prayer excepted…)

    • quaelegit says:

      ‘Most played’ and ‘generated a lot of controversy’ are two different categories. (I’m assuming that they’re taking “most popular” from a list like Billboard 100 which measure sales and playing time.)

      • CatCube says:

        They’re defining “Most Popular” as the song that spent the most number of weeks at the #1 Billboard slot for each calendar year, and it uses this rule *exclusively*. The top comment by the video author points out that there was one song (One Sweet Day) that was at #1 longer than any other song since they started measuring, but didn’t make it to the video because the time at #1 was split across two calendar years and it ended up getting beaten in each year by another song.

        • Brad says:

          They probably should have counted every song as belonging to the year it topped the charts for the longest but rank by the total length for each song regardless of year.

  7. Mark says:

    I was listening to Dan Carlin’s hardcore history.

    He was talking about how nomadic tribes had a massive advantage because of their ability to provide horses for every member of the army, and thereby move at the speed of a horse, as opposed to the speed of a man.

    But I was under the impression that over long distances (on land) man was the fastest moving animal – so presumably this wouldn’t have been a strategic advantage.

    • bean says:

      But I was under the impression that over long distances (on land) man was the fastest moving animal – so presumably this wouldn’t have been a strategic advantage.

      Two reasons I don’t think this is the case:
      1. I’ve heard the tales of various people (I think plains Indians) beating horses over long distances. But these were exceptional people versus (probably) fairly typical horses.
      2. Armies, even nomad ones, take lots of gear. If your horse to person ratio is low, then you’re stuck with wagons and people walking. If it’s high, everyone rides, and you can use light carts and/or pack saddles.

      • John Schilling says:

        Once upon a time there was the Western States Trail Ride, a hundred miles in a day on horseback, with harsh terrain and climate and with glory and a modest prize for the winner. One assumes the competitors were bringing at least modestly exceptional horses particularly suited to the event. It still exists, but had to be forked into separate events after 1974, when Gordon Ainsleigh had his horse fail a vet check and decided that, being a capable marathoner as well, he maybe didn’t need a horse to compete.

        He didn’t come in first, but he didn’t come in last either, finishing roughly in the middle of the pack and ahead of the 24-hour clock. Enough other people wanted to duplicate that feat that it would have looked lame to have a bunch of wimps on horseback on the trail the same day as the hardcore runners, and so was born the Western States Endurance Run.

        The 2017 winning times were 14:45 for the fastest horse (Audi Farwa) and 16:19 for the fastest man (Ryan Sandes), so the horses still have a slight edge.

        But I think the real advantage is that a good horse can probably still do close to a hundred miles in a day carrying a man plus seventy pounds of stuff, whereas Ainsleigh or Sandes would I expect be lucky to cover half that distance in full kit.

      • hlynkacg says:

        It’s not an issue of exceptional people so much as healthy unencumbered people.

        Edit: ninja’d by john

      • cassander says:

        There is a man vs. horse marathon in the UK every year. The route has varied over the years, and there seem to be mandatory vet checks for the horses. Also, the times seem to vary by a lot. That said, the horses win consistently but not always and not by much.

    • Deiseach says:

      But I was under the impression that over long distances (on land) man was the fastest moving animal – so presumably this wouldn’t have been a strategic advantage.

      As I understood it, the human advantage is not speed (there are plenty of animals faster than us), it’s endurance. The prey animal wears itself out in a burst of speed that it can’t keep up, we keep walking or running after it relentlessly, we catch up:

      Modern humans and their immediate ancestors such as Homo erectus sport several adaptations that make humans, instead of some ferocious, furry, or fleet creature, the animal world’s best distance runners.

      “Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom,” Lieberman said.

      Horses can only keep a gallop up for a limited distance (courtesy of the recent BBC adaptation of the Musketeers, where an escaping prisoner rides off at a gallop and then the horse won’t go any further: “It’s a classic mistake. A horse can gallop two miles at most. If you’d have kept doing a nice, even canter, you might have escaped.”)

    • hlynkacg says:

      As noted above the strategic advantage is comes not from moving people but moving stuff. A healthy unencumbered adult is indeed faster, but also isn’t much of a threat militarily.

      The horses start winning in the speed department once you load your boys down with armor, weapons, rations, etc… and include the need to evacuate your wounded or escape with whatever loot your raid has attained.

  8. yossarian says:

    One thing I haven’s seen mentioned in this thread about the standing-up airplane places is this: for some reason, everyone seems to assume that suddenly, by magic, there is going to be additional standing-up seats and the rest is going to stay the same. Well, it’s not so. Let’s say, for example, an airline has 10 planes, having 30 rows of economy seats and 5 rows of business-class seats for a plane. It’s not like the airline will magically get two more planes with stand-up places – most probably, it’s going to either refit some of its existing planes or when one of the planes goes into the planned retirement, the new plane will be made with the stand-up seats.
    So, let’s say 4 planes get changed to the standing-up arrangement. What would we have here?
    1) The standing-up things are actually not that much smaller than the normal seats. So, you might be able to fit 20 rows of stand-up instead of half (15) rows of the economy seats, but it’s not some miraculous doubling of plane-space. At most, that’s going to cut the price by 25%, say, 150$ instead of 200. And, honestly, that is not the kind of price change that is going to make the difference between the poor people not flying at all and poor people flying cheaply. The segment of people who absolutely cannot cough up 200$ for a flight, but will be able to cough up 150$ is going to be rather small.
    2) Just because you’ve crammed extra 5 rows of seats (stands?) into the plane doesn’t mean that the plane’s weight carrying capacity will magically go up by the same amount (and people and their baggage are not exactly weightless). That means higher premiums on baggage and/or less baggage allowed in – so, more money out of your pockets (and if the standing-up person needs to pay extra for his/her baggage, that’s going to cut into that 50$ discount pretty deeply)
    3) To make room for those 20 rows of stands, you have to get rid of 15 economy seats. That means less seats and more competition for them – way to drive that economy seat price up!
    4) There are going to be some people who just cannot spend two hours standing up (or have a really high preference to sit down) – disabled people, pregnant people, children, etc. If all the economy seats are taken, they will have to take business class. If there are no business class seats left either – they might be unable to fly. So that’s another segment of people who will have more money taken out of their pockets.

    So, overall, it seems a bad move to me – it’s not going to make the cheapest prices go down significantly enough to give poor people opportunity to fly (hell, considering the possible baggage price hike, those seats might be exactly as expensive as previous economy seats were), and it is going to make it harder for current flyers.

  9. actinide meta says:

    Just stumbled across this: Ketamine is an antidepressant in mice only when administered by men

    Do we now have to go look back at every mouse model in the history of science to see if the experiments were performed by men or women? Is it time to just give up on the whole scientific endeavor?

    • Nornagest says:

      Scott posted an anecdote earlier about how wearing a clean vs. a dirty lab coat could contaminate some mouse models, because dirty ones trapped human hormones that stressed the mice. Could be something similar going on here.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Anyone who works with mice knows how finicky they are. A lot of seemingly insignificant things can and will drastically affect their behavior.

      The most striking example which I’m aware of is that if you aren’t extremely careful, first-time mothers will often eat their own pups. My girlfriend lost a litter that way not too long ago.

      That’s why we have other model organisms and clinical trials. There are e.g. zebrafish models of depression which you can use to compare results from mice. And human testing is a prerequisite for any new therapy anyway.

  10. skef says:

    In a previous thread I asserted that gay men who only support “traditional marriage” tend to marry women. @Well… doubted that, and seemed to wonder how or why it could be true.

    The answer, roughly speaking, is “community ambition”. Wes Goodman would be an example of someone who’s ambition was, until a few days ago, particularly realized. But plenty of lower-profile gay men put it together that they will never amount to much in their community unless they marry a woman and have kids, so they do it. And after all, a sizable percentage of straight married men cheat on their wives, which amounts to the same sort of arrangement.

  11. Tenacious D says:

    I was at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa on the weekend. Being from Atlantic Canada, one part of Canadian history I was only passingly familiar with was the Métis struggles for political determination. Between the museum displays and some follow-up reading on Wikipedia, I feel like I understand it a bit better now.
    Something I found quite interesting, especially in light of recent discussions here about Seeing Like a State was that one of the flashpoints leading to the Red River Rebellion was the arrival of a survey crew from Ontario. The Métis did not have formal title to their land (the area that is now much of western Canada had just been sold from the Hudson Bay Company to the Canadian government); furthermore, existing lots were laid out in the French (seigneurial) style rather than the English (township) style that surveyors from Ontario would work with. So dynamics around legibility were part of the cause of the conflict.
    Of course it stood out to me that Métis and metis have the same spelling (modulo an accent)–nothing is ever a coincidence.

  12. MB says:

    “It is true that in a perfect world nobody would have to sleep on benches. But you are not creating that world. You are just making sure homeless people can’t sleep anywhere”.
    Fair enough. Let’s apply this in a couple other cases: child labor, prostitution, drugs, child marriage, food safety standards.
    In a perfect world, every child would be in school and not working in a factory, in artisanal manufacture, or as agricultural day laborer. But you’re not creating that world. You’re just making sure destitute children don’t get enough to eat.
    Probably the blog’s author would be fine with some combination of drugs, prostitution, etc.. However, the common thread in all these cases is the lack of minimal standards needed to ensure human dignity. After standards are abolished, most people’s lives will become worth even less than they currently are.
    The idea that you deserve exactly what you can pay for or, more likely, you can get by force — thinking about what goes on in most such societies — is becoming generally accepted. “Diamond Age”, here we come.
    To be honest, this is the spirit of the times and opposing it here on a blog won’t change much. And I know there are children working in factories and as agricultural day laborers. But the solution is not to abolish standards — it’s to live in a society, based on standards and on human dignity, in which people can give meaning to their lives.

    • Nornagest says:

      Yeah, that’s a bullet I’m willing to bite. I have some qualms when we’re talking about children or highly addictive drugs, but that’s because both immaturity and addiction diminish people’s ability to weigh costs and benefits: if we gloss over that for a moment and say we want to create a world where sufficiently mature children don’t have to work sweatshop jobs instead of going to school to avoid starvation, it seems strictly better to provide free food and education than to prevent them from working. Not least because then we have to grapple with the actual costs rather than just letting them die somewhere out of sight. Provide a better option, don’t ban the lesser of two evils because it’s icky to our oh-so-refined sensibilities and the alternative’s less visible.

      You can’t eat human dignity. And they’re poor, not stupid.

  13. Current Affairs wrote an article riffing off one of my links posts. I don’t think I can pad my response to the length of an entire blog post, but I want to address it here: I stand by my original sarcasm. I said it was silly to be angry at airlines offering a lower-fare standing option, since it’s just adding another choice to your list of choices. CA said I didn’t realize that actually some people are very poor and so couldn’t afford anything but standing room. I do realize that. My whole point was that if you are too poor to afford sitting fare, your only choice used to be “never fly”. Now it is “never fly” or “pay the affordable standing fare”. This is a gain for poor people, and in fact only for poor people (rich people will just sit regardless). This complaint reminds me of those people who put spikes on benches so that homeless people cannot sleep on them. It is true that in a perfect world nobody would have to sleep on benches. But you are not creating that world. You are just making sure homeless people can’t sleep anywhere. Likewise, in a perfect world nobody would have to stand up on flights. But you are not creating that world. You’re just making sure poor people can’t fly at all. If you want to help the poor, give them more money, not fewer options.

    This is the main reasoning behind the kind of “libertarian” agenda (nobody seems to want) that I support; hard on the regulatory state, soft on the welfare state. I wonder why this sort of thing is even more difficult to get supporters behind than regular libertarianism. In theory, it’s more saleable, because it simultaneously is able to appeal to freedom concerns on things like this, occupational licensing, red tape, drug legalization etc, while having some caveat in place to avoid the typical imagined downside of anything remotely libertarian, which is of poor people dying in gutters. Yet for some reason, no one wants this. If you split the difference, you still look like a free market crazy to the left, but now the right starts calling you a socialist for supporting negative income tax or basic income.

    Oh well.

    • actinide meta says:

      This is roughly where I once stood, before I realized that free migration is vastly more important than redistribution for the welfare of the poor, and that these things are to some extent in tension.

      Now I think that redistribution might be better accomplished through mandatory but donor-directed charitable giving, as in fiscal anarchy, or (even more radically) constitutional anarchy, rather than something like a UBI. (Not that these specific proposals are anywhere near the Overton window; they should be viewed as thought experiments rather than contemporary political proposals!) Besides other advantages, it resolves this tension.

      I think that from a pragmatic political economy standpoint, libertarianism+UBI has the same problems as libertarianism, but in spades – there are no concentrated benefits with which politicians can reward supporters, not even the tax cuts that libertarians can promise!

    • cassander says:

      That’s basically my position, but I can see why it isn’t popular. the regulatory state is far more dangerous and expensive than the welfare state, but for the same reason it’s also popular, most of the costs are hidden and indirect. “There oughta be a law!” is always going to be an effective rallying cry, “we ought to subsidize the opposite of the thing we hate” rarely is.

    • Incurian says:

      I think I would be pretty ok with this. Could we go after corporate welfare at least?

  14. ManyCookies says:

    Well it appears the FCC is axing Net Neutrality, as Reddit has kindly informed me approximately nine million times this morning. I don’t think I’ve seen NN come up here; does that mean there’s universal consensus in one direction, or was it talked about to death years ago?

    (This very vaguely reminds me of the standing room flight discussion, though I’m guessing monopolistic nature of ISPs drastically changes the discussion).

    • Brad says:

      I don’t remember many discussions on here regarding NN. My opinion is that the NN rules should only apply with respect to ISP monopolists. In any competitive markets ISPs should be free to attempt to charge both sides.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        It’s not about charging both sides, it’s about privileging some data over others. They already charge for uploading data.

        What they want is to be able to charge extra or throttle specific data streams. All while operating under the guise of a common carrier so they aren’t actually held responsible for the data they’re privileging.

        Sure, with the ‘net giants like Google and Netflix, there’s peering disputes mixed in, but that’s mostly FUD. If you’re so big you effectively need to be an ISP, be a big boy and negotiate Big Fiber infra contracts. Net neutrality is intertwined with common carrier rules, for everyone using the common infra.

    • bean says:

      I’m anti-net-neturality, so long as we have ISP competition. It’s basically Netflix lobbying to not have to pay the giant internet bills they run up when you look deeply enough.

      • ManyCookies says:

        But do we actually have sufficient ISP competition?

        • bean says:

          A fair question. If we don’t, then it seems like the best option is to encourage that. And if we absolutely have to have net neutrality, can we please do it via a means that doesn’t give the FCC total control over the internet? I don’t trust the government when it promises not to use power it has.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Do you take a similarly dim view of common carriers?

        • bean says:

          Not entirely. I don’t think that federal meddling with the internet is likely to work well, particularly if we choose to do so via legislation originally written for railroads. Regulating the railroads as common carriers may or may not make sense.
          I guess the big problem with the comparison is the lack of ‘private carriers’ in internet connectivity. Those seem likely to work around a lot of the problems common carriers introduce.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I guess the big problem with the comparison is the lack of ‘private carriers’ in internet connectivity. Those seem likely to work around a lot of the problems common carriers introduce.

            It’s called Ethernet. It doesn’t generally go beyond a single complex because cable lines are expensive and common lines are nearly always sufficient. I would expect that the nice fellas at the NSA (hi!) or military have dedicated private lines connecting important places. Maybe Google-scale players, too.

            I’m not opposed to private carriers. What I object to is a) private carriers claiming to be members of the open Internet and b) privatizing the current common carriers when there are no alternative Last Mile cables for most people and the existing ISPs fight tooth and nail to keep it that way. They’ve taken our money and run before, why should we subsidize them to do so again?

            No, you want to build a private carrier, go right ahead. But you damn well better build your own fucking cable lines. Reclassifying the ones built with all sorts of subsidies for common capacity is bullshit.

          • Nornagest says:

            I would expect that the nice fellas at the NSA (hi!) or military have dedicated private lines connecting important places. Maybe Google-scale players, too.

            This isn’t really my field, but as I understand it, there are private fiber networks for all the big players in content delivery. Sometimes they lay their own fiber; sometimes they lease existing fiber that’s just not in use by the public ISPs (“dark fiber”). There’s a lot of the latter floating around, built on spec for various reasons.

            These guys generally don’t coincide with the big players at the consumer level (Netflix, etc.); the business models are too different. Amazon and Google are probably the biggest exceptions, and Amazon’s using it for its infrastructure business more than for its consumer one.

          • BBA says:

            legislation originally written for railroads

            No, it’d be legislation originally written for the Bells (and GTE, etc.), whose direct descendants are still one of the two dominant ISPs (alongside the cable company) in most of the country.

            Though I suppose the internet would probably be better described in legal terms as a telegraphy service – stop snickering, we’re all communicating in ASCII, which was designed as a telegraph code.

          • bean says:

            No, it’d be legislation originally written for the Bells (and GTE, etc.), whose direct descendants are still one of the two dominant ISPs (alongside the cable company) in most of the country.

            My understanding is that the telecommunications acts were largely modeled on the railroad regulations. The ‘common carrier’ designation definitely originated there, and the case law appears to be common across everything filed there.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I don’t think that is correct.

        Actually existing net neutrality rules prevent consumer ISPs from slowing just Netflix traffic. But they are allowed to slow all traffic from Netflix’s ISP, which they do. I don’t know if that makes the situation with Netflix better or worse, but it hardly makes it different.

    • dodrian says:

      My main concern about scrapping NN is that it might make the already arduous task of choosing the least rip-off ISP even harder.

    • actinide meta says:

      In a first best world, all the traffic flowing over the networks would be end to end encrypted and onion routed, ISPs would be commoditized bit pipes with razor thin margins, and traffic shaping would be based on real-time cryptocurrency second price congestion auctions.

      We’re a long way from that world. My guess is that we will get there quicker if the government stays out of the game rather than locking in a particular equilibrium (or, worse, starting a whole new game of rent seeking regulatory capture). But admittedly, it might be tough for a while on people in places where local government corruption or low population densities has led to an ISP monopoly.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        But admittedly, it might be tough for a while on people in places where local government corruption or low population densities has led to an ISP monopoly.

        Don’t forget mergers!

        According to the FCC (fig 4), unless you count 90s-grade internet, this is somewhere between “narrow majority” and “most” people. ISPs love to lock in multi-unit complexes and sue the pants off of municipalities that try to stand up to their regional monopolies.

        • actinide meta says:

          Are you basing your statement on Figure 4? I’m not sure if the use of “census blocks” is fatal, because it might be highly biased toward rural areas, but taking it at face value, only 37% have “one provider” with >25Mbps service, and basically 0% have “one provider” with >10Mbps service. Though I think the latter is based on… perhaps optimistic claims by “satellite” providers.

          Whatever you make of that, I don’t disagree that there’s a real problem with ISP concentration in the U.S. But that’s exactly how the road to terrible inefficient regulation is paved: you start with a real problem that hurts people, decide that actually solving the real problem is politically infeasible, come up with a second best regulatory regime that addresses a visible downstream consequence of the real problem, political attention moves on, time changes circumstances so that the regulation is harmful, and the regulated businesses, which have lots of time and money to get cozy with the regulator, turn the regulator’s attention to creating lots of regulations that raise the cost of entry and make them into effective monopolies. Then the monopolies become a real problem that hurts people, and you start again at the beginning…

  15. Brad says:

    There’s some debate about what percentage of the incidence of the corporate tax falls on different groups (shareholders, employees, customers, etc). But it seems clear that at least some of it falls on shareholders.

    If every shareholder was domestic this portion of the corporate tax could be replaced entirely by changes in the capital gains and dividend taxation rules. This would have the advantage of measuring profit in a less gameable way — if shareholders benefit its profit and if they don’t, it isn’t. Even with foreign shareholders, dividends could be taxed before being issued. But foreign shareholders capital gains seem unreachable. Even the law were to require change of ownership to be registered, a foreign corporation could be the owner of some shares of stock and then ownership in that corporation be traded around instead of the shares themselves.

    Are there any solutions to this puzzle? What if corporations were taxed annually on their change in market value? That would move from a system of taxing realized gains to taxing unrealized gains. Aside from removing the incentive to buy and hold would there be other distortions?

  16. Peffern says:

    The other day other day I was browsing one of Reddit’s non-political subs, and as so often happens on Reddit, a political argument had sprouted in the comments. I don’t remember the specifics, but at one point I read a comment essentially arguing that “centrism” is an untenable position in a shifting political climate. In other words, the “today’s centrist is tomorrow’s extremist” argument that shows up from time to time when people are scared by recent developments in leftism. However, the percent making the argument made the same claim about the right. Not in so many words, but this person was basing their argument on “Cthulhu swimming to the right.”

    Without engaging too much in the object level evaluation of this claim, this seems new. I feel like “we’re losing the culture war” complaints are stereotypically associated with the right (e.g. the “Cthulhu” quote). Is this just classic “the outgroup is scary” rhetoric or is this something more interesting.

    I don’t have an agenda here. I just noticed this and thought it was interesting.

    • dndnrsn says:

      It’s incredibly common to see the other side as powerful, in control, clearly enjoying the favour of the media, etc. From the right, one hears that THE LEFTISTS (bonus points if their definition of leftist includes everyone left of the average Republican) control everything, the war was lost long ago, and the machetes are about to come out. If you go hang out in left-wing campus activist spaces, everything not on campus is a borderline-Nazi nightmare world (the campus itself is merely a hotbed of bigotry that is barely possible to survive). I’m exaggerating a bit here in both cases, but “they-control-everything-we-are-the-brave-underdogs” rhetoric is a very easy to find thing.

      • lvlln says:

        If you go hang out in left-wing campus activist spaces, everything not on campus is a borderline-Nazi nightmare world (the campus itself is merely a hotbed of bigotry that is barely possible to survive).

        I think there’s something to this. It’s definitely an exaggeration, but it also does roughly match how I perceived the world back in college over a decade ago.

        At the same time, I still feel like I was justified in believing some version of that back then. At the very least, I can understand how someone in my circumstance could rationally believe that he rationally came to believe some version of that. This was during the Bush 2 years, when it looked like Republicans were ascendant in USA national politics and successfully implementing Obviously Evil policies like the tax cut or the Iraq War. Fox News was being recognized as the #1 most popular cable news channel in the US.

        But perhaps that reflects irrational selective attention – the things I cared about or purported to care about back then weren’t random and were, in fact, unconsciously/involuntarily selected for things that best gave me the impression of being a righteous persecuted minority. We were seeing immense gains in gay rights during that time, too, and the pushback against Christian fundamentalism was immediate and far more powerful than the fundamentalism itself, at least in USA politics.

        I think the obviously wrong thing, in retrospect, was believing that those few years of apparent Republican ascendancy was the start of a long-term trend rather than just noise in a system that is very messy and ebbs back and forth in ways that are almost impossible to predict. Bush 2 didn’t lead to permanent right-wing dominance in the USA, and Obama didn’t lead to permanent left-wing dominance in the USA.

    • Randy M says:

      This is not new. It is frequently argued that current Republicans/conservatives are far more radical than $Dead_Republican_Politician.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Apparently everybody loves George W. Bush now. I’m sure in 2032 we’ll be getting articles from Huffington Post about how “Donald Trump was a pretty okay guy in retrospect, but $Current_Republican_Politician IS LITERALLY GIGAHITLER!!!!”

        • Randy M says:

          This can seem reasonable by focusing on some aspects of disagreement to the exclusion of others. GWB was more religious than Reagan, Romney more of a heartless plutocrat than Bush, Trump more of a xenophobe than them, etc.

    • Jesse E says:

      The broad Left (even including SJW’s) cares a lot about economics, so they perceive themselves as losing thanks to the continued rightward drift on economics as losing while the broad Right cares a lot about culture, so they perceive themselves as losing. Which means the only happy people are upwardly mobile professional neoliberals in urban areas.

    • cassander says:

      The left treasures its view of itself as the underdog. They’re always asserting that the right is getting ever more extreme. See, for example, the way they (incorrectly) trot out DW nominate scores as proof. Note, the scores don’t prove what is claimed here.

      Worse than that, though, they do it about objectively measurable policy. I can give you a list of articles as long as my arm talking about how Bush the Younger slashed social welfare benefits (he expanded them) or rolled back decades of environmental regulation (I know of precisely one pre-existing regulation that was actually undone in the bush years). Pointing this out, of course, achieves nothing.

      If you really want to see this on display, spend some time hanging out on the Crookedtimber comment section. It’s full of very intelligent people who have managed to convince themselves that they’re brave truthtellers who will soon be snuffed out by the dark forces of reaction that has been advancing for decades.

      • Nornagest says:

        In American politics, everyone likes thinking of themselves as the underdog. This usually works by finding a frame of reference in which they actually are the underdog and sticking to it: rightists point to media, academia, social policy and the civil service, leftists point to economic policy, guns, the military and police. Libertarians point to everything. All sides point to whatever parts of the government they’re not doing well in at the moment.

        • cassander says:

          It’s true that everyone claims it, but when you dig down into it, it’s quite clear that some of these claims are more true than others. Academia and the media are, truly, extremely left wing. Economic policy is, as stated, objectively moving left. The police aren’t actually right wing, and while the military is a little to the right of the country as awhole, that fades as you go up in rank, and even at its most extreme is considerably less than, say, college professors are left wing.

  17. Controls Freak says:

    Today’s SMBC is relevant for a subset of conversations that occasionally occur here. It’s a good reminder to be careful with the definition of this term.

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    It seems to me that discussions about qualia are typically about colors (and usually involve red), but is seeing a circle just as qualia-ish as seeing red?

  19. eh says:

    Being charitable, I think the Current Affairs article might be based on the Marxist claim that wages for the working class reach equilibrium, at subsistence or elsewhere, and therefore that any way which is found to offer a cheaper but worse version of a good or service will result in the depression of wages, such that the working class has no alternative but to purchase the worse version as it can no longer afford the better version.

    This bit of context doesn’t necessarily make the argument right, but it at least makes it legible. It posits a ratcheting mechanism of “if you choose BadWidgets instead of GoodWidgets, you can afford more”/”we don’t need so many people to make the new BadWidgets and so your labour is worth less” which simultaneously lowers the quality of consumer goods and consumer pay.

  20. Reasoner says:

    As someone with right-libertarian leanings, I usually don’t finish reading Current Affairs articles because I get disgusted by the smug/snarky/self-assured tone, think to myself “this is just making me more of a right winger”, and close the tab. Can anyone recommend left leaning authors who write with the objective of trying to persuade conservatives and might actually cause me to change my view?

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      Niskanen Center?

      • rlms says:

        That’s an odd definition of left-leaning; I don’t even think they’re left-libertarian, let alone leftist. I’m fairly sure they would disagree with the central left-wing claims like “the rich should pay more taxes”.

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          Depending on how you define “left-wing” (which has proven more than a bit complicated).

          For one, they favour identity politics, want collective action on climate change, hate republicans and seem mostly OK with having a massive state, while approaching these issues from a libertarian perspective. If you wanted to convince a libertarian to shift their views left, I’d say they’re your best bet.

          • rlms says:

            I’m not very familiar with them, but from a quick look over their website/Wikipedia page they don’t seem to express any views on identity politics anddon’t seem to hate Republicans. I don’t think their views on government size are relevant to whether they’re left-wing: both mainstream Republicans and Democrats have similar views there (and lots of anarchists are left-wing). I’d say they are wishy-washy-centrist-libertarians who care about climate change more than others. They are definitely a lot closer to right-libertarians than to Current Affairs.

    • Guy in TN says:

      I consider Matt Bruenig one of the most influential people for my personal exit from Libertarianism.

      There’s going to be some snark though, being a blog on the internet:
      http://mattbruenig.com/2014/08/02/capitalism-whack-a-mole/
      http://mattbruenig.com/2014/05/09/desert-theory-rehashed/
      http://mattbruenig.com/2012/11/28/instead-how-about-you-rely-on-charity-to-achieve-your-distributive-goals/

      • actinide meta says:

        Even after reflection I can’t find a way to say this that is completely kind, but it seems necessary (because I invested time in reading and thinking about these articles and would like to save others the effort) so I guess I’ll strive for “true.”

        The linked arguments seem both weak and difficult to engage with constructively. The first, for example, simultaneously engages with a straw man and uncharitably interprets his opponents’ attempts to find a common moral ground with him as equivocation. Between that and irritating assumptions like the weird Marxist theory of desert where deferring gratification is worthless, it seems like the few valuable insights are lost in the noise. Basically it seems like exactly what @Reasoner is not looking for.

        In the interest of fairness, here are all of the reasonable (though hardly novel!) points I found across the three articles, steelmanned as best I can:

        1. Property is a coercive system (unless you adopt an idiosyncratic definition of coercion specifically to avoid facing this point). If you take someone’s property *men with guns* will do something about it. So right libertarianism can’t claim to be perfectly voluntary.

        2. The existence of natural resources and things that are old and have been stolen a lot pose some dilemmas for absolutist views of property.

        3. A nonzero amount of redistribution would probably maximize aggregate utility.

        If somehow you’ve lived under a rock and not heard either of these arguments, now you have. If you have a high, rather than low, tolerance for polemic and want to try to find more insights in there that I missed, have at it. Otherwise I recommend skipping these articles.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Fair enough. It was insightful for me when they were written at the time, because I was in the process of abandoning Rothbardian-style libertarianism. But maybe they haven’t aged as well as I thought.

          • actinide meta says:

            In fairness, they aren’t bad as internet political arguments go. SSC readers have unreasonably high expectations in this regard, perhaps 🙂

        • Wrong Species says:

          You think this stuff is obvious? I’ve been arguing with libertarians, here and elsewhere, about this very kind of thing for years with mixed results. It sure didn’t seem like they already knew this argument.

          • actinide meta says:

            I would call myself a libertarian, though of course no true Scotsman, and I’m not only very familiar with all these points but basically agree with them (as I’ve interpreted them above). Since libertarians of any stripe are so rare, I’ve found it kind of hard to live in a bubble where no one questions anything in my worldview. The more so if, like OP, you are actually interested in engaging with other points of view. But on the other hand rarity means not so many thoughtful people will have made a strong effort to meet you where you are, so there’s that.

            There’s nothing wrong with making points that aren’t novel, either to convince someone who hasn’t heard them or to try to make them more convincingly. But the latter is better accomplished without a lot of sneering and dirty rhetorical tactics, and with a better understanding of the people who disagree with you than the linked blogger seems to exhibit.

            I’ll concede that I may just not be very familiar with the strain of pure Rothbardian or Randian libertarian that I guess you and Guy imply you once were. I don’t speak or want to speak for anyone but myself.

    • Reasoner says:

      Thanks for the responses guys. For what it’s worth, Kevin Drum is the best thing I’ve found so far: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/

  21. Wrong Species says:

    “Humanity is sending out a musical, mathematical and scientific message for E.T. across interstellar space, and if any aliens happen to receive it and respond, first contact could happen as soon as 2042.”

    Of course, the chances one star system has intelligent life is miniscule. Never fear, as they plan on sending signals to “not just one star, but hundreds, thousands, or even millions”!

    You might be worried that provoking aliens to come and exterminate us all is a monumentally stupid idea. Why would someone do something like that?

    “Given the largely negative impact of humanity on our planet, perhaps this is the best time to reach out to — hopefully superior — extraterrestrial intelligence to solicit help and advice on what we can do to change things,” Sonar directors Enric Palau, Sergio Caballero and Ricard Robles said in a statement. “Sonar Calling is an attempt to rekindle a sense of global consciousness and a shared reflection on our collective present, that we hope will lead to new ideas and new partners. Yes, even alien ones.”

    A serious discussion needs to be had about banning actively messaging aliens. “A global consciousness” is not worth the risk of global extinction. It’s sad that anyone needs to be told that.

    • quanta413 says:

      I hope to prove myself one of the good humans to our future Trisolarian overlords.

      *Note to future overlords. I merely use Trisolarian as a placeholder for whatever unknown star system you come from.

    • beleester says:

      If aliens are capable of launching an interstellar extermination fleet, then finding us is pretty simple by comparison. I don’t buy the theory that our species has survived because the aliens are really bad at radio astronomy.

      • dionisos says:

        I believe the Fermi paradox make the possibility of interstellar extermination fleet really improbable.

        But it is probable they would have some kind of ethic they try to maximize.
        And maybe they are able to create AGI, and send it to us.

        And if it become know that there are some aliens communicating with us, it become completely possible than some people, somewhere, implement this AGI.

        So the risk is maybe not that they know we are here, but that we know they are currently trying to communicate with us.

        I am not believing my argument too much myself, because creating a AGI and not being able to colonize the universe seems incompatible to me, but maybe I am wrong.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It strikes me as extremely unlikely that aliens can help us with specific problems, but I wonder how feasible it would be for them to send us more math and science than we knew at the time of the transmission.

      • beleester says:

        Math is very plausible. It’s a universal concept that doesn’t depend on culture or technology, it’s just definitions of things and deductions from those premises. It can be used as a “bilingual” no matter how strange the aliens are. The Cosmic Call, for instance, starts by teaching the aliens our number system and math, then uses math to teach science, then uses science to explain stuff about our planet. You can easily imagine an alien reading the Cosmic Call, then sending back the symbols for “A^n + B^n != C^n, n>2” to demonstrate their knowledge of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

        Science is a little more complicated, because it may or may not make sense to the receiver depending on their tech level and culture. Imagine an alien message saying “Start with three grams of Unobtanium…” – that’s not going to be much use to us if we don’t have any Unobtanium on our planet!

        However, you can work your way up from fundamentals, like you did with math. You could, for instance, take our knowledge of the periodic table, and point out where “Unobtanium” should appear on it. Or you could take our symbols for protons and electrons and send an equation to describe some kinda particle physics thing. And then our scientists can come up with an experiment to verify the alien physics model, and we can see that the alien model predicts things better than we do, and start working things out from there.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think of math as plausible, but maybe harder than it sounds.

          Notation might be very different, and it might be hard to convey what new material we’re interested in.

          • Aapje says:

            You should really spend some time deciphering the Cosmic Call that was created in 1999. It starts with defining symbols for numbers in a very clear way. Then it explains math quite clearly as well. These then are used to describe other topics, like chemistry. For example, it gives a formula for the mass of protons compared with electrons: ‘mass of p=1836 * mass of e.’ Presumably the aliens have the same protons and electrons as us humans. A ratio is also independent of the units you use. So presumably the aliens can just look through their formulas and figure out what we are referring to.

            Then once the aliens have figured out which icons refer to which atoms, they can look at later parts of the message where the composition of land, air and water on earth are explained.

            The message is quite human-centric (like most messages to aliens), so it also explains DNA and cellular respiration.

            However, a more helpful message to aliens could explain various chemical formulas. For example, the formula for polyethene.

    • Matt M says:

      “Given the largely negative impact of humanity on our planet,

      Citation needed.

      But even if you DO believe this, are we including that in our message? “We’ve destroyed our planet with wars and pollution, come make yourselves known to us and be our friends please!”

      I always prefer the theory that intelligent life exists out there, is very much aware of us, and wants absolutely nothing to do with us.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Is there any reason to think humanity is shockingly awful rather than just kind of average?

        • dionisos says:

          If you subscribe to the idea that we are awful because of ignorance and weakness, and that this two things decrease through time, it is possible we are at this strange and small step where we are not enough powerful to avoid the ignorance and weakness, but enough powerful to spread our awfulness everywhere on earth.

        • Matt M says:

          No, but someone who opens their discussion with “given the largely negative impact of humanity…” probably does!

  22. Kevin C. says:

    This is in response to questions to me by Evan Þ on the last open thread, namely about how I can oppose masturbation, given my lack of (theistic) religion.

    Since AFAIK you’re an agnostic, I’m curious how you came to the same conclusion?

    More atheist than agnostic, but the point stands. I’ll admit my reasons are a little difficult to articulate fully, as it is based partially in moral intuitions about what constitutes virtuous behavior (as I’m sure that I’ve said here before, I favor the virtue ethics approach over both consequentialist and deontological moral systems).

    To start, the foremost purpose of sex in humans, speaking in terms of evolutionary teleology, is reproduction, with the second being pair-bonding, given our high-parental-investment strategy. Yes, evolution is a far-from-perfect maximizing process — adaptation executors, not fitness maximizers, and all that — so instead of a direct drive to reproduce, we get “wired” to find the associated activity pleasurable (plus instincts that attach us to the offsping when it arrives).

