THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Self-Serving Bias

Alex Tabarrok beat me to the essay on Oregon’s self-service gas laws that I wanted to write.

Oregon is one of two US states that bans self-service gas stations. Recently, they passed a law relaxing this restriction – self-service is permissable in some rural counties during odd hours of the night. Outraged Oregonians took to social media to protest that self-service was unsafe, that it would destroy jobs, that breathing in gas fumes would kill people, that gas pumping had to be performed by properly credentialed experts – seemingly unaware that most of the rest of the country and the world does it without a second thought.

…well, sort of. All the posts I’ve seen about it show the same three Facebook comments. So at least three Oregonians are outraged. I don’t know about the rest.

But whether it’s true or not, it sure makes a great metaphor. Tabarrok plays it for all it’s worth:

Most of the rest of the America–where people pump their own gas everyday without a second thought–is having a good laugh at Oregon’s expense. But I am not here to laugh because in every state but one where you can pump your own gas you can’t open a barbershop without a license. A license to cut hair! Ridiculous. I hope people in Alabama are laughing at the rest of America. Or how about a license to be a manicurist? Go ahead Connecticut, laugh at the other states while you get your nails done. Buy contact lens without a prescription? You have the right to smirk British Columbia!

All of the Oregonian complaints about non-professionals pumping gas–“only qualified people should perform this service”, “it’s dangerous” and “what about the jobs”–are familiar from every other state, only applied to different services.

Since reading Tabarrok’s post, I’ve been trying to think of more examples of this sort of thing, especially in medicine. There are way too many discrepancies in approved medications between countries to discuss every one of them, but did you know melatonin is banned in most of Europe? (Europeans: did you know melatonin is sold like candy in the United States?) Did you know most European countries have no such thing as “medical school”, but just have college students major in medicine, and then become doctors once they graduate from college? (Europeans: did you know Americans have to major in some random subject in college, and then go to a separate place called “medical school” for four years to even start learning medicine?) Did you know that in Puerto Rico, you can just walk into a pharmacy and get any non-scheduled drug you want without a doctor’s prescription? (source: my father; I have never heard anyone else talk about this, and nobody else even seems to think it is interesting enough to be worth noting).

And I want to mock the people who are doing this the “wrong” way – but can I really be sure? If each of these things decreased the death rate 1%, maybe it would be worth it. But since nobody notices 1% differences in death rates unless they do really good studies, it would just look like some state banning things for no reason, and everyone else laughing at them.

Actually, how sure are we that Oregon was wrong to ban self-service gas stations? How do disabled people pump their gas in most of the country? And is there some kind of negative effect from breathing in gas fumes? I have never looked into any of this.

Maybe the real lesson of Oregon is to demonstrate a sort of adjustment to prevailing conditions. There’s an old saying: “Everyone driving faster than you is a maniac; anyone driving slower than you is a moron”. In the same way, no matter what the current level of regulation is, removing any regulation will feel like inviting catastrophe, and adding any regulation will feel like choking on red tape.

Except it’s broader than regulation. Scientific American recently ran an article on how some far-off tribes barely talk to their children at all. New York Times recently claimed that “in the early 20th century, some doctors considered intellectual stimulation so detrimental to infants that they routinely advised young mothers to avoid it”. And our own age’s prevailing wisdom of “make sure your baby has listened to all Beethoven symphonies by age 3 months or she’ll never get into college” is based on equally flimsy evidence, yet somehow it still feels important to me. If I don’t make my kids listen to Beethoven, it will feel like some risky act of defiance; if I don’t take the early 20th century advice to avoid overstimulating them, it will feel more like I’m dismissing people who have been rightly tossed on the dungheap of history.

And then there’s the discussion from the recent discussion of Madness and Civilization about how 18th century doctors thought hot drinks will destroy masculinity and ruin society. Nothing that’s happened since has really disproved this – indeed, a graph of hot drink consumption, decline of masculinity, and ruinedness of society would probably show a pretty high correlation – it’s just somehow gotten tossed in the bin marked “ridiculous” instead of the bin marked “things we have to worry about”.