    Now, let me digress a moment, to set up an analogy. When I was in elementary school, one of the things I hated was what they called “Positive Action”. This was the whole “self-esteem-building” program/module. At best, it was of the whole “participation ribbons for everyone!” “you should (always) feel good about yourself just for who you are” vein, and at worst it approached “The Secret”-style “you can accomplish anything at all just by believing in yourself hard enough” BS. Even as a third-grader I found this objectionable, and ended up arguing with my teachers about it. Because I couldn’t help but feel that there’s something wrong about taking pride in the mere fact of one’s existence, and that real “self-esteem” comes from meaningful accomplishment. Sure, seeking the reward of improved self-esteem may be part of what drives an individual, internally, to make those meaningful accomplishments, but from the external, teleological view, what’s more important, more virtuous, is the accomplishment; rewards like self-esteem are merely an inducement, the proverbial “carrot”.

    At the other extreme, let’s consider wireheading. One does not need to be a theist to find wireheading objectionable, right? Just contemplate why our brains have a “reward system” in the first place. It’s about motivating certain behaviors, right? Behaviors which are (or at least at one time were) important and adaptive. Wireheading bypasses all of that.

    So you see where I’m going with this, yes? The point is that masturbation is of a spectrum with these examples. In all of them, one takes something that, while perhaps internal to an individual’s psychology is an end-in-itself, is from the greater, external, teleological perspective not even a means to an end, but merely an inducement to the pursuit of a higher end, and not only turns this thing into an end-in-itself, but does so in a way which cuts out entirely the proper end. And while I’m not (yet) able to turn it into a hard argument, I can’t help but believe there’s something corrosive to the human character about this sort of hollowed-out, the-carrot-for-free activity.

    Do you believe in a moral obligation to subliminate sexual energy for the sake of the larger society?

    As you can see from my argument above, no, not exactly; though, that’s not to say I’m opposed to such sublimation.

    If so, whence do you derive your moral obligation to support the larger society?

    Well, as I said, it isn’t so. But then, I do derive a moral obligation to larger society. I turn here toward Confucius and Xunzi (and am once again reminded why I need to finish “Society Is Not a Van der Waals Gas”). We are social organisms — “no man is an island” and all that — and are born embedded in a social network of ties and relations, which carry with them (unchosen) moral obligations. For example, pretty much every human society has had some version of “honor thy father and thy mother,” the obligation of children to their parents — and the reciprocal-but-not-identical obligations of parents to their children. Confucianism counts five relations; to quote Wikipedia,

    The Five Bonds are: ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder brother to younger brother, friend to friend. Specific duties were prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties are also extended to the dead, where the living stand as sons to their deceased family.

    We bear “concentric” moral obligations along these connections, with the highest obligations for those linked by a single of the above bonds — particularly the familial ones — and then to lower degrees as one adds more and more arcs between the nodes. My first obligation is to my immediate family, then next to friends and more distant family, and so on outward. I care more about the state of Alaska than the US as a whole, and more about the US than the world as a whole. You get the idea.

    Furthermore, there’s a case to be made that the fundamental unit of society is not the individual, but the family. That families, lineages have an existence beyond their constituent members of a particular moment. I recall a bit somewhere in the Analects about how your accomplishments and failures, your pride and your shame, more properly belong to your whole family, and your kin’s shames reflect upon you. And even as individuals die and others are born, the greater whole of the family persists. That one can speak of Clan MacDonald, Clan Campbell, the Hatfields, or the McCoys, as meaningful entities persisting across time. Consider analogies to cells in your body, or any sort of collective/corporate entity that persists even as membership “rolls over”. In this view, each of us individuals is but a temporary part of a greater whole, which was here before us, and hopefully shall be here after us, and where we are but stewards of an inheritance from a line of ancestors which we are to cultivate and pass on to our posterity in turn.
    From UCSD Anthropology Professor David K. Jordan’s page “The Traditional Chinese Family & Lineage“:

    5. Sharing a Common Household Budget
    This means that the possessions, income, and expenses of all family members were pooled, and decisions about resource distribution were the legitimate business of all family members, and were ultimately taken through the patriarchal authority structure of the family.
    It has been convincingly argued that the common budget is one of the most important defining characteristics of Chinese families. One effect of this custom is to define who is in or out of a family by means other than kinship. Kinship makes one a potential member of a family. But close kinsmen can be in different families if the family has decided to stop sharing a budget.
    It is possible for the same family budget to be shared by a family that crosses several households. One can imagine a family with some members living in a farming village and others living over their shop in a small town, for example. In modern times, Chinese families have been studied that have had members living in several different countries, but all sharing a common budget.
    Sharing a budget is a strictly economic way of viewing what families shared, but sharing went beyond that. In the religious sphere, families tended to share luck. A family in which one member was chronically sick while another had bad habits and a third tended to make bad investments might seek to treat all of these as symptoms of a single ill, the inharmony of the family as a whole. (For more on this, see my book, Gods, Ghosts, & Ancestors. The full text is available on this web site.)

    Since the family was the unit of ownership (even down to the level of sharing toothbrushes), there was nothing that quite corresponded to inheritance. An important debate emerged early in the XXth century as western-inspired law sought to guarantee inheritance for women as well as for men. This was strongly resisted by many tradition-minded Chinese, who argued that there was no such thing as inheritance, and that women were provided for in the traditional scheme in that they were members of the families and segments to which their husbands belonged.

    • blacktrance says:

      Humans are adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximzers. The pleasure of sexual activity is evolutionarily adaptive, but only metaphorically can we speak of it having a “point”, because evolution is a natural process, not an agent with goals. Though people have sex for a variety of reasons, its adaptiveness would be a rare and strange one – it explains some of the origins of our motivations, but it’s not a motivation in itself.

      Suppose that someone genetically modified you to want to do X, because it would cause you to produce more Y than you would otherwise, which they want. You’d then want to do X. But that would be independent of the Y it produces – you’d want it the same, even if it produced no Y, or if there were a more efficient way of producing it. If you found out that you were modified in this way, would you care about more producing Y? Would you care about not doing X if it doesn’t produce Y? You obviously shouldn’t. And evolution is something like that.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Humans are adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximzers.

        As I acknowledged. From Wikipedia’s page on teleology in biology,

        An adaptation is an observable structure or other feature of an organism (for example, an enzyme) generated by natural selection to serve its current function.

        While evolution as a whole is, yes, directionless and purposeless, we can speak teleologically of individual adaptations. For example, it makes sense to say that the purpose of the lens of the human eye is to focus light — and more specifically, an image — onto the retina.

        Though people have sex for a variety of reasons, its adaptiveness would be a rare and strange one – it explains some of the origins of our motivations, but it’s not a motivation in itself.

        Yes, I get that; I get that the reasons, internal to their heads, that people have sex, or engage in sexual behaviors, are varied, and often not about reproduction, that which makes it adaptive. See, that’s not what matters. I’m talking about why human beings have a sex drive and reproductive organs in the first place. That’s what’s important; individual motivations are relevant only to the extent they are or aren’t oriented toward those higher ends. In short, you have genitals for a reason, and if your using them in any way that doesn’t align with that reason, You’re Doing It Wrong, behaving in an unvirtuous reason, and doing yourself harm with regards to one’s development towards being a jūnzǐ, the Confucian “gentleman”/”superior person”.

        Would you care about not doing X if it doesn’t produce Y? You obviously shouldn’t.

        See, I don’t think that’s obvious at all.

        • dionisos says:

          There aren’t higher reasons, except the ones you decide are higher reasons, it is inevitably internal.

          Here from what I understand, you are saying than if you can find a cause for something (and here I am speaking about a physical explanation for this thing to be), then this cause is a higher reason.
          But following this reasoning all the way down, it seems to me than the physical laws are a higher reason for natural selection and reproduction, and the higher reason of all.
          And because we are all following the physical laws perfectly, we are all maximally virtuous.

        • Creutzer says:

          I get that the reasons, internal to their heads, that people have sex, or engage in sexual behaviors, are varied, and often not about reproduction, that which makes it adaptive. See, that’s not what matters. I’m talking about why human beings have a sex drive and reproductive organs in the first place. That’s what’s important; individual motivations are relevant only to the extent they are or aren’t oriented toward those higher ends.

          I find this view extremely puzzling, because this looks exactly backwards to me. Why should the causal history of why my body works the way it does interest me in any more than academic fashion? I don’t see how it could possibly be relevant to my decisions as to what to do. As far as I’m concerned, you’re pulling all these metaphysically reified “(un)virtuous reasons” out of thin air.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Why should the causal history of why my body works the way it does interest me in any more than academic fashion? I don’t see how it could possibly be relevant to my decisions as to what to do.

            Consider the context of food and taste; i.e. why we find tasty the things we find tasty. Saying only whether or not they taste good matters, and not the underlying reason we evolved the taste we did — nutrition — is essentially being pro “junk food”. It’s saying “eat whatever tastes good, even if it’s unhealthy junk food full of empty calories and artery-clogging fat, because only tastiness matters.”

    • Mark says:

      Masturbation is good for your health. Your health is the thing that enables you to get stuff done.

      Personally, I think that pornography is bad, masturbation neutral. Equivalent to going to the toilet.

      • dionisos says:

        Why do you think pornography is bad (true question, it is unfortunate than simple questions are so often used to insinuate things)?

        My point of view on the subject, is that because masturbation is good for health, and bring pleasure, it is good.
        Maybe more importantly than the previous two advantages, it allows to not think too much about sex otherwise and be frustrated by it.

        Pornography is a mean to masturbate quicker and easier, so it is good too.

        But unfortunately, it can become addictive, and too much masturbation and/or pornography can have bad psychological effects, a little like a drug.

        • Mark says:

          I don’t think that pornography makes masturbation quicker and easier – I think it prolongs it and turns it into a more psychologically significant act.

          If you are having an orgasm on your own, you should be aware of that fact. By giving a reality to fantasy, pornography might cause you to lose sight of this.

        • veeloxtrox says:

          Why do you think pornography is bad? …
          Pornography is a mean to masturbate quicker and easier, so it is good too.

          But unfortunately, it can become addictive, and too much masturbation and/or pornography can have bad psychological effects, a little like a drug.

          I think you might be underestimating the negative effects of watching pornography. Pulling from NPR and Psychology Today the results show, “Their [people who don’t watch] rate of infidelity was at least half of those who had watched sexual material alone and with their partners.”, decreased commitment to relationship because of watching porn, from a 2002 survey of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, “lawyers claimed that ‘an obsessive interest in Internet pornography’ was a significant factor in 56 percent of their divorce cases the prior year.”

          • dionisos says:

            I should admit I mostly don’t know about the positives and negatives impacts of it at a societal level.

            It was more a first hand experience, that when I was doing it too much, I ended-up kind of depressed and with less will-power.
            A little in the same way as when I was drinking too much.
            So I thought it was some sort of general psychological rule, and it was the same for other people.

            But now that I say it in this way, it seems to me that I am mostly ignorant about all of it.

          • Matt M says:

            This screams “confounding variables” to me.

            Did they control for things like religious commitment? Deeply religious people reject porn and divorce, which would mess with stats like that.

            Or maybe the causality is backwards. The fact that “porn is a factor” in divorces doesn’t necessarily imply porn leads to divorce, it could imply that shitty marriages lead people to porn.

          • Creutzer says:

            Pornography makes it easier for people to not stay in awful relationships only for the sake of sex. So I guess one would expect it to contribute to divorce. Not clear that this is a bad thing.

            If it contributes to the relationship being awful in the first place, that’s a bad thing, of course, but you can’t so easily read that off divorce data.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            @dionisos

            In general, for things people like there’s a range that goes from deprivation to satiation to overload. There’s no reason for porn to be any different, but I can’t say I’ve seen anyone talk about the amount of porn which makes life better as compared to too little or too much.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @Matt M

            I am not sure if they controled for religious commitment, I agree with you that there is some confounding variables when it comes to divorce.

            The causality I suspect is that rough spot in marriage -> porn -> unresolved rough spot -> porn -> less intimacy in marriage -> porn -> infidelity -> divorce. It give you a way to smooth over your bad feelings without reconciling with your spouse which leads to a downward spiral.

            @Creutzer

            It leads to less intimacy in marriages which is something that leads to divorce. Similar to how smoking doesn’t technically kill you, it causes cancer which will kill you.

          • Aapje says:

            @veeloxtrox

            Your scenario far more strongly points to the actual issue being an inability to address a relationship problem, rather than porn causing the problem. If people don’t resolve their issues, but choose to evade them, then there is no shortage of ways to do so, aside from porn. So if porn were to disappear tomorrow, you’d just shift to blaming alcohol or computer games or fishing or other escapes from reality.

            You can also easily come up with a just-so scenario where porn helps relationships:

            Partners have different libido -> one partner is unhappy with the amount of sex -> consumes porn -> can now cope with staying in the relationship

  23. abubtratsche says:

    My whole point was that if you are too poor to afford sitting fare, your only choice used to be “never fly”. Now it is “never fly” or “pay the affordable standing fare”… If you want to help the poor, give them more money, not fewer options.

    Why not both more money and fewer demeaning options?

    Assume, for a moment, that standing up is less safe than sitting down (as I think could well be the case). Does the same logic apply? How about standing for the entire 15-hour flight from NY to Hong Kong? How about if that section of the cabin is only pressurized to, say, 15,000 feet (which would save some fuel)?

    • bean says:

      How about if that section of the cabin is only pressurized to, say, 15,000 feet (which would save some fuel)?

      Nitpick: There’s no internal pressure bulkhead. You can’t differntially pressurize part of the fuselage, because there’s no reason to want to. Any fuel savings would be eaten up in structural changes, new inspections, and the extra weight of the bulkheads.

  24. registrationisdumb says:

    Since a lot of recent articles have been about legal systems, has anyone seen the $20 million lawsuit Maddox filed against his old co-host?

    It’s quite a read.

    • Brad says:

      I never heard of these people, but based on what I can glean from the complaint they all seem like wastes of oxygen.

      The complaint looks reasonably strong. It’s not the best written filing in the world, it is what’s sometimes called a press release complaint that is overwritten in legal terms, but at least several of the counts look pretty strong. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs the claims against the deepest pockets (Weber Shandwick and Patreon) seem weaker than those against the other defendants. Especially those targeting Patreon.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        what you glean from the complaint might not be entirely accurate

        that said i have no intention of putting much effort into dissecting the complaint when I could just find out what happens in the trial, but my base assumption is that it isn’t very solid

        • Brad says:

          Most cases don’t go to trial and those that do generally take one or more years from filing the compliant to trial. The picture should be a lot clearer after the motions to dismiss and for summary judgment are ruled on. The case might even be over at that point.

          I probably won’t keep up with how it all works out because, again, I never heard of any of these people before this.

          I’m somewhat curious as to why you have a prior that it isn’t a strong lawsuit.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            I, uh, hang out on a subreddit for the podcast of the main target of this lawsuit, and before that listened to the podcast he and Maddox did together. People on that subreddit are laughing about it. I’m also given to understand that he’s made a bunch of false or questionable accusations, so I’d assume that any serious complaints were more of the same. Anyways, I recognize that this isn’t solid proof or anything, but that’s my prior.

  25. Thegnskald says:

    Also: Who is recommended for parsing 23andme raw data?

    • Odovacer says:

      I don’t quite understand what you mean by “who”, but I recommend the following:

      Promethease: It takes your raw data and looks up what hits are in SNPedia. There’s a lot of diseases and some traits in your report. It’s $5/report.

      Open Humans: This community is more about data sharing. You can link your genetic, fitbit, microbiome, diabetes, info, etc. to researchers doing studies to find correlations. Or you can start your own study with other people’s data and even get a grant for it.

      OpenSNP: Another sharing program to find others with similar genetic variation or traits.

      There are also website for people of different ancestries, e.g. Harappa Ancestry Project [I think it’s no longer being updated], and others. And different ancestry algorithms that you can use online.

  26. Thegnskald says:

    If anyone else wants to read it, my “theory” of everything:

    A Proposal for a Theory of Everything

    Short summary: An extension of relativity in which gravity is sinuisodal; space alternates between thinning (as in relativistic gravity) and thickening. Plugging sin(1/(1000*x^2))/x^2 into Google gives a decent graph of what this might look like in Newtonian terms. Electrical fields, energy quantization, uncertainty, and quantum chromodynamics are all treated as emergent phenomena.

    (And if anyone can poke holes in it, great!)

  27. elarson3blog says:

    It appears that most people find sitting for a long time more comfortable than standing. But every time I take a long flight, or sit for several hours straight for any other reason, my hip gets sore. On the other hand, I can stand all day (~15 hours) without any fatigue or discomfort.

    The point is that standing seats wouldn’t *just* be an extra point on the comfort versus price tradeoff — different individuals also have different notions of comfort.

  28. Mark says:

    Chris Langan’s CTMU:

    Langan claims that “a theory and/or reality built of self-resolving paradox is immunized to paradox.”

    Is this true?

    Context:

    Reality is a relation, and every relation is a syndiffeonic relation exhibiting syndiffeonesis or “difference-in-sameness”. Therefore, reality is a syndiffeonic relation. Syndiffeonesis implies that any assertion to the effect that two things are different implies that they are reductively the same; if their difference is real, then they both reduce to a common reality and are to that extent similar. Syndiffeonesis, the most general of all reductive principles, forms the basis of a new view of the relational structure of reality….

    (1) where informational distinctions regarding a system X are regarded as instantiations of law, they can also be regarded as expressions conforming to syntax; and (2) the expression of differences requires a unified expressive syntax (or set of “laws”), and this syntax must distribute over the entire set of differential expressions (or “instantiations of law”). E.g., where X is a “perceptual intersect” consisting of generally recognizable objects, attributes and events, the laws of perception must ultimately be constant and distributed. Where a putative nomological difference exists for some pair of loci (A,B), reductive syntactic covariance applies due to the need for an expressive medium, and where no such difference exists for any pair of loci (A,B), syntactic covariance applies a fortiori with no need for reduction.
    Syndiffeonic relations can be regarded as elements of more complex infocognitive lattices with spatial and temporal (ordinal, stratificative) dimensions. Interpreted according to CTMU duality principles, infocognitive lattices comprise logical relationships of state and syntax. Regressing up one of these lattices by unisection ultimately leads to a syntactic medium of perfect generality and homogeneity…a universal, reflexive “syntactic operator”.
    In effect, syndiffeonesis is a metalogical tautology amounting to self-resolving paradox. The paradox resides in the coincidence of sameness and difference, while a type-theoretic resolution inheres in the logical and mathematical distinction between them, i.e. the stratificative dimension of an infocognitive lattice.32 Thus, reducing reality to syndiffeonesis amounts to “paradoxiforming” it. This has an advantage: a theory and/or reality built of self-resolving paradox is immunized to paradox.

    [I’ve read things online before that said the CTMU was complete balderdash, but having read about half, so far, it seems pretty sensible. I’m not sure what it all *means*, as of yet, but the individual parts seem well argued, fairly concise and clear.]

    • Björn says:

      It’s nonsense. The theory claims to use mathematical concepts, but any of its new concepts like syndiffeonesis are not really defined. The “definition” of syndiffeneonesis uses many other unclear concepts, like comparing two things and taking their difference. I mean what should the difference between Frodo and the color Green be? And what concept of “reality” does the author use? Reality is a dangerous word in philosophy, one should not take weird things and wonder if they are “real”. And all this stuff with self-resolving paradoxes just seems really silly. What is that, even? If its wishful thinking, I can understand why it seems to describe the universe.

      I even scrolled to the whole paper, there are many other bizarre things like talking about random algebraic theories or trying to describe the universe in terms of automaton theory. (which can be reasonable, but not if one just makes up a “grammar” and claims it the universe somehow) Oh, and it also seems to support Intelligent Design. So I’m 100% sure this paper is nonsense. I will definitely show it to my algebra friends, they will have a good chuckle.

      • Mark says:

        I think he is saying that reality consists of all things that can be related to each other.

        I think “a relation” would normally be an undefined term, but Langan seems to suggest that, in his theory, relations are tautologically defined, necessary truths that describe the nature of reality.
        Whatever a relation is, we have access to it through our mental activity, and since our mental activity is part of reality you can use this as a basis for an understanding of reality.

        If two things cannot be related to each other, then we can’t have a conception of one of them, because having a conception of both would constitute a relation. A difference is a form of relation. So, whatever the difference between Frodo and the colour green, and there certainly is a difference, it has to be based in some shared property.
        (I think Langan is basically making an argument against dualism, here.)

        I don’t understand what “self-resolving paradox” means.

        • Björn says:

          I agree that what you write is a reasonable interpretation of what the author could mean with “relations”. But the problem is the following: Even if we can colloquially use the concept of the difference between arbitrary things, this does not allow us to do wild mathematical constructions with this concept. The author wants to take things and put them in a certain partially ordered set, a so called lattice. With this ordering, he wants to express the differences between those things. This leads to questions like “What is more like Frodo, the color Green or a potato?” While one can argue for one answer or another, ultimately there is no way how we can formally answer this question.

          For this reason, it is a silly idea to make a lattice out of reality, for what information does the lattice contain if the ordering is mostly arbitrary? And if one takes this lattice which is only hold together by duct tape and applies theories from formal mathematics on it, will we get anything else than garbled nonsense? (No)

  29. AnonYEmous says:

    Current Affairs wrote an article riffing off one of my links posts. I don’t think I can pad my response to the length of an entire blog post, but I want to address it here: I stand by my original sarcasm.

    What’s that? A socialist complained about accommodating things the way they are, because they don’t like the way things are? Who could’ve seen that coming?

  30. johan_larson says:

    Hey, airline guys. We have this odd phenomenon here in Toronto that exactly one airline flies Toronto-San Francisco (YYZ-SFO) direct. There are plenty of other options, but they all require a connection, typically in Chicago or Denver. Why isn’t there competition on this route, flying direct?

    • bean says:

      Because while there is a premium for direct flights, apparently it’s not enough for anyone else to be willing to enter the market. Typically, you don’t see airlines route between two non-hubs over that distance. Operational constraints make it irritating to do so. Air Canada is the one who flies the route, and UAL has a hub at SFO. They’re partners, which means I’d expect a codeshare on that flight. And UAL isn’t going to get much feed from Toronto for flights onward from SFO. It’s in the wrong place for that.

      • actinide meta says:

        A nice illustration of the economic insignificance of direct flights is that there are only a handful of daylight flights from the United States to Europe. I can’t find a super easy way to look this up, but the last time I was looking for one, there were about five, leaving from a handful of big cities on the east coast and all headed for London. There aren’t any other legs that can support even a single flight with only direct passengers, and a morning flight leaves too early to pick up connecting passengers in the US and lands too late for people to make connections in Europe.

        • bean says:

          The other big driver seems likely to be business travel. If I’m on the company’s dime, the company and I would both prefer to go to the airport after work, get a nice lie-flat bed, and sleep on the plane, then go to work the next morning. Economy passengers don’t get a choice.

        • actinide meta says:

          I’m pretty sure most of the flights in the other direction, where the time zone difference makes connections practical, fly during the day. The asymmetry seems to rule out consumer preference as a plausible explanation.

  31. MrApophenia says:

    So @maintain posted a quote above about gifted students in school, which got me curious enough to go read the article he’s quoting. (It’s here: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm )

    There’s a section discussing the characteristics of Exceptionally Gifted students – those in the IQ 160+ range.

    Reading, a third and significant source of knowledge acquisition, also tends to develop at remarkably early ages. Terman found that one of the few variables, on which the exceptionally gifted children in his study differed from the moderately and highly gifted, was the very early onset of reading (Terman & Oden, 1947). Hollingworth (1942) also noted that it was the early development of reading which most clearly differentiated exceptionally and profoundly gifted children from the moderately gifted. All Hollingworth’s 12 subjects of IQ 180+ were reading before school entry, while four were reading at age 2, three at age 3, and three at age 4.

    So, er, this seems a bit weird to me, because I started reading when I was 18 months old. My folks always thought this was a bit unusual, and I certainly always did reasonably well in school and read at a much higher level than my peers, but I certainly wasn’t a genius or a child prodigy. Likewise as an adult – people know me as having a good head for figures and being reasonably smart, but I’d bet good money I’m not the smartest person I work with.

    Anyone know anything about this, or got any good recommendations for reading about it? I’m wondering if you get early reading like that disconnected from the remainder of the child prodigy stuff? (I mean, clearly you do, because check me out, but I mean as a general trend.)

    • Brad says:

      Hollingworth (1942) also noted that it was the early development of reading which most clearly differentiated exceptionally and profoundly gifted children from the moderately gifted. All Hollingworth’s 12 subjects of IQ 180+ were reading before school entry, while four were reading at age 2, three at age 3, and three at age 4.

      This paragraph makes no sense. At a 15 point IQ standard deviation 180 is 1 in 16.3 million. At a 16 point standard deviation it’s in in 3.3 million. In 1940 there were 40.42 million Americans under the age of 18. Using the 16 point definition that would imply 12 kids in the whole country with an IQ of 180+. Are we really to believe that Hollingsworth found all of them? How would she even know? It’d be impossible to calibrate a test with that high a ceiling today, much less in the 1940s.

      As I said in a prior thread, the entire subject of IQ is filled with old dubious science that goes to definitional questions at the heart of the field. But for reason it gets a pass from people that are otherwise very skeptical of the social sciences.

      (Sorry I can’t answer your question about early reading.)

      • John Schilling says:

        IQ measurement by standard deviation is a relatively recent innovation for adult IQ. Historically, IQ – and especially childhood IQ – was defined as the ratio of equivalent mental age to actual chronological age (muliplied by 100). So a child who tests like a 9-year-old when they are actually 5 would have an IQ of 180. Note that this, unlike number of standard deviations from the norm, literally is a “quotient”. And it isn’t five- or even six-sigma rare.

        • Brad says:

          In that case Hollingworth’s conclusion is tautological. If IQ was a pure measure of precociousness than her conclusion was that precocious kids are precocious.

          Also, It makes no sense at all to completely change the definition, especially given that the old definition produced values that are logically impossible in the new definition, and not change the name. Can you imagine the watt being redefined in such a fashion? Sometimes units are put on a different footing but they are always backwards compatible within the precision of the old system.

          Edit: missed a word

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, It makes no sense at all to completely change the definition, especially given that the old definition produced values that are logically impossible in the new definition, and not change the name.

            The old definition only worked for children. And even now, IQ is mostly only measured and used with children, to make informed decisions about educational tracking and so forth.

            But, as you have no doubt noticed, we have some people who very strongly want for those childhood IQ values to be meaningful in adulthood even if they aren’t going to do any formal testing of or as adults. And other people who just need some, any, useful measure of adult intelligence and don’t care what it’s called. But calling your adult-intelligence measure “IQ” captures more of the market because that’s the label people already know.

            Capturing more of the market with somewhat deceptive advertising, that actually does make sense and it makes sense even if you are only capturing non-monetized mindshare in the non-profit market of academia, so that’s what was done.

            And yes, Hollingsworth’s conclusion is a tautology, or close enough as makes no difference. I don’t know if he knows that; it’s not worth the time to check.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Huh. As someone very ignorant on this topic, I had a similar problem, except I still thought IQ referred to the old definition, and that it was a largely meaningless number for adults.

          • If IQ was a pure measure of precociousness than her conclusion was that precocious kids are precocious.

            It’s a little more than that. A two year old probably doesn’t take an IQ test. So it’s more nearly that someone who is precocious at whatever age the tests were done, say ten, was precocious specifically in reading at a much earlier age.

            I don’t think reading before entering school, if that means first grade, is evidence of much precocity. My guess is that most kids could do that, given parental (or sibling) support.

    • Chalid says:

      To learn to read, a kid has to have motivation as well as ability. Motivation in the toddler years is going to vary tremendously based on temperament and on how much the parents try to push reading. I’d guess the IQ 180 kids who started reading at age 4 would have been able to read much earlier if they wanted to.

      I’m pretty sure my own kid (not quite three) could have learned to read already if she was motivated to do so – she can recognize words and sound out simple words when I ask her – but she definitely doesn’t see why this is something she would want to do for herself. (And she has a point, in the short run – any story she’s capable of reading for herself is going to be very boring compared to a story I can read to her.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I discount that early reading = prodigy stuff because I don’t ever remember learning to read; I certainly could read at a higher level than my classmates when I started school (and this was at a late age, being nearer five than four, when most kids started at four and pre-schools/nurseries/kindergartens were not common at all) and I think I could definitely read at age three, if not earlier. I can’t say since I literally do not remember not being able to read, and my first memory is from about the age of two.

      If “can read early, can read at a higher level than age-mates” equals genius, then all my paternal family are a race of geniuses and that ain’t so!

      I wonder if those 1940s studies were biased by kids back then learning (officially in school) to read at a later date? I remember years back seeing an old movie from 40s/50s in which a kid who looked to be at least seven was gazing at a pile of books and anticipating learning to read them, which did make me go “Wait a minute, are you saying you can’t read yet? At your age?”

      So if the Official Method was “no kid learns to read before age five and only in school” and the average kid of that age couldn’t read, then kids of 4 and earlier who could read (whether their parents taught them or they picked it up themselves) would seem precocious by contrast, and if they were self-taught then that might go along with talent in other areas that meant they really were baby geniuses.

      According to this modern article, the idea in the US still seems to be that you start reading by age six, so plainly kids who can read fluently before Officially Learning must be suspected of having high IQ:

      There simply isn’t one age where kids can or should be reading—despite the deeply ingrained North American ideal that children learn to read in first grade, around age six.

  32. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Scott,
    I enjoy SSC a lot and feel I ought to pay something for it. was going to support your Patreon, but since that page said to give to charity instead, I just gave $30 to GiveWell that I’m going to do my best to mentally budget as “supporting/paying for SSC” so that it doesn’t funge against my actual charity budget.

  33. Levin says:

    Current Affairs piece seems to attack consumer choice by noting that people’s budgets are unequal; this doesn’t make any sense as Scott rightly points out.

    A much better critique would be to go after rationality. Suppose there is a bias in people that makes them overestimate how valuable having more money is to them compared to what is offered. Then it could in fact happen that not offering low-grade options increases everyone’s utility.

    I’m skeptical this is the case with the standing fare issue, but if we were to allow selling organs it might actually become a serious concern, the low-grade option here being selling your kidney or arm to pay for current expenses. What exacerbates this is the fact that people who are most desperate financially (and thus likely to go for lowest utility option) are likely least capable of rationally making the choice (for example, because of how cortisol affects the brain)

  34. Wrong Species says:

    Econ question: Suppose that there was a company that employed six workers that each contributed five widgets per hour. One of these employees is proactive and learns how to massively increase his own productivity to 25 widgets per hour. His method uses most of the equipment in the factory, leaving little for the other workers and it’s also a really tricky technique that they can’t copy. What they have left is enough for each of them to able to produce one widget per hour at reduced wages. In both instances we have the same labor productivity, (30 widgets per hour for six workers) but sayin that no innovation has occurred would be wrong. Couldn’t the same possibility be true for our economy?

    There’s been this big debate about how productivity is slowing down over the last 40 years and why that is. The question is compounded by the appearance of strong innovation coming from certain sectors. We

    • baconbacon says:

      As you set it up there has been (essentially) no innovation, but that is because of the limits you impose. If such a technique existed in most cases you would build a new factory around that technique, or just fire the other 5 guys and generate a higher profit margin (or some variety where you fire 4 guys etc). If you ban those options then there has been no effective innovation as there is no way to spread it throughout the economy.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Or, you know, extend your factory capacity. Build a new one or make the current one bigger.

        If Awesome Dude’s technique is genuinely unable to be done to any substantial gain by anyone but him, it might be pretty reasonable to say that no innovation has occurred.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think it’s very plausible something like this is going on in the economy. Productivity is diverging between the top firms and everyone else. The benefits don’t diffuse equally because it takes a certain kind of skills to be hired by these firms and those skills are in shortage, which is why it isn’t so easy to expand output. Workers who don’t have these skills go in to low wage, low productivity sectors like education or health care. Economists have been wondering about why productivity growth has been so low for the last 40 years. Some, like Robert Gordon, believe that we simply have less innovation than we used to. But if I’m right, then that would mean that average productivity isn’t measuring innovation well and we need to change the conversation completely on what to do about the productivity slowdown.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think it’s plausible we may have hit the limits or close to it of “human productivity in making stuff aided by machines”, and that for future productivity increase, it will be “machines alone making stuff” (e.g. fully automated factories churning out thousands of units per hour) and “knowledge-based, where innovation in tech and brilliant software design by graduate/post-graduate Max” are the big leaps forward, not ‘how many widgets per hour’ produced by Joe on the production line or even ‘how many thousands of dollars in new clients” from George in the office.

  35. Salem says:

    I find it darkly amusing how “Won’t somebody think of the poor!” swiftly becomes “OK, maybe this helps the poor, but I don’t care about those guys. Won’t somebody think of the business traveler!”

    It’s also hilarious to imagine what certain commenters would say if standing seating were already commonplace, but airlines were phasing it out.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I think the objection of a lot of folks here is that it has absolutely no impact on the poor at all, positive or negative, because this standing room is just going to take the place of the current lowest-cost offering, and thus creates no benefit for the poor, who are still priced out of flying, while everyone who does fly gets a worse product at the same price, or has to pay more for what they currently have. No one wins except the airlines, who make a bigger profit.

      • bean says:

        This just doesn’t make sense, though. What’s to stop Southwest from continuing to fly with their current setup when the Big 3 abandon Coach for Standing Coach? SWA’s making a profit at the current rate, and they can’t raise prices too much for fear of Alaska and JetBlue undercutting them. Seriously, you can do good predictions of relative prices by looking at the floor space each seat takes.

        • MrApophenia says:

          How did Southwest respond to the other major airlines all deciding to add a fee for baggage? Did they add one too? (Not a rhetorical question, I don’t know the answer and you seem pretty up on this.)

          My suspicion is that this all seems to operate as a cartel, with the supposed competitors all adding the same price hikes at around the same time; United all but said it out loud in regard to Economy Basic – their explanation for its initial problems being that they expected everyone else to do the same thing when they did, and that this didn’t happen as quickly as they expected.

          Now, the standing seat may have a higher barrier to the changeover than some of the other price hikes, since you actually need to rebuild the plane seating itself, which could very well make it trickier for everyone to make the jump at the same time, which could create a bigger competitive barrier than the baggage stuff.

          • bean says:

            How did Southwest respond to the other major airlines all deciding to add a fee for baggage? Did they add one too? (Not a rhetorical question, I don’t know the answer and you seem pretty up on this.)

            Southwest still gives you two free checked bags. It’s a major part of their marketing, so I doubt it will change soon. (Thank goodness.) JetBlue was the other holdout, but they added one a year or two ago.

            My suspicion is that this all seems to operate as a cartel, with the supposed competitors all adding the same price hikes at around the same time; United all but said it out loud in regard to Economy Basic – their explanation for its initial problems being that they expected everyone else to do the same thing when they did, and that this didn’t happen as quickly as they expected.

            United and American have adopted the model of ‘doing what Delta does’. This hasn’t always (or ever) worked out well. I can’t fathom them expecting Southwest to match, but legacy management often seems stuck in the days when SWA was only a problem in the lower midwest. But there’s enough options, particularly as Alaska seems bent on growth, that I’m not too worried. Basic Economy sort of makes sense as a way to fight Spirit and co, but UAL’s implementation was really bad.

            Now, the standing seat may have a higher barrier to the changeover than some of the other price hikes, which could very well make it trickier for everyone to make the jump at the same time, which could create a bigger competitive barrier than the baggage stuff.

            There are lots and lots of problems with expecting them to roll it out fleetwide quickly, not least the need to reconfigure the planes. I’d expect that if the seats were approved, they’d start out in the back few rows of a legacy carrier, and maybe gradually creep forward. There’s still the certification restrictions, and the need for consistency.

          • John Schilling says:

            My suspicion is that this all seems to operate as a cartel, with the supposed competitors all adding the same price hikes at around the same time; United all but said it out loud in regard to Economy Basic – their explanation for its initial problems being that they expected everyone else to do the same thing when they did, and that this didn’t happen as quickly as they expected.

            Yeah, that’s what pretty much always happens when companies try to “operate as a cartel”, which is why your first response when something makes you suspect a cartel is operating should be to wonder what you are missing.

            With baggage fees, what you are missing is that the actual costs of operating an airline increased, such that there was no question but that all of the airlines that were going to remain in business were going to be raising their ticket price by an average of $25. Given the choice between A: having the list price on Travelocity be $300, then hitting the passengers with a $25/bag fee at the airport, and B: having the list price on Travelocity be $325, and given the actual preferences of airline passengers, plan A is the winning strategy even if nobody else does it. Especially if nobody else does it. No “cartel” required, and everybody gets what they want given that $300 average ticket prices are no longer sustainable.

            United Economy Basic, by their own admission, doesn’t match actual customer preferences and so it doesn’t actually make them a profit unless everybody else somehow does the same thing. Since there isn’t actually a cartel, they didn’t.

          • actinide meta says:

            @John Schilling

            I’m in total agreement about the stability and prevalence of “cartels”, except for one thing.

            There is an interesting mechanism that is legal, requires no incriminating communications between cartel members, appears consumer friendly to everyone except von-Neumann-level game theory geniuses and people who know the trick, and in some circumstances can allow multiple mutually distrustful sellers to maintain monopoly pricing power: price matching (“best price guaranteed!”).

            Imagine that airline 1 offers a ticket from city A to city B on Friday for $300… but with a price matching guarantee: if any other airline advertises that they will get you from A to B on Friday for less, airline 1 will match the price.

            Now what are airline 2’s incentives? If they offer a ticket for $200, airline 1 “automatically” matches their price for all informed shoppers (while potentially still collecting $300 from a few fools), and they don’t really pick up any more business. But if they offer a ticket for $300, with a price matching guarantee, they can split the comparison shoppers with airline 1 and enjoy a big profit. (If they’re clever, they’ll compete on leg room or kickbacks^Wmiles instead, so this probably works best when the product is extremely standardized)

            Now, obviously this can’t always work, or we’d see more of it. Probably there is usually some way to compete away profits with kickbacks or features. But I find the argument convincing enough to be highly suspicious when I see any form of price matching advertised.

            (Independently: Your explanation of why airlines prefer fees to higher ticket prices makes sense with respect to their incentives. It needs, however, an additional explanation of why price comparison sites, who could ask you how many bags you are checking at search time and display headline prices inclusive of fees, would play along. My guess is that the sites’ income comes from bookings, and so they benefit if some marginal customers underestimate their travel costs and book a trip they would otherwise have chosen not to go on. And maybe some people compare prices across price comparison sites without taking this sort of thing into account. If either or both of these is an explanation, it’s a good example of how the problem that “when you’re not the customer, you’re the product” can apply even when you are the customer!)

          • Nornagest says:

            Now what are airline 2’s incentives? If they offer a ticket for $200, airline 1 “automatically” matches their price for all informed shoppers (while potentially still collecting $300 from a few fools), and they don’t really pick up any more business. But if they offer a ticket for $300, with a price matching guarantee, they can split the comparison shoppers with airline 1 and enjoy a big profit.

            Imagine three customers, Alice, Bob, and Carol, and two airlines, DaveLine and EveAir. DaveLine is charging $300 for a particular route with a price-match guarantee. EveAir is charging $320 but considering changing that.

            Alice is an inside sales rep for FredCorp. She needs to meet her client next week and will pay any reasonable price. She’s a frequent flyer with DaveLine and would prefer to stick with it, unless the deal’s so good that she can’t explain not going with it to her boss.

            Bob needs to go to his grandma’s funeral next week, and will also pay any reasonable price. He has no brand loyalty and will buy whatever’s advertised as being cheapest. He is however too shy to ask for price-matching.

            Carol wants to go on vacation next week. She will take the cheapest flight up to $250, but if it’s more than $250 she can’t afford it, and will stay home and play with her cat instead. She has no particular brand loyalties, but she’s a dedicated comparison shopper and is willing to ask for price-matching deals.

            Right now, Alice and Bob are going to be flying with DaveLine, and Carol’s staying home. If EveAir drops its prices to $299, it picks up all the Bobs. If it drops them to $250, it picks up all the Bobs and half the Carols. Other combinations are possible, of course, but you get the idea: there are substantial incentives to have lower advertised prices, even with the price-matching working against you. You pick up lazy customers, and you pick up customers that wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise.

          • John Schilling says:

            Price-matching guarantees aren’t offered in the air travel industry, because they don’t work in the air travel industry. First, because every airline ticket incorporates enough variables beyond “get you from A to B on Friday” that it’s all but impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison, and second because there are too many variables associated with each airline’s ability to actually provide that minimal service profitably at a given price point. A broad price-match guarantee would be gamed by the more agile airline to drive its competitors out of business selling tickets at below-cost pricing, and a narrow price-match “guarantee” would just annoy customers when they find out they can’t actually get a matching price to that fare they found on another airline’s web site.

            Which happens often enough with price-matching even in retail sales, where a box of Cheerios at Wal-Mart is apples-to-apples the same as a box of Cheerios at Target.

          • actinide meta says:

            @Nornagest, @John

            I more or less agree with both of you about the limitations of price matching as a cartelization strategy in this industry, because of the complexity of the product (and, of course, the empirical evidence speaks: you don’t really see price matching in this industry). I brought it up as an interesting bit of economics candy that this discussion reminded me of.

            I do have one nit to pick:

            A broad price-match guarantee would be gamed by the more agile airline to drive its competitors out of business selling tickets at below-cost pricing

            I’m skeptical; “driving competitors out of business” is another strategy that sounds good in just so stories about robber barons but doesn’t often pay; if airline A is doing price matching and airline B adjusts their pricing in some way not actually optimal for them to hurt airline A, airline C free rides on the damage to A and the damage to B as well. And a price matching guarantee by A should be understood (in the hypothetical context where product differentiation is negligible) as an offer to its competitors to cartelize for their mutual benefit. If the competitors refuse, A just stops advertising price matching and it’s back to the status quo ante with minimal costs for A.

          • bean says:

            I’m skeptical; “driving competitors out of business” is another strategy that sounds good in just so stories about robber barons but doesn’t often pay

            It did actually happen at least once. When Southwest was first starting out, American and Texas International went after it pretty hard, offering $20 tickets. (This was in the mid-70s, before modern revenue management.) Southwest couldn’t afford to match across the board, so they offered two options: $40 and a free bottle of liquor or $20. For a while, Southwest was the largest liquor distributor in the state of Texas, and they survived the attack.
            But you couldn’t do it today. Revenue management has come a long way since then.

            (The other aspect is that most markets only have a few major competitors. This was particularly true back then, before deregulation, but it’s still true to some extent today.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          Why would they fly with their current setup if they could get away with charging more or stuffing more passengers in? They could either raise prices to the market-clearing rate (the reduction of supply of seats on other airlines should make this possible) and make even more profit flying an “all-sitting” airline, or switch to Standing Coach and make more profit that way.

          • bean says:

            Why would they fly with their current setup if they could get away with charging more or stuffing more passengers in? They could either raise prices to the market-clearing rate (the reduction of supply of seats on other airlines should make this possible) and make even more profit flying an “all-sitting” airline, or switch to Standing Coach and make more profit that way.

            Which is why I mentioned JetBlue and Alaska. Or, for that matter, someone buying up all the 737CLs Southwest recently retired (I’m going to have nightmares about this) and starting a new airline that promises not to go to standup seating. We have a competitive market in air travel. Provided there is substantial demand for a seat as opposed to standing, then why do we expect prices to go up that much? Yes, if standing takes over 90% of the market, it will be bad seat availability. But given the response, I don’t think that’s likely.

          • The Nybbler says:

            JetBlue and Alaska are pretty limited in routes. A new airline will face nigh-insurmountable barriers to entry (good luck getting slots at major airports, for instance). Con-U and American could start the race to the bottom themselves. Sure, there’s demand for sitting over standing, but how much demand in $$$?

          • bean says:

            Con-U and American could start the race to the bottom themselves.

            And how long is this race likely to continue if the largest domestic carrier declines to participate? I’ll grant you the slots problem, but not all airports are slot-limited, and there’s been increasing use of the ones that aren’t by alternative carriers.

            Sure, there’s demand for sitting over standing, but how much demand in $$$?

            That’s the only kind of demand that matters in this context. If the seats are safe (which they probably aren’t) I see no reason why we need to stop ourselves from finding out.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Again, why would they fail to participate? Say Con-U and American come up with Standing Economy priced at 90% of the old economy price, and the new cheapest sitting ticket is now sold for 150% of that price. Southwest can keep selling sitting tickets at the old price, but they can probably jack their prices up to the same 150% and still fill their planes, so why wouldn’t they?

  36. Yosarian2 says:

    I have no problem with offering standing seats as an option.

    That being said, I wonder if some of the people upset are really upset about what could be considered as another symptom of a general declining middle class lifestyle.

  37. Worley says:

    The business about “standing airline tickets” seems to me to be confusing several things:

    1. The point about keeping people from sleeping on benches isn’t about being good to the homeless but about getting them to sleep somewhere that doesn’t make your neighborhood look like where homeless people live. This becomes particularly acute if you own a piece of real estate in the area — “location, location, location”, where “location” means “the average socioeconomic status of the people who live around here”.

    2. In regard to airline tickets, there is a substantial fraction of the consumers who regularly fly on their employer’s dollar, and they don’t have enough leverage to force their employers to buy them tickets above the cheapest that are available. With the ending of airline regulation (in the US), suddenly substantially cheaper tickets became available, with significantly less pleasant accommodations. These fliers have become significantly worse off because of this. If even cheaper and less pleasant tickets become available, their employers may be tempted to make them fly that way.

    3. An alternative version of #2 is if someone has the emotional leverage to shame you into buying the cheaper ticket when you would prefer to buy the more expensive. Consider a public intellectual who is hired for a speaking gig. The air ticket is included in the total compensation package, and you’d like to enjoy a bit of luxury. But your spouse won’t be enjoying the luxury and would prefer that you spend less of the compensation on air fare and bring more of it into the household budget as cash income.

    4. Again, if much cheaper tickets become available, a sizeable fraction of the cabin will be filled with people who are even lower-class than you are, removing from flying whatever sense of romance remains.

    • These fliers have become significantly worse off because of this.

      How do you, can you, know this? The fact that the cost of flying an employee whose job required flying went down raised the value of such an employee to employers, which would have some effect on the wages of such employees.

      Your implicit model seems to be one in which one of the factors determining the equilibrium wage changes and everything else is assumed frozen. You can’t make sense of an equilibrium system that way. It’s as if you argued that I should eat whatever quantity of ice cream maximized the sensual pleasure from doing so–and when I pointed out that I would gain weight you responded that you didn’t say I should gain weight.

      • Worley says:

        Yes, but it depends. If the demand for these sorts of jobs (by corporations) is inelastic, a reduction in the total cost won’t cause an increase in employment, simply the price paid by corporations will go down, showing up in less pleasant travel by employees. And a lot of these jobs are small parts in larger processes, so the savings in travel costs won’t cause an increase in demand for these particular workers. If the supply of employees of this type is sufficiently elastic, that will cause their price to rise — but that sort of work generally isn’t so well-marketized, you get into jobs with nice perks by accumulating social capital at a specific company. The situation is closer to a bilateral monopoly, where the corporation

        In addition, in large organizations, travel expenses are rarely tracked back to particular employees and considered part of their compensation. (Which is officially irrational.) So while cash compensation is sticky, whenever times are tough, a manager can always gain prestige by cracking down on travel costs without its consequences being considered. OTOH, you can’t crack down on the much larger cash compensation budget because wages are sticky.

        • If the demand for these sorts of jobs (by corporations) is inelastic, a reduction in the total cost won’t cause an increase in employment, simply the price paid by corporations will go down, showing up in less pleasant travel by employees.

          1. Do you mean perfectly inelastic, which is unlikely? “Inelastic” only means that when price goes down by 1% quantity demanded goes up by less than 1%.

          Making the travel less pleasant is equivalent, from the standpoint of the employee, to reducing what he is paid. Unless demand is perfectly inelastic, the employers are now hiring a larger number of employees, so net wage, including non-pecuniary elements such as quality of travel, goes up, not down.

  38. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Here’s a milder example than standing tickets for airplanes, but at least it’s from the real world.

    When I first saw the $18 Good and Evil dark chocolate bar by Anthony Bourdain, my reaction wasn’t that I can’t afford it. I can spend $20 on something I really like. Instead, my reaction was, “i’m not buying that because accepting the price would be a bad influence”. This was a strong reaction– I can still remember standing there in Di Bruno Brothers on 9th St. and looking at the chocolate bar.

    It turned out that Good and Evil bar wasn’t all that good, and I don’t have a formal analysis of how evil the price was. The reviews I saw said is was alright but not that special, and the price has been lowered to a less evil but still ridiculous $13.

    I’m hoping this comment will lead to a discussion of sticker shock. And a discussion of favorite dark chocolate. And possibly about the mystery of why the market for milk chocolate doesn’t seem to be as lively. And possibly about whether a chocolate bar could be sufficiently transcendent to be worth $18.

    • baconbacon says:

      Related (?)

      A few years ago we planted some fig trees in our yard, pretty much on a whim. Neither my wife or I ate figs regularly, but we were offered cuttings and stuck them in the ground (literally, one of our two fig trees came from just sticking 4 branches in the ground and having one survive). Fresh figs off the tree are currently my favorite fruit (especially the Violette de Bordeaux), and probably favorite food. However I have never bought a fresh fig, so even though I go 9-10 months a year without my favorite food which are semi regularly available at a near by grocery store, and I can probably get them at nearly any time with effort and a few dollar spent.

      An economist would have to doubt my preference for figs, as I spend almost no money and time acquiring them for most of the year. Am I not willing to pay just because my figs are ‘free’? Or because they are tied up in the whole experience of growing/picking/eating them at home? Or am I just eccentric?

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Don’t bother, the grocery store ones will disappoint you.

        Figs are a tragic fruit, divine but fundamentally unsuited to the realities of modern industrial agriculture. Having your own tree is a good option, but the best option is to be friends with someone who has a tree but is mildly allergic. All the figs you can eat, no cleanup of rotting fig gunk.

        • baconbacon says:

          We have chickens, so no first order cleaning of rotting fig gunk.

          Approximately 2 figs end up rotting during the first 3 weeks of the season anyhow :).

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’ve never had a tree-fresh fig. I’ve had a few figs at a decently good restaurant (in Seattle), and they were good but nothing I’d go out of my way to acquire. I’m guessing they were industrially-sourced?

      • but we were offered cuttings and stuck them in the ground (literally, one of our two fig trees came from just sticking 4 branches in the ground and having one survive).

        Sounds like a lot of work. All but one of our fig trees came from our refraining from cutting them down when they appeared spontaneously in the yard.

        To be fair, the one we planted is the only one I actually get figs from, but I expect the others to start producing eventually.

    • keranih says:

      ummm. I don’t buy much candy at all. But I would gladly lay down 15 bucks *right now* for one of those brit chocolates with the dried fruit bits in them. It’s been nearly a decade and I can still taste them.

      I agree with baconbacon on fresh figs. But I’ll go further – I loathe dried coconut. I won’t eat food with dried coconut.

      Had I the cash to spend, I’d be willing to fly to Italy next spring, put on a silly tourist mask, and walk through the crowds, just to get to the fruit market where I would gladly lay down a $20 for a slice of fresh chilled coconut still on the shell.

      People have curricular tastes.

      • harland0 says:

        Imported chocolates aren’t that hard to find in the States. British fruit bars are everywhere, though I do not understand why something as awesome as chocolate would be mixed with something as pedestrian as trail mix.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Imported chocolates aren’t that hard to find in the States. British fruit bars are everywhere

          I’m not sure how much this is still a live issue – these reports are a couple of years old – but I understand that actual British Cadbury’s chocolate (as opposed to widely-considered-inferior Cadbury-branded chocolate made by Hershey) is technically illegal to import, although Hershey are encountering some resistance trying to enforce it.

          (Of course, there is a cascade here – apparently Belgians consider Cadbury’s standard product to be so far from what they will tolerate that they don’t consider it to be true chocolate at all, but having tasted Hersheys myself, I can really understand why the British expats are annoyed – that stuff is a pale imitation of the genuine mediocre mass-market chocolate that they’re used to).

          • James says:

            Yeah, snobs here definitely look down on Cadbury’s.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s no ban on importing Cadbury; as far as I can tell, Hershey has not even gotten a judgement, just strong-armed importers into surrendering. And then new importers pop up. Unlike Kinder Surprise eggs, Customs won’t stop them at the border

    • Related, but on the opposite edge:

      In 2007, when drought and political instability had raised the price of cocoa butter, the FDA was petitioned by food manufacturers to change its standards. Specifically, the agency was asked to allow certain substances not containing cocoa butter, to be labeled as “chocolate”.

      Those substances were and are perfectly legal to sell, but they couldn’t legally be labeled as “chocolate”.

      There was a large outcry about this proposal.

      One of the arguments was that the cheaper, lower-quality substitute would become the default expectation for chocolate, and “real” cocoa butter chocolate would become a luxury item.

      As Mort Rosenblum wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

      The proposal would widen the gap between good and awful. Industrial food companies could sell their waxy cocholat for less. But purveyors of the real thing have no corners to cut. While discerning chocoholics will fork over whatever it takes, those who can’t pay will never know chocolate. (Link)

      The cocoa butter price bump was temporary, but if the rule had changed, it would have permanently reduced the quality of chocolate consumed by most of the public.

      To borrow a term from @Guy in TN‘s comment above, it would have lowered the “social floor” for chocolate.

      • The cocoa butter price bump was temporary, but if the rule had changed, it would have permanently reduced the quality of chocolate consumed by most of the public.

        You appear to be treating a conjecture that was never tested as if it is evidence.

  39. rlms says:

    SSC comments section as a crowd-sourced idea generator: what are some historical events or out-of-copyright books that would make good musicals (and haven’t already been adapted successfully)?

  40. maintain says:

    Since someone brought up Bill Clinton, there’s something I’ve been wondering for a while:

    I read this quote about people who are really smart:

    The most important lesson Alex learned in his first few weeks at school was that it would teach him nothing that he did not already know. His teacher insisted that he work through the reading readiness program with the rest of the class and placed him on a math program which involved recognizing the numbers 1 through 10. He was so astonished that he complied without protest.

    The compliance did not last long, however. In 2nd and 3rd grades he was angry, frustrated, and rebellious and made life difficult for himself, his teachers, and his classmates. Finally, to the relief of his teacher, his protests ceased. Alex is now in 6th grade. Most of the time he is apathetic and withdrawn. He refuses to complete the simplistic and repetitive work that is presented to him, and because of this, nothing In the way of enrichment or extension is offered to him. His teachers are quite unaware that he has developed an expertise in Nordic mythology… A professor of literature at the local university has called this expertise “astounding.” Alex relates happily to the undergraduate students his professor friend has introduced to him, but at school he is a social outcast. The other children reject him because his speech, his interests, and the way he thinks are so different from theirs that there is virtually no point of contact between them.

    So, this particular story is about a kid who is really gifted at language and culture. Really smart people walk around just knowing, seemingly as obvious facts, things that other people have to try hard to figure out. (And maybe never do figure out.) However, what about people who are really gifted at social skills? What are their lives like? Clearly, they aren’t going around writing sob stories like this.

    It makes me wonder if there is some “secret society” of people who rule the world, winking at each other and just knowing when they meet another of their kind, but one of the rules of this secret society is that if you’re part of it, you by nature know that you’re never to speak of it.

    What is it like growing up, knowing that you have the ability to easily manipulate the other kids… and most of the adults?

    • harland0 says:

      Child prodigies typically don’t turn out well later in life.

      • rlms says:

        Is that actually true? Mozart and Terrence Tao were and are fairly successful as adults.

        • albatross11 says:

          The one person I know who was a child prodigy in math is currently a math professor at a reasonable but not famous university. She’s told me before that she feels like a failure because she’s not more successful, but I don’t think you could call her a failure by most peoples’ definitions.

    • Brad says:

      There’s a difficult to describe mental phenomenon where someone can know something but never really admit to himself that he knows it. I think the very most charismatic people have this in relation to their own charisma. If it ever became too front of mind it would leak to other people and they wouldn’t be quite as effective (that’s the ceiling on the effectiveness of sociopaths). So the winking secret society thing isn’t likely.

    • baconbacon says:

      I think really charismatic people tend to compete for attention, not join up in secret societies to rule the world. Frankly the gifted ones only need funding to get their word out, and minor guys often avoid real society so they can indulge in their personal pleasures (Charles Manson).

    • The Nybbler says:

      However, what about people who are really gifted at social skills? What are their lives like? Clearly, they aren’t going around writing sob stories like this.

      Of course not. They’re the happy ones.

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      I would assume they do rule the world, but there isn’t really any reason to hide it, since socially connected people have always been in charge. Nor is there any reason for them to have a “society” as such, part of their skill set is managing and expanding huge social networks, they would simply fall into each other’s networks naturally.

      • rlms says:

        I don’t think leading politicians necessarily have fantastic social skills. Obama might, but none of Hillary, Trump, Theresa May and Angela Merkel do.

        • Nornagest says:

          There are lots of different kinds of social skills. Hillary Clinton gives speeches like she’s got the A/V cable for a teleprompter wired directly into her brainstem, and whenever I watch her trying to do anything off-the-cuff I find myself wondering whether David Icke was right all along, but by all accounts she’s fantastic at the inside baseball of politics: fundraising, deal-making, balancing interests, keeping party officials happy. That is also a social skill, it’s just one that’s relatively invisible to us.

          Every so often someone like Bill Clinton comes along who can do both, and he usually proceeds to kick everybody’s ass, but that doesn’t seem to be common.

        • Civilis says:

          Are you so sure about Trump? Trump was a billionaire celebrity, both of which also imply some level of charisma. There were many anecdotes from people that had met Trump back when he was a celebrity and not a politician, and they all tend to indicate that he had some level of ability to make people like him. He’s not standard urbane upper class politician material, but most of the really charismatic politicians aren’t. Bill Clinton himself either had or was able to fake some level of backwoods southern charm.

          Setting aside Trump, Clinton and Obama definitely had some level of charisma. So did Reagan. Whatever one can say about George W. Bush, he’s not his brother or Al Gore, his opponent in 2000, both of whom have a reputation, deserved or otherwise, for being somewhat uncharismatic. It seems natural that in an even competition, the charismatic politicians that can generate enthusiasm are going to have a decisive advantage, therefore it’s likely that most presidents will be charismatic.

          Perhaps the last uncharismatic president was George H. W. Bush. He got the nomination because he was Reagan’s Vice President. His democratic opponent was Mike Dukakis, also with a reputation as a relatively uncharismatic person. Dukakis’s rivals for the Democratic nomination were Al Gore (whose wooden nature has become a running gag), Jesse Jackson, Paul Simon, and Dick Gephardt. Only Jackson might have a claim for being a charismatic person, and there were enough other reasons Jackson wasn’t getting the nod. So you have two uncharismatic candidates, and the incumbent won. As soon as Bush hit a charismatic opponent (Bill Clinton), he lost.

          Looking back before that, Carter’s decently charismatic, but no Reagan. On the other hand, he’s much more charismatic than Ford, who he beat in 1976. Ford was never elected to office; he was appointed Vice President, then succeeded to the Presidency to replace Nixon.

          • Brad says:

            Nixon doesn’t strike me as especially charismatic, but I wasn’t alive back then and it can be hard to tell in retrospect.

          • rlms says:

            Trump’s a special case, he’s optimised for being attractive to some demographics at the expense of others. The skill I’m talking about here (and I think is being referred to in the parent comment) is being able to make most people like you in personal interactions. That’s different from giving speeches that enough people like to get you elected, and also from being good at networking (organisations often have people who’ve managed to become powerful by getting fingers in lots of pies, despite not being widely liked).

          • Civilis says:

            Nixon doesn’t strike me as especially charismatic, but I wasn’t alive back then and it can be hard to tell in retrospect.

            Nixon beat an established vice president, Hubert Humphrey, so not someone who got the nomination based on a party primary fight. The popular version of history has him losing his first presidential bid to Kennedy (from a family known for being charismatic) in part based on the public perception of the two from TV debates. I think the further back you go, the less the public has to see of the candidates and the less their personal charisma plays a role. On the other hand, I could see it going the other direction; now that personal appeal is part of a candidate’s stock in trade, they’re getting coached in their public appearances, and most of what we see on TV is getting more into acting skill than their actual personality.

            Trump’s a special case, he’s optimised for being attractive to some demographics at the expense of others. The skill I’m talking about here (and I think is being referred to in the parent comment) is being able to make most people like you in personal interactions.

            I can’t find the link that was circulating during the election, but I was able to find this collection of stories of people that met Trump before he was a candidate: https://www.quora.com/What-is-Donald-Trump-like-in-person. Not all are flattering, but most of the flattering ones describe someone at least capable of faking that sort of charisma where people in personal interactions think highly of them.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I don’t know if you’re right about Trump. He does appear able to work a crowd. Maybe a big part of it was that he was saying stuff nobody else was saying. Also, earlier in the campaign, before some of his gaffes, I noticed that profiles of him often had an interesting feature. Even though the journalists clearly did not like him as a politician, they seemed charmed by him. Maybe not Bill Clinton-level charmed, but still. That wore off as the campaign got nastier.

          • engleberg says:

            @(Trump) was saying stuff nobody else was saying-

            Yes, he was saying ’90s Gephardt centrist D talking points and by 2016 both D and R parties were lockstepped in favor of illegal immigration. A semi-legal helot class lowering wages for R party employers and providing professional poor relief clients for D party- only Hitler could object.

  41. dndnrsn says:

    On the subject of people (historical figures, really) who have a deserved reputation for being extremely charismatic and convincing in person:

    Clinton is an example. I’ve read anecdotes that amount to “shaking hands with him is a quasi-religious experience.”

    Standing in the Shadows then made an allusive reference to probably (according to Harland0 and null42) Hitler. Accounts of dealing with him by generals, Nazi officials, etc tend to make him seem extremely persuasive in person – a common pattern appears to be someone going to him intending to give them a piece of their mind (about, say, bad military decisions), and leaving convinced that he had things under control. Post-war, the usual claim was that they had only gone along with them for fear of losing their job or worse, but this was probably a face (or ass) saving measure post-war. Flat accounts of what Hitler was like – he’s supposed to have had a fearsome temper, been extremely prone to monologuing to the point of tedium, etc – don’t seem to capture what would be so persuasive – although some accounts mention an ability to recall details that let him come off as very informed. He also had a reputation as a powerful public speaker – although the popular perception is of him ranting and raving. This may be due to selection bias – Speer, for example, describes a rally he went to where he was expecting a ranter and got a fairly calm and collected speaker.

    LBJ was also brought up (by Alsadius) as the possible candidate – from what I’ve read, he too had an extremely fearsome temper, but could be very convincing in person. However, this might have been more due to his political-maneuvering skills. Compared to JFK, he is not generally ranked as a great public speaker.

    In any case, what interests me about this is the descriptions of Hitler as angry and tedious, and yet as somehow extremely persuasive. It seems to gibe with how, just described, people who are charismatic wouldn’t seem that way – but when you watch them speak or interact with them, the charisma is there. What explains a person being persuasive or charismatic?

    • rlms says:

      Hitler’s speeches were filmed, so you can judge them for yourself. I think “Seinfeld” Is Unfunny (CW: TV Tropes) kind of applies here.

    • harland0 says:

      Hitler was the Steve Jobs of his time. He carried with him a reality distortion field that he used to his advantage. That, combined with uncommonly good luck, carried him to the gates of Moscow before he crapped out.

      Fun fact: you know who else was regarded as a genius in his time? Mussolini! His reputation as a preening buffoon idiot was built postwar, in his time he was a brilliant thinker and a leader to be admired, even by his enemies. Sort of like the Obama of his time. He employed all the best people, too, such as Giovanni Gentile, the Karl Marx of fascism. Gentile was, in fact, a lifelong socialist. Like Marx, he viewed socialism as the sine qua non of social justice, the ultimate formula for everyone paying their “fair share.” For Gentile, fascism is nothing more than a modified form of socialism, a socialism arising not merely from material deprivation but also from an aroused national consciousness, a socialism that unites rather than divides communities. Replace the nationalism with internationalism and Gentile provides a deeper and firmer grounding for modern American progressivism than anyone writing today.

    • baconbacon says:

      Very minor Clinton anecdote. When I was 18 I was involved with an organization that got a visit from Bill Clinton. There were a lot of people fighting over who got to be nearest the stage etc, and then there were the “we are to cool/uncaring about politics” guys (like me) in the back. Clinton comes out and you can feel yourself pushing towards him. By the end of a short speech the entire “we don’t give a shit” row was up front, having pushed our way through other people who were excited just by the name. It was absurd, and it is the only memory I have of that type of feeling for a public figure.

  42. I don’t think you understood the post about airfare. They weren’t talking about people who otherwise would not fly at all. They were talking about people who would normally fly sitting, but are burdened by the price. Those people, if they are offered the sitting price, “will feel obliged to take it.” And they deliberately used the word, “feel,” because they know there isn’t any real obligation. Basically they are saying that it is bad to offer the option because some people will take it, and that (according to them) will be bad for those people.

    Even if I don’t fully agree, I understand at an emotional level what they are talking about, because I do sometimes feel bad about the fact that a cheaper option is offered and I “feel obliged to take it” even when I don’t really like the option. It feels like it would feel better not to be offered the option at all, and just pay more without noticing that it is more.

    • Matt M says:

      Even if I don’t fully agree, I understand at an emotional level what they are talking about, because I do sometimes feel bad about the fact that a cheaper option is offered and I “feel obliged to take it” even when I don’t really like the option.

      At the risk of sounding callous or crass here, is it really the world’s job to cater to your own admitted irrationality? Your “feelings” in this case are dumb and illogical. You openly acknowledge them to be so. Do we really expect a world where dumb/illogical feelings are rewarded?

      If you cling to irrational practices, the market should take advantage of you. This is a feature, not a bug.

      • Jiro says:

        Did he actually admit to irrationality, or just being unable to explicitly analyze his feelings? Lots of people do things that they don’t know how to analyze, but which do turn out to be rational when analyzed after all.

  43. bean says:

    Iowa Part 5 – Korea and the 50s is up at Naval Gazing.
    Also, I’ve decided to cut the Monday repost, at least for the time being. I may bring it back when I have something I want to get out quickly, but I’m starting to run a bit low on posts I can throw up without substantial updates.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      This post talks a lot about bombardment. Would you be able to either change the article to include pictures of what one of those massive shells does on impact or include it in an upcoming series?

      • bean says:

        That’s a good idea. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any photos like that, but I haven’t really looked. A quick google doesn’t turn up anything useful, except a few pictures of Jean Bart, which isn’t quite the same. And thinking it over, if good photos existed, I expect I’d have copies in one of my books. Which I don’t.

        Edit: Best picture I’ve found is this one. I’m not sure I can use it directly, as I don’t know it’s a USN photo, which most of my pictures have been.

  44. kastaka says:

    The air standing thing is primarily a problem due to the Molochian race-to-the-bottom tendencies in such cases. If it’s received wisdom that you must provide seats on flights, then everyone provides seats on flights.

    If it’s proven that you don’t need to provide seats on flights, because someone breaks from the pack and does it, then if you want to survive in the cheap flights business you also rip out your seats and pack more people in.

    This means a bunch of people who could just about afford previous economy prices but can’t justify premium economy end up standing rather than sitting (and it becomes harder, once again, for disabled people to do normal things).

    • SamGamgee says:

      You’re assuming that the new standing option will cost as much as the current economy seat, but I see no reason to believe this. Scott’s point is that a standing-room option, being cheaper than the current cheapest seating option, would make flight itself available to many who currently cannot afford to fly. And if you can currently afford to pay for a seat, you would pay the same price for that seat under the new system. It would no longer be the cheapest, which could be a problem if you’re mentally fixated on only flying the cheapest option available, but otherwise you lost nothing.

      • The Nybbler says:

        And if you can currently afford to pay for a seat, you would pay the same price for that seat under the new system.

        Why? Seems to me price for seating is likely to go up; there’s now less of it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Every year, there are fewer 2014 Honda Accords on the road; does the price of a 2014 Honda Accord keep going up?

          It’s supply and demand, not just supply. Adding a substitute good to the market, reduces the demand for the original good. And if the total supply of broadly interchangeable goods (cars, airline tickets on a particular route), it is highly likely that the price for all goods in that class will decrease.

          That’s not guaranteed to be the case, but the potential exceptions mostly involve either nobody buying the standing tickets (in which case the whole experiment quickly ends) or all the standing tickets being bought by new entrants who couldn’t afford to fly at all (in which case a huge economic good was just done for those people).

        • The Nybbler says:

          Every year, there are fewer 2014 Honda Accords on the road; does the price of a 2014 Honda Accord keep going up?

          No, because there are 2018 Honda Accords (and Toyota Camrys and whatever Nissan is making now). In the standing seat scenario, the substitute good is a standing seat. If one year the car manufacturers rather insanely switched 2/3rds of their production to motorcycles, both the remaining 1/3rd of cars and used cars would go up in price significantly. Unlike with cars, there’s no value in a used airline ticket; I can’t buy a flight from last week when they had more seats. The entire supply is what’s being offered right now, and if the airlines have removed a huge amount of sitting supply, the price of that sitting supply is almost certainly going to go up.

          This is not a case of adding a substitute good; if someone started a new standing airline, that would be adding a substitute good. Instead, this is removing X sitting seats and replacing them with (3/2)X standing seats (or some similar proportion).

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @The Nybbler:

            The entire supply is what’s being offered right now, and if the airlines have removed a huge amount of sitting supply, the price of that sitting supply is almost certainly going to go up.

            I think the part I’ve bolded is the key difference between our intuitions here – it’s the difference between thinking in terms of static versus dynamic pricing response. In short, what’s being offered right now is a matter of choice. It’s something that could change – and would change – in response to new circumstances.

            Including a few standing seats allows fitting more people on a plane and serving a new group of customers that was previously unserved or underserved. This makes flights more profitable. When flying is more profitable, on the margin you should expect to see more flights.

            Right now some airline accountant is looking at some route and saying “that route isn’t profitable for us; we could save money by running fewer flights or shutting it down entirely.” Now suppose a technical change – any change – comes along which makes flying more efficient such that that route is 10% more profitable than it was before. What happens next? Some routes that would have been discontinued, aren’t. Competitors add more flights, buy more new planes, hold on longer to older planes they would have retired. The competitive equilibrium shifts a bit in favor of more flights, more convenient routings, even better service. When you allow for that possibility it starts to seem likely that regular economy seats might get better and cheaper over time with the new innovations.

  45. Jiro says:

    Having airlines have standing fare creates bad incentives on the part of the airlines. It is often true that an action makes nobody worse off and some people better in the current situation, but creates incentives that lead to people being worse off overall.

    At a minimum the price of sitting fare is going to go way up (airlines like market segmentation). I also expect that some flights will not have sitting seats at any price short of hiring a private plane, since if you have to travel and there are only standing fares, you have to get the standing fare.

    • bean says:

      At a minimum the price of sitting fare is going to go way up (airlines like market segmentation). I also expect that some flights will not have sitting seats at any price short of hiring a private plane, since if you have to travel and there are only standing fares, you have to get the standing fare.

      Why? It’s possible to make money at current densities. If the demand is there, someone will either keep all-sitting seats or start a new airline with all-sitting. It’ll cost 50% more than standing seats, but given how many people say they want to sit, it will exist. And then the legacies will have to match, unless they want all of their sitting business to flow elsewhere.
      Also, airplanes aren’t certified for that many more people. Ryanair can’t legally pack any more people onto their airplanes. They’re up against the 189-person certification on their -800s. You’ll see at most a couple rows, even assuming that the regulators let these things into the sky.

      • Jiro says:

        Why? It’s possible to make money at current densities.

        Standing fares are cheaper for the airline. The people who take flights still have to take the flights; demand for flights is inelastic. So the airline will replace sitting fares with standing ones and make more money. If the particular route can’t support a second flight, another airline will not be able to easily compete.

        Also, airplanes aren’t certified for that many more people.

        We’re speaking of a hypothetical where such considerations as not being certified don’t exist. Of course if government interference prevents the problem you won’t get the problem.

        • bean says:

          Standing fares are cheaper for the airline. The people who take flights still have to take the flights; demand for flights is inelastic.

          Why are they cheaper? Maybe the standing seat is a bit lighter, but if demand is inelastic, then they can’t find more people to fit onto the plane. The whole point is that it’s cheaper for both.

          So the airline will replace sitting fares with standing ones and make more money.

          If the particular route can’t support a second flight, another airline will not be able to easily compete.

          In terms of actually having one option, this is about .1% of traffic. Yes, you may have to take a connection instead, but that’s life. And airlines are not going to run specialized fleets for the few routes they could do this on, either.

          We’re speaking of a hypothetical where such considerations as not being certified don’t exist. Of course if government interference prevents the problem you won’t get the problem.

          Really? This is just a thought experiment, and nobody is actually worried about it? Could have fooled me.

          • baconbacon says:

            Why are they cheaper? Maybe the standing seat is a bit lighter, but if demand is inelastic, then they can’t find more people to fit onto the plane.

            Therein lies the rub. For these scenarios to work there has to be extreme asymmetry in the elasticity preferences on both sides. You need people happy with the current seating to not have an option to avoid the new situation, while having lots of people increase their demand for travel based on the lower prices.

        • Standing fares are cheaper for the airline. The people who take flights still have to take the flights; demand for flights is inelastic. So the airline will replace sitting fares with standing ones and make more money.