So maybe the scary thing about Oregon is how strongly we rely on intuitions about absurdity. If something doesn’t immediately strike us as absurd, then we have to go through the same plodding motions of debate that we do with everything else – and over short time scales, debate is interminable and doesn’t work. Having a notion strike us as absurd short-circuits that and gets the job done – but the Oregon/everyone-else divide shows that intuitions about absurdity are artificial and don’t even survive state borders, let alone genuinely different cultures and value systems.

And maybe this is scarier than usual because I just read Should Schools Ban Kids From Having Best Friends? I assume this is horrendously exaggerated and taken out of context and all the usual things that we’ve learned to expect from news stories, but it got me thinking. Right now enough people are outraged at this idea that I assume it’ll be hard for it to spread too far – and even if it does spread, we can at least feel okay knowing that parents and mentors and other people in society will maintain a belief in friendship and correct kids if schools go wrong. But what if it catches on? What if, twenty years from now, the idea of banning kids from having best friends has stopped generating an intuition of absurdity? Then if we want kids to still be allowed to have best friends, we’re going to have to (God help us) debate it. Have you seen the way our society debates things?

And I know some people see this and say it proves rational debate is useless and we should stop worrying about it. But trusting whatever irrational forces determines what sounds absurd or not doesn’t sound so attractive either. I think about it, and I want to encourage people to be really, really good at rational debate, just in case something terrible loses its protective coating of absurdity, or something absolutely necessary gains it, and our ability to actually judge whether things are good or bad and convince other people of it is all that stands between us and disaster.

And, uh, maybe the people who say kids shouldn’t be allowed to have best friends are right. I admit they’ve thought about this a lot longer than I have. My problem isn’t that someone thinks this. It’s that so much – even the legitimacy of friendship itself – can now depend on our culture’s explicit rationality. And our culture’s explicit rationality is so bad. And that the only alternative to dragging everything before the court of explicit rationality is some version of Chesterton’s Fence, ie the very heuristic telling Oregonians to defend full-service gas stations to the death. There is no royal road.

Maybe this is a good time to get on our chronophones with Oregon (or more prosaically, use the Outside View). Figure out what cognitive strategies you would recommend to an Oregonian trying to evaluate self-service gas stations. Then try to use those same strategies yourself. And try to imagine the level of careful thinking and willingness to question the status quo it would take to make an Oregonian get the right answer here, and be skeptical of any conclusions you’ve arrived at with any less.

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626 Responses to Self-Serving Bias

  1. GeneralDisarray says:

    Groundwater contamination is an issue around self-service gas stations, which I always assumed was what Oregon was most concerned about because they also outlaw “topping off” the tank. I concluded gas station attendants were an extension of the concern (prevent overfill spillage). But of course I might be wrong.

    Rural freeway speed limits in my state are 80 mph. You want nuts? That’s nuts. My state also just did away with their auto safety inspection requirement; turns out there’s no evidence they do anything better than stimulate the auto repair sectors of local economies (and are prone to misuse by unethical shop owners). Doing away with auto inspections is not nuts.

    Simultaneously doing away with auto safety inspections and 80 mph rural speed limits may be really nuts. Interaction effects can be difficult to predict.

    My state has banned Vapes from all public areas. There’s no evidence this is at all helpful, but ample evidence that these are a very helpful harm-reduction tool. Discouraging their use is nuts.

    There seems to be this push-pull between righteous superiority-seeking via admirable regulation and via admirable deregulation. It’s the same process with leftovers; if I save them, I feel responsible. If I keep them in the fridge for long enough, discarding them becomes responsible. That way I get to feel responsible twice! So it goes with regulation.

    Maybe this is what good-enough governance looks like.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      “Rural freeway speed limits in my state are 80 mph. You want nuts? That’s nuts.”

      Is it too fast or too slow?

      • Randy M says:

        Simultaneously doing away with auto safety inspections and 80 mph rural speed limits may be really nuts.

        Implication is that 80 mph is an unnecessary limit, but perhaps only because of the presence of otherwise unnecessary vehicle inspection.

    • tmk17 says:

      Rural freeway speed limits in my state are 80 mph.

      I don’t know how good these freeways are but 130km/h (which is about 80 mph) is the speed limit in a lot of European countries. And of course in Germany on some parts of the Autobahn there is no speed limit with people regularly driving 200 km/h (I’ve done it). As far as I know Germany does not have more road deaths than other countries but I didn’t check so I might be wrong. And as I said, the quality of the Autobahns might be a factor.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        As far as I know Germany does not have more road deaths than other countries but I didn’t check so I might be wrong. And as I said, the quality of the Autobahns might be a factor.

        Comparing Germany to its neighbours (or at least those which have data per billion vehicle-km) it has fewer road deaths than Belgium, France or Austria, but more than the Netherlands, Switzerland or Denmark. All of the countries I’ve mentioned have maximum speed limits on motorways of 120 or 130 km/h.

        In my limited experience of the Autobahn, the road quality isn’t actually that great (the surface is not particularly smooth, and there were only two lanes each way) but this may have been because the Autobahn I was on was a relatively minor one, though still unrestricted. The difference is that lane discipline is superb- everyone stays in the right lane except to pass. This is not just German drivers- I noticed that the lane discipline of drivers in cars with Dutch license plates was much better in Germany than in the Netherlands, though that might have been a self-selecting sample.

        • Emanuel Rylke says:

          IIRC the Dutch laws around lane discipline are not as strict as the ones in Germany.

          • adrian.ratnapala says:

            Who needs a strict law, when the slowpoke in the inner lane will have a BMW running up to his tail at 220 km/h.

          • shenanigans24 says:

            I don’t know the punishment for cruising the slow lane in Germany but I don’t think I ever saw a cop on the autobahn. Speed control is done almost exclusively through speed cameras. The GPS says where the cameras are so people just slow down passing them then continue.

            German lane discipline is indeed excellent though. It appears to be a social norm that is mostly self enforced. Maybe it used to be strongly enforced and people got the message, or maybe Germans are just different.

          • Aapje says:

            @Emanuel Rylke

            IIRC the Dutch laws around lane discipline are not as strict as the ones in Germany.

            I don’t think that the lane discipline laws are any more strict in Germany. The fine in The Netherlands is also almost twice as high (140 vs 80 euros).

            AFAIK, both countries don’t do substantial enforcement of lane discipline. It’s very cost-ineffective compared to speed traps (where you can fine many people per hour). In general, I think that the traffic police in The Netherlands often prioritizes income for the government over actual road safety.

            I think the difference is more that:
            – people feel far more uncomfortable blocking traffic that goes way faster than them, than traffic that goes just a bit faster.
            – People tend to conform towards the local social norm (and the Germans are sticklers for rules, so when in Germany, you stick out if you don’t).
            – Traffic flow patterns are different in The Netherlands, with fairly little opportunity for driving fast. Substantial stretches of high way are also monitored with long distance speed traps (which measure how much time you take to cover a distance of many kilometers), which equalizes traffic speeds. So ‘keep your lane’ patterns are often more natural in The Netherlands.

          • 4bpp says:

            @shenanigans24

            German lane discipline is indeed excellent though. It appears to be a social norm that is mostly self enforced. Maybe it used to be strongly enforced and people got the message, or maybe Germans are just different.

            When I took driving lessons in Germany around 2008, staying in the rightmost lane I could roughly maintain my speed in at all times was certainly presented to me as a legal imperative violating which could and would result in traffic stops and penalties. I believe they considered it a consequence of the “Rechtsfahrgebot” (the general “commandment to drive on the right”).

        • christhenottopher says:

          The road death numbers are an important aspect of speed limit policy to consider, but of course are only one aspect of potentially many. I feel like I see this a lot in discussions of policy. One or maybe two factors get considered on whether a policy is good or not. So with speed limit policy there’s also the questions of how much fuel is used (fuel usage->pollution so reducing that is good), number of total accidents (non-fatal accidents still lead to injuries and property damage), level of individual choice/liberty (which does NOT automatically favor the no speed limit side if one considers non-state social pressures as limiting individual choice and so you’d want to look at something like speed variance between drivers as evidence of more choices), maintenance cost of the road way (since taxation pays for that rather than the drivers directly), and maybe even some second order effects (is one reason the Germans innovate so much in cars because of their speed limit free Autobahns? Maybe! And innovation can often be a public good).