          If demand was inelastic, why didn’t they raise the fare for the sitting seat before standing seats became an option? You are assuming a monopoly, but ignoring the fact that the monopoly is already charging the profit maximizing fare–at which point a further increase, whether in more dollars or lower quality, reduces revenue.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Demand isn’t inelastic. Supply, on the other hand, mostly is; specifically there are only so many flights with so much space on them, the option of going to larger airplanes or more flights limited by things like airport facilities. But going to standing gets you a one-time increase in total supply, by creating standing supply at the expense of sitting supply. Sitting supply thus becomes more expensive.

          • bean says:

            specifically there are only so many flights with so much space on them, the option of going to larger airplanes or more flights limited by things like airport facilities.

            Not really. Some airports are slot-limited, but not nearly all of them. And there’s a fair bit of slack possible in the system in terms of upgaging. Specifically, there are lots of 757s sitting around which could be put back into service if the airlines need something bigger than 737s and A320s. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but you’re looking at a course of months to make the changes. Also, airlines have often held off retiring planes when they needed more capacity.

      • beleester says:

        Also, airplanes aren’t certified for that many more people. Ryanair can’t legally pack any more people onto their airplanes. They’re up against the 189-person certification on their -800s. You’ll see at most a couple rows, even assuming that the regulators let these things into the sky.

        I feel it’s mildly hypocritical to argue that allowing the free market to take its course will lead to an improvement in conditions for everyone, and then append “…and besides, government regulations will prevent these problems.”

        • bean says:

          I’m not a libertarian where air travel is concerned. I’ve seen way too much of what airlines would try to do if they weren’t stopped by regulation. But that’s a matter of safety. Standing seats may or may not be safe, but if they are, then I don’t see why airlines shouldn’t be allowed to cram as many people on as they can safely fit.
          Yes, it might be possible for the next generation of airliners to be fitted with more exit doors so they can cram in more people. But that’s not necessarily true, if this doesn’t get popular. And it might not. What I don’t get is the general chorus of ‘airlines will use this to screw people, and we’ll get less for our money’. It’s never been true once we factor out fuel prices.

  46. Naclador says:

    Dear Scott,

    I still think you are wrong with your “All you get is an extra option” argument. You ignore that every lower option shifts the baseline of what can reasonably be expected to be tolerated by low income “customers”. Unfortunately there is no good English translation for the German word “zumutbar”, otherwise I could make my point more elegantly. I suggest you read the “Rape Dentist” story from the Comments to your earlier post on this topic. It illustrates my point very vividly.

  47. vV_Vv says:

    I said it was silly to be angry at airlines offering a lower-fare standing option, since it’s just adding another choice to your list of choices. CA said I didn’t realize that actually some people are very poor and so couldn’t afford anything but standing room. I do realize that. My whole point was that if you are too poor to afford sitting fare, your only choice used to be “never fly”.

    Let’s say you are booking a flight for a business trip, and your company is paying for it. If standing “seats” are not available, you’ll just book a normal seat and that’s it. But they are available and you don’t book one, your admin may decide to give you shit for not choosing the cheapest option and therefore wasting the company’s money. The trip would have happened anyway, but the availability of a cheaper option can trade your comfort for your employer’s profit, or at least force you to negotiate for something that you would have otherwise got for free.

    This is a general issue with the kind of libertarian “the more choice the better” arguments like the one you make here: the more choice is always the better only if you see the economy as a set of independent, pairwise, voluntary transactions. In general, these conditions are not always met, and there can be many instances where more choice makes you worse. Indeed, this is the whole point of “credible commitment”: in many competitive scenarios you want to restrict your choices and signal it to others.

    • the more choice is always the better only if you see the economy as a set of independent, pairwise, voluntary transactions.

      They don’t have to be independent, and they are in some sense voluntary–you can always quit.

      Your employer is deciding whether to require you to take the standing option, which is $50 cheaper but which you regard as $100 worse, meaning that if you were paying for the trip yourself, you would only take it if it was at least $100 cheaper.

      Your employer is paying you some salary. Why isn’t it lower? Presumably because at that lower salary you wouldn’t be working for him. If he imposes a $100 cost on you, the lowest salary at which you will continue to work for him will be $100 higher, so insisting on the standing option will make him $50 poorer.

      The only way I can make sense of the arguments is to assume that the only constraint on how low your salary is is the point at which you starve to death, and I suspect that may be part of the implicit mental model. In that case, anything he can get out of you which makes you unhappy but doesn’t kill you is a free gain for him. As long as the constraint is “how unhappy can he be and still prefer this job on these terms to whatever his other options are” it isn’t.

      To see how wildly unreasonable that model is, consider that the average real income in the developed world at present is about twenty to thirty times what the average real income of the world was through most of history.

      I have a similar difficulty with stories about the airline industry where what price they charge for what services depends only on what people are willing to put up with, and that depends not on objective factors (cost of alternative forms of transportation, value of making the trip, …) but on whether people get angry at some level of service they do or don’t see as unfair. Even if every airline has a monopoly on its route, the extreme (and for most routes unrealistic) version of the “not competitive” model, the fact that I am allowed to offer you a lower quality of service doesn’t result in my providing it at the same price as the older higher quality used to go for, because the older version was already priced at the highest level people were willing to pay (slight simplification because customers are not identical).

      • Chalid says:

        Your employer is paying you some salary. Why isn’t it lower? Presumably because at that lower salary you wouldn’t be working for him. If he imposes a $100 cost on you, the lowest salary at which you will continue to work for him will be $100 higher, so insisting on the standing option will make him $50 poorer.
        The only way I can make sense of the arguments is to assume that the only constraint on how low your salary is is the point at which you starve to death

        I thought the obvious explanation is that the costs of switching jobs, for you, is high enough that the employer can do these irritating cost-saving measures without a high probability of triggering a job switch.

        In perfect frictionless etc. model the market will find a new equilibrium in which the employer trades off cost of flights versus expected cost of employee turnover. But the company is not atomic and this sort of thing can be an effective short-term money-saver, which is all some segments of management care about. The cost of you leaving your job is likely to be zero for the specific individual in charge of travel policies.

      • John Schilling says:

        They don’t have to be independent, and they are in some sense voluntary–you can always quit.

        More practically, you can always pay for the upgrade yourself. The airline will absolutely let you – really, it will encourage you – to pay for an upgrade to whatever ticket your employer bought for you.

        If sitting tickets cost $250 and standing tickets cost $200, your employer’s decision to only pay for standing tickets is financially equivalent to a pay cut of $50 * # of business flights per year. Up to you whether that’s worth quitting over, but there’s presumably a reason you are working for your current wages/salary and not $50 less.

        Pragmatically, employers aren’t going to do that anyway. First, employers need flexibility to change travel plans, which is generally bundled with the higher-priced ticket classes, not the sub-economy bargain classes. Second, employers already generally have policies allowing business-class rather than economy tickets for flights of greater than X hours duration and with the employee expected to work within Y hours of arrival; the same factors that drive that practical compromise will apply to standing vs sitting but with much shorter values of X and Y. Third, “forcing” employees to fly standing class will be like waving a red flag in front of OSHA, labor unions, and plaintiffs’ lawyers, all of whom will have no trouble finding doctors willing to say that flying while standing is uniquely unhealthy and Someone Must Pay.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Your employer is paying you some salary. Why isn’t it lower? Presumably because at that lower salary you wouldn’t be working for him. If he imposes a $100 cost on you, the lowest salary at which you will continue to work for him will be $100 higher, so insisting on the standing option will make him $50 poorer.

        In an economy textbook, maybe. But in the real world your employer does not pay you the lowest salary at which you will be willing to work for them. Would you run to HR asking for a rise while threatening to quit every time your employer enacted some annoying policy change? And if you did quit, what do you do next? Try to negotiate with other prospective employers over airline ticket classes, and a thousand of other things? The actual job market does not work like that.

        • John Schilling says:

          In an economy textbook, maybe. But in the real world your employer does not pay you the lowest salary at which you will be willing to work for them.

          And yet people here seem to be insisting that their employers will impose upon them the worst working conditions they would be willing to tolerate. The simplest way for an employer to pocket $50 is to find an employee who is being paid more than the lowest salary at which they would be willing to work, and cutting that employee’s salary by $50. Or, sticky wages being a thing, waiting for inflation to do that for them.

          If employers don’t do that w/re salary, why do you assume they will do that w/re travel costs?

          • The Nybbler says:

            If employers don’t do that w/re salary, why do you assume they will do that w/re travel costs?

            They _do_ do that with salary, mostly with sticky wages. That’s why the route to higher pay usually means changing jobs.

          • John Schilling says:

            They _do_ do that with salary, mostly with sticky wages.

            Are you disagreeing with multi-V’s assessment and claiming that (most) employers do pay the lowest salary at which their employees would be willing to work for them?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Are you disagreeing with multi-V’s assessment and claiming that (most) employers do pay the lowest salary at which their employees would be willing to work for them?

            No, but I’m saying the employers will try to make that so. It’s quite likely the employer left money on the table when hiring the employee. Even if they didn’t, however, the fact that changing jobs is hard means most employees will continue to work for less than their current market value if that market value goes up (including by inflation). Furthermore, while there are strong taboos against cutting salaries just because they can, there aren’t strong taboos against making conditions worse in other ways — including crappier travel reimbursement policies.

          • vV_Vv says:

            The employer would like to pay the employee the lowest wage they would be willing to work for, but the employee would like to be payed the highest wage the employer would be willing to pay for. The actual wage will be set anywhere in this range, depending on their relative bargaining power, negotiation ability and external factors (e.g. minimum wage laws, trade union collective bargaining, etc). Once the wage is set it is written in the employment contract and therefore become sticky: renegotiation is costly (there can be rules in the contract for automatic raises, but these rules are sticky too).

            Things like the airline seat class the employees is required to travel, however, are typically not part of the contract, they are part of the employer policy that can be easily changed. If the employees then want to compensate with a pay rise, then the burden of renegotiation is on them. Cutting an employee wage by $50, on the other hand, requires the employer to initiate renegotiation, which, even considering the difference in bargaining power, is costly.

          • John Schilling says:

            Once the wage is set it is written in the employment contract and therefore become sticky:

            I’d guess most Americans, at least, don’t have wages written in their employment contracts because they don’t have written employment contracts at all. That’s mostly a labor union thing (11.3% of the workforce) and for different reasons a senior-management thing. You could probably also count military enlistments and civil service as labor contracts – but I’m pretty sure the military doesn’t need to renegotiate or release you from your enlistment if Congress decides to reduce the salary for your grade.

            The relationship of most middle- and working-class Americans to their employers is such that there is no legal obstacle to the employer saying “Your salary is now $X, accept it or GTFO” on a whim, for any X above minimum wage and at any time. Yet this almost never happens except for values of X that are modestly higher than what the employee is being payed now. Same deal with the employee’s broad legal right to say “My salary is now $X, pay up or I walk”, and the much narrower range in which that right is actually exercised.

            If there’s a distance between wages and seats in this context, it mostly isn’t a legal or contractual one.

  48. OptimalSolver says:

    Shouldn’t we wait for the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics before musing on What Reality Is Actually Like?

  49. postgenetic says:

    Greetings …
    Passing Natural Selection Tests: link text
    3 minute read at Medium.
    Best …

  50. James says:

    Here’s a query, partly prompted by a discussion in the last or last-but-one open thread, wherein someone was asking about how to make vegetarian friends, and I quipped that sometimes I feel like all my friends are vegetarians.

    More generally, I feel like my friendship circle is in a very specific niche: something like activist, radical, left, feminist anarchovegans. You get the idea. “Having friends in the blue tribe” is hardly unique, but I’m not just talking about standard lefties: these people are probably about three standard deviations leftward of the mean!

    I’m not really sure how this happened, because that description… does not fit me, and I certainly didn’t deliberately filter my friends for radical progressiveness. Hypotheses:

    I’m filtering on some other criterion, which ends up filtering indirectly for political inclination. (I don’t know what that trait might be. Charitably, compassion; cynically, fashionability.)
    Lag: the friends I have now are mostly a function of the friends I made (say) five years ago, and five years ago I was more similar to them.
    Events: I meet people at the events I go to, which tend to be indie/DIY music things.

    I don’t know. I guess it’s not such a huge mystery; I’m just grappling with the weird fact that I seem to share very little actual political belief with the people with whom in other respects I feel like I share the most values and cultural context.

    Does anyone else feel like this? Not necessarily with the same niche that I’m talking about, but just in general. Have you ended up in a very specific niche into which you don’t quite fit?

    • Vitor says:

      One branch of my circle of acquaintances fits this description pretty closely. Far left, but neither SJWs nor (traditional) communists. More like “let’s reshape society so that everyone can be happy and prosperous” (utopian? hippie?). Community oriented but welcoming of individuality. Tendentially anticapitalist (“let’s abolish inheritance, and ban interest rates while we’re at it”). Pro multiculturalism, but not blindly so. Creative, DIY tinkerers. New-agey in a low-key way.

      As to non-political traits those people share: Being openminded in the true sense of the word – they will go to great lengths to try understanding people different from them. Mature, generous, relaxed, tolerant, not into signalling games. These things are very attractive to me, at least in moderate doses. It’s not surprising that I get along with them very well, much better than with any other non-nerd group.

      • Nornagest says:

        That sounds like Aging Hippie v1.0 to me. Do you live in one of the towns where the hippies ended up after Berkeley and Haight-Ashbury got too expensive? Examples include Ashland, Oregon and Taos, New Mexico, but there are others scattered all around the West (and probably the East too, I just don’t know it as well). Typically smallish mountain towns with some kind of cultural feature attached.

        • Vitor says:

          I live in Europe, actually. Unfortunately the places you mention don’t mean much to me. This group of people is relatively young and more practical-minded than hippies 1.0, pursuing relatively mainstream career paths. Not bad off financially.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          According to Bender B. Rodriguez, Eugene, Oregon and not Ashland is the hippie and hobo capital.
          Darn fine Shakespeare company, though.

      • James says:

        Yeah, your bunch sound kinda similar.

        Yeah, a very high degree of openness is actually quite a good guess at what I share with these people. I hadn’t thought of that; thanks.

  51. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The links about how low-tech/foreign people think reminds me of a pet peeve– seeing pre-scientific innovation described as trial and error. I think that description leaves out that people who are doing the trials typically have experience of the material and (possibly tacit) theories.

    Also, it’s interesting that I don’t think our governments and our arts are described as trial and error, even though there’s a lot of guessing involved in both.

    As for the rational response to problems and incentives problem, does it help to explain really bad mistakes like Nazi Germany or the Khmer Rouge?

    • quanta413 says:

      The links about how low-tech/foreign people think reminds me of a pet peeve– seeing pre-scientific innovation described as trial and error.

      Wait, trial and error is pre-scientific? I have been doing science all wrong.

      Ok sorry, just a joke for now, but I’ll think of a more detailed response later.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think a lot of scientific innovation is much more trial-and-error (and bash your head against the desk) than the final story for it appears. For any complicated thing we understand well now, there were a few people who worked on it and developed our current understanding. Those people did a lot of hard work, but it’s a mistake to think they’re the story of how we got to understand it. Instead, there are dozens or hundreds of people who were working in adjacent bits of science, trying to understand things that seemed just as important, but they didn’t pan out. Sometimes lots of people were trying to figure out every step of what the final understanding turned out to be, and we only hear of the one guy who happened to get it more-or-less right.

  52. Svejk says:

    Following on the floor of social expectations idea, I think most people who complain are subconsciously envisioning a slippery slope phenomenon where, once it is established that $lowest_tier_flier will pay to stand for an entire flight, the idea of standing is normalized, and prices can be raised on all other seats. Then current mid-high range fliers will pay a bounty to avoid the nuisance of standing at t+1, while the current lowest tier will end up paying current rates to stand at t+1. This will mean that the current lowest tier has the same effective range of choices as before, but receive an inferior product. The tier beneath the lowest tier, current non-fliers, will have a brief window when they can fly, but will eventually be shut out again by increased prices.

    The airline benefits by permanently increasing the number of fares a plane can accommodate. The point of this measure is to increase the capacity of the airplane, not to broaden the flying experience to a wider economic belt, and so if that can be done by running fewer, fuller planes with today’s crop of fliers – some of them standing – at tomorrow’s prices, that is an acceptable outcome for the airlines.

    Perhaps in an optimistic pricing scenario (the number of planes per route is not reduced), current nonfliers can still afford to fly at t+2 – it is still not clear why current air travelers should welcome a general decline in their flying experience so that the plane can be made even more full – this is exactly the sort of thing consumers tend to complain about.

    I wonder how these new standing seats comply with safety rules? As I understand it, current plane evacuation times are already artificially lowered by the lab conditions under which they are carried out.

  53. Winter Shaker says:

    Relevant to those with an interest in drug policy, and those into libertarian-vs-regulation arguments: my corner of the world has just been given the judicial green light to go ahead and implement a minimum-price-per-unit alcohol policy. As I understand it, it is not a tax; you just cannot legally sell alcoholic drinks for less than 50p per 10 milliliters of pure alcohol, and you pay the normal rate of tax on it at that higher price.

    Likely to have a negligible effect on the price of high-end craft beers and wines, a more noticeable effect on spirits, and a substantial effect on the price of the sort of cheap, industrially-produced ciders and lagers which, in the refreshingly honest words of a local off-licence worker in the city I used to live in, are intended primarily for ‘people who have problems’.

    As a supporter of harm reduction in drug policy, I am cautiously optimistic that this can help to reduce some of the worst excesses of alcoholism, but am interested in what the commentariat here thinks.

    • johnjohn says:

      Huh. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of anything like that before.
      It actually sounds like a fairly good way to handle it.

      An interesting effect it might have is to put a lower bound on quality, when the cheapest swill is priced the same as less cheap swill I’d imagine the former would go out of business

      • BBA says:

        There’s something similar in the US for tobacco – I sometimes see stores advertise that cigarettes are sold at the “state minimum.” This is related to but distinct from the per-unit sin tax on cigarettes.

    • James says:

      the sort of cheap, industrially-produced ciders and lagers which, in the refreshingly honest words of a local off-licence worker in the city I used to live in, are intended primarily for ‘people who have problems’.

      Hey, watch what you’re saying, pal! Buckie’s a tonic wine, I’ll have ye know!

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Hey, I was enjoying a swig or two of buckfast at a party just last weekend. Also some salmiakki liqueur (and the combination of both is worth experiencing).

        Edited to add: Buckfast is not actually that cheap (and because of its high caffeine content and extreme sugary-appeal-to-youngsters, is kind of its own thing) … I looked it up, and actually, at least according to this analysis, Buckfast is too expensive to be affected by the change.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Harumph. It’s bad enough being poor without being told that even drowning one’s sorrows in alcohol is for the better-off.

    • psmith says:

      Clandestine home production of alcoholic beverages is a fine old Highland tradition (“The Gordon Women,” The Sheikh and the Dustbin, Fraser 1988) and I look forward to its return.

    • SamChevre says:

      This seems to me to be a bar protection measure: that’s a low-end price in a bar, but it is wildly high relative to liquor costs in a store.

      Translating into American, I get a price of $0.66 per UK drink (10 ml ethanol), which is a minimum price of $20 for a bottle (750 ml) of standard 80-proof liquor–$45 for a handle (1.75 L).

      For comparison, I can buy decent blended Scotch (JW Red, Teachers) or mid-tier bourbon (Four Roses, EW 1783) or British Gin (Tanqueray, Beefeaters, Bombay) for $30 a handle: I can buy acceptable gin (Seagrams) or basic Bourbon (Evan Williams) for $20 a handle.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I’ve seen it claimed that the UK’s traditional drinking culture where it was consumed in pubs rather than taken away for home consumption had something of a protective effect, and that once supermarket alcohol sales became normalised, alcohol problems became worse. In which case, a policy that nudges people back towards pub sales away from supermarket sales wouldn’t be so obviously terrible.

        But as a snobbish craft ale drinker, and also a non-snobbish lowest-common-denominator pub food eater, my usual haunt will tend to be a Wetherspoons, where I can get a pint of Camra-approved beer for not significantly more than I’d pay for an equivalent-sized bottle in the supermarket anyway. Tangentially, there is actually a weird phenomenon where, in a lot of places, you actually pay more for a pint of generic merely-tolerable Anheuser–Busch InBev product than a tastier brew from a smaller craft brewery; that’s another story, where I’m not really sure what’s going on.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’m fascinated by the differences in alcohol prices between different places.

          Here, I can get a 6-pack of 12-oz (~330 ml) bottles of most craft beer for $9.00–so $1.50 for a single 330 ml bottle. (This would be right at minimum price for a 6.5% beer; I could easily buy cheap beer for half that). One decent beer in a bar would cost at least $5, probably $6–and I’d leave a dollar tip. So here, a beer in a bar is 4x as much as a beer in a supermarket. What would the comparison be between Wetherspoons and a supermarket?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            The sort of beer I personally would buy at a supermarket tends to be between £1.50 and £2 for a 500ml bottle, and the sort of beer I’d buy at a Wetherspoons tends to be about £2 a pint (I’m still not very clear on why we have metric bottles but imperial pub measures for beer, I’m pretty sure that the pub measures for wine and spirits are all metric). But cheaper supermarket beers are available, and if I’m traveling to the big city then the pub prices tend to be a lot more.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          I have heard that Wetherspoons buy casks which are cheaper because they are almost expired, and rely on their very high footfall- Wetherspoons pubs are often much larger than typical English pubs- to finish the cask before it goes off. Maybe this has something to do with it?

    • baconbacon says:

      Likely to have a negligible effect on the price of high-end craft beers and wines, a more noticeable effect on spirits, and a substantial effect on the price of the sort of cheap, industrially-produced ciders and lagers which, in the refreshingly honest words of a local off-licence worker in the city I used to live in, are intended primarily for ‘people who have problems’.

      In general making the drug of choice for people with problems more expensive leads to harder versions of that drug, and/or more crime associated with obtaining that drug.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Possibly also more financial problems, but not taking up theft.

        I doubt it’s true lately, but earlier accounts of porn addiction included spending much more money than the person could afford.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Making a drug-of-choice illegal is certainly widely believed to lead to harder versions of that drug. I’m not sure that making it still legal but more expensive would have the same effect, except to the degree that people are currently smuggling illegally-brewed or untaxed beer or wine and will be incentivised to switch to spirits. But I’d agree that it is likely to lead to more crime associated with obtaining alcohol, committed by those that are determined to get it at any price. The question is to what degree that will be offset by a reduction in crime committed while under the influence, by people who are now buying less alcohol in the first place.

        In any case, I hope that we manage to implement a robust monitoring regime to accurately assess the effects of this new law – like I said, I’m cautiously optimistic, but am willing to be shown mistaken if we actually get good data.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      This may be the closest I’ve ever seen anyone come to saying “Let them eat cake” un-ironically.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Okay, but we genuinely do have a public health problem, and I don’t think that cusp-of-the-revolution France had a comparable problem with the side effects of people eating too much bread.

        • rlms says:

          [citation needed]

          • Winter Shaker says:

            By ‘we’ I mean Scotland, which, unless people have successfully pulled the wool over my eyes, does have higher rates of alcohol-related problems than the rest of the UK. See here for example, in which Central Scotland (to a first approximation, ‘the part of Scotland which is inhabited by humans’) has the highest rates of alcohol-related mortality in the UK by some margin (link to chart).

            I haven’t had time to read through the whole of NHS Scotland’s ‘Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy’ (MESAS) report from 2016 yet, but from the executive summary: “rates of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity in Scotland continues to be higher than in the 1980s and higher than England & Wales”, although “Monitoring trends in alcohol consumption shows that population consumption has declined in recent years, although that decline may now be flattening”. “The most reliable and robust indicators of alcohol related harm are alcohol-related mortality and hospitalisation rates. In general, both of these have been declining in recent years. The decline in the alcohol-related mortality rate started from peaks in 2003 for men and in 2006 for women. Rates have not declined since 2012 for either gender. Alcohol-related hospitalisations began to decline from 2008/09 for both genders.”

            However, “Given the timing of the declines it is clear that factors external to the strategy are likely to have contributed to changes in alcohol-related mortality and hospitalisation, especially male mortality. It is likely that rising and then falling incomes, especially for the poorest groups, over the 1990s and 2000s, explain part of the rise and fall in alcohol consumption and harms in Scotland over that time period.” Which would suggest that reducing the affordability of alcohol can have some positive effect on reducing rates of alcohol-related harm. Whether it can do so without creating greater harms elsewhere, I am not sure, but in any case it doesn’t sound obviously crazy.

          • rlms says:

            Sorry, I making a joking request regarding your second claim. I appreciate the data though! It’s interesting that the South West has such high consumption but such a low mortality rate.

    • actinide meta says:

      Drugs Now Legal If User Is Employed

      WASHINGTON, DC—Seeking to “narrow the focus of the drug war to the true enemy,” Congress passed a bill legalizing drug use for the gainfully employed Monday.

      • Evan Þ says:

        In all seriousness, that would to a first approximation differentiate between people who are and aren’t addicted.

        On the other hand, the first approximation isn’t that great. You can be physically dependent while keeping your job, legally having to go cold turkey as soon as you lose it would be bad, and you could get addicted and on course to ruin your life before said addiction gets you fired.

        • SamChevre says:

          You can be physically dependent while keeping your job

          This was the conclusion of the British wrt opium: I remember it being in the 1929 Encyclopedia Britannica we had when I was a child. They studied dockworkers somewhere in Asia (I think Hong Kong) and concluded that opium use had little impact on reliability, amount of work done, etc as long as opium was available at a predictable quality and price.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Compare to the German law that the cheapest beverage on the menu cannot be alcoholic.

      • Evan Þ says:

        @Douglas Knight, do they or do they not include water? Fanta? Apple juice?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Before the law soda was more expensive than the cheapest beer and now it is cheaper. I don’t know which price changed (which may vary from bar to bar).

          European bars and restaurants don’t serve tap water, or at least don’t list it on the menu. If you order water, you’ll get expensive mineral water. Fruit juice is expensive.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            FSVO Europe. In the UK (or at least England & Wales, I don’t know about Scotland or NI) venues that serve alcohol are required by law to serve free tap water. Although I have occasionally had to specifically ask to ensure I don’t get expensive mineral water- usually at concert venues.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Before the law soda was more expensive than the cheapest beer and now it is cheaper.

            Interesting and weird! Everywhere I’ve seen here in the US, soda’s much cheaper than the cheapest alcoholic drink, and tap water is free.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            From the American point of view, your quibbling sounds like agreement.

            And the British…but are they European?

    • …the sort of cheap, industrially-produced ciders and lagers which, in the refreshingly honest words of a local off-licence worker in the city I used to live in, are intended primarily for ‘people who have problems’.

      An admittedly somewhat Puritanical friend of mine once claimed that the overwhelming majority of all beverage alcohol is consumed by addicts, so that selling to non-alcoholics is a “small side market.”

      Is that true? Or, if it isn’t true of beer and wine, what about distilled spirits?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I think it depends on how you define addicts. Your Puritanical friend might have a wider definition than you.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        To say that selling to non-alcoholics is a “small side market” is a bit of an exaggeration, but this Australian study reports the top 20% of consumers buying 54% of the wine, 57% of the beer and 62% of the spirits. I found this article from the UK, which presents a similar picture, though annoyingly, only talks about ‘risky drinkers’ rather the top X%.

        Also this one from the US, which again presents things in a different format, while telling a similar story – it seems overwhelmingly likely that there is a strong skew towards ‘power users’ in the alcohol market, but difficult to get a handle on exact percentages.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The US study has come up before. Basically it takes self-reported alcohol consumption from a survey, and scales it up (I think by roughly a factor of 2) based on the difference between total self-reported alcohol consumption and total alcohol sales. I really don’t think this is valid; it assumes that underreporting is the same across the spectrum from light drinkers to heavy.

        • quaelegit says:

          That’s actually a much more modest skew than usual, at least according to the Pareto Principal.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        The second clause does not follow from the first. The second clause is ambiguous, but probably false. If the addicts are drinking a lot of alcohol, they are probably drinking cheap alcohol. The remaining market may have less alcohol, but it probably has a more gross revenue per drink and probably a lot more profit per drink. It should probably not be described as “a small side market.”

    • Acedia says:

      How much data do we have on what people do when you take a moderately-but-not-cripplingly unhealthy coping mechanism away from them without offering any replacement?

      I’ve always suspected that the number of people who rely on regular alcohol consumption in order to cope with the stresses of modern life is much higher than commonly believed or admitted. If this sort of legislative social engineering becomes widespread I guess I’ll find out whether I’m right.

  54. Well... says:

    Are there any email providers that operate under the same ethos as DuckDuckGo? (Meaning they don’t track you, etc.)

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      It’d be cool if they didn’t even store your emails, except in encrypted form. In other words, only the recipient and I would see the unencrypted emails.

      • Iain says:

        This is a fundamentally hard problem. To a first approximation, anybody who claims to have solved it is probably wrong. Here’s an article from a prominent cryptographer explaining where Lavabit went wrong. Here’s a deeper explanation of why any solution that does exist will not have a webmail client.

        If you really want to communicate sensitive messages, Signal (a messaging program) seems to be the unanimous choice of the crypto people I follow.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

          Signal seems to be well-thought-out and implemented.

          If you can get everyone with whom you communicate to put an application on their phone/pad/computer, then you can get encrypted email. GPG does this, albeit with a user experience like ordering food in a foreign country where you don’t know the local language. But this isn’t actually so hard in crypto terms.

          This is in fact what you’re doing when you use Signal–you and your friends have downloaded the same application, which handles the key management in some basically sensible way, so the message is encrypted on your computer, sent encrypted over the network, and only decrypted on your friend’s computer. Nobody in between ever sees anything but random-looking bits, and there’s nobody who can be coerced or bribed or convinced or infiltrated to decrypt your messages.

          The harder part is not leaking information about who’s talking to whom. (AKA the metadata) There are ways to do that, but I don’t know of any systems that are practical and available now that do a good job of it. Maybe people are still running remailer networks?

        • actinide meta says:

          To a first approximation, anybody who claims to have solved it is probably wrong.

          Challenge accepted! I love being probably wrong.

          Desiderata:
          1. Web interface
          2. End-to-end encryption
          3. Full text search
          4. Acceptable key management
          5. Secure against active attacks (nasty code injection) by the web server

          This is in increasing order of difficulty, so let’s start at the bottom. The html for the web app will be nothing but a script, embedded or loaded from a CDN using subresource integrity. You can save the page locally, protecting you against future active attacks and in principle giving you an opportunity to audit the entire source code of the script. Communications with the webmail backend will be through an untrusted client running in an iframe, so that they work even when the page itself is being loaded from somewhere other than the origin server.

          Obviously saving web pages locally is a bit of a tacky compromise with desideratum #1, but I think it’s the best we can do until browsers implement integrity in a URI scheme or application cache (which would be pretty easy, if there were a lot of demand). And you can smoothly degrade to having just desiderata 1-4 by just using the web app directly. (This is not worthless for security: most governments probably can’t legally compel a provider to do active attacks, and active attacks are detectable so they can’t generally be used for dragnet surveillance. And securing static web servers and their TLS keys against attackers should be easier than securing an entire mail infrastructure.)

          Next, key management. By preference, we’ll use the WebCrypto API. I haven’t audited it, but it looks like it’s intended to address tptacek’s complaint about the lack of a keystore (and random numbers, and timing attacks). If for some reason that’s hopeless, we could still have a chance: combine a random blob from our untrustworthy server with a high entropy passphrase stored in your password manager, and stir with a proper KDF, using pure javascript. (And there are *some* constructions that don’t rely on random numbers…)

          Full text search: The webmail provider provides a raw storage API to the client. The client incrementally generates a full text search index (using a Javascript port of something like Lucene), encrypts it using its local keys, and stores it to the webmail provider as binary blobs. When doing a search, it reads (and decrypts) just the byte ranges it needs from these opaque objects. The selective reads might permit the provider to do some weak traffic analysis on searches, but this seems like a small issue compared to all the other communications metadata that’s available to a provider. The truly paranoid could cache the entire encrypted search index in their localStorage, so the provider wouldn’t see anything except full downloads and writes of new index files.

          End-to-end encryption: Something like OpenPGP, using the local keys, should be more or less end-to-end secure. Again, use the Web Crypto API for random numbers and some protection against side channel attacks. The webmail provider can encrypt incoming unencrypted mail with your public key before storing it, because why not?

          Bonus: End-to-end encrypted e-mail should be forbidden from containing HTML references to external images etc. Unencrypted mail should have all such references resolved (and converted to attachments) by the webmail provider before encrypting. Even e-mails to totally invalid addresses should have all references resolved. This prevents senders of e-mail from obtaining any information about whether their mail is delivered or read.

          Now tear it apart!

          (p.s. I think protonmail might qualify as an answer to @Well’s original question, though it doesn’t attempt 3-5 above if you use webmail)

          (p.p.s. My first attempt at posting this got eaten by akismet? Apologies if it somehow appears more than once.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I have a public key (say, an RSA key). My email is encrypted to me under that RSA key.

            If you’re providing me a web front end, then it looks to me like the only way for the rest of this situation to work is:

            a. I enter a passphrase into a webform over a TLS connection.

            b. Your machine uses my passphrase to decrypt my private key.

            c. Your machine uses my private key to decrypt my emails[1].

            d. Your server shows me the email text over TLS.

            At this point, your server is the attack point. If you are compelled by law (as with Lavabit) or threatened or bribed or infiltrated, then your server records my private key when it’s decrypted hands it over to the feds/the mafia/that Saudi prince I pissed off/the FSB .

            If I can assume that there’s a completely uncoerceable and trustworthy server that will safeguard my email, then yeah, secure email is easy. We can just use Gmail, for that matter.

            [1] Really, each encrypted email has a randomly-generated AES key which is encrypted under my RSA key, so there are a couple steps there.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s pretty easy to store stuff encrypted. The procedure looks something like this:

            – You are given a front-end. You enter a password. The password gets used along with some other stuff to generate a symmetric key and a credential, which can’t be derived from each other. The symmetric key stays with you. The credential gets sent to the server where it’s used to authenticate you.

            – You put stuff into the front-end. The front-end uses the symmetric key to turn that stuff into an encrypted blob. The blob gets sent to the server, where it’s stored. You log off.

            – Later, you log back on and repeat the credentialing process. You pull down the blob and use your symmetric key to decrypt it. You now have useful data.

            – Later still, the Saudi prince you pissed off bribes a disgruntled tech for access to the server where your user data is stored. He gains access to a hash of your credentials and to your encrypted user data, but he can’t do anything with it, because the keys to it never left your machine.

            The disadvantage of this procedure is that you’re completely hosed if you ever lose your password, so it’s not common in the wild, where passwords get lost or replaced all the time. It also takes capabilities that, while technically feasible for a Web client (you can do everything here in JS), are not traditionally used at that layer, and the layer’s not optimized for them.

          • Brad says:

            The problem with that the Saudi prince can change the software so that the next time you log in the javascript takes the symmetric key from localstorage and sends it to the server. And it can be set up so that only you get this new compromised software so you can’t rely on other’s auditing the source for you.

            That’s a vulnerability that is far worse in the web app scenario than it is in the open source mail client scenario (though it still exists there, especially if you don’t verify downloads).

          • actinide meta says:

            @albatross11

            The solution I give above doesn’t follow your abcd process at all. Your private key never leaves your local computer, where it is stored by your browser’s keystore and/or encrypted with a passphrase which never crosses the network. In general, you can’t criticize a proposed solution by proposing a different solution and then proving that the different solution doesn’t work.

            @Nornagest

            you’re completely hosed if you ever lose your password

            This is true. In my solution I delegate this problem to your brower’s keystore, or failing that your password manager. The state of the art solutions are (a) paper backups or (b) hardware security modules (see Apple’s account recovery system which is a pretty thoughtful balancing of these concerns).

            It also takes capabilities that, while technically feasible for a Web client (you can do everything here in JS), are not traditionally used at that layer, and the layer’s not optimized for them.

            It’s actually a little worse than that. See the article by tptacek in the post I’m replying to. It’s a little out of date (because of the web crypto API), but the problem with the server being able to inject code you don’t want is still very serious. That’s what I’m addressing with my “download the web page” solution

            @Brad

            My proposal crudely addresses this problem (active attacks) by letting you download the web page once (via Save As… in your web browser) and audit and use that version. I also think that active attacks would be mitigated if everyone connects to the service via Tor, so that the server can’t target specific users before they have logged in, and there are several third parties on the lookout for any changes to the code.

            I would love to see a feature of web browsers, analogous to certificate transparency, that would make it easier and more secure to distribute open source web apps where every released version is clearly visible to the public. Maybe IPFS will take us in that direction?

          • Brad says:

            @actinide meta
            I saw that. I was responding to the point Nornagest made.

            It terms of your proposal, my biggest question would be what advantage this model has over a traditional email client. The big advantage to a web app is the ability to go to any computer and just start using it without installing anything. But in this case that advantage doesn’t apply.

          • BBA says:

            The advantage is, nobody uses a traditional email client anymore. (Except for me, but I’m nobody.)

          • beleester says:

            Yeah, if you have to download the web page only once to maintain security, and you need a browser extension to handle crypto work, then you aren’t really writing a web app, you’re writing a native app that happens to use Javascript.

          • actinide meta says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by a browser extension. The Web Crypto API is standardized and apparently available in pretty much all current browsers. When tptacek wrote his article, it was a different story.

            Obviously the downloading thing is gross, but it really helps you if you are planning to audit the code. How much of your software have you personally audited the current version of? Most people would just live with my desiderata 1-4, as they do with their native software, especially if we could get a standardized “version transparency” feature to make targeted attacks obvious.

            If browsers gained native support for IPFS URLs, that would be a more secure and elegant solution!

    • James says:

      Maybe Zoho? Their main thing is paid email accounts for businesses with their own domain, and they offer single-user email addresses for free, I think primarily as a loss leader. I don’t think they even run ads, let alone personalised/tracked ones.

      • Well... says:

        Looks like that works, thanks.

        • James says:

          One caveat is that in that case the continuity of your email address at that domain is at the mercy of them continuing to offer that service. This is pretty much guaranteed for the foreseeable future for a behemoth like gmail, but for a little startup like Zoho, it’s uncertain; they could easily either fold or stop offering free accounts. Given how much we tend to rely on our email addresses staying consistent, this may be a problem.

          One solution is to get your own domain and set up an email address there, hosted by a third party like Zoho. Again, Zoho offer this for free for a handful of email addresses (maybe <= 5?), and you can still access your email through their web interface like before. The difference is that if they choose to close your free account or make you pay for it, you can take your account to another provider without having to change your email address.

    • helaku says:

      Posteo.de (requires annual payment for full options)
      Autistici.org (supported by donates which is kinda trustworthy)
      However they definitely store your emails. You can download emails via an email client; I don’t know if they keep copies of those email though (probably yes).

    • Well... says:

      Thanks everyone for the responses so far.

      What I’m primarily concerned about isn’t my emails being stored by the company providing the service, but rather having my emails mined for data–to what degree it’s anonymized and how it’s used I don’t care so much, mainly that it isn’t mined in the first place.

      • helaku says:

        It’s hard to be completely sure whether they mine for data from your emails — I think the only solution for you in this case is to set up your own mail server or to encrypt all your communications. Because there is no guarantee that the other side’s email provider does not mine for data.

        The second provider mentioned in my comment states this, for example: we do not keep sensitive information about them (ie logs, IPs, IDs, ecc.) nor we do any sort of commercial data mining.. And they are kinda strict on that, as far as I can tell. Even when I communicated with them regarding some technical issues, all communications were encrypted with their public key.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’ve heard that Protonmail, CERN’s email service, is pretty good.

      That said, I wouldn’t recommend using it if you’re planning on building a time machine. At least not unless you have an IBN 5100.

    • pontifex says:

      Are there any email providers that operate under the same ethos as DuckDuckGo? (Meaning they don’t track you, etc.)

      If you’re trying to avoid having your data mined by a giant internet company like Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft, you can pay for email service from a smaller provider. Fastmail is a very good one.

      Keep in mind, though, that a huge number of people do use the surveillance email systems, and your emails will be tracked by them regardless. For example, every time you email a gmail user, or a gmail user emails you, Google gets a copy of that email. Despite this, I think it’s still worth Ungoogling yourself as much as you can. But it’s not a panacea.

      Another thing to keep in mind about email is that it’s never, ever, a secure communications channel. You should never say anything in an email that you wouldn’t be comfortable shouting to your co-workers, or explaining to a judge. This is especially true for corporate emails. If a company gets sued, the plaintiff can force the company to literally print out all its emails for the prosecutor to comb over for evidence. (This is part of the “discovery” process.)

      And if you think you can secure your email against state actors– think again. Trying to match wits with the NSA is already a fool’s errand, but with an insecure protocol like SMTP it’s doubly so. If you really want to do something nefarious, first of all don’t do it, and second of all, use almost any other channel of communication but email.

  55. bean says:

    Reminder:
    Page 1 of the low-cost airline PR handbook reads as follows:
    “A good way to get free press is to talk about charging for something nobody in their right mind would, like the bathrooms, or putting something absurd on your planes, like standing seats. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has done this very well.”
    Also, the standing seats do not have regulatory approval, which is vitally important.
    I’ll save my more specific criticisms for later.

    • johan_larson says:

      “The toilets are still free. But the toilet paper will be $1 per square.”

    • bean says:

      Right. Detailed snark at CA time:

      What is the most reprehensible innovation human beings have yet produced? The atom bomb seems the leading contender

      You mean the device that kept the Cold War from going hot? The reason we haven’t had a global war since 1945? (Large rant cut because it’s not the point I’m trying to make here.)

      “There are people out there right now researching whether you can fly standing up. We’re very interested in anything that makes travel less expensive.”

      Right. In other words “We’re cheap, fly with us!”. I follow airlines pretty closely, and hadn’t heard of VivaColumbia before this. Their strategy is working.

      Most of us, if we could, would choose to fly in the 1970s Boeing Tiger Cabin rather than strapped to a vertical board

      That’s a concept cabin for the belly of the 747. It never flew, and is a result of the time before the 1973 oil crisis and the days when widebodies were new and nobody knew what to do with them. So CA is comparing a cabin that never flew with a cabin that can’t fly because it hasn’t been approved by the regulators.
      The regulators are the most important people here. I used to work in airline regulatory affairs, writing up safety documentation. I was told that it’s easier to put a medical device in a person than a new part on an airliner. I’m not sure that it’s true, but it’s not too far off. These things would get tested within an inch of their lives before they’d be allowed to be put on planes. Yes, that includes things like crash safety. People who raise that as a potential problem should not be taken seriously.

      But because we’re not billionaires, we’re not going to fly in the Emirates fully-enclosed Mercedes Benz-designed luxury suite.

      I’m a bit of a miles and points geek, and you can get into almost any first-class cabin in the world with some well-chosen credit-card spend. It may only be once every couple of years, but it’s possible. Modern business class is really, really nice, and cheaper than ever. If you pay attention and are flexible, it’s usually possible to cross the Atlantic in a flat bed for $1000 or so roundtrip. Billionaires don’t fly Emirates, either. They fly private.

      And as airlines steadily decrease legroom,

      I’ll grant you that AAL’s decisions there are stupid and annoying, and United looks poised to follow. In the universe where we ignore the existence of Southwest, this is a serious problem.

      making flying ever more uncomfortable so that the industry makes tens of billions of dollars in profit, we’ll put up with it because upgrading is outrageously expensive and our wages have stagnated.

      Despite what the airline executives will tell you, I’m far from convinced that their current profitability is here to stay long-term. Oil prices are low, and the economy is good, so planes are full. Let’s say there’s another terrorist attack. Oil prices rocket, the economy slumps. Good-bye profit. (I’m aware that Warren Buffet disagrees with me on this, but I’ll stick to my guns.)
      The real problem is the idiot who invented capacity discipline. But I think that’s starting to crack, too. Hello fare wars!

      In a world where everybody could choose between the Tiger Cabin and the Standing Seat, without either choice leaving them materially deprived, extra choices would be unobjectionable good.

      That requires us to be so rich that we can afford to throw around factors of 10 in airliner floorspace without it changing the cost. I’m not sure what world you’re living in, but this does not seem likely.

      TLDR: Nathan J Robinson does not understand the airline industry.

  56. JulieK says:

    Do non-creationist Christians believe that humans have souls (and other beings don’t)?

    • Nick says:

      What do you mean by non-creationist? Non–young earth creationists sure can and usually do (see Catholicism, Orthodoxy, mainline Protestantism), but if a Christian doesn’t think God created the universe at all, I have no idea what they might or might not believe.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m going to assume that by using the term “non-creationist Christians” you want to specify “Christians who are not Young Earth/Biblical literalist Seven Literal Days of 24 Literal Hours Each Creationists” (which is my big problem with the way that term is used in those Science Vs Religion surveys, as it forces you if you’re a believer to pick the ‘yup, the earth is only six thousand years old’ option or the ‘ha ha belief in a god and not the Glorious Truth of Science?’ option, neither of which is fully satisfactory and will give a bad result for the poll data).

      So, the question as I am taking it to be is “Do Christians who accept some form of theistic evolution as their exceptional case and otherwise have no quibbles about geology and the likes think humans have souls and other beings don’t?”

      Humans – yes. Other beings – if you mean terrestrial animals, no. If you mean “aliens from other planets” – that depends.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Wait, I’m confused — do Christians (of the type you describe) believe that humans have been evolved, but all other animals have been created ex nihilo ? This sounds odd…

        • SamChevre says:

          Other way round (and this describes me). Everything, including humans, evolved–but at some point, a specific pair of proto-humans became human, and divine intervention was involved in that transformation.

          The difference is specifically in having a human soul–AKA “human-ness”. Animals have animal souls (at least, per Aquinas)–and think of soul as “the essence of the kind-of-thing it is”, and that makes sense.

          Remember, soul is confusing–Greek philosophy often has “soul” meaning specifically human faculties (logic and language), while Aquinas means something closer to “essential nature.” “Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting” basically means “entirely God and entirely human, body and soul.”

          • JulieK says:

            Do you believe all humans now alive are descended from that proto-human pair?

          • Randy M says:

            Why is that hard to believe? All humans are descended from whichever ancestor last had the mutation for any feature universally present in humans and lacking in the previous species–erect posture, or hairless bellies, or larger cranial capacity, say. Right?

            Unless these traits came from independent mutation, but that always being the case seems also unlikely.

            Moreover, evolutionary theory would predict, not just all humans, but all mammals would have descended from one mating carrying the mutation for milk production or fur. Again, unless these complicated mutations arose multiple times independently but only in mammals.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you believe all humans now alive are descended from that proto-human pair?

            That is not a uniquely religious belief. Nor unjustified, nor unique to a specific proto-human pair. Go back 20,000 years, pick any mated pair of humans, and if they have any surviving descendants at all they are probably the ancestors of all living humans. Even if one or both of them slept around.

            It’s a bit harder to fit Ussher’s 4004 BC creation date into this model. You might be able to find someone (or more than one) in 4004 BC from whom all living humans are now descended, but then you’d be in the sticky theological position of arguing that God ensouled some beast-man somewhere in Eurasia but that e.g. the Native Americans remained soulless beasts until Columbus’s crew showed up and started fooling around with the native women and that many of the people actually named in first-contact reports were such beast-men (or at least p-zombies).

            So the YEC crowd is probably out of luck, but the more sensible creationists can claim that God zapped one specific pair of h. sapiens with a soul and that only their descendants are “human”, without much fear of falsification from the scientific side or of unfortunate ethical implications w/re anyone not safely lost in the mists of prehistory.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @JulieK

            In addition to Randy’s science based answer. The theologically based answer is that all humans* are considered to have inherited the original sin from Adam, this doesn’t work if we do not all trace our linage back to Adam (this also is also why most Christians Adam and Eve were two people and not a group of people).

            *The star is because Jesus did not inherit sin from Adam because he had no earthly father and thus was not tainted by sin.

          • SamChevre says:

            I agree with the responses above, with one exception. Catholics believe Mary was without original sin, which I accept as a teaching of the church. I also like it because it makes clear that original sin is not about sex.

            One thing to note–this was a key point in my conversion to Catholicism. Both nature and revelation are revelations of God: if rightly understood, they will agree. So if “all humans descended from one pair of proto-humans” were demonstrably implausible from what we can know of nature, I would rethink it. Presently, it makes sense of both the natural record and what the Scriptures say: if it stopped making sense of one of the two, I would be sure I was misunderstanding something.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I would like to believe that Adam and Eve were the LCA of Hss and Neanderthals, but they could have been way more recent than that and for all practical purposes it’s irrelevant.

          • Anon. says:

            Was the divine intervention pre- or post- Neanderthal divergence?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Anon: if Neanderthals were rational, then pre-divergence.
            That’s like minimum 10x as long ago as the Y-chromosomal Adam lived.

        • Deiseach says:

          No, sorry if I confused you: everything has been created ex nihilo. Evolution is accepted as working on animals and since humans are animals, on us as well. Where the Church peels off is “humans are not distinctly special from animals, humans do not have souls, no god need apply”, that’s the “theistic” part of theistic evolution. And the question of “two humans as our first parents/symbolic language meaning first true humans/polygenism” is one that is actively discussed in theology.

          From a Catholic viewpoint, speculation on those lines has been shut down by the 1950 encyclical of Pope Pius XII, Humani generis, so the official teaching is “two original parents as first true humans (but physical bodies evolved to that state before ensoulment)”.

          • Bugmaster says:

            OIC, so every animal evolved, including humans (presumably, from divinely created ancestors); but then, at some point, humans were given souls. This makes humans different from animals, and unique among all of the creation. This makes sense — well, as much sense as theism can make to me, anyway 🙂

  57. jddt says:

    Something was bothering me about the predictive perception stuff. I think I’ve worked out what it is.

    It seems like the idea is to take a model that is designed to be able to fit anything (Bayesian neural network type thing) and there are theorems that it can fit any behaviour as long as it is sufficiently complicated; fit it to human behaviour, and then feel that the model must be describing the underlying mechanisms that run the brain.

    But the model itself is known to be amazing at curve fitting to anything.

    To put it another way, I could fit the model to lightning storms; or weather patterns; and when it matches (or I can wave my hands and say “well, with enough nodes this model would fit perfectly”) I conclude that lightning storms must have an underlying mechanism resembling a Bayesian nerual net. But this is clearly nonsense. It may even be compelling nonsense — but nonsense none-the-less.

    • Izaak says:

      The reason Neural Networks in general are a compelling argument for how the brain works is that they are explicitly trying to ape the way brains work. If someone says “This is my model for how the brain works”, and 50 years later that model is the basis for the most accurate computerized image recognition and best board game playing AI, then that’s a compelling piece of evidence for that theory.

      • Controls Freak says:

        The reason Neural Networks in general are a compelling argument for how the brain works is that they are explicitly trying to ape the way brains work.

        They were explicitly trying to ape the way brains worked… according to CS folks back in the 40’s-60’s. This was also near the time when progress in neuroscience was just kicking off. These paths very quickly diverged. We know a lot more today about how neurons/synapses actually work, and it’s very unlike the tools used by the ANNs/CNNs that are popular in machine learning.

        Every once in a while, people in the ML community make ‘bio-plausibility’ arguments for the NN technique de jour. If there are any neuroscientists in the room, these guys get roasted. It doesn’t take long for most of them to back off on these claims.

    • beleester says:

      Our brains are also known to be amazing at modeling pretty much anything, so I don’t think this is a knock-down argument. What are the odds that there are two algorithms that are both really good at modeling anything under the sun, which don’t share any common characteristics?

      One way to test if you’re just blindly pattern-matching or if you’re on to something important would be to see if you can come up with a simpler model that does the same thing. For instance, if you can model a windstorm with a zillion general-purpose neurons, but you can get results just as good with a couple of equations that describe wind speed and air pressure, then the equations are a better description of reality.

      • actinide meta says:

        What are the odds that there are two algorithms that are both really good at modeling anything under the sun, which don’t share any common characteristics?

        I’m afraid this is already known to be true, except in the useless sense that any two algorithms can be said to “share common characteristics”. Neural networks are not the only machine learning architecture.

  58. 10240 says:

    Re: airfares
    My guess is that people who object to standing tickets (and similar things) are not those who actually can’t afford sitting tickets. It’s those of us who can afford sitting tickets, but would find it hard to justify to ourselves spending $50 to avoid a few hours of inconvenience. If standing tickets are not available, we can buy sitting tickets guilt-free. Standing tickets would put us in a dilemma between short term and long term interests — people who can only afford standing tickets don’t face a dilemma, and neither do those who are wealthy enough that a sitting ticket is the obvious choice. This realization hit me when he got to the point of the luxurious 1970 cabin: if we had infinite money, we’d prefer the luxury, but most of us are glad that affordable economy tickets are available, rather than only first class tickets we couldn’t afford.

    • johan_larson says:

      I suppose there could be some people who end up worse off because of more choices. Suppose you need to fly on some route, and buy the bottom-of-the-barrel $50 tickets. The airline’s break even point is $75 per seat, and they would prefer to get $100 per seat, but they offer a few $50 tickets rather than have those seats empty.

      Now things change so the airline is allowed to offer standing seats, which means they have more seats to sell. The price for the bottom-of-the-barrel seats is now $40 but the cheapest sitting seat is $70, since the sitting seats are no longer aimed at the very price conscious. This means you, who used to fly sitting for $50, no longer have that option. You either have to pay more for what you used to get for $50, or you have accept worse service. It’s worse service for less, true, but still worse. In this scenario, you are arguably worse off than you were before the introduction of standing seats.

      • bean says:

        Yes, but the people who previously couldn’t afford to fly that route are better off.

      • Jameson Quinn says:

        Furthermore, there is the risk that you’ll choose wrong.

        I once took a bus from Mexico City to San Diego (to avoid the CO2 emissions of flying, and to see the countryside). I needed chiropractic work after that (and I’d picked up an earworm that occasionally haunts me to this day). It turns out that the chiropractic work resolved the problem, and I got it cheaply from a “huesero” in Mexico City, after I’d returned, so I don’t actually regret having taken the bus; but I’ll certainly never do it again.

        That experience makes it easy for me to imagine myself as a 35-year-old buying the standing-only tickets only to realize that I wasn’t a 20-year-old anymore and my body actually seriously couldn’t take that treatment. (Or, if you wish, substitute 55 and 35 for those ages, or 75 and 65, depending on how reliable your body is.) Since we’re all older than we once were, that generalizes to a situation where the availability of the cheap tickets leads to people in general making negative-expected-value decisions to cheap out, and society as a whole suffering even though the median cheap-ticket-buyer is better off.

        • Matt M says:

          What do you mean “that kind of treatment?”

          Like 35 year olds never have to stand up for two hours? I pretty regularly fly HOU/DAL. About an hour or so. You could probably convince me to take standing room for the right price there (although I make good money and place a bit of a premium on comfort, so its not likely in my current circumstances)

          • albatross11 says:

            The question is, are we better off when the law forbids someone offering us an option that might be worse for some of us? I’m sure there are many real-world cases where the answer is yes, but I also suspect that if we try to ban very many such usually-bad-for-you options, we quickly end up making things worse (taking away valuable options we think are bad for you). And when you add in the nature of government (moral panics, capture by existing interests), it seems quite likely that the banning of options will often not be done so much with the intention of helping people by taking away harmful options as with the intention of propping up existing businesses or winning some unrelated cultural/political battle.

            I wonder about the relationship between homelessness and regulations requiring minimal standards for housing, maximum numbers of people per house/bathroom, etc. If we had more flophouses, would we have fewer guys sleeping under bridges?

          • engleberg says:

            I’m fifty-two and I hate standing, but if they offered butt-rest options on the walls for some standees I might take that. Like church choirs have- not a real seat, just a nub to lean your buttock on. Or they could go full eighteenth-century sailor’s gin-mill and have hooks descending from the ceiling to hold your collar. Cheap gin would help.

          • bean says:

            @engleberg
            It’s a saddle-seat, not just you standing on your own.

          • actinide meta says:

            @albatross11

            I wonder about the relationship between homelessness and regulations

            More than half of the kids in the 4,500-student district [in Silicon Valley] are homeless

            It’s not as though policy keeps home prices high by accident.

          • John Schilling says:

            Should people count as “homeless” if they have an RV – a thing specifically designed for human habitation and with all the features of a cheap apartment – and a fixed parking place? Does it matter if the parking place is “fixed” by law, by custom, or by the threat of hundreds of activists coming out to protest if the city thinks of making them move?

            What about mobile homes, or houseboats? It seems that there’s a line, or at least a fuzzy border, that needs to be drawn here, and we should maybe think some more about which side of that border these people are really on?

    • bean says:

      This realization hit me when he got to the point of the luxurious 1970 cabin: if we had infinite money, we’d prefer the luxury, but most of us are glad that affordable economy tickets are available, rather than only first class tickets we couldn’t afford.

      That wasn’t an actual cabin. That was a Boeing concept, and airline manufacturer concepts are notorious for having bells and whistles that nobody ever fits to the actual airplane. And it’s from right before the oil crisis, when people were coming up with all sorts of wacky things to do with widebodies. It’s for the lower lobe of the 747, and nothing passenger-carrying ever went there, AFAIK. There were similar concepts when the A380 released, and they were similarly vaporware.

    • Yes, exactly. This is what I said in my last comment. I feel annoyed by low cost airlines because I can afford the more expensive ticket but I would rather not specifically know that I just spent $50 on an hour or two of convenience. I would much rather have that just happen without noticing, which can only happen if I am not offered the option.

  59. johan_larson says:

    THE SECRET: A VIGNETTE

    The girl was on time for her appointment. She walked into my office and sat down in my guest chair. Girl? Woman? She was younger than my daughters, anyway.

    “Thanks you for agreeing to see me.”

    “We don’t hear from your organization often. Your request was, shall we say, intriguing.”

    The slightest of smiles. “We have a problem for you.”

    “We specialize in solving them. How can we be of assistance?”

    “We have a secret that must be kept for a long time, and then revealed to everyone.”

    “What sort of secret?”

    “I am not allowed to disclose that. Not to you. Even I know only a portion of it.”

    “I’m going to need at least a hint or two.”

    “Very well.” She thought briefly. “To speak very metaphorically, we have struck a spark. The spark will grow into a fire. The fire will burn a land bare. And in the bare land, a precious thing will grow.”

    “And of these the secret is … ?”

    “That the spark has been struck, and the fire is coming.”

    “And why does that need to be a secret?”

    She looked away. “Because striking the spark was nearly unconscionable, and if people know the fire is coming they will try to fight it and might conceivably succeed. Then the precious thing would be lost.”

    “How long must the secret be kept?”

    “Until the precious thing appears.”

    “How long?”

    “Three hundred to five hundred years. The interval is uncertain. But there will be clear signs.”

    “And once the precious thing appears, the secret should be revealed?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why?”

    “Because people may misunderstand the significance of the precious thing. They will need to know why it appeared in order to know what to do with it.”

    I shifted in my seat. “How big is the secret?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Is the secret the size of a deck of cards or the size of a super-tanker?”

    “The secret is an explanation. Typed, it would fit on three or four pages.”

    “Who knows the secret now?”

    “A dozen or so people in my organization. No one outside it.”

    “Can they be trusted?”

    “Yes. We are confident they will not reveal it.” She seemed very certain. “That’s not what we need help with.”

    “Can anyone in my organization learn the secret if we help you?”

    “No. I suppose we can’t conceal that there is a secret, but even you must not learn the details.”

    “So, to summarize, you need help keeping a modest bit of information secret for perhaps five hundred years and then revealing it to everyone. Is that a fair summary?”

    “Fair enough.”

    I sat back and steepled my fingers. “We should be able to help you. It will take some time. You know our prices?”

    She stood up. “Yes. As you know our resources. Thank you for this meeting.” And with that, she walked out.

    • Creutzer says:

      I’m not getting it. Is this about time-dependent encryption?

      • johan_larson says:

        Think of it as a puzzle. If you had to find a way to keep a secret for five hundred years and then reveal it to everyone, how would you do it?

        • Alsadius says:

          Revealing to everyone is trivial in the modern world, which means that the difficult part is keeping it secret, but not extinct, for the intervening years. For that, an organization like the one she’s already part of seems ideal. Why do they need help?

          • Civilis says:

            Perhaps because they don’t want anyone in the organization that does not already know the secret to know it until the time limit is up? Keeping it in house makes it easier to know where the parts of the secret are.

            My solution is as follows: find a way to split the secret up into three parts, such that all three parts are necessary to reconstruct the secret, for example, the message is encoded with a cryptographic key, and then split into two parts, perhaps one part being every other character. The people that currently know the secret should be capable of preparing the secret for distribution.

            The second organization is going to select 30 people, such that no member of the organization or recipient of the secret know more than one of the people selected. Perhaps the second organization, the one charged with preserving the secret, is a large multinational concern with multiple branches around the world. I’m making an assumption that the organization tasked with holding on to the secret is trustworthy at the time the secret is being distributed. Have one packaged secret, a metal box, sent to each of the largest branch offices, with instructions that it should be given with a sum of cash to someone that is to hold on to it for a large period of time, and that the recipients descendants will be well compensated when the time is up.

            The metal box has an inscription in multiple languages, and 400 small boxes, with the inscription reading ‘mark a box every year on the shortest day of the year. When the last box is checked, open the box’.

            Inside the box is a small amount of something that can likely be converted to currency (gold jewelry, for example), another metal box, a brightly colored strip of some long-lasting fabric, and more instructions ‘bring the small box and meet in the middle of the largest population center on Earth at noon on the longest day of the year, and tie the fabric around your arm’. The smaller metal box has the part of the secret and instructions for putting it together.

            This should cover most of the obvious failure modes. It’s not reliant on technology or even the calendar surviving 400 years. If someone opens the box early, they have no idea where any of the other parts are, even the people assigned to giving one of the boxes away. Even if they know there’s a secret, they’d need to find all three pieces to reconstruct it. Yet it’s unlikely that all copies of one of the pieces will be lost in 400 years. If human society collapses significantly, this won’t work, but then again, nothing will.

          • Brad says:

            find a way to split the secret up into three parts, such that all three parts are necessary to reconstruct the secret,

            Shamir’s secret sharing algorithm is designed for just this problem. And very elegant too.

          • johan_larson says:

            with instructions that it should be given with a sum of cash to someone that is to hold on to it for a large period of time, and that the recipients descendants will be well compensated when the time is up.

            Compensated by whom? We are talking about a timespan of hundreds of years. Is the second organization still going to be around to honor its promise? Not a lot of organizations last that long.

            It seems pretty likely that for each box, someone a few generations down the line is going to empty it out and take the valuables but discard the weird riddle and instructions. Perhaps a few of the boxes end up in museums or whatnot.

          • Civilis says:

            Compensated by whom? We are talking about a timespan of hundreds of years. Is the second organization still going to be around to honor its promise? Not a lot of organizations last that long.

            My bet would be that it doesn’t need to be around that long before sunk cost takes over as far as the value of the secret in the box, because the value is inherently tied to unlocking the secret. The people that paid your great-grandfather to hold this had the resources to do so, so obviously there’s some chance they’ll still be around, and if not, the value inherent in what you’re holding is only going to be realized if you get the necessary parts together, and the best chance at that for an individual family is to wait the 400 years.

            You have no idea what you’ve got, but it’s supposedly a piece of a key to a very valuable secret. You have no idea how many copies of each piece there are. You may have no idea how many pieces there are. Since the secret is claimed to be valuable, it has potentially a very high payout if and only if you get all the pieces, and nothing otherwise. The only sure way to get a payout for yourself at all is to hold it for 400 years. Anyone with a chance of getting the payoff sooner has the power to just take the box from you for themselves.

          • John Schilling says:

            and the best chance at that for an individual family is to wait the 400 years.

            What’s the best chance for an individual individual, who cares about himself and maybe his children and grandchildren, but not particularly about his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren? Because, notwithstanding the fun I’m having playing Crusader Kings 2, that’s how most actual people think.

            Somewhere in all those generations, someone is either going to throw the box in a closet and forget about it, or decide to go treasure-hunting. And the more copies of each box are in circulation, the more profitable treasure-hunting is going to be.

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          You also have to be abled to prove it’s 500 years old when you eventually reveal it. That’s hard; it means getting clues (“cryptographic signatures”) into the “historical record blockchain” in a way that’s important enough to be reliably transmitted but subtle enough to avoid premature detection (or at least, to make that premature detection a fringe opinion).

        • beleester says:

          Time capsule? The oldest one ever opened dates back to 1795, which is a little under half your goal. Still, I don’t think there’s a problem with extending it to 500 years, assuming your secret is written on something suitably durable. Most people will respect a sign saying “Don’t open until the year 25XX,” and those who don’t probably don’t have the time or money to dig up whatever shell of concrete and steel you poured around your time capsule. Ideally, you put it under a building with nice architecture that people will want to preserve, but if you can’t swing that, I’d buy some isolated land and build something like the Georgia Guidestones. Something noticeable and durable enough that people will remember it, but isolated enough that it won’t get in anyone’s way.

          This isn’t government-proof, but ideally they don’t ever get wind that the contents of the capsule are something they need to care about. People bury time capsules all the time, you’re probably just some crazy doomsday prepper, not someone who has the secrets of creation.

          EDIT: The absolute coolest way to do this would be to launch your time capsule into space, on an orbit that will take 500 years to complete. Once it’s out there, nobody’s touching it without the resources of a small country. However, this is expensive as hell, and you’ll need a very reliable re-entry vehicle since it has to work with 500-year-old electronics. Redundancies would be a good idea.

          EDIT 2: Just noticed, the story makes the end point uncertain – “Three hundred to five hundred years. The interval is uncertain. But there will be clear signs.” That makes it considerably harder, because you can’t rely on a simple time delay, you need someone who can read the signs and know that the secret needs to be opened at that time. I’m not sure how you could pull that off without a living secret-keeper, which means passing it down through generations.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I would tell Alex Jones. He will tell everyone, in between ranting about interdimensional psychic vampire pedophiles. No one will believe him, but the idea will live on as conspiracy theories, only recognized as true once the “precious thing” appears. Then everyone will pretend like they always knew (i.e., government mind control/MKULTRA/Unabomber, NSA spying on everything you do on the internet, etc).

        • Nornagest says:

          Exactly five hundred years, or just about five hundred years? Because if it’s the latter, I’d work out a decent model of glacier flow, drill a hundred feet or so into a big one with some tourist exposure at a point about five hundred years from being melted out, and drop a message in a bottle (tough enough to withstand the glacial forces) into the bottom. Tie something nice and eye-catching to it, weigh it down with rocks, and backfill the shaft with water. In a few hours it’ll all be frozen and pretty much impossible to recover.

          Alternately, work out a very long-period solar orbit that comes close to intersecting Earth’s on the far end, and launch it into space, with a powerful transmitter set to wake up when it’s receiving enough sunlight. Whoever’s in charge of space 500 years from now probably won’t look much like NASA, but I expect they’d still be interested in a close flyby from a space probe blasting the Macarena on the 13 cm band.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Keeping secrets is relatively easy, so the real question is: how do you ensure that a specific message is somehow revealed to the world 500 years from now ?

      This is a tough problem. In 500 years, neither the girl’s organization, nor the one of the narrator will exist — at least, not in their present forms. Mass communication technology will likely be very different. Even basic human values will be different in some way. So, you are faced with the problem of releasing a message to people who probably no longer care, using technology that no one uses anymore.

      It’s a tough problem, to be sure, but the girl claims that her organization can “strike sparks” that will bear fruit centuries from now — so why not encode her message directly into her spark-thingy ? Or light a second spark with the message in it ? And if she can’t do this, then what’s the point of messing about with secrets in the first place ?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The only organization that I’m relatively confident will still be around in something resembling its present form 300-500 years from now is the Catholic Church. They could probably do this, but would need a reason that’s in keeping with their values and mission. So another solution is “make it such that the keeping and revelation of this secret is in the interests of the Catholic Church.”

    • Jaskologist says:

      I believe the standard thing in such circumstances is to form a secret society of monks and entrust it to them. They should be able to protect the secret for 499 years, at which point things will get dicey and you’ll need to pull either Nicolas Cage or Bruce Willis out of cryogenic suspension in order to keep the bad guys from getting a hold of it.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Presumably the narrator’s organization is in the business of keeping and revealing secrets? Then stay in that business. Take on prosaic shorter-term contracts, but make it a point of pride that you adhere to weird long-term contracts. Not foolproof, but stands a good chance.

      Unless you can build a precious-thing-recognizing satellite that will deorbit and reenter at the right time, then do that.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      “Very well.” She thought briefly. “To speak very metaphorically, we have struck a spark. The spark will grow into a fire. The fire will burn a land bare. And in the bare land, a precious thing will grow.”

      “And of these the secret is … ?”

      “That the spark has been struck, and the fire is coming.”

      “And why does that need to be a secret?”

      She looked away. “Because striking the spark was nearly unconscionable, and if people know the fire is coming they will try to fight it and might conceivably succeed. Then the precious thing would be lost.”

      Bash her in the head with a coffee mug as she goes to leave and take to a secure location for interrogation and begin putting together a resistance movement. Since we already are at least loosely familiar with her organization, their barbaric “ends justify the means” plot has a reasonable chance of being thwarted.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’ve been trying to resist being nerd sniped by this, because you don’t fully specify your requirements. But I give up; I’ll take a shot.

      Create and endow a dozen diverse organizations optimized for longevity. A nonprofit corporation in the U.S., a trust in Switzerland, a monastic order in India, etc. Charter each of them, and bind them as tightly as possible with local contract law and any other tools you can find, to roughly the following instructions:

      1. Every year, if there are R remaining secret shares, pay $X/R (inflation adjusted) to the R possessors of secret shares, as verified by challenge response protocol or other means.
      2. If someone brings to you a secret share, pay them $2X/R immediately and remove that secret share from the list (decreasing R by 1). This is a terrible deal for the sole possessor of a secret share, but a tempting one for anyone who learns one otherwise. The goal is to make it very hard for a bunch of people to get together and decode the secret without taking a substantial risk that a defector will steal their secret shares and cash them in.
      3. After 500 years and/or if whatever other conditions that OP didn’t specify are met, divide half the remaining endowment among everyone who publishes their secret share, and continue doing whatever else you do with the remaining half (but make no further payments subject to #1).
      4. If the secret is revealed early, or if R<K, give your entire endowment away to charity and dissolve.

      Then create a "K of N" set of secret shares, hand them out to people scattered around the world, and set R=N initially. The secret shares should be materialized in a way that will last, but is easy to fake (except at challenge response authentication time). If it's hard to prove you have a real secret without giving away the secret, it will be harder to coordinate to decode. Rule #4 gives the funding organizations a further incentive to work against such coordination efforts, for example by just joining them with fake, random secret shares.

      The incentives of the holder of a secret share are to keep it secret (so that no one else can collect the $X/R annually or the $2X/R bounty from each funding organization) and collect 12*$X/R each year, until all of the remaining funding organizations have declared that the conditions for release are met. Then of course they should publish and collect their prize. As long as at least K of the N holders succeeds in this for 500 years your goals are met.

      The funding organizations naturally want to survive, and you hope that at least some of them survive and don't manage to shake off the contract you placed on them. Funding organizations that defect will just keep their money, which linearly decreases the incentives for secret holders but won't give away the secret. You might want to tweak rule #3 economically to try to make each funding organization relatively indifferent to whether rule #3 is invoked, so that they are more likely to make a good faith judgement.

      All of this assumes that your funding resources are large compared to peoples' desire to learn the secret. Anyone willing to outbid the future expected value of the $X*12*K/R annual payments can buy the secret. But of course they are buying a pig in a poke, and it doesn't sound like the secret has a large private value.

      How am I doing? I’m not sure I got the funders’ incentives exactly right.

  60. spurious says:

    There’s a more interesting side to the airline seat question, regards price discrimination.

    Airline fares etc (i.e. tiered prices) are usually set in such a way as to make a consumer pay as much as she is willing to, and not a cent less. Economy (coach) isn’t awful because it has to be: it’s awful to make anyone willing to pay ten times as much for business class (or ten times as much again for first class) pay it. Especially given airlines make most of their margin at premium economy and above.

    So the danger is not so much that the poor are being degraded or not getting the chance to fly at all. The poor, who are not stupid, will generally take the more competitively priced bus. But let’s say economy costs $100 and business $1,000. If I want you to pay $200 for economy, I can start working toward setting the price of standing up at $100. (Or more likely add a ‘non-vertical seat’ option at some additional cost.) The attractiveness to the airline is surely less in the extra cheap ‘seats’, and more about the extra margin on what we’re all anchored on now.

    • bean says:

      Economy (coach) isn’t awful because it has to be: it’s awful to make anyone willing to pay ten times as much for business class (or ten times as much again for first class) pay it.

      Right. Care to explain how economy could be made non-awful at the same price? Here are some facts to consider:
      1. You can’t make the seats bigger/further apart. The operating cost is, to a first approximation, fixed, and has to be spread among all the people on the plane. More people means lower costs.
      2. Weight is very important. Current economy seats are absurdly light. The typical weight of a current slimline economy seat is ~20 lbs, and lots of airlines are ditching IFE because of weight and the proliferation of mobile devices. More weight means more cost.
      3. Southwest exists, and it has no business class to get you to buy up to. Why wouldn’t they make economy as nice as possible to lure people from other airlines?
      4. People buying airline tickets are notorious for only caring about price and schedule. When they say otherwise, they’re usually lying.