          Since the first comment from GeneralDisarray didn’t specify which aspect of an 80 mph (130 kmh) speed limit was “nuts” I think it’s worth being open to the possibility it’s not just the chance of death from an accident he’s considering.

          • Mary says:

            Also: lives saved by speed. As in medical emergencies.

          • albatross11 says:

            One I think you missed is the value of the time of the people in the car. Making a trip take six hours instead of four means taking two hours of my life out of whatever I was planning to do when I got to my destination, and spending it driving instead.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mary

            Ambulances can already legally exceed the speed limit, jump traffic lights and such & are trained to do so fairly safely (and have warning lights & sounds causing other traffic to get out of the way).

            I have my doubts whether it wouldn’t just cause more deaths than it prevents if regular people, high on adrenaline, get to drive really fast.

          • One or maybe two factors get considered on whether a policy is good or not.

            I think that at least part of the time that is because those are the only important factors for which there is something close to objective data.

          • Mary says:

            Ambulances can already legally exceed the speed limit,

            That requires the ambulance to get to the person first.

            Also, if the traffic is slow enough, the ambulance is not physically capable of moving faster.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I was under the impression that German driver education and licensing was far more strict than it is in the US. You also need to take into account the quality of the drivers in the different nations.

          • JohnBuridan says:

            Licensing in Germany costs at least $2,000, I believe. I know in Finland it often costs a person $5,000 to get a driver’s license and many hours of driver courses.

            Compare to Missouri, USA where it is $30 and takes about 1 hour of your life.

            In Finland, we were passed by someone driving 5km/hr over the limit, this other driver was considered by all in the car (Finns) to be a maniac.

          • Inside a semicircle of displays says:

            In Germany, the entire process will cost you 1500 to 2000 Euros and take on average 40 x 45-minute practical driving sessions (jncluding a few mandatory hours spent on cross-country driving/night driving/highway driving – and if feasible, your driving instructor will at some point take you into the nearest larger city to practice urban driving) plus 12 x 90 minutes classroom instruction, then a written test and practical driving test.
            The driving test is fairly demanding as well, about a third of my friends, all of which I’d consider competent drivers, had to re-take it.

            (For comparison, getting a private pilot license will take you a minimum of 45 hours flying + 10 hours classroom instruction. Then again, you’ll regularly meet cars on Autobahn going faster than your Cessna 172.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Compare to Missouri, USA where it is $30 and takes about 1 hour of your life.

            Reality check: If after spending zero hours of your life learning how to drive a car on public roads, you walk into a Missouri DMV office with thirty dollars and an hour to spare, you will not walk away with a driver’s license.

            The cost of a MO driver’s license is not $30+1hr; the cost is ill-defined because the process usually involves finding a relative with a car and the willingness to spend their time teaching you how to drive. You’ll owe them for that; this also will be ill-defined. Or possibly you will take a driver’s-ed class in high school; this may be free (to you) depending on the school district, or you may have to pay for the use of the car. Only rarely do Americans learn to drive from paid private instructors; I’m not sure what the usual price is when they do.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            the cost is ill-defined because the process usually involves finding a relative with a car and the willingness to spend their time teaching you how to drive.

            I am confused about your point. If you have a relative with free time and free gas in Germany, you’ll still have to put in the $3k and the 45 hours.

            One “driver’s license market” has significantly more competition than the other, and the (fully armed and operational and well-defined) expected price of getting a driver’s license is going to be lower in the US.

            Only rarely do Americans learn to drive from paid private instructors; I’m not sure what the usual price is when they do.

            As a continental European who got his license in the UK, I can confirm that even a slightly freer license market makes getting a license much much cheaper, on average.

          • John Schilling says:

            I am confused about your point. If you have a relative with free time and free gas in Germany, you’ll still have to put in the $3k and the 45 hours.

            And if you live in the United States, you’ll have to put in something similar to the $3k and the 45 hours, just not as explicitly defined. My point was that the claim, “$30 and about 1 hour” is false and misleading.