      • Matt M says:

        3. Southwest exists, and it has no business class to get you to buy up to. Why wouldn’t they make economy as nice as possible to lure people from other airlines?

        Partially true. They have “business select” which puts you in the front of the line, offers ridiculously flexible cancellation/rebooking policies, earns you a much higher multiplier on your mileage, and gives you a free alcoholic drink of your choice.

        • bean says:

          That’s not the same as business class, though. It’s basically the same as a refundable economy ticket on most airlines. I forget the early-bird check-in fees, but it’s not outrageous. (I like engine noise, so I skip it.) The drink is $5-10, and the miles are very rarely worth the buy-up. I can see people buying business class on other airlines to make travel more pleasant. I can’t see someone buying business select over regular unless they wanted a flexible ticket, because you can get 90% of the benefits with less expenditure of money.

          • Matt M says:

            I get business select on SW because my company allows me to 🙂

            One other Southwest thing, they also allow you, even if you booked an anytime fare, to pay $40 at the gate and get moved to the A boarding group (thus guaranteeing a window/aisle preference near the front of the plane).

            As a non-freakishly-tall person, avoiding a middle seat is worth a lot more than “extra leg room.”

          • bean says:

            I get business select on SW because my company allows me to 🙂

            I’m not saying that it’s useless, or that I wouldn’t take it if it was offered. Just that I don’t see many people buying it for themselves. It’s Southwest bribing you to throw business their way by tying it to the flexibility your employer wants. As opposed to a true business class, which I could see someone spending their own money on because it’s significantly better than normal economy.

            One other Southwest thing, they also allow you, even if you booked an anytime fare, to pay $40 at the gate and get moved to the A boarding group (thus guaranteeing a window/aisle preference near the front of the plane).

            It’s less than that if you buy it online at the start, IIRC. Down to ~$15 or so there. That plus buying a drink has most of the benefits of business select to the consumer who doesn’t want a very flexible ticket. And Southwest’s change policies mean that even that’s not likely to be very important.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not saying that it’s useless, or that I wouldn’t take it if it was offered. Just that I don’t see many people buying it for themselves.

            On one common SW flight a group of us were on the same flight as Ted Cruz. We were basically A 1-5, he was back in the mid Bs somewhere. Even a guy who was almost President won’t spring for it!

        • The ordinary SW ticket offers a ridiculously good cancellation policy–you get full credit for the ticket price to be used on any future SW flight.

          • quaelegit says:

            My main take-away from this whole conversation is that I’ve been really privileged to live in areas with lots of Southwest service 😛

      • quanta413 says:

        4. People buying airline tickets are notorious for only caring about price and schedule. When they say otherwise, they’re usually lying.

        I am willing to gladly confirm that at least my own behavior is extremely oriented to taking the lowest possible price, and I’ll ignore schedule too if I can. 5 a.m. flights are fine. And driving up to ~12 hours is an acceptable alternative if the trip is going to be a few days long after I arrive.

        And seriously, economy seats are not that uncomfortable for a medium sized person (5′ 9”). The only complaint I have that I wouldn’t also have in most cars is the weird head tilt in the seats which has been the same way for at least 20 years. I don’t know why so many people here are acting like economy is some sort of squalid torture.

        • Matt M says:

          Honestly, I feel like one of the best ways someone can “build their rationality muscle” so to speak is to do an exercise that basically consists of “consider paying more.”

          Basically, make a strong and concerted effort to figure out what your time and comfort is actually worth. Once I did this, it ruled out the 5 AM flights pretty damn quickly. It made “pay more to use a smaller/closer airport” a lot more attractive.

          • bean says:

            Honestly, I feel like one of the best ways someone can “build their rationality muscle” so to speak is to do an exercise that basically consists of “consider paying more.”

            Agreed. I definitely do this when buying airfare, and I have in several cases paid more to avoid certain airports (LAX) or to get a better time slot. That said, I’m not paid as well as you are, so my tradeoffs are a bit different.

          • quanta413 says:

            Basically, make a strong and concerted effort to figure out what your time and comfort is actually worth. Once I did this, it ruled out the 5 AM flights pretty damn quickly. It made “pay more to use a smaller/closer airport” a lot more attractive.

            I agree with your broader point. In my defense, I don’t hate waking up early too much. But the bigger part of it is that I’m usually traveling alone, and I don’t make much money. I can easily imagine that if I had children I wouldn’t take a 5 a.m. flight. Currently I have a lack of money and a surplus of flexibility on day to day schedule so a 5 a.m. flight is acceptable.

            I do however have an irrational paranoia about missing flights, which makes me less willing to cheap out by taking a bus or train for a few hours to a city with a larger airport.

          • bean says:

            I do however have an irrational paranoia about missing flights, which makes me less willing to cheap out by taking a bus or train for a few hours to a city with a larger airport.

            Read up on the Flat Tire Rule. Might give you some peace of mind on doing that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Read up on the Flat Tire Rule. Might give you some peace of mind on doing that.

            Undocumented rules given out at the agents discretion only work for people who didn’t make CHA their dump stat. For those of us who typically get the minimum guaranteed if not less, such rules may as well not exist.

          • baconbacon says:

            Basically, make a strong and concerted effort to figure out what your time and comfort is actually worth. Once I did this, it ruled out the 5 AM flights pretty damn quickly. It made “pay more to use a smaller/closer airport” a lot more attractive.

            I know that I am odd so I don’t expect this to generalize, but I used to find early morning flights much more preferable. No traffic to and from the airport in many cases, no security lines at the airport and easier time falling asleep on the flight.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          How many miles a year do you fly?

          A good exercise is, after each trip, think of something unpleasant about the travel experience, and then honestly ask yourself “how much would I have paid that exact moment for that unpleasant thing to not have happened?” Keep that in mind the next time you book travel.

          I will often pay ~15% additional for a flight in exchange for lowering the “misery cost” of that trip.

          One of the awesome things about HipMunk is that it can formally calculate the misery index of a set of flights, and then sort by misery, and can sort by cost&misery.

          • quanta413 says:

            I don’t fly a lot, but it varies significantly from year to year. I think most years I’ll fly a little less than 10,000 miles (so two round trips across half the U.S. or so). But this year, it was closer to 30,000 miles.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I will often pay ~15% additional for a flight in exchange for lowering the “misery cost” of that trip.

            Sure, but they often enough don’t offer that. I just booked a flight. Sorry, no economy plus available, enjoy riding in steerage. I’ll be in boarding group 4 or 5 (because I always am, because I’m not a frequent flier) which means my carry-on will have to fit under my seat. Premier Access to get in an earlier boarding group would be 25% of the cost of the flight, and I’d still have to check baggage because of the liquid rule. First Class would get me a decent seat, but it more than doubles the cost.

            And that’s without even getting into airport security. Precheck could make that bearable (I’ve gotten it by random selection), but the cost is $85/5 years + one human soul or atheist equivalent.

      • spurious says:

        The idea isn’t to make economy non-awful at the same price. Airlines make their money at the front of the plane: first, business and premium economy. The only reason the plane has economy is because most people won’t fly at all if they have to fork out five large for a ticket.

        In order of your points:

        1. You can easily make the seats farther apart if you charge more. So let’s say you get rid of five seating rows and bring the price up to cover the lost passengers. What happens is, business class passengers decide to move down for reason 4: they, too, are pretty fixated on price and will pay less if the experience is tolerable. Since the airlines make most of their dosh on business class, there’s no incentive to offer a slightly better seat at a slightly higher price. Instead, you get a considerably better seat at a vastly higher price, with the caveat that considerably better is framed against bloody awful, making it look really quite good.

        2. Indeed I know someone who once lost her job designing the Qantas in-flight magazine because the airline wanted to reduce the weight on domestic flights. (I think it’s since been re-instated.) Weight of the seats is of course an issue if you have too many of them, which is what you do have when you’re trying to make sure business class passengers don’t get any ideas about downgrading.

        3. In Australia, most domestic flights have no real equivalent of business class — between Melbourne and Sydney etc you’re just not in the air long enough. But that aside, there’s no doubt more than one way to skin a cat. Southwest just has a different operating model to, say, Cathay Pacific.

        4. That’s exactly the point. I, too, don’t really savour the thought of spending three times as much on a ticket to Europe. But I’m just well off enough that I’ll fly premium economy because economy is so bloody awful. (Premium’s not exactly paradise either on a 26-hour flight.)

        I should say that of course airlines are also trying to cut costs. But the reason they have to cut so many costs is because people are so willing to downgrade. Including off the plane and onto a bus or a train. Or stay home. I fly domestically on business maybe half a dozen times a year. Sometimes I pay, sometimes my clients do; but neither of us are willing to shell out for anything above cattle class — and if economy cost much more, there’s always Skype. They have to make a pretty fair effort to fill those sixteen slightly larger seats at the front of the plane.

        Anecdote: I was flying back from Europe last year on an overbooked flight. First the airline tried to get me to upgrade to business on the next flight (a ten-hour wait that was totally impractical). When that failed, they tried to get me to downgrade to economy in exchange for a large amount of cash. It wasn’t enough.

        • bean says:

          The idea isn’t to make economy non-awful at the same price.

          You said that economy was awful to make you buy up, not because it had to be. I can’t read that as saying anything other than “airlines make economy worse deliberately to try to get buyups, and could stop doing this”. But economy on Southwest isn’t that much better than economy on Delta or American, and Southwest doesn’t have much in the way of premium options. Again, there is nothing to stop Southwest or their equivalent from trying to position itself between business and economy. Nobody seems to be in that market. This suggests it doesn’t exist, at least not enough to make it work. JetBlue tried, but they recently went from 34″ on the A320 to 32.01″ on the A321 (because that way they can still claim to have more legroom than Southwest.)

          Airlines make their money at the front of the plane: first, business and premium economy. The only reason the plane has economy is because most people won’t fly at all if they have to fork out five large for a ticket.

          More or less, depending on the market. But they have to be making some profit on the back of the cabin, or it wouldn’t be there.

          1. You can easily make the seats farther apart if you charge more.

          So? Charging more means that you’re not competitive in economy any more. The whole point is that economy is bad because we prefer cheap tickets to a good flight experience. This is a basic fact of air travel.

          4. That’s exactly the point. I, too, don’t really savour the thought of spending three times as much on a ticket to Europe. But I’m just well off enough that I’ll fly premium economy because economy is so bloody awful. (Premium’s not exactly paradise either on a 26-hour flight.)

          Three times as much? I didn’t think the market on the Kangaroo route was that bad.

          Look. I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing on. Economy in general is bad because not enough people are willing to put in the work to distinguish between offerings, and buy on price and schedule only. American tried ‘more legroom throughout coach’ ~10 years ago, and it was a complete flop. They can’t make it better without charging more. That’s suicide in the market.

          • spurious says:

            You said that economy was awful to make you buy up, not because it had to be. I can’t read that as saying anything other than “airlines make economy worse deliberately to try to get buyups, and could stop doing this”.

            I concede a certain amount of hyperbole. But in defence of the statement, there’s more to ‘awful’ than seat pitch. Much of it is comparative — for example, letting business customers on first, and doing so conspicuously. While other stuff has nothing to do with seating room, like the speed with which a business class passenger can get from the foyer to her seat.

            More or less, depending on the market. But they have to be making some profit on the back of the cabin, or it wouldn’t be there.

            Definitely. If the plane was all business it would be half empty, with no margin on those empty seats.

            So? Charging more means that you’re not competitive in economy any more. The whole point is that economy is bad because we prefer cheap tickets to a good flight experience. This is a basic fact of air travel.

            Interestingly, I did a quick search on American regarding your point about legroom below, and turns out they’ve reversed a decision made earlier this year to cut seat pitch by an inch based on “a lot of feedback from both customers and team members.”

            “It is clear that today, airline customers feel increasingly frustrated by their experiences and less valued when they fly,” American said in a Tuesday letter to employees that communicated the decision. “We can be leaders in helping to turn around that perception, and that includes reviewing decisions that have significant impact on the flying experience.”

            Purely anecdotally, I know quite a few Australian business travellers who won’t fly anything but Qantas domestically on the basis of quality. So there may be theoretical limit to our collective willingness to part with dignity.

          • bean says:

            But in defence of the statement, there’s more to ‘awful’ than seat pitch. Much of it is comparative — for example, letting business customers on first, and doing so conspicuously. While other stuff has nothing to do with seating room, like the speed with which a business class passenger can get from the foyer to her seat.

            So what do we do? Some people value getting on first. Do we refuse to let them pay extra for the privilege? Do we assign who gets on first randomly, because someone does have to get on the plane first? Why shouldn’t the airlines try to win favor with their most profitable customers? There may be some pitching of ‘buy up’, but I disagree with “premium cabins exist to remind you you aren’t there”. Premium cabins exist because some people want them.

            Definitely. If the plane was all business it would be half empty, with no margin on those empty seats.

            Or they’d just fly a smaller plane, and load factors wouldn’t change that much.

            Interestingly, I did a quick search on American regarding your point about legroom below, and turns out they’ve reversed a decision made earlier this year to cut seat pitch by an inch based on “a lot of feedback from both customers and team members.”

            Not exactly. Standard legacy pitch is 31″. They were going to drop it to 30″, with a few rows of 29″. They changed the plan after the outcry, getting rid of one row of Main Cabin Extra (American’s term for the 34″ extra-legroom economy) to go to all-30″ in regular economy. Despite how they spin it, this is no better for most people who are going to be on the plane, and the 737-8MAX will be the worst plane in the fleet in terms of legroom.

          • spurious says:

            So what do we do? Some people value getting on first. Do we refuse to let them pay extra for the privilege? Do we assign who gets on first randomly, because someone does have to get on the plane first? Why shouldn’t the airlines try to win favor with their most profitable customers? There may be some pitching of ‘buy up’, but I disagree with “premium cabins exist to remind you you aren’t there”. Premium cabins exist because some people want them.

            Premium cabins exist because that’s where most airlines on longer flights make their profits. If airlines couldn’t charge more for them, they wouldn’t exist — certainly not in their current form. And airlines know they can’t charge what they need to charge unless there’s a clear and unpleasant difference between premium and the cheap seats.

            I’ve worked with airlines as a consultant in the design of their branding for each of the different classes, and what we now call the customer experience. They’re not mucking around with this stuff. The intangibles
            matter, and they put just as much effort into distinguishing classes as they do making premium travel better. Usually they don’t understand the theoretical underpinnings of what I’m talking about here, but they get it on a gut level.

            Think about that hypothetical flight from Sydney to London. The business traveller is not getting anything any of us would recognise as five-six thousand dollars worth of extra stuff in any other context. She’s getting five-six thousand dollars worth of not being in economy. But she’s not stupid — there are many other ways that six grand could be used. Yes, airline travel in cattle class is by definition not great; but the airlines make no real effort to improve it. Which they could, in the way that any other business would — through innovation — if it was in their interest to do so.

            As a counter example, think of your local large supermarket or department store. They put a huge effort into the so-called customer experience, and it applies to every customer: they don’t separate the store into three classes and mark up (or down) the goods accordingly. You might say that’s impractical, and it is on first look, but if a store could maximise the amount each customer is willing to pay, they’d do it in a heartbeat, as long as the cost of doing so isn’t greater than the marginal difference in price. The reason they haven’t is because other options are available to the well-off: they can send people to do their shopping for them, have it delivered etc. But they themselves have to get on a plane if they want to use it, so the airline is incentivised to get them to part with as much of their bank balance as possible at minimum cost to the airline itself.

            Or they’d just fly a smaller plane, and load factors wouldn’t change that much.

            Remember, though, that as long as the margin is greater that some arbitrary amount (enough that it doesn’t make more sense to accept the costs of getting into a different industry completely), they have an incentive to fly the economy travellers as well — for which they want the economies of optimum plane size. More planes means scheduling issues, maintenance, extra crew etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      it’s awful to make anyone willing to pay ten times as much for business class (or ten times as much again for first class) pay it […] let’s say economy costs $100 and business $1,000

      Let’s not because making up numbers that far at odds from reality when you’ve clearly got a working computer and internet connection close at hand isn’t helpful to discussion.

      From Travelocity, for a Los Angeles to Phoenix round trip on Nov 27-20th, cheapest advertised fare on a major carrier:

      Economy Class $246
      Business Class $NA, not offered on short-haul flights
      First Class $478

      For Los Angeles to New York:

      Economy Class $406
      Business Class $1047
      First Class $1507

      Not even First Class costs ten times Economy, not even when you pay full fare. And all of these prices seem roughly proportional to the floor space and extra service that comes with them (if you want bigger seats without extra services, that’s Premium Economy, somewhere between Economy and Business in price).

      But somehow, we’ve got people who could get the right numbers in two minutes, self-assuredly confident that anything Cattle Class must be Unaffordably Expensive Rich People Class. So why were you so confident of that falsehood?

      • bean says:

        I’d be a bit suspicious of the JFK-LAX numbers, on the grounds that goodness knows what’s going under the heading of ‘business’ and ‘first’. The ‘first’ on LAX-PHX is a typical domestic first, which is probably what ‘business’ is JFK-LAX. But ‘first’ on that route could be anything from more of the same to a suite with a door.

      • spurious says:

        Not even First Class costs ten times Economy, not even when you pay full fare. And all of these prices seem roughly proportional to the floor space and extra service that comes with them (if you want bigger seats without extra services, that’s Premium Economy, somewhere between Economy and Business in price).

        Your overall objection is trivial — any multiple will do for making the point, even one involving a one followed by decimal places — but this paragraph assumes a faculty for aligning objective price and objective value so far undemonstrated by any human mind.

        By the way your examples are a little parochial — I’m not from the US. A quick Google gives me Sydney to Heathrow return: economy: $2,077; business: $7,893; first class: $14,993. Biggish jumps I’d say. And I’m pretty sure the extra six grand between economy and business more than covers the cost of a half dozen cognacs.

        • bean says:

          You’re going to criticize John because the multipliers on a longhaul with international classes are different from the multipliers on a US transcon with the same names? Right. Let’s correct for that. The transcon business is pretty close to your premium economy, while US first is similar to your business. And google flights shows me that Premium Economy on that route is pretty close to 2.5x the price of economy. About the same gap between US economy and business. Transcon first is fairly similar to international business, and what do you know? Both are around 4x economy.

          Your overall objection is trivial — any multiple will do for making the point, even one involving a one followed by decimal places

          I’m really confused as to what you’re trying to prove. Airlines price the way they do in response to market forces. Specifically, people buying economy only care about price and schedule. If people showed a willingness to even book preferentially at the same price on an airline with better economy, then you might have a point. But right now, today, anyone who raises the standard of economy will lose their shirt on it because nobody seems to care. It’s not some nefarious plot on the part of the airlines. It’s the people who buy whatever’s cheapest on Expedia.

          • spurious says:

            Of course it’s not a nefarious plot; any more than when supermarkets put staples at the back of the store. It’s one part of a mix that makes use of several market forces, one of those forces being that even people who can reasonably afford $8,000 a ticket don’t want to pay it.

            And yes, of course frequent flyer miles and all sorts of things come into the total, highly complex, equation. Heck, the airlines buy Dom Pérignon in bulk to save on the cost of catering to first class.

            Price discrimination isn’t some weird fringe theory; it’s retail one-o-one. It’s what happens when a business is trying to maximise margin by offering similar but differentiated services which cost the retailer very little extra. Rather than look for the point where average demand meets supply, we look for the maximum any individual will pay and encourage them to do so. Sometimes this is done by framing the more expensive offer in terms of the less expensive one. The nature of long-distance communal travel is such that these frames pretty much generate themselves: queues, security, baggage, crowds — all these things make it possible for a relatively small extra expense to the airline look like it’s worth thousands of dollars to the customer.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        But somehow, we’ve got people who could get the right numbers in two minutes, self-assuredly confident that anything [other than?] Cattle Class must be Unaffordably Expensive Rich People Class.

        You’ve got more accurate multipliers but a 4-digit plane ticket is Unaffordably Expensive Rich People Class for most people, especially non-singles. Attainable for a splurge on a special vacation but that’s about it.

        • bean says:

          Yes, if you want a close-in premium-cabin ticket, it’s going to be expensive. But when I look at 12/15-12/18, I get $302 for economy, $597 for premium economy (whatever that means in this context) and $921 for business/first. Oddly, going out further doesn’t seem to improve this much. I suspect this is because JFK-LAX is a premium-heavy market.

          Attainable for a splurge on a special vacation but that’s about it.

          And? If it was easy to buy up to a premium cabin, everyone would do it. The point is that it’s not completely out of reach of the typical flyer/American/SSCer just by paying for it. And that’s totally neglecting the fact that almost any premium cabin in the world can be gotten into by carefully playing the points game. Maybe not JFK-LAX, but if you want to fly that Emirates suite the CA article mentioned? It’s currently blocked for awards, but the experts don’t expect that to last. In the current (still amazing) first class, you could fly JFK-DXB-BKK roundtrip for 155,000 JAL miles. If you catch a good sale, the miles in question could be bought for as little as 2c each, or a total bill of $3,100. For a first-class ticket in one of the best products in the sky.
          (Caveats: I think Starwood, whose points you’d buy to transfer to JAL, caps mileage purchases per year, so you can’t just pony up the cash. But I also neglected credit card spend and signup bonuses. Working carefully with those should let you cut the cost significantly.)

  61. too dumb for Rick and Morty says:

    Okay, I count on your expertise, fellow SSC enthusiasts:

    I have decided I am tired of my shitty in-ear headphones and want to treat myself to something better.

    I really like listening to classical music while going on walks and my budget is pretty limited at ~150 dollars BUT if anyone were to tell me that for, say, twice as much I could get something significantly more enjoyable – my instant gratification monkey and I are on good terms and I’d be willing to save up a little.

    Any recommendations?

    (I really have no clue re: musical equipment and atm I’m mostly listening to music either from my phone with said really-meh in-ears or at home from my laptop hooked up to okay-ish speakers.)

    • skef says:

      For walking around, closed rather than open headphones are better, which means in-ear or sealed cans. I don’t know much about the latter.

      For classical music, good fidelity and a flat frequency response are usually preferred. (As opposed to, for example, a bias in the lower frequencies.)

      At that price point, one option I can recommend is the Etymotic HF5/HF3 line (the latter has iPhone controls built-in).

      You can certainly do better — just staying with Etymotic leaves the ER4 variants as options. But I would recommend working your way up the quality latter gradually as the years go by , if and when you get unsatisfied or curious.

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      In my case, I want to listen to podcasts (so I have to hear each word) while I run (so they can’t be too bulky) in the city (so they should block out enough noise that I don’t have to turn up the volume). What ear buds/phones would you recommend in that case?

      • Aapje says:

        Presumable you also don’t want them to block out too little noise, so you still retain situational awareness. I have some in-ear headphones which block out noise like gangbusters (flying with them was a revelation, not hearing the engines was so relaxing), but I would not want to navigate traffic with them.

        These seem like useful reviews, especially since they discuss the noise isolation vs situational awareness trade-off in their reviews.

    • zz says:

      The Wirecutter would recommend Sony MDR-7506. I’ve had them for ~2 years now (on the strength of The Wirecutter’s recommendation, which I trust on Luke Muehlhauser’s recommendation) and am yet to yearn for anything in the $400 bracket, despite being classically trained and correspondingly picky/pretentious. The only downside I’d imagine is there’s quite a bite of cord, although it’s coiled, which you’d have to find somewhere to put on your walks.

      Wirecutter also has recommendations for the best workout headphone.

      • toastengineer says:

        Seconding the MDRs. They last forever too and they’re only $80. I’d get that Asurion accidental damage insurance plan Amazon sells too, my one experience with them was pretty positive.

        I don’t find walking with the long cable troublesome; I just hang it on my neck. It’s handy when you’re listening to music and want something that’s on the other side of the room: just walk over, the cable will stretch!

    • Well... says:

      If you’re going to spend that kind of money on headphones it’s good to also check about warranties and customer support. Headphones have lots of small fragile parts, so you want to make sure you’re not buying something that will break or need replacement parts in a year–unless the manufacturer will send you a new one with minimum hassle.

    • Brad says:

      This is a complete tangent to your question but, is it just me or has audiophila almost completely died in the last decade or two? I remember when it was fairly common for people to spend hundreds or even thousands on stereo equipment and that just doesn’t seem to happen very much anymore.

      Is it because of smartphones? Millennial preferences for experiences over things? Something else?

      • John Schilling says:

        Unintended consequences as reported in bad customer reviews?

      • James says:

        Yeah, I think it’s just because having smartphones (and, previously, ipods and mp3 players) means that people no longer sit at home and listen to things as an activity in itself. The very idea of sitting down to listen to an album seems mildly anachronistic now, let alone owning bulky, expensive, high-end gear on which to do so.

        The impact of this shift on the medium of pop music and the album format itself is left as an exercise for the reader.

        Edit: might also be partly that yuppies have more impressive, high-tech, up-to-date things to signal wealth with nowadays. Spending enough time on audiophile fora makes it clear that there’s a lot of signalling involved in that activity.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Yeah, I think it’s just because having smartphones (and, previously, ipods and mp3 players) means that people no longer sit at home and listen to things as an activity in itself

          I used to sit down to listen to albums when I was younger, but seem to not do so now. I think I may have re-wired my brain to no longer be happy doing so, without also playing a game on my phone, or reading something, such as the SSC open threads.

          But perhaps part of the decline in audiophilia can be attributed to the rise of mp3s, which offer you the bargain: as many songs as you can reasonably wish for on a tiny, convenient storage device, but the quality will be just good enough that you are not noticing obvious distortions, rather than crystal-clear. The acceptability of that trade-off may vary between genres.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        The prevalence of MP3s—a lossy format that is nearly always stored on devices with relatively low power output—probably has a significant effect. The track itself is (ostensibly) lower quality, and the player can’t run large fancy speakers (or headphones) without an external amplifier. Equals way less opportunities for improved experience via audiophilic gadgetry.

        (I doubt very much I could tell the difference between an MP3 at 320, a FLAC, and vinyl version of the same track played on the same good speakers.)

      • CthulhuChild says:

        Speaking as a millennial audiophile…

        I think it’s 3 factors:

        1) Most people can’t (and never could) tell the difference between different sound quality. A lot of audiophile culture was based on creating a prosumer identity, and there are easier/better recognized ways of doing it now.
        2) What you can buy at the mid-low end of the market blows away what used to be considered audiophile grade.
        3) As others pointed out, MP3s have pushed audiophilia (for music) into portable markets (headphone amps, DACs, earphones). The other end of the market is home theatre, where sound staging matters more than audio perfection (Michael bay explosions sound pretty much the same regardless of what you’re listening on). 7.1 setups are pretty cheap for those who want them, and not an option for most apartment dwellers.

        • Brad says:

          Most of that makes sense. But what would you are the easier/better recognized way of creating a prosumer identity today?

          It looks to me that the same sort of trend happened in a bunch of areas. For example cameras now are by and large either cell phones or serious, heavy, expensive affairs. The entire middle of the market, including high-middle, all but disappeared.

    • CthulhuChild says:

      Oooh!

      Ok, so I really really recommend you check out Shure earbuds. If they fit (and that is a big if, they have a long stem that probes your ear canal like an alien with a human fetish), they are extremely good value for money. There are several models (from the SE126 to the SE825, ranging from under $100 to over $800) so you can pay for what you can hear (I never bought the expensive ones because the $400 ones sounded as good to my ears). Their design and sound isolation gives them a base response that is absolutely incredible for in-ears, and because they are earbuds they will still be useful enough to take to the gym or travel.

      I don’t think you will find better value TBH. The big problem is fit: I have really narrow ear canals and no earbud ever fit me, so these were great because the wire loop behind the top of the ear (to they don’t get tugged out easily) and the bud puts a thin rubber christmas tree into your ear. My wife cannot stand to put them on. That said, even the cheapest model comes with tons of different tips, so there’s probably something that will fit your ear as long as you don’t mind the overall design.

    • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

      If “muting the outside world” is a headphone feature you’re interested in, I’m still amazed by the Bose QuietComfort 35. Sound quality is very nice, battery lasts a day of constant use, and they’re comfortable enough to wear for pretty much an indeterminate amount of time. The Bluetooth connection wasn’t much of a factor in my decision, but as it turns out not inadvertedly yanking cables all the time is rather helpful as well. They’ve recently brought out a Version II which is the exact same device plus a Google assistant button, so if you’re not interested in that, maybe Version I might be discounted where you live.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’m not really an audiophile, but I love the noise cancelling Bose QC35 for listening to music and for comfort in noisy environments.

      However, they don’t support low latency bluetooth so are useless for games etc. Does anyone know of anything comparably good that doesn’t have this limitation?

    • ayegill says:

      I also don’t have much of a clue re: musical equipment, but I’ve been extremely happy with my Soundmagic E10 in-ears. I mostly use them sitting down, so it’s possible they’re not the best for walking around. They have the advantage of being pretty affordable, at around $50.

  62. Said Achmiz says:

    This complaint reminds me of those people who put spikes on benches so that homeless people cannot sleep on them. It is true that in a perfect world nobody would have to sleep on benches. But you are not creating that world. You are just making sure homeless people can’t sleep anywhere.

    Wait… what?!

    Scott, what do you think those bench spikes are for? What do you imagine is the motivation for them? Do you… do you think people who put them in are trying (misguidedly, by your lights) to… help homeless people?!

    Like, the notion that “well then homeless people can’t sleep anywhere!” is a counterargument to putting spikes on benches… or that bench-spike advocates are trying to create a world where homeless people don’t have to sleep on benches… I can’t fathom the confusion that would lead one to believe these things. What gives?

    • skef says:

      I think Scott was comparing the spikes to a potential regulation against a standing option. The idea being that both could be seen as preventing something apparently unfortunate, but at the cost of the remaining options being more unfortunate.

      • RandomName says:

        Right, that’s clearly what scott’s implying, but Said Achmiz’s point is that the spikes are not on the bench to prevent homeless from sleeping on them because it is unfortunate for the homeless. The real motivation is along the lines of “If we don’t spike the benches, homeless people will sleep in in public, and commit crimes/lower property values/make people uncomfortable”. The spikes aren’t there for the homeless people’s benefit, not even in argument. They’re there for the (non-homeless) community’s benefit, by forcing the homeless to go somewhere else.

        I had the same thought while reading, sometimes Scott might be too nice for his own good.

        • baconbacon says:

          The real motivation is along the lines of “If we don’t spike the benches, homeless people will sleep in in public, and commit crimes/lower property values/make people uncomfortable”.

          Situations like these are often more complex, there is usually an interplay that goes something like
          1. visible homeless problem
          2. More funding for shelters
          3. Many homeless still avoid the shelters
          4. Prevent homeless from sleeping in public areas as easily, making it appear as if point 2 has solved the problem.

          Scott’s analogy is imperfect, but it gets the point across that the visual of the people standing on airplanes is what is objected to, not the actual impact on their lives that it has.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, because the Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics is widespread, most people feel worse walking by a homeless guy sleeping on a bench and not giving him money than they do walking by a bench obviously designed to repel homeless people which by some coincidence has no homeless people on it.

          • baconbacon says:

            Since both are topics in this thread, is the long history (in my experience at least) of terribly uncomfortable, impossible to lay across seats in airports a related phenomenon?

          • Matt M says:

            I always figured that the “impossible to lay on” part was definitely intentional (probably for the best, as people sleeping on the chairs takes up already limited seating space near the gates), but the “uncomfortable as hell” part was probably just general cheapness.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I had an unexpected night-time layover at Miami airport a while back, and the seats were all metal with armrests, so that you couldn’t lie along them. But after some asking around, it turned out they have a conference centre with fold out camp-beds, where they turn the lights out and allow stranded travellers to get some rest, at least until they start kicking you out at 6 in the morning. This fact was not signposted, though, and didn’t even seem to be widely known among the airport staff.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Winter Shaker, interesting!

            I had an unexpected nighttime layover at Detroit airport about six years ago, on my way back to college from spring break. There were about six of us students who decided not to spring for a hotel room. We didn’t think to ask around, and we ended up camping out in the “Religious Reflection Room.” The chairs there had arms, but me and several others of us pushed two open seats together and curled up snugly between them.

        • JulieK says:

          I had the same thought while reading, sometimes Scott might be too nice for his own good.

          Jane Austen might call him “candid.”

    • Chevron says:

      Thanks, I just Ctrl-F’d to make sure someone had pointed this out.

      Putting “spikes” on the standing room airplane option to stop people standing on plane flights is (or reasonably could be) motivated by some desire not to “force” people to stand on planes.

      Putting spikes on benches is motivated by “Get these dirty hobos out of my park.”

  63. OptimalSolver says:

    Posted this last time but it got buried (no pun intended).

    What would be the least traumatic way to introduce resurrected historical humans to the 21st Century?

    Assuming we found some way to resurrect all humans who have ever lived, and that we had the resources to support them all, how could we ease them into modern life with minimal culture shock?

    This should apply for everyone from a Stone Age caveman to Jane Austen

    • RandomName says:

      Maybe semi-isolated reservations, where they can live and work in relative isolation with people from the same time period but occasionally go out and trade/interact with modern people?

    • genocidebunnies says:

      What age do we resurrect them at? Assimilating children and young adults would be vastly different from assimilating people approaching and past the middle age.

    • Rosemary7391 says:

      Regardless of the actual integration procedure, I’d probably pick the person(s) I thought most likely to cope well from a given era, get them up to speed and then let them introduce their friends to this strange new world.

      You have to start where they’re at. I might be tempted to recreate their environment somewhere. Language seems likely to be a big problem; even Jane Austen spoke in a way that many people today simply wouldn’t understand, and I wouldn’t know where to begin talking to a caveman! Maybe try to teach them a modern language; starting with concepts that already exist in their environment and introducing new ones sequentially.

      If you can resurrect anyone, does that mean we have (effectively) infinite time in which to make this transition…?

    • cassander says:

      What fun is taking the least traumatic way?

  64. OptimalSolver says:

    I’m finding it hard not to strawman the anti-materialist position down to: “OMG, my feelings aren’t calculable you insensitive drone! I’m a human being, yeah?”

    I mean, I’ve read Nagel, and even skimmed through Plantinga, but I still think what’s happening here is a quite literal inability of a certain type of mind to see humans as an assembly of parts. I.e. just as autistic (and sociopathic) people struggle with perceiving a whole human as anything other than a complex system, so other types of mind are incapable of abandoning their holistic view of themselves and other persons.

    The holistic types will never be convinced because this is a matter of very different mental architectures, not strong philosophical arguments, and perhaps this point applies to all other questions in philosophy.

    • manwhoisthursday says:

      I’d suggest reading Edward Feser’s Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide, along with some of the essays devoted to Phil of Mind in another of his books, Neo-Scholastic Essays. David Bentley Hart also has some interesting things to say, which you can find via Youtube and Google.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      Weird. I found it pretty easy not to strawman their position that way, merely by looking at what they actually say and the arguments they actually give, and not trying to reformulate them through massively uncharitable paraphrase in the voice of a complete imbecile.

    • It’s not that people think that a functional reduction of feelings or sensory qualities is a wicked thing, it is that they a) have not seen such a reduction — the infamous seeRed()
      and (b) think it is impossible. Materialism in turn tends to split between the promissory kind, which denies (b), and the eliminative kind kind that denies there is even the necessity for (a). At this stage, I think you need to ask yourself whether your belief in the reducibility of feeling is based on detail — an ability to write seeRed() — or a general intuition.

      • MrApophenia says:

        If I am understanding what you are asking, would the ability to read sensory experience out of your brain and put it on a screen prove anything? Because we’re years past that, people at Berkeley have been putting mental imagery onscreen through a brain computer interface since 2011.

        • No, it’s about sensory qualities, as in the Mary thought experiement experiment. Mary can read visual experience of a tomato from someone’s brain scan in a sense, but not in a sense that includes and actual quality of redness.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t mean this as a rhetorical or argumentative tactic, can you explain what you mean in more detail? If we can read the part of the brain experiencing red, and translate that back into the color red, in what sense are we missing the quality of redness?

          • MrApophenia says:

            Missed my edit window, but I wanted to add a note on the Mary’s Room experiment after reading more of it – I may be hilariously ignorant on this topic, but it seems like that thought experiment doesn’t actually show anything, it just bakes the conclusion you prefer into the premise. The anti-materials say that Mary knows all the physical information in advance, but that she must learn something new when she sees color for the first time; the materialist just says that if she truly knows all the physical information, that includes the physical information representing the activity in the brain when experiencing color, so if she truly knows all physical information related to the topic, she learns nothing new.

            It still just comes down to whether you think this stuff can be represented physically or not.