            I will now amend my point to note that, just as Oregon thinks that only a Certified Professional Gas-Pumper can pump gas whereas most of the USA seems to manage OK with random citizens handling the job, Germany apparently thinks that only a Certified Professional at a Driver Training School can teach someone to drive whereas most of the USA seems to manage OK with random citizens handling the job.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            My point was that the claim, “$30 and about 1 hour” is false and misleading.

            True, in the sense that it’s not literally that. But I don’t think the overly literal reading is appropriate here: JohnBuridan seems to be saying that it takes much less money and effort.

            And if you live in the United States, you’ll have to put in something similar to the $3k and the 45 hours, just not as explicitly defined.

            I’d bet this is not true (on average, for most people). Why should we expect it to be cheaper? See the argument and personal anecdote above.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the average “price” of a driver’s license in the United States is, say, 20 hours and $1500 worth of favors to be named later, then claiming that it is 1 hour and $30 is much closer to being an outright lie than it is minor discrepancy that only an “overly literal” pedant would complain about.

            If you knowingly exaggerate by an order of magnitude or more, or defend people who do so when they are called out on it, don’t expect to be treated much better than an outright liar would be. If you wish to make a point that driver training in the US is less rigorous at the margin, then say that and have the decency to do a quiet facepalm when someone on your side proclaims the grossly exaggerated version.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            If you knowingly exaggerate by an order of magnitude or more, or defend people who do so when they are called out on it, don’t expect to be treated much better than an outright liar would be.

            It is my understanding that there is no lie: you can get a DL for $30 and about 1 hour of your life – assuming that you can pass their permit test. Is that not so?

            From what I read, your point seems to be that you need to spend money to learn how to drive, which is true but utterly irrelevant: Germany would still mandate the 45 hours of driving lessons and $3k, even if you have the necessary experience to outright pass your driving test. That’s one of the ways in which German driver education is far more strict than it is in the US, which is how what JohnBuridan wrote supports Conrad Honcho’s claim.

            As far as I can see, the “it literally costs $30 to learn to drive in Missouri” claim does not occur anywhere (except maybe as an accidental straw man in your post?). Standards are laxer was the point, and the fact (non-fact?) that you can get a DL for $30 + an hour long test does support that: nobody checks whether you actually practiced driving for 45 hours with a highly trained instructor, and chances are that you don’t need that many hours or a highly trained instructor.

          • The Nybbler says:

            To put in some real US figures, it turns out the driving school I used is still in business. This is 30 hours of classroom + 6 hours of driving, which Maryland now requires for all drivers (used to be only drivers under 18), for $300. Add on a few hours for the tests (one vision, one written, one practical, an a lot of standing in line, because it IS the DMV). Extra $90 to use a driving school car in the test. Extra $90/hour for practice in the driving school cars.

            Basically this should fall roughly between that theoretical minimum in Missouri and Germany in order of magnitude terms, both in time and money. As John says, nobody shows up never having driven before and passes a driver’s test, not even in Missouri.

          • JohnBuridan says:

            I think John Schilling is being purposefully obtuse.
            I did not intend to say that the total cost, all things considered, is $30, but only that the minimum you pay is significantly lower in a Red State like MO, than Germany. Sorry for my lack of clarity. I don’t think you need to be hostile towards publiusvarinius, who, gasp!, interpreted my comment as I intended it.

            Thanks for the Maryland example. That’s a good representation of a middle ground.

            Back to object level, Missouri also has an outrageously liberal permit policy. Once a person has their permit, they can practice driving all the time running normal household errands. Assuming you parallel park a few times over that year, when you go to the DMV, you’ll almost certainly get past the test.

            The larger point being, though you might need friends, family, or a social network, the cash money you part with is minimal, and the professionalization of driving is nearly non-existent.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Once a person has their permit, they can practice driving all the time running normal household errands.

            Missouri, like most states, requires a licensed driver be in the front seat with the permit-holder driving.

            Maryland apparently now requires 60 hours of practice for drivers under 25, which puts it in Germany territory (actually well over, at $90/hour). Theoretically, anyway; I suspect there’s a lot of log-fudging going on.