          • If we can read the part of the brain experiencing red, and translate that back into the color red, in what sense are we missing the quality of redness?

            What does “translate back” mean? Mary can’t do that. in the sense of actually seeing red.
            And if someone else can do it, for instance by looking at a reconstruction of someone else’s visual information on a colour monitor, that just proves that is happening somehow, not that it is happening by pure physics. To exclude the claim that some extra sauce is required to have phenomenal experience, you need to explain how experience occurs, not just prompt it to occur.

            he materialist just says that if she truly knows all the physical information, that includes the physical information representing the activity in the brain when experiencing color, so if she truly knows all physical information related to the topic, she learns nothing new.

            Some materialists have that intuition, some don’t.

            But if Mary is fully able to explain how experience reduces to physics, why don’t we have that explanation?

            It still just comes down to whether you think this stuff can be represented physically or not.

            Not at all. “Red” represents the colour of a tomato, but if you read it in black-on-white , there’s no redness there. It comes down to explanation, not representation.

          • RandomName says:

            I’m with MrApophenia here, I don’t understand the hard problem of consciousness at all.

            And by “don’t understand”, I don’t mean I don’t understand how to solve it, I mean I literally don’t understand the problem itself. The occipital cortex receives a receives a signal from the optic nerve which it uses to construct a visual image based on priors (or something approximating that), I don’t have the feeling of an unresolved question like “But where does subjective experience come in”.

            I’m not saying this as some kind of brag, I’m curious what kind of intuition other people have that I don’t. Or maybe I’m just misunderstanding the problem?

          • RandomName

            You’ve packaged all the difficult stuff inside “constructs a visual image”. I can’t emphasise enough that reductive explanation is about explanation, and is about reduction…all the way down.

          • Protagoras says:

            But if Mary is fully able to explain how experience reduces to physics, why don’t we have that explanation?

            Well, we don’t know nearly as much as Mary does. One obvious possibility thus suggests itself; maybe the reason we don’t have Mary’s explanation has something to do with our knowing a lot less than Mary? Dennett has advocated that as a possibility at times, of course.

          • MrApophenia says:

            What does “translate back” mean? Mary can’t do that. in the sense of actually seeing red.
            And if someone else can do it, for instance by looking at a reconstruction of someone else’s visual information on a colour monitor, that just proves that is happening somehow, not that it is happening by pure physics. To exclude the claim that some extra sauce is required to have phenomenal experience, you need to explain how experience occurs, not just prompt it to occur.

            I’m not talking about the person looking at the monitor, I’m talking about the actual process by which they read the electrical impulses in your brain processing mental imagery, and turn those impulses into a visual image displayed on the screen. That looks an awful lot to me like we’ve just captured the actual mechanical process of the experience and replicated it.

            We’re not just showing an image of a tomato based on a camera – we read the visual experience of tomato out of your head, and put on a monitor.

            It’s very possible I’m missing something obvious here, but none of the explanations so far have made it clear to me what that is.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, we don’t know nearly as much as Mary does. One obvious possibility thus suggests itself; maybe the reason we don’t have Mary’s explanation has something to do with our knowing a lot less than Mary? Dennett has advocated that as a possibility at times, of course.

            The problem with that is that it makes naturalism completely unfalsifiable, since you can always meet any objection by shrugging and saying, “Well, maybe we’ll find the answer to your objection one day.”

          • Protagoras says:

            The problem with that is that it makes naturalism completely unfalsifiable, since you can always meet any objection by shrugging and saying, “Well, maybe we’ll find the answer to your objection one day.”

            No, it just means you have to find actual evidence of something non-natural going on, instead of just saying “well, nobody can explain this yet, so it must be magic!”

          • Mark says:

            I don’t understand how people can’t understand this.

            If you didn’t have a monitor, you wouldn’t be able to read what I’m writing.
            If you had some way of reading the output of the computer, and you already had a conception of how a monitor would interpret that data, you could reconstruct what I was trying to say on a piece of paper.

            But the understanding of what those signals mean has to come first.

            Same thing with consciousness. Yes, you can look at some signal in the brain and say “that represents the colour red”, but you have to have some conception of what red is before you can say that.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, it just means you have to find actual evidence of something non-natural going on, instead of just saying “well, nobody can explain this yet, so it must be magic!”

            The inability of naturalists to come up with convincing explanations is itself evidence that naturalism is false.

            ETA: And presumably the people giving the “One day we’ll find the answer” defence agree that naturalists have been unable to come up with convincing explanations, or else they’d just give these explanations to defend their position instead of appealing to the possibility of someone finding an explanation in the future.

            magic

            Less of the lazy straw-men, please.

          • Mark says:

            @Mr X
            Hmmmm… if you disagree with naturalism, doesn’t that suggest the supernatural?

            I don’t think it’s wrong to call that “magic”.

          • Protagoras says:

            The inability of naturalists to explain everything is not proof of anything at all, as it is impossible to explain everything. And I apologize for being a bit testy, but as TheAncientGeek’s link indicates, Frank Jackson himself has long since figured out that Mary doesn’t provide evidence against physicalism. I get frustrated when people remain so committed to obviously bad arguments when the refutations have been out there for decades.

            In more detail, Lewis’ “An Argument for the Identity Theory” is in no way undermined by any of the qualia arguments. His “What Experience Teaches” provides a more detailed explanation of how problematic the appeal to qualia as evidence for anything non-physical is (the Lewis arguments are widely credited with bringing Jackson around). Dennett has some further interesting things to say on the subject of why people find physicalist stories unsatisfying, but while I think he makes a decent enough case that it’s because people are deeply confused, it isn’t actually necessary. Rejecting physicalism only seems to help when the people who do it make their positive claims too vague to evaluate; when examined in detail, it becomes clear that the anti-physicalists don’t actually have an alternative to offer.

          • Well, we don’t know nearly as much as Mary does. One obvious possibility thus suggests itself; maybe the reason we don’t have Mary’s explanation has something to do with our knowing a lot less than Mary? Dennett has advocated that as a possibility at times, of course

            That’s an obvious response , but not without problems. A quale such as a sustained middle C or a uniform shade of blue is not subjectively complex…which might as well be summarised as not complex.

            That position still has a duality between objectively complex but communicable brain processes and subjectively simple but ineffable qualia. How does the one get translated into the other?

          • I’m not talking about the person looking at the monitor, I’m talking about the actual process by which they read the electrical impulses in your brain processing mental imagery, and turn those impulses into a visual image displayed on the screen. That looks an awful lot to me like we’ve just captured the actual mechanical process of the experience and replicated it.

            We’re not just showing an image of a tomato based on a camera – we read the visual experience of tomato out of your head, and put on a monitor.

            It’s very possible I’m missing something obvious here, but none of the explanations so far have made it clear to me what that is.

            What’s missing is the very thing that the Mary story is about. Unless you are
            claiming that the monitor has
            its own subjective sensation of red, that is what has gone missing.

          • @Mark

            Is it magic every time a new particle or force is added to physics?

            @Protagoras

            when examined in detail, it becomes clear that the anti-physicalists don’t actually have an alternative to offer

            As someone with a so far unpublished alternative to offer , I was wondering how you intended to exclude the possibility of so far unpublished alternative alternative s….

          • In more detail, Lewis’ “An Argument for the Identity Theory” is in no way undermined by any of the qualia arguments.

            There’s more than one identity theory.The kind no one seems to have is where identity emerges out of reductive explanation without elimination.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The inability of naturalists to explain everything is not proof of anything at all, as it is impossible to explain everything.

            Firstly, we were talking about evidence, not proof, so kindly cut it with the straw-men. Secondly, this is an example of what I meant by making naturalism unfalsifiable, since you can use “Well it’s impossible to explain everything anyway” as a response to literally any problem in your argument. Thirdly, given that the explanation of consciousness is the main point of disagreement between naturalists and non-naturalists, “It’s impossible to explain everything” comes across as a bit of a cop-out. And fourthly, if a decades-long failure to explain consciousness naturalistically doesn’t count as evidence that consciousness doesn’t have a naturalistic explanation, what on earth would?

          • Protagoras says:

            @The Original Mr. X, You have completely failed to address my central point, which is that as far as I can tell what there is actually a decades long history of is non-naturalists offering absolutely nothing, including even a clear explanation of what the problem is supposed to be, never mind how not being naturalist would solve any part of it.

          • Chalmers has offered both an explanation of the problem and a solution.

          • Protagoras says:

            @TheAncientGeek, I concede that Chalmers claims to have done what you say he has done. I have yet to see the evidence that he has actually done it (I couldn’t find it in his big book, certainly).

      • Protagoras says:

        Here is a discussion of why I think your characterization of materialism is inaccurate.

        • You say that phenomenal content closely tracks function. I agree. You don’t provide the gold standard of an argument to the effect that phenomenal content merely is function., namely a seeRed() , a functional breakdown of a phenomenal feel. You also mention modes of presentation. I agree that phenomeal awareness is a mode of presentation. This is technically, but not dramatically, a non-physicalist position, since physics doesn’t imply that there is anything it should feel like to be anything. It also predicts a close coupling between function and feeling. It also predicts qualiaphilic intuitions, such as those expressed in the Mary gedanken.

          • Protagoras says:

            You don’t seem to understand my point. This is how the situation appears to me: I’ve provided what you’ve asked for, and you say that I haven’t because it doesn’t look how you expected it to look. But you don’t provide any evidence that your expectations about how it should look are reliable, and can’t even adequately explain what you expected anyway beyond insisting that it’s not that.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Look at it from the opposite side: what things without brains do you believe currently possess consciousness?

      • “Consciousness requires brains” isn’t proof of materialism.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Not at all, but it gets at some of the intuitions involved. If somebody thinks consciousness is just information processing, well, there are a *lot* of things that do that. I think a lot of materialist explanations have inadvertently reinvented animism.

      • Anon. says:

        This question would be way clearer if we could taboo “consciousness”.

        • James says:

          Unfortunately, that’s the hard part.

        • Mark says:

          How?

          “What things without brains do you think possess ______ ?”

          If you are talking about relations between objects, you can perhaps make a conversation clearer by forcing people to explicitly define their terms – that is clarification by referencing an object as some set of relations between other objects.

          If you are talking about subjective experience itself, that is, the thing that (to all practical intents and purposes) all objects are made up of, you can’t relate it to anything in particular, because it is everything.

          My intuition is that non-conscious information processing exists, because it seems to exist in my mind. (My brain processes information that I am unaware of suggesting that information processing isn’t equivalent to consciousness. Maybe there is some poor separate consciousness somewhere in my brain who has to deal with heartbeats.)

          • If you are talking about subjective experience itself, that is, the thing that (to all practical intents and purposes) all objects are made up of,

            How can you tell? Have you been a rock?

          • dionisos says:

            Interesting points.

            It seems to me that I am, almost by construction, communicating with the part of you which create and have the “internal dialogue”, the part of you which process the language.

            But it seems clear that there are parts of your brain which don’t do that, and I see no clear reason why these parts would be included in the same “stream of consciousness”, in the same united set of experiences.

            In some way, we can consider you are “communicating” with these parts, in the same way you are communicating with me, and that the fact you aren’t conscious of what these parts “live”, isn’t a bigger clue than these parts aren’t conscious, than it is a clue than I am not conscious.

          • Mark says:

            How can you tell? Have you been a rock?

            To all practical intents and purposes.

    • Mark says:

      Isn’t the anti-materialist position that “material” is, on a fundamental level, a meaningless term?

    • Mark says:

      The CTMU:

      While there have been many reductionist programs in science and philosophy, the promised reduction is always to the same thing: a theoretical language. Because this is necessarily true, language is fundamental. The fact that most such theories, e.g. theories of physics, point to the fundamental status of something “objective” and “independent of language”, e.g. matter and/or energy, is quite irrelevant, for the very act of pointing invokes an isomorphism between theory and objective reality…an isomorphism that is subject to the Reality Principle, and which could not exist unless reality shared the linguistic structure of the theory itself.

      • Wow. So it’s impossible to have language that fails to refer?

        • Mark says:

          Perhaps all theories of reality have certain linguistic/logical properties. Theories of unreality would have the same properties. That doesn’t change the fact that all theories of reality would have those properties.

          And if the theory doesn’t have those logical properties, it stops being linguistic, stops being a theory, and just becomes a noise.

          Langan, I believe, states that Kant’s “noumenon” effectively refers to nothing – and is therefore superfluous.

        • What you say doesn’t address the point. If a theory can be wrong, there is s need for a map-territory distinction.

          • Mark says:

            What if we were living on a big map?

            Then, the map I hold in my hand might tell me something about the necessary properties of the map on which we were living, it can be cut by scissors, etc.

            The features on my hand-map might not correspond with the features on the big map, however.

            So, the features of logic might tell us something about the possible properties of reality, though not all of the details.

            Also, if I draw something on my map and call it “NON-MAP LIKE FEATURE” it’s almost a contradiction in terms isn’t it? No matter what I might like to call it, it is in fact a feature on a map. So, one thing we can be certain is that that map doesn’t correspond to the territory.

      • Nick says:

        Reality has a linguistic structure? Since when is Langan a kabbalist?!

  65. Kevin C. says:

    What exactly is a “community center”?

    (I was looking into the possibility of starting a Meetup group — though I’m hesitating now at the cost of doing so — and looking for free/cheap places to meet. When searching this question online, “community centers” is an answer that frequently came up (alongside answers like schools, churches, libraries that I can rule out locally).)

    • tcheasdfjkl says:

      Some places have e.g. Jewish community centers – growing up I had various extracurriculars & attended concerts in one. (I am not sure if all the things I attended there were organized by Jewish people? I kind of think not; I don’t know how one used the facilities)

      I think some cities/towns also have just, like, municipal community centers – a building for community events and such.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        The community centre where I grew up had a large indoor gym, a swimming pool, a bunch of classroom-type rooms that I think were used by summer camps, and also general ‘recreational activities’. My guess is these programs were mostly targeted at young kids and seniors, and maybe kids on school break, but I don’t know. They gym was used for the local community basketball team, and also my parent’s synagogue held their High Holiday services there, since the usual building was too small for the extra crowd that showed up.

        • beleester says:

          “Recreation center” or “rec center” is a term I hear more commonly than “community center,” with the exception of the JCC, but it’s describing pretty much the same thing. Gym, pool, sports equipment, various meeting rooms, probably next to a park.

          So if you can’t find a “community center,” try googling “rec center” and see what comes up.

    • Alsadius says:

      In the small towns where I grew up, there was generally a municipally run “community centre” – they’d have sports facilities like skating rinks, baseball diamonds, swimming pools, etc., along with meeting rooms for public use. In the big city where I live now, there’s still a few similar-looking facilities, but much fewer of them per capita.

    • dodrian says:

      In my town, the local technical college also functions as a community center, renting out space (on the cheap) to local groups.

      Often public libraries will do the same, and sometimes cafes are good places too. In some places it’s the town/city hall.

      • Kevin C. says:

        In my town, the local technical college also functions as a community center, renting out space (on the cheap) to local groups.

        UAA does have meeting rooms, some for free, but they’re only available for students, professors, employees, etc.

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      Public libraries usually have meeting rooms you can reserve, sometimes for free, sometimes for cheap.

      Also, look at coworking spaces, to get a conference room, projectors, etc. They cost a bit more, but are often really nice.

      Depending on your city and people in your group, you can get space inside corporate campuses. (The Microsoft NERD center in Boston is a particular favorite of mine.)

      If your city has a cafe culture, many cafes have rooms or separable spaces that you can rent.

      If any of you are a member of a religion, you can sometimes use or rent meeting space in a church.

      When the weather is nice, there are public parks. You can reserve those covered tables and grills for cheap, or just show up.

      Also, restaurants and bars often have rooms you can rent. You’ll probably have to guarantee N meals or drinks ordered.

      If there are any business hotels around (if you are in a city, there are), they have meeting rooms for rent.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Public libraries usually have meeting rooms you can reserve, sometimes for free, sometimes for cheap.

        Loussac Library has rooms for rent, but many are unavailable due to the renovations, and the only one for which they list the price on the webpage is the Assembly Chambers (where the Anchorage Assembly, our city council, meets), and that is $110/hr, with 2hr minimum.

        Depending on your city and people in your group, you can get space inside corporate campuses. (The Microsoft NERD center in Boston is a particular favorite of mine.)

        I think BP might have something, but I’m not sure how much it costs.

        If your city has a cafe culture

        It doesn’t.

        If any of you are a member of a religion, you can sometimes use or rent meeting space in a church.

        I’m not religious (and nobody else has joined yet).

        When the weather is nice, there are public parks. You can reserve those covered tables and grills for cheap, or just show up.

        What “covered tables and grills”? We don’t really have those in our city parks (we have a big homeless problem). And as for weather, we’re talking Alaskan winter here for the next 4+ months.

        Also, restaurants and bars often have rooms you can rent.

        How do you find out? Most the ones I eat at don’t; maybe the fancy ones Downtown outside my price range…

        If there are any business hotels around (if you are in a city, there are), they have meeting rooms for rent.

        And the sampling I found online are outside my price range.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          When you are down to just one person and hoped for more, the traditional start is someone’s living room. Throw a dinner party.

          And re no cafe culture: And how can you have no Starbucks? I’ve been to Anchorage, you have Starbucks there. That’s enough. Say you will meet at a particular Starbucks that has table space, go there ahead of time, pre-tip the baristas, and encourage anyone who shows up to buy at least one drink.

          • Nornagest says:

            At the risk of sounding like a snob, I’m not sure “Starbucks” and “culture” belong in the same sentence.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            You failed the risk, you are a snob. And in this exact moment, not even usefully snobby.

            Look, I understand. I prefer better coffee myself. But Starbucks solves the problem raised here, and it also solves a larger problem. Starbucks provides a good working solution to the set of problems solved by “do you have a local cafe culture”.

            If there wasn’t a Starbucks in Anchorage, my next suggestion would have been a McDonalds, which in many poorer parts of the US *is* the “local community center where people can gather at a table and have a conversation”.

    • SamChevre says:

      In several places I have lived, a “community center” was the building that used to be the local school prior to school consolidation–so had a lot of rooms (former classrooms) that were suitable for small meetings, and maybe two or three bigger rooms (former library/gym/cafeteria).

  66. Kevin C. says:

    So, are there any good articles or resources on LW/the “rationalsphere” with regards to overcoming “sunk-cost fallacy”, “optimism bias”, and the other cognitive biases that make humans irrationally persistent, and rationally determine when to give up on something?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Hm… I’d say “just don’t bother”. Sunk-cost fallacy and optimism bias kinda cancel each other, and anecdotally the thing that’s ever brought more grief in life was in a sense the result of deliberately ignoring sunken costs and trying to counter optimism bias.

      I mean, getting better at making decisions is great, but “pearning to deal with fallacies” doesn’t seem like the best way to go about it.

    • Aapje says:

      @Kevin C

      The problem is that there is an immense search space and a lack of transparency about not just the odds, but even which variables impact your odds, which greatly hampers the application of rational decision making.

      Adding to the complexity is that each individual has their own specific capabilities, cost functions and desires. So ultimately it’s about finding a specific fit between the person and society, but due to the lack of transparency, people often just end up trying random advice and see if it works.

  67. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I’m reading what’s known about the Hittites. There are two ways of Romanizing their male names: with a terminal s as in Greek and Latin, or ending with the vowel. The books don’t explain it, which makes me suspicious that the latter was contrived by Anglophones to avoid talking about “Mursilis” and “Telepinus”.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      I’m curious what your source of information is: have you found a good book on the Hittites? I’d love to read more about them.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The standard reference is Trevor Bryce (Kingdom of the Hittites & Life and Society in the Hittite World, Oxford 1998 & 2002 respectively… this is not a field where new research reaches the mainstream very fast; I own O.R. Gurney’s 1950s survey because it came in a Folio Society set, and that serves fine.)

        Short version: the Hittites did not call themselves that, but rather “Hattites” and “Nesili”. Hatti was eastern Anatolia and had an indigenous language that’s an isolate. Nesili means “(Ka)nesa tongue” and was an Indo-European language belonging to the most divergent branch, called Anatolian. Kanesa was a city-state in Hatti already economically dominant by 2000 BC, when Assyrians had a merchant colony there. After this Colony Period, in the 18th century BC, a Nesili-speaking dynasty unified eastern Anatolia into the Old Kingdom and began pushing into Mesopotamia and Assuwa (western Anatolia, the later Asia Minor).
        King Mursilis I actually fought all the way to Babylon in 1595 BC but was unable to hold it due to dissent back home, so his campaign ended up replacing Hammurabi’s Amorite dynasty with a Kassite dynasty that lasted until the Bronze Age Collapse (400 years). Upon his return to the capital he was assassinated, setting a precedent that led to 160 years of weakness, the Middle Kingdom. A stable succession law was passed in the middle of this by the hilarious-to-Anglophones King Telepinus, but rebuilding the empire still took a lifetime. Also at some point the capital was moved from Kanesa to Hattusa.
        The Hittite New Kingdom subjugated an Assuwa or Arzawa league that may have been led by Troy VI, destroyed the Indo-Aryan speaking (!) Mitanni dynasty of Upper Mesopotamia between itself and Assyria, and expanded south from Classical Cilicia into the Levant to become a rival of the Egyptian New Kingdom.
        Then came the Bronze Age Collapse. The cities of the empire were burned and government shrank to “Neo-Hittite” city-states that used the Anatolian language Luwian rather than the related Hittite/Nesili.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Might it be something to do with the Hittite language? From what I can find, terminal -s is the nominative suffix for animate nouns (instead of grammatical gender, Hittite uses an animate-inanimate noun-class system). For instance, the Wikipedia article on Hittite grammar states that the word for “man” is “antuhsa”, but the nominative form is “antuhsas”.

      So I think the difference in Romanization is whether authors give the stem, or the stem plus the nominative suffix.

      Of course, the lack of grammatical gender in Hittite means that there should be no difference between how male and female names are treated. Possibly it’s just a matter of “Puduhepa” being more “obviously feminine” to an English- (or German-) speaker than “Puduhepas”? I have noticed the terminal -s on the name of at least one Hittite goddess (Lilwanis).

  68. CthulhuChild says:

    Small issue with the standing seat thing. I’m a big tall guy, and seats keep shrinking (about 16-20% over the last 2 decades). My wages are flat relative to airfare costs (and shrinking compared to airline profits). My thighbone is now literally larger than the gap between two seats. If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost, I’d take it every time. Instead, I can upgrade to first class for 300-400% cost. I should probably mention that I’m military, so most of my flying is not optional (upgrades are at my expense if I want them, which isn’t unreasonable).

    Scott (and others) have expressed support for minimum wage (in the absence of basic income) as a compromise solution to preserve human dignity in the face of economic slavery. I’m not suggesting that my problem is comparable to the plight of the Somali ship-breakers, but I’d really like to avoid dying of a blood-clot, and I’m not looking forward to vertical seating becoming the new normal. If it follows the trend of first class upgrades, the privilege of economy seating will be a 300% price upgrade from bicycle seats. If vertical seating becomes an option, you can bet I’ll either be flying standing up or unemployed inside a few years.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This. I don’t know why Scott fails to see airline seating as Moloch (or Mammon?) Many people have to fly in the cheapest section or become unemployed. Airlines have already packed people into the economy section to the extent of threatening their lives with deep vein thrombosis. This is not a choice you should want to inflict on new demographics!
      I also wonder about the safety of standing passengers in turbulence or a crash.

      • bean says:

        I also wonder about the safety of standing passengers in turbulence or a crash.

        Which is why no aviation authority has approved them yet. People keep forgetting this. Getting it through the regulators is the most important thing, and that hasn’t even begun. (I used to work on airliner regulatory compliance. It’s not an easy field.) I’m not sanguine about the chances either. There’s stirrings that the current smallest pitches are unsafe, and the FAA is being forced to justify approving them.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          There’s stirrings that the current smallest pitches are unsafe

          Has there even been live evacuation drills at the current super economy pitch? If there have, all of the simulated passengers were 5’0″ tall gymnasts and yoga instructors.

          The situation is even worse outside the US. I’ve been on regional carriers inside the PRC, inside India, and inside the EU (yes, really, the EU, what the hell?) where the pitch was at least 2 inches shorter than US super economy, and I had to spend the entire flight twisted at an angle in my seat with my knees halfway up the seat in front of me.

          Fortunately, none of those flights have been longer than 3 hours. When I am traveling outside the US now, I use Seat Advisor to avoid those flights, and the day is going to come when I’m going to have a Full And Frank Conversation Over Topics Of Concern with someone’s expense reimbursement department on the topic, and I’m going to start writing it into my contracts.

          • bean says:

            Has there even been live evacuation drills at the current super economy pitch? If there have, all of the simulated passengers were 5’0″ tall gymnasts and yoga instructors.

            I don’t remember offhand. I’m sure that someone has done a 28″ pitch drill, but it was probably done with the sort of people who volunteer for such things, and running around inside a simulated airliner is less likely to appeal to fat people. The FAA is currently under court order to prove that it’s still safe with typical passengers. Re international flights, I can’t say for sure. I don’t think Ryanair is less than 28″, but I’m not sure. But yes, the standard of comfort in the EU is terrible.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            I’ve always wanted to volunteer for a evacuation drill, but apparently the only major that lets a member of Joe Public volunteer is BA, and I’m not quite willing to fly to London just for that.

            The other airlines apparently use airline employees with a strong bias towards FAs as the simulated passengers in the evacuation drill, which is probably much of the problem right there.

    • A1987dM says:

      If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost

      Ryanair (and possibly some other airline I’ve flown with, I can’t remember for sure) does have that.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost

        Some airlines I’ve flown offer a “Premium Economy” or “Economy Plus”. Wikipedia summarizes what is usually offered. From what I can see it tends to be just under 20% more legroom, though I can’t find information on the cost.

        • ellevt says:

          When I book on Delta, it usually gives me an option to upgrade to Economy plus for $50

          • CthulhuChild says:

            In Canada, airlines offer exit row seating as an “economy plus” option for a $150 upgrade, and this fee is applied each flight (typical domestic military duty flights are 2-3 connections, if you are going for the lowest cost option, which the military will understandably choose).

    • Bobby Shaftoe says:

      My thighbone is now literally larger than the gap between two seats.

      I can’t figure out a way to ask this question without sounding confrontational. So let me say up front that I’m just genuinely curious about this, and not trying to give you a hard time.

      I’ve heard this complaint before, and based on my experience having legs and sitting in airline seats, it seems physically implausible. I’m of average height and wear pants with a 30″ inseam. When I sit upright (not slouching and with my butt as far back as possible) in an airline chair there is 8″ to 10″ of space between my knees and the seat in front of me.

      How much longer are tall people’s legs? I just checked amazon for two randomly selected but seemingly popular types of Levis, and 36″ is the largest inseam size they sell. I think I’ve maybe seen a 38″ inseam in store, but it is uncommon.

      So lets say the largest inseam I think might commonly exist is 8″ longer than my leg, but that needs to be divided between the thighs and shin. Seems reasonable to approximate that the extra length is evenly divided, so lets say that roughly the longest thigh that is accounted for by pants salesmen is about 4″ longer than mine.

      My experience suggests that this would fit fine. Anyone, including me, can slouch and slide forward so their knees touch, but based on the considerations above and just eyeballing it, it seems to me that most people outside of the NBA could fit just fine if they sit up straight. Can someone explain why this isn’t the case?

      Anecdotally, I’ve seen tall people complaining about this where their complaint is clearly that they can’t slouch, not that dimension of their thigh does not physically fit. I have sympathy for the later, but less for the former.

      • Another Throw says:

        According to Wikipedia:

        Its [the femur’s] length on average is 26.74% of a person’s height,[4] a ratio found in both men and women and most ethnic groups with only restricted variation…

        And according to the census, it looks like 6’6″ is pretty far into the 99th percentile, so anything past 20.85 inches of femur room is mostly a problem for the NBA, as you say. Refactored: Seat pitch for economy seats ranges are around 29 to 32 inches. Budget airlines are more likely to be 29, the big three are 31-32. In order to arrive at the legroom you need to subtract the seat back thickness from the pitch. I haven’t found any numbers for this, but my wild-ass guess is probably 4-6 inches. This gives a range of 2 to 7 inches over femur length for a 6’6″ passenger with an average height-to-femur ratio. I have no idea how the pelvis actually works so have no idea how much over femur length is strictly necessary. It seems conceivable that a confluence of factors can arrive at a passenger not being able to fit: above average femur length, shitty airline with narrow pitch and thick seats, being way, way, way into the 99th percentile for height. There will be a lot of such people in absolute terms, but they are almost certainly a tiny fraction of the population.

        I don’t know, man. There are undoubtedly people that physically can’t fit, but I don’t think that forcing everyone to pay higher air fare to cater to them is particularly useful when most airlines offer reasonably priced upgraded-economy seats.

        My recommendation to CthulhuChild would be to get in good with your travel approval person. Maybe get a doctors note saying you require at least X inches of seat pitch and include it with your request?

      • A1987dM says:

        FWIW I’m 1.87 m (6′ 2″) and I have never felt particularly uncomfortable even on basic Ryanair seats.

      • Alsadius says:

        I’m 6’3″, and I’m right on the border of physically fitting. The last time I flew, I could not figure out a way to have more than half an inch of room between my knee and the seat back in front of me, no matter how upright I sat. I could get a bit more room by spreading my legs out, but that rapidly starts to encroach on the people beside me.

        I’ve looked into premium economy, and it seems like the proportional price increase is usually much higher than the proportional cabin area consumption increase. And frankly, in my current financial state I think I’d rather pocket the money and be miserable for 8 hours than spend an extra few hundred on comfort. But if I could get premium economy for a more proportional price, I’d seriously consider it.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’m 6′ 0″, and fit just fine into most airline seats, even in economy. The only time I’ve been uncomfortable was when I flew Air Canada Rouge, the budget branch of that airline. The seats were so close together my knees touched the back of the seat in front of me.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        I’m a hair over 6’3″ (depending now how tired I am), and my legs are somewhat long for my height, to the point where I have to have my suits made bespoke to fit properly.

        In United Economy now, and in Alaska regional Frontier Airlines now, I have to consciously sit up straight and sit “at attention” to not have my knees touching the seatback in front of me. I usually take the magazines out of the pocket in the seatback in front of me, just to get that additional half inch.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        I can’t figure out a way to ask this question without sounding confrontational. So let me say up front that I’m just genuinely curious about this, and not trying to give you a hard time.

        Bobby, honestly, my bad. I have a hyperbolic way of speaking, and I use literally in a way that would make the writers of Parks and Rec cringe.

        To be more clear, I am a little over 6’5″, with an slightly athletic build and longer than normal legs. I take a 36″ inseam (35 inch if the knees are articulated). The dimension that doesn’t fit between seats is a measurement between my kneecap and the back of my buttocks (which has enough muscle/fat to be just a little further out than the base of my spine when sitting).

        In order to fit in an airline seat, I have to either recline the seat (which changes the leg angle and lets me drop my knees), or cross my feet and cant my knees out to the sides (which interferes with my neighbors), or lift my knees up and rest them on the seatback (which I obviously do not do). A small increase in legroom can let me slouch by straightening my knees and tucking my feet (and part of my shins) under the seat in front of me, so those last few inches matter a great deal.

        And I recognize that this is very much a <1% problem. Nevertheless I'm in that 1%. I don't have a good solution that drops costs for everyone without effectively (if not literally) causing me pain.

        • Bobby Shaftoe says:

          No worries! I was concerned that my comment would come across as dismissive of your problem, I wasn’t suggesting that your comment was unreasonable.

          At 6’5″, I have no problem believing that you are up against physical limits fitting into these seats.

      • JayT says:

        The size of your butt makes a big difference. I’m 6’2″ with a 32″ inseam, but I’m also overweight, so even if I am sitting at attention, my knees have maybe an inch of clearance. If the person in front of me reclines, I have less than zero inches of clearance. If I relax at all, I have less than zero clearance.

        I almost always pay for the extra legroom. The only time I forgo it is when the flight is less than a couple hours, or if I’m reasonably certain it won’t be a full flight and I can sit sideways.

    • Brandon Berg says:

      in the face of economic slavery.

      This is not a phrase that strongly implies rational, well-informed consideration of the relevant issues.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        You are correct, it doesn’t really encapsulate everything I mean. I do not have a good two-word phrase that captures the idea of “multi-polar traps that create a system where outcomes for the majority of lower class individuals become much worse while providing incremental benefits to a small minority, a small minority who then have an incentive to employ soft power and obstruct alternative arrangements in order to keep the costs of labour low, such that the entire system reaches equilibrium with a lower net utility to everyone”

        I am pleased to note that the race-to-the-bottom doesn’t really seem to be occurring as critics of the globalist economy would have predicted. There are still many places in the world where surplus human capital is being disposed of at market rates, and however optimistic you might be with respect to capitalism overall, the individual experience of that surplus human capital is pretty damned unpleasant.

        If you can suggest a short phrase that captures all that better than “economic slavery” I would be open to using it.

        • toastengineer says:

          Are there whips involved? Chains? Being crammed into the holds of boats like cargo? Threats of force if you don’t comply? No?

          Then “slavery” is entirely the wrong word to use. It doesn’t drive your point home to use extreme hyperbole like that; it just makes people stop taking you seriously.

          I believe the word you’re looking for is “poverty.”

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            While I am on nearly the complete opposite side of most of these sorts of arguments from him, I do have to admit that whips and chains are eventually part of the scenario.

            If you don’t have any money, and yet continue to insist on sleeping inside someone else’s house or building without permission, and yet continue to insist on taking food and clothes out of shops without paying for them, eventually the batons and handcuffs will make their appearance, and then soon after the the being shoved into a room with bars and with the locks on the outside.

            If it’s not just you that is cold and hungry, but your children too, you will find you can be rather insistent, which just makes the whips and chains have to be all the more heavy.

          • rlms says:

            “It doesn’t drive your point home to use extreme hyperbole like that; it just makes people stop taking you seriously.”
            Cicero would seem to disagree, and he presumably knew more about slavery than you: “vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery”.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Mmmm… poverty doesn’t quite work. It does not capture the sense of entrapment, because ultimately we believe poverty to be a temporary (or at least solvable) condition. At one point, I was below the poverty line (IE, I was in poverty) but there was very little actually keeping me there (more accurately: I had all the tools I needed to get out) and it didn’t last long.

            You make a good point about slavery being the wrong word, especially given the racial undertones. Economic Bondage? Post-industrial Serfdom? Corporate Vassalage?

            Perhaps more importantly, do you accept the idea of minimum wage as a crappy-but-better-than-nothing option in the face of whatever-you-want-me-to-call-it? Or do you disagree with the idea and are choosing to focus on the language I used. Should I read your comments as recommendations to help me be taken more seriously, or is the criticism simply more efficient than arguing the point. I am unable to properly assess tone from text and am genuinely curious.

          • toastengineer says:

            Should I read your comments as recommendations to help me be taken more seriously, or is the criticism simply more efficient than arguing the point.

            Lil’ bit of both. I don’t really have the energy to engage this argument but pointing out that your phraseology is going to make people ignore your argument seems like genuinely helpful low-hanging-fruit.

            “Corporate serfdom” might work; still sounds a little edgy but I wouldn’t immediately roll my eyes at it.

            I think your position as a whole is interesting but I really doubt that minimum wage specifically does more good than harm. I’m a full-on anarchocapitalist, so it’s gonna take a lot of dragging to get me anywhere near “markets don’t actually work.”

          • CthulhuChild says:

            My position isn’t that markets fail as utility maximizers, but rather I worry they will settle into a local maxima. And if I am being completely honest, I don’t think even that is a realistic possibility in view of how fast technology is moving. My big concern is that the mere specter corporate serfdom (huzzah! agreement on phrasing!) will be sufficient to drive destructive mass movements. If you tell a few million people who grew up middle class that they are now worth less than 2 bucks an hour, explaining that it’s just a function of efficient markets will probably not prevent the riots.

            I feel this way about a lot of anarchocapitalist thought. Very specifically, I don’t see a way to dismantle the state’s monopoly force that wouldn’t immediately prove Hobbes right. I’m also not super optimistic about the luddite fallacy remaining a fallacy forever. All in all, I have a difficult-to-justify belief that global stability is really important, and not because I’m an idealist. To this end, I like basic income more than I like minimum wage, but I’m also pretty happy about Netflix and cheap videogames, if that makes sense.

        • There are still many places in the world where surplus human capital is being disposed of at market rates, and however optimistic you might be with respect to capitalism overall, the individual experience of that surplus human capital is pretty damned unpleasant.

          I cannot tell from this whether you realize that the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty has dropped sharply over the past few decades–I think by about a factor of three. That happened, in large part because people in the third world got jobs at what seem to people in the first world like unreasonably low wages.

          You are looking at what may be the fastest increase in human welfare in history, mostly at the low end, and complaining about it.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            I cannot tell from this whether you realize that the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty has dropped sharply over the past few decades–I think by about a factor of three. That happened, in large part because people in the third world got jobs at what seem to people in the first world like unreasonably low wages.

            You are looking at what may be the fastest increase in human welfare in history, mostly at the low end, and complaining about it.

            I am very much aware of the overall trend, and it has been by and large miraculous. What I would have predicted is a race to the bottom for the low end in both industrialized and developing nations, what we got instead was stagnation in industrialized countries and meteoric growth in developing nations. All to the good!

            But I don’t think this is purely due to the reduction of barriers to trade. Is it irrelevant that this all occurred in the context of developed nations enacting minimum wage and work safety regulations? That’s not a rhetorical question, I seriously am wondering what the global economy would have looked like if we hadn’t.

            More generally, I have two concerns. First, I am not sure if the trend is sustainable (how much does it depend on there being undeveloped countries with low GDP?). Second, describing it as “surplus” human capital is not just a rhetorical trick. I’m not worried about unreasonably low wages, I’m worried about optimally low wages. As in, we could pay them more but there is no incentive to do so because they are completely replaceable at virtually no cost. My concern is that we might reach a stable equilibrium with an enormous underclass, and they will choose to be economically irrational and burn everything to the ground.

            Empirically, we seem to be OK so far, and I don’t have a better plan. I’m just saying we should be careful because this has literally never been done before and we don’t know what happens next.

    • bean says:

      Small issue with the standing seat thing. I’m a big tall guy, and seats keep shrinking (about 16-20% over the last 2 decades).

      You’re saying that typical economy seats in 1997 were 36-37″? It’s not true The article’s headline is rather misleading, but the largest seats in 1995 were only 34″, with 31″ at the lowest on the big 4. 31″ is still standard today.

      My wages are flat relative to airfare costs (and shrinking compared to airline profits).

      Oil’s risen quite fast, which has a lot to do with it. And it’s literally impossible for your wages not to have shrunk relative to airline profits over the past decade, given that they were losing buckets of money then.

      If there was an option to pay for 20% more legroom at 20% more cost, I’d take it every time. Instead, I can upgrade to first class for 300-400% cost.

      Who are you flying that this is the case? UAL, DAL, and AAL all offer economy plus for a lot less than 300-400%. Spirit offers their Big Front Seat for $40/flight, and it’s a domestic first class seat. Even domestic first is closer to 200% these days, as they’ve gotten a lot more aggressive about monitizing it.

      If it follows the trend of first class upgrades, the privilege of economy seating will be a 300% price upgrade from bicycle seats. If vertical seating becomes an option, you can bet I’ll either be flying standing up or unemployed inside a few years.

      It won’t. I’m pretty sure that there’s enough demand for seats to hold it at close to current prices.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        You’re saying that typical economy seats in 1997 were 36-37″? It’s not true The article’s headline is rather misleading, but the largest seats in 1995 were only 34″, with 31″ at the lowest on the big 4. 31″ is still standard today.

        I apologized above for being hyperbolic, and I will do so again. Three decades are required (not 2), and I am doing a comparison of the largest seats in 1985 (36″) with the smallest now.

        Oil’s risen quite fast, which has a lot to do with it. And it’s literally impossible for your wages not to have shrunk relative to airline profits over the past decade, given that they were losing buckets of money then.

        Depends the Airline. The industry as a whole has remained profitable. Your point is well taken though, since the profitability outside north america (where I mostly fly) is irrelevant.

        Who are you flying that this is the case?

        Air Canada and West Jet. For reference, a flight to Ottawa is $611-780, business class is $1267-$2300, first class is not available. I guess business=domestic first? So there may be some options that are “only” 200%, but they aren’t double the leg room (not that I need double the leg room, I just need it to stop shrinking).

        It won’t. I’m pretty sure that there’s enough demand for seats to hold it at close to current prices.

        I really, really hope you are right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the experience of first/business class upgrade programs. Part of their pricing is their exclusivity, as mentioned their costs are not purely based on the volume you can fit into the plane in economy vs business. More to the point, the airlines would rather fly empty upgrade seats than let them be filled at less than double the cost, otherwise they wouldn’t ask for $600 bucks a flight 5 minutes before boarding.

        I’d actually be really happy if they did micro-hotel style coffins, which seems like it would be about as space efficient as vertical seating.

        • bean says:

          I apologized above for being hyperbolic, and I will do so again. Three decades are required (not 2), and I am doing a comparison of the largest seats in 1985 (36″) with the smallest now.

          Not a huge problem, although 1985 was soon enough after deregulation that densification probably hadn’t set in. We won’t see those seats again.

          Depends the Airline. The industry as a whole has remained profitable. Your point is well taken though, since the profitability outside north america (where I mostly fly) is irrelevant.

          The industry as a whole remained profitable 10 years ago? Doubtful. Maybe the oil-supported ones cooked the books to look that way, but if we’re looking at North America, not a chance. I recall that one of the big 3s net profit for the entire 20th century was under $1 billion. That may actually have been up to 2010, now that I think about it.

          Air Canada and West Jet. For reference, a flight to Ottawa is $611-780, business class is $1267-$2300, first class is not available. I guess business=domestic first? So there may be some options that are “only” 200%, but they aren’t double the leg room (not that I need double the leg room, I just need it to stop shrinking).

          Business is domestic first. Here is a link to the effort post series I did on air travel a couple months ago. I can’t say why the Canadians don’t have Economy Plus. Best guess is that they’re simply a couple of years behind.

          I really, really hope you are right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the experience of first/business class upgrade programs. Part of their pricing is their exclusivity, as mentioned their costs are not purely based on the volume you can fit into the plane in economy vs business.

          In the US these days, it’s surprisingly close.

          More to the point, the airlines would rather fly empty upgrade seats than let them be filled at less than double the cost, otherwise they wouldn’t ask for $600 bucks a flight 5 minutes before boarding.

          That is not how the US airlines are behaving these days. Delta has gone from 30% paid in first to 70% over the past ~5 years, with a corresponding fall in paid first class (domestic) fares. Your airlines will probably follow in a few years.

          I’d actually be really happy if they did micro-hotel style coffins, which seems like it would be about as space efficient as vertical seating.

          Evacuation would probably kill that off.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Evacuation would probably kill that off.

            In regulation, evacuation kills off horizontal seating. In crash, horizontal seating kills off you!

            In all seriousness, I really want you to be right. It’s just that flying for me is both mandatory and uncomfortable, and there don’t (at present) seem to be options for me to fix the latter without incurring significant expense. I therefore view the prospect of further reducing the minimum acceptable level of comfort with trepidation. I don’t really have a solution, other than to suggest that I’d like the airline industry should be given freedom to innovate in other domains than seat sizing if they need to cut costs. My vote would be reducing costs in airports/airport security, but I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.

          • Matt M says:

            Hah, you want more innovation in the parts of the experience that are directly controlled by the government?

            Good luck with that one. Security nonsense is going to get worse, not better.

          • toastengineer says:

            I wonder if you could have the “pod hotels” be designed to eject in blocks of four to six or so from the side of the plane in an emergency. Maybe even put parachutes in them.

          • bean says:

            I wonder if you could have the “pod hotels” be designed to eject in blocks of four to six or so from the side of the plane in an emergency. Maybe even put parachutes in them.

            No. Your median emergency case is the pilot botching the landing and leaving you with a burning and broken plane on the ground. Any mechanism which could get the pods far enough away and that would have survived, say, the Asiana crash at SFO would be too heavy to even be considered.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ bean

            What about the viability of a dual lying/standing system with bunks that are collapsible, and emptied/collapsed before descent, with a rudimentary restraint system for landing?

          • bean says:

            What about the viability of a dual lying/standing system with bunks that are collapsible, and emptied/collapsed before descent, with a rudimentary restraint system for landing?

            Not worth it on most flights. Too much trouble to set up, too heavy, and you still have the liability concerns.

          • baconbacon says:

            Not worth it on most flights. Too much trouble to set up, too heavy, and you still have the liability concerns.

            It would definitely be for long flights mostly. What I was thinking was a bunk set up where the top bunk was retractable and made of fabric, and then the bottom bunk doubled as a bench for 2 people during landing. Just out of curiosity do you know what the standard airline seat weighs?

          • bean says:

            It would definitely be for long flights mostly. What I was thinking was a bunk set up where the top bunk was retractable and made of fabric, and then the bottom bunk doubled as a bench for 2 people during landing.

            There just isn’t enough space for these if you want to retain current passenger density. And there aren’t that many flights long enough for these to be of much use. Also, there’s the liability issue, and if it’s an old-style naval bunk that’s much worse. Not everyone is in the same timezone, either, and with wi-fi working on planes is a thing these days. Bunks like this used to be common in the days of the Connie and the DC-6, but there are lots of things we’re not allowed to do any more.

            Just out of curiosity do you know what the standard airline seat weighs?

            20-25 lbs/passenger.

    • b_jonas says:

      Let me add an opposite anecdote. I am a male of average height for Europe, and so my legs fit in any airplane seat. When I buy a cheap airplane ticket, the airlines offer the choice between the ordinary seats and the somewhat more expensive seats with extra legroom. As long as the current arrangement remains, I didn’t want to sit in the extra legroom seats even if someone payed me the difference. This is because the extra legroom seats are at the emergency exits or the front of the airplane, where I’m not allowed to store my carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. Having my carry-on luggage close to me rather than in the overhead compartment gives me comfort during the trip, even though I know this is mostly irrational, because I never actually have to reach in my bag for anything.

    • baconbacon says:

      My thighbone is now literally larger than the gap between two seats.

      Not trying to be snarky here, wouldn’t vertical seats (as long as there is enough overhead space I guess) be more comfortable then? Leaning against a wall sounds more comfortable than being wedged between two chairs to me.

      • CthulhuChild says:

        You know, you’re not wrong. I usually take an aisle seat so I can get up and walk around every few minutes anyway. What I really want is to be stacked like cord-wood in small coffin beds. I’m Navy: it’d be just like ship, and I’d sleep through every flight. Apparently there are more claustrophobic people than tall people so this will never happen.

        • bean says:

          It’s not claustrophobia. It’s the need to get everyone out in an emergency (actually, in normal operations). Without a lot of practice, you can’t get in and out of the top bunk quickly. I’m young, flexible, and of average height, and still had quite a bit of trouble getting in and out of the top bunks on the Iowa. When the passenger is an overweight 70-year-old with bad joints, they’re just going to kill themselves on a normal flight. And that’s if they’re in the aisle bunk.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            Pfft. Who cares about those old/obese people. I only care about the safety and comfort of my own special interest group.

            (In seriousness, hadn’t considered that, makes a lot of sense though)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I go to an event where bunk beds are used. The less physically capable people aren’t put in the top bunks.

          • bean says:

            @Nancy
            That works right up until you schedule the plane on a flight to Vegas or Florida. Or anywhere with lots of old people.

    • Matt M says:

      Not sure if true, but when I was in the military, it was rumored that if you were taller than a certain height, you could get some sort of medical waiver such that they’d reimburse you for economy premium.

      The other half of the rumor was that our local travel guy would check this box for anyone if you made it “worth his while”

      • Brad says:

        Per random googling the maximum height for the military is 80 inches, except for the marines where it is 78 inches. Maybe they should lower that to whatever it needs to be so they don’t have to grant any of those medical waivers.

        • CthulhuChild says:

          Canadian military, no height restrictions that I know of (other than indirectly due to medical conditions caused by being that tall, or for very specific trades like fighter pilot).

    • toBoot says:

      You probably already know this, but you can get flight-by-flight permission to purchase an economy-plus (or whatever size is most appropriate) seat on the government’s dime if you’re really squished in there. Lemme know if you want me to point you to the section of the JTR that goes into this in detail – I can’t remember it off the top of my head.

  69. toBoot says:

    I have a lot of loosely related theories to answer the question:

    Why is American academia so liberal/leftist?

    I’d be curious if folks here have theories that are more cohesive (and hopefully more historically informed) than mine.

    Also, is this unique to American academia?

    • Baeraad says:

      I’d be curious to know if there has ever been an academia, anywhere, that wasn’t liberal, as we understand liberalism. I suppose anything’s possible, but it would look kind of strange.

      What I mean is, the essence of conservatism is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The essence of academia is, “poke and prod at everything and see if something interesting falls out.” What do you get if you mix those two? An academia who pokes and prods very carefully at some select things that they deem to be broken enough to require fixing? I can imagine individual academics doing that, but not an entire establishment – sooner or later, it would either stagnate completely and cease to function as an academia, or it would get increasingly enthusiastic in its poking and prodding until it started looking decidedly liberal.

      Now, I can imagine a non-leftist academia easily enough, but only once the dominating culture became so leftist that poking-and-prodding liberalism ended up to the right of the center.

      • Aapje says:

        @Baeraad

        Conservatism is about not prodding and poking society too hard. I don’t think that conservatives generally object to slamming particles into each other at high speed.

        So your explanation appears to be to be based on a incorrect stereotype.

        • Murphy says:

          https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/23/kolmogorov-complicity-and-the-parable-of-lightning/

          The Church didn’t lift a finger against science. It just accidentally created a honeytrap that attracted and destroyed scientifically curious people. And any insistence on a false idea, no matter how harmless and well-intentioned, risks doing the same.

          You don’t get to have the kind of inquisitive people who actually move science forward and only expect them to be happy with “slamming particles into each other” while ignoring some set of possibly-wrong ideas you put a ring around that you’ve decided are sacred.

          If you only try to burn the people who prod and poke society too hard you’ll find your also burning the people who would be poking and prodding at the structure of the universe.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You don’t get to have the kind of inquisitive people who actually move science forward and only expect them to be happy with “slamming particles into each other” while ignoring some set of possibly-wrong ideas you put a ring around that you’ve decided are sacred.

            The current academic environment demonstrates that you do. Either that or that we’re not actually moving science forward, which is also a possibility.

          • Aapje says:

            @Murphy

            In the US, we have overall survey results since 1989, showing a decline from ~20% conservatives to ~10%, while moderates actually declined a little more (from ~40% to less than 30%).

            Your explanation doesn’t explain why a mere 20 years ago, twice as many conservatives could do science. Secondly, if your explanation was correct, one would expect that the moderates, being less conservative, would have a substantially smaller decline than conservatives, not a slightly bigger one.

            Such a pattern is far more indicative of there being something special about left-wing people, rather than conservatives. If there are are three ships at sea where 2 are stationary compared to each other, while the third moves away pretty much equally to those 2, then isn’t the logical conclusion that the 2 ships are not doing anything different, while the third ship is?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What about a pro-Communist academe in a Communist society? Those aren’t exactly unusual.

      • Matt M says:

        The essence of academia is, “poke and prod at everything and see if something interesting falls out.”

        Maybe it was once but it isn’t now.

        There are plenty of ideas that are completely and totally off-limits to debate and discussion on most college campuses. See: no-platforming anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton.

      • DocKaon says:

        That description of academia is really only true of the post-WWII research university focused academia. Before that academia was about the transmission of culture and knowledge rather than the creation of new knowledge and was probably on balance conservative rather than liberal.

        There’s no reason to expect a professor of classics who is focused purely on teaching a great books curriculum to be particularly liberal. It’s when faculty begin to be judged on the production of new novel insights and criticism does the liberal arts become much more inherently liberal.

        The sciences again had no inherent bias towards liberalism until the conservative movement made the decisions to embrace the Religious Right and a denial based response to environmental concerns. Once that happened, it became a cycle of science focused individuals see conservatism as anti-science and became liberal, conservatives see scientists as liberals and are more willing to attack science as the problem rather than respond to problems sciences points out.

        Basically, in recent decades new trends gave some inherent liberal bias to academia and subsequently tribal polarization on both sides exacerbated it to an extreme point.

      • Watchman says:

        I’d argue that much of current academia is in fact deeply conservative in trying to preserve the current ‘dominant/elite’ culture against ‘populism’ – if you look at the ideas coming out of academia around society and interactions, they are just trying to preserve what has been built on a loose framework of identity politics, social justice and some acceptance of free markets rather than actual attempts to change society – they are defensive reactions attempting to increasingly force compliance with existing ideas. Whether this means academia is not liberal depends on how you define liberal.

        This is probably a norm though: academia for most of history has been about protecting the belief systems that got the academics there, with gradual changes, often from society moving away from the academics rather than of academic views. Note that the socialist domination of universities (never that complete) has always followed and never preceded socialist (or in the US ‘liberal’) success in elections, and is just another reaction to a new dominant paradigm.

      • Two points:

        1: Left/right in the current context isn’t “in favor of change” vs “conservative in the literal sense.” Consider that the global warming issue is mostly left and is about trying to block change–arguably starting with the assumption that change is bad. The whole sustainability rhetoric implicitly assumes a static world, one where you have to do things in a way that lets you keep doing them that way forever.

        On the other hand, the push for concealed carry was from the right, opposed by the left, and was a change in existing institutions. Ditto school vouchers.

        2. I don’t think the “academia=left” generalization holds all that well. The impression I get from reading Mencken is that in the early 20th century university professors were mostly conservative in the literal sense. In the 19th century, weren’t a lot of English dons Tories?

    • Aapje says:

      @toBoot

      We’ve seen a major shift to liberal/leftist and away from moderate & conservative in the last few decades, so theories need to account for the shift.

      I think that one major reason is a cultural difference, where way more people on the left favor having a fun job over being well-paid, having job security, etc. I think that pay and job security in academia have deteriorated over the last decades and that it has disproportionately made moderates & conservatives choose the private sector over academia. I think that something similar explains why journalism has the same bias, because journalism also has become uncertain and with low pay, but journalists seem to enjoy their job a lot.

      Of course, journalists still need people to consume their content, to get paid, so they could only move so far until they left a Fox sized gap. The question is whether the same thing will happen to academia. The barriers to entry may be very high, given that most public universities in the US are state universities.

      • albatross11 says:

        Aren’t there some pretty conservative universities out there now? I’ve heard of Hillsdale and Liberty University and the service academies, but I expect there are others. (Is GMU generally conservative/libertarian, or is that just their econ department?)

        • Aapje says:

          Both are private universities. There are three times as many students enrolled in public colleges than private ones. So this suggests that it’s more viable to run a public college for some reason (perhaps because the state will allow private colleges to run a deficit or treat them more leniently?)

          A non-zero number of conservative universities is not inconsistent with barriers to entry that result in unmet demand.

        • Matt M says:

          I give you Hillsdale and Liberty. I’ll ask for further clarification on the service academies. Are you just assuming that they’re conservative because military?

          And in any case, the reason those TWO very small private schools stand out is specifically because everything else is super left-wing. As Scott has said before, the debate isn’t between liberal and conservative, it’s between “neutral” and conservative.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m asking, not telling. My experience is that the STEM people I know in academia are often quietly rather conservative and almost never take the postmodern/gender studies/etc. type rhetoric as anything but fodder for jokes. But perhaps I have an unusual circle of acquaintance.

      • tomogorman says:

        Another factor in the same vein that I think selects against social conservatives is the high pressure to move wherever there is a job. Social conservatives (especially the front porch variety) would be expected to place more value on staying at least near one’s community, and, therefore be less willing to move across the country if that is the school that offered you a tenure track position – which the current academic market seems to demand.

        • Matt M says:

          Then again, couldn’t you also argue that the mere existence of tenure (guaranteed job for life) would be more appealing to social conservatives who want to “plant roots” and not move around much?

          Shouldn’t a field where the possibility of lifetime employment at one location attract more social conservatives (and risk-averse people in general) than fields where this is absolutely positively never going to happen?

          • dndnrsn says:

            If this is true, the decline of tenure would have played a role. Maybe right-wingers for whatever reason are less likely to want to spend eight or ten or twelve years in higher education in order to get a job that might be precarious, poorly-paying, etc.

          • baconbacon says:

            Tenure often means having to trade location for security, people who are thinking about putting down roots aren’t often happy to put down roots anywhere in the country, but more in specific places. Also you have to get on a tenure track and make it through.

          • Matt M says:

            Tenure often means having to trade location for security, people who are thinking about putting down roots aren’t often happy to put down roots anywhere in the country, but more in specific places.

            Isn’t the stereotype that young left-wingers only want to live in New York, SF, or Portland?

            Most colleges, particularly the more prestigious ones are in… places that aren’t that. In fact, they’re usually in the middle of nowhere, and consist of small elite blue enclaves surrounded by hundreds of miles of cornfields and red tribe hillbillies.

            Which tribe do we think “wants” to put down roots in Charlottesville, exactly?

          • baconbacon says:

            I think the stereo type is leftists want to live in a big, progressive city like SF, NY or Portland, and conservatives want to live in the town where they grew up (again, stereotype). One is a lot more specific than the other.

            Most colleges, particularly the more prestigious ones are in… places that aren’t that

            Some are, some aren’t, depending on your definition. Princeton is pretty middle of nowhere, but also driveable to NY and Philadelphia. Harvard and MIT are just outside of Boston, Stanford and Berkeley outside of SF. Then there are the Cornell’s etc that are 3+ hour drives from anywhere.

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t the stereotype that young left-wingers only want to live in New York, SF, or Portland?

            Perhaps, but tenure is mostly for the middle-aged , and the stereotype of middle-aged left-wingers is that they are quite happy settling down and raising their own (hopefully left-wing) young in most any Small College Town. Bucolic pastoralism a la Thoreau or Muir but with several times Dunbar’s number of well-educated leftists to socialize with and the infrastructure for all the basic leftist and intellectual pursuits. And a safely non-urban environment for the kids.

            “Small College Town”, in this context, can mean anything up to Raleigh or Ann Arbor or Austin. And really, a liberal-arts college will create around it a sufficiently collegial environment for the average leftist no matter where you plonk it down.

        • tomogorman says:

          what John Schilling said, college towns are sufficiently hip enough to draw in lefty people (especially the famous ones they are dreaming of Ann Arbor, Madison, etc.). Place based conservatives want to live in their small town, not just any one – so they are cut out of a reasonable career unless they get even more insanely lucky (when just getting a tenure track job requires you to be relatively lucky)

      • tomogorman says:

        An unrelated spitball factor is just path dependency. Academia became a particularly important place for disproportionately liberals to avoid the Vietnam war. After that disproportionate increase academia was more dominated by left/liberals who altered it more to suit them, which increased the skew, which gave them even more power to alter the institution to fit them, and so on.

      • JulieK says:

        We’ve seen a major shift to liberal/leftist and away from moderate & conservative in the last few decades, so theories need to account for the shift.

        Isn’t it a lot older than that? In the mid-20th century, wasn’t the percentage of socialists among academics a lot higher than in the general population?

        • dndnrsn says:

          There’s been a shift away from economic leftism, for sure. If you went back 50 years, you’d have a far more diverse bunch. Now, the dominant ideology is liberalism, with an increasing representation of people who think they are leftists or radicals, but are really a mashup of bits of leftism with bits of liberalism.

          • baconbacon says:

            I don’t know, its not hard communism anymore, but its “capitalism, but you know with come government controls, like minimum wage (oh we have that, then higher), universal access to medicine (have that? Oh, then more), restrict the banking industry (oh we have that, then more), the liberalism comes in agreeing with policies that they barely support when it comes to activism or voting. Tax code reform, yeah sure, whatever, but after X, Y and Z. Of course we should have more immigration… with caveats, lots and lots of caveats which in sum mean very little additional immigration.

            If today’s economic leftists were in charge it would take 2-3 generations to hit communism/totalitarian socialism. Better, but hardly exciting.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But if the left as a whole were in charge, I don’t think you’d see socialism. If the campus left ONLY, even moreso. The zeitgeist in the latter is increasingly more about thinking that inequality should be more equally distributed, so to speak, rather than going after inequality itself.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            There’s been a shift away from economic leftism, for sure.

            I recall reading a piece that said the same thing I’ve been saying to you (so naturally I enjoyed reading it). Or maybe it was a tweet. Basically, “intersectionality” rules the day. I call that social justice progressivism, but whatever.

            Unfortunately though, the left has largely been eaten by this. This also brings up the question of how you even define political wings at all, but Hillary and Bernie both made fairly large concessions to these movements; I don’t think that’s nothing.

    • harland0 says:

      The White House and the Pauline Kael Syndrome, a short essay. TLDR: In 1973, all six major US class segments were centrist. Over the next 35 years, five of the segments moved slightly to the right, but “Intellectual Upper Class” moved far out to the left.

      They abandoned us, not the other way around.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Does that indicate that the group moved as a whole, or that the membership of the group changed, causing the group to move?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Left-liberalism’s message to academics: Smart people like you should be running things.
      Conservatism’s message to academics: When we want your advice we’ll ask for it.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I can only speculate as to how it became leftist, but I know for a fact why it stays leftist.

      Leftists higher up on the ladder make it very unpleasant for anyone to the right of Lenin to stay in academia, so a lot of us go into industry at the first opportunity. I’m not just talking about the explicit hiring discrimination against academics who voice conservative views but also the stifling politically correct atmosphere and suspicion cast on anyone not enthusiastic enough about leftist activism.

      Since academic freedom doesn’t apply to conservatives so there’s no reason to accept the lower pay and worse conditions that come with an academic job. It’s better to keep your head down long enough to get your degree and then apply for a real job.

    • John Schilling says:

      One possible issue is that academia has an intrinsic progressive bias in that guild membership since the early 19th century has required a dissertation that “advances the knowledge of the field” or some such – and at least implicitly, the health of one’s academic program requires accepting a whole lot of dissertations submitted by enthusiastic twenty-somethings as having advanced the field. That’s going to select for the belief that progress is not only possible but easy, that anything that looks like a good idea and can withstand modest scrutiny is an improvement. Ditto the “publish or perish” tenure track, another hurdle where you have to make dramatic “improvements” to the field to lock in personal success

      But then we have to explain why academia didn’t go hard leftist until some time into the 20th century. Possible if only partial explanations:

      1. Academia can withstand false progress, things that looked like a good idea long enough to establish a career but turned out to be wrong, so long as they are falsified and accepted as false in no more than a generation or so. Then we got Marxism and communism, which looked like really dramatically good ideas with extremely broad impact but which for political reasons took the better part of a century to conclusively falsify.

      2. The 1960s in general and the Vietnam war in particular made academia into a safe haven for leftists and progressives who faced e.g. being drafted and shot if they tried to make it in the outside world.

      3. The rise of a professional middle class that required a college degree but wasn’t picky about which kind, combined with a government that subsidized college degrees but ditto (starting with the GI bill and then picking up steam with the Great Society), lead to a relative increase in the importance of less rigorous fields of study where clever new ideas were less easily falsified than e.g. the STEM fields.

      4. Chesterton built really good fences in academia, such that while the seeds of a progressive shift were sown in the early 19th century the conservatives who dominated the more prestigious institutions were able to keep Cthulhu at bay for a century or so.

      • when just getting a tenure track job requires you to be relatively lucky

        I think a good many people projecting the academic market of today back on the world of thirty, forty, or fifty years ago, which is the world that is relevant for why the modern academy is leftist. My impression from when I was a graduate student in the late sixties is that, if you were reasonably good, you believed you had a good chance of ending up with a tenure track job and probably tenure. What was much less likely was getting it at Harvard, Chicago, or the equivalent.

      • fortybot says:

        but which for political reasons took the better part of a century to conclusively falsify.

        I don’t think Marxism has been falsified, much less conclusively. We’ve certainly seen failed attempts (and a lot of them), but many were due to external factors (e.g. CIA pushing people out of airplanes or the country getting invaded) or non-economic factors (revolutions seem to lead to dictatorships a lot more often than anything else). I’d say that there are considerable confounding factors which make it less conclusive.

        • powerfuller says:

          I’ve been trying to conclusively falsify Marxism for a while now but still have yet to receive the IRB approval.

          • Aapje says:

            Plan?: do a large scale experiment
            Has this been done before?: A few times
            What were the outcomes of the past experiments: millions of deaths

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      One of the factors that I find missing in these responses is that the American Right has spent much of the last 30 years portraying academics as fops, buffoons and/or boogeymen. In that climate, it would be odd for someone who viewed themselves as a conservative to seek out a career in academics. Likewise, it hasn’t done much to convince academics to ally with conservative causes.

      • Aapje says:

        @Doesntliketocomment

        Yet we don’t just see that conservatives are rapidly disappearing from academia, but moderates are disappearing just as fast. I don’t think it’s fair to blame moderates for what conservatives did/do.

        Of course, there have always been intolerant elements on both sides. However, in the past there have also been strong unifying forces. If those lose out, it’s not just an issue for conservatives & moderates who lose access, but also for the liberals who achieved an monoculture in many academic fields. That monoculture is inevitable going to result in a loss of legitimacy in the eyes of much of society, a political fight over college funding (‘no taxation without representation’), etc.

        Regardless of how much the American Right is to blame, I think it is extremely dumb for the American Left to accept these monocultures, because it will inevitably result in a major backlash.

        • Doesntliketocomment says:

          What is a moderate in politics but someone who hasn’t been forced to commit to one side or another? If the popular narrative is that group A values your occupation and group B despises it, why would you be on the fence between the two? Especially in an environment where the conflict between the two is gathering steam.

  70. Guy in TN says:

    Re Standing in airlines:

    A wage floor can, on the whole, transfer more money to the lowest income brackets. In these cases, more money is being transferred to the poor via employers being forced to raise wages to keep their business going, than money being taken away from the poor via increased unemployment.

    If this is so, it follows that a floor of social expectations can be helpful for those at the bottom. In the CA article, he used landlords peeing on tenant’s furniture as one of these fairly hard boundaries of social expectation. While it probably isn’t against the law per se, the social backlash against landlords putting “rights-to-pee” in their contracts prevents them from ever doing so. Would taking away that social floor help the poorest? Could you get a $20 a month deduction from your rent by allowing your landlord to pee on your furniture? Probably. But what would the larger result be? The normalization of a harmful behavior, resulting in less negotiating power against it via threat of public backlash.

    A floor of social expectations, like a minimum wage, hurts those who wish they could be under the floor. But it raises up everyone else. There are many things a corporation can legally do, that they are not doing due to the threat of public backlash. The social pressure is factored in as part of their equation. If you are going to pull out the floor of social expectations by normalizing what is now considered abhorrent, you should, at the very least, investigate whether there are more people who wish they could be under the floor, than there are who enjoy being propped up by it.

    • CthulhuChild says:

      I recently had a conversation with some SMEs on African peacekeeping missions. I expressed surprise that there was not more support for regional stability from the private sector. I would figure that a stable government would be economically useful, so they’d have a strong incentive to help out. Turns out, when a country’s GDP is <$1000, hiring private security so that you can conduct mining operations in a warzone is cost effective when compared to complying with basic human rights/environmental laws/business permit requirements. The fact that the private security comes in the form of a local warlord and furthers civil unrest just means that it's *predictably* cost effective.

      Obviously this is just the market at work, finding a more efficient solution. I am sure the people involved are just happy that they have more options. Especially the warlords.

      This seems to be my fundamental problem with anarchocapitalism/extreme libertarianism. It doesn't acknowledge that once you reach a certain threshold of money/power, you can curbstomp someone forever, with impunity, and are in fact incentivized into doing so.

      • toastengineer says:

        This seems to be my fundamental problem with anarchocapitalism/extreme libertarianism. It doesn’t acknowledge that once you reach a certain threshold of money/power, you can curbstomp someone forever, with impunity, and are in fact incentivized into doing so.

        Libertarians call that thing you fear “government.” Albeit government seems to have a certain ethical stickiness that stops it from immediately plunging in to total depravity without some special impulse, but it has happened, and they all seem to be slowly slipping in that direction.

        • rlms says:

          “they all seem to be slowly slipping in that direction.”
          On what timescale? It seems to me that maximum oppressiveness peaked in the late 20th century (it’s debatable exactly where, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are the obvious candidates) and has been decreasing since. Average oppressiveness is more difficult to pinpoint, but e.g. the British government is certainly doing a lot less stomping now than when it controlled 1/4 of the world.

        • CthulhuChild says:

          Toastengineer, would you describe Somalia as an ideal situation? There is definitely very little in the way of government.

          My concern is that human civilization has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to burn the government to the ground when it becomes intolerable (See: America, France, England, India, Russia, Cuba…). What they replace it with is sometimes worse, but if you believe that individual freedoms are better protected in western society today than they were in western society circa 1200 AD, it seems that our species is pretty good at fighting government oppression. If you simultaneously believe that we are less free now than in 1200, and that decreased private sector power is somehow responsible, I must respectfully disagree with your view of history.

          By contrast, while government makes a convenient enemy to rally against, corporations as a whole appear far more resilient. Governments are static targets, corporations have demonstrated an ability to maintain their power structure (and capital) while re-branding. Empirically, conflict regions throughout the world have proven time and time again that it is easier to deny government control than it is to exclude private sector influence. I suspect that this has to do with government legitimacy being a direct function of their every act and decision, whereas corporate misdeeds are commonly considered distinct from the product/service they supply. IE, Nestle can do what it wants as long as their candy is cheap and tasty.

          And to be clear, I like a lot of libertarian impulses! I just think that humans create government more or less spontaneously, partly because a group-of-humans-with-government will always out compete a disorganized-group-of-humans, and any organizational structure is by definition a type of government. I simply support choosing an organizational structure whose legitimacy is directly tied to popular support, rather than a structure where legitimacy is tied only to command of capital.

          • would you describe Somalia as an ideal situation?

            As best I can tell, Somaliland, northern Somalia, had a stateless system that functioned tolerably well relative to adjacent states, such as Ethiopia. When England and Italy gave up their role in the area, they created Somalia, a centralized democratic state for a society that had never had such a thing. After a few years it became a military dictatorship. The dictator got into a war with Ethiopia, a traditional enemy, lost when the USSR switched sides, and got killed. The system collapsed, and would presumably have gone back to its previous form. Except that …

            The U.S. and U.N. decided that Somalia needed a government and have been trying to impose one on it ever since, mostly with the assistance of the Ethiopian army. In the north, the Somalis established the Republic of Somaliland along something close to traditional lines, and it seems to function tolerably well, but we refuse to recognize it because that would be to concede that Somalia, a country invented by the European powers, doesn’t exist.

            Here is a description of the situation a while back by the late I.M. Lewis, a LSE anthropologist who was the leading expert on Somalia.

            So I agree that the present status of Somalia is not idea, but that is the fault not of the stateless system but of the attempt of outside powers to impose a state on the Somalis by force.

          • CthulhuChild says:

            TLDR: Rightfully called out for citing Somalia as an example of a dysfunctional stateless society without acknowledging the significant effort invested by other states which have made it dysfunctional. Still not sure whether any stateless society can avoid a similar fate during inception. Concerned stateless societies organized around corporations might deliver what we want but still be really terrible.

            DavidFriedman,

            I fully admit, it was somewhat disingenuous of me to imply that statelessness is the cause of the current situation without examining the cause of statelessness. And you are of course correct that forcing the adoption of a foreign political apparatus at gunpoint reliably produces terrible results every time it is tried. I’m less certain that functioning “tolerably well” compared to its neighbors is sufficient grounds to endorse the system, but I’ll cede the point.

            Regardless, I think the genie is out of the bottle and restoring the pre-colonial power equilibrium in regions that currently lack centralized state authority is not likely to happen. Even if every government on earth decided to stop intervening. Moreover, I don’t think there are many (any?) “naturally occurring” stateless societies left, and in the modern (ie: globalist) context a stateless society is extremely vulnerable to external factors (to say nothing of deliberate attack and exploitation). Not to harp on the multinationals too much, but a world with a mix of failed states and strong rule-of-law states seems like an ideal environment for maximizing profit but a terrible environment for maximizing utility.

            And when it comes to anarcho capitalism in general, I admit I might just not get it. It seems that capitalism works because social utility and profitability are usually well correlated, but this isn’t automatically the case. For example, if your bottom line stays the same there is no real difference between giving people what they want and changing their wants to match what you are providing (Release the hypnodrones! Go forth, my autonomous brand ambassadors!). Worse, from a consequential/preference utilitarian perspective, there is little to distinguish these two options.

            States and corporations both appear to be social structures which survive by catering to human desires. The former strives for legitimacy while the latter strives for control of capital. While almost every critique of corporate behavior can thus be applied to government, I think there is some asymmetry in the comparison. Specifically, deliberate attempts to manipulate individual preference by the government tends to create opposition, reducing their legitimacy and generally being counterproductive. IE: propaganda, when recognized as such, draws an immediate negative reaction from most people. When the same behavior is undertaken by actors in the private sector, it’s called marketing, and it is not viewed with the same level of hostility or suspicion. We admire clever marketing, clever propaganda is considered coercive.

            I take both the fulfillment and autonomy of my preferences as terminal values. I can accept that a stateless society might do a great job delivering the former, but I don’t think it has any incentive to defend the latter.