          • How important strict standards for a driver’s license are depends in part on how dangerous driving is. After driving in England many years ago I concluded that the survival of the English population could only be explained by divine providence. They have narrow, twisty roads, with high hedges so you cannot see around curves, they drive pretty fast, they do it on the wrong side of the road, and yet most of them are still alive.

            Driving in the U.S., at least in all of the places I have lived, is a lot easier and so requires a lot less skill.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            You should try the Luxembourg roads one day. The only way I could hope to keep up with a Luxembourg driver on their twisty roads was if there was a foreigner holding him up. Otherwise I could only hope to lose ground slowly, when using navigation equipment so I would know what was coming behind the corner and with maximum focus.

            English driving is way simpler by comparison.

            As for driving on the wrong side of the road, I found it easy to adapt, although I found driving there more tiring, perhaps because of a higher cognitive load. You do have to remember to drive off at the proper side in the morning, though, that is the biggest risk, I think.

          • You do have to remember to drive off at the proper side in the morning, though, that is the biggest risk, I think.

            In my experience, it’s turning a corner. I naturally go to into the right lane.

            You are saying that God must really love the Luxemebourgers?

            Or is it that it used to be a much bigger country?

          • Aapje says:

            In my experience, it’s turning a corner. I naturally go to into the right lane.

            That’s fine then, it would be bad if you went into the wrong lane though. 😛

            You are saying that God must really love the Luxembourgers?

            Or is it that it used to be a much bigger country?

            God does to seem to love them about 2-2.5 times as much as the British and the Dutch, depending on what statistic you look at.

            I can merely come up with a few hundred just-so stories about why they drive how they drive. I’ll tell you all of them…oh look something shiny.

        • JayT says:

          I was in Italy last year and was extremely impressed with the lane discipline there. In the US you regularly see people going under the speed limit in the right lane, but I never ran into that in Italy. France was good too, but Italy was where I really noticed it.

          • A1987dM says:

            Where in Italy were you?

          • Jayson Virissimo says:

            I drove through France -> Monaco -> Italy -> Switzerland last year, and I must say, the variance in driving skill between countries is pretty large. My impression was that Northern Italians drive more like the Swiss (very good) than they do Southern Italians (which are about as good as drivers in Mexico).

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Denmarks speed limits are set in concrete – literally, that was the speed the engineers were assuming when they designed the freeways. That makes setting the posted limit to anything else ill advised. Germany presumably designed the autoban with “People go as fast as they can” in mind.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the US, even the “design speeds” are political. AASHTO, the organization which sets such things, has made design speed standards stricter based on driver eye height (newer cars are lower. What about SUVs you ask? Nope, they base it on sedans specifically IIRC). They have not made any compensation in the other direction for any improvements in cars or tires.

            Nevertheless, most roads in the US have limits considerably below the design speed.

      • Jesse E says:

        German driver licensing laws are also more stringent than American ones.

      • Doesntliketocomment says:

        I would bet the quality of the road is a huge factor here. Germany has approx. 13,000 km of autobahn. Montana, one of the states with a 80mph speed limit has approx 17,000 km of rural state-maintained highways. It is rank speculation on my part, but I would assume that Germany invests more in the upkeep of the autobahn than Montana does in its state system. Not to mention I would assume, again inserting bias here, that the Germans spent a much more time carefully designing their highways than the Montana Dept. of Transportation did theirs.

        • Incurian says:

          Fewer drivers though.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          My experience was it was not as nice as the US. Turns were steeper, the road was narrower, and traffic jams more frequent.

          I would feel much safer going 100 on a US highway if not for the law.

          • The Nybbler says:

            100mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike or the NJ Turnpike, or several other Interstates I’m familiar with, feels like no big deal. I wouldn’t try it on California 1 north of San Francisco, not even with a really good car. Roads vary a LOT!

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      Groundwater contamination is an issue around self-service gas stations, which I always assumed was what Oregon was most concerned about because they also outlaw “topping off” the tank. I concluded gas station attendants were an extension of the concern (prevent overfill spillage). But of course I might be wrong.

      Sounds reasonable on the surface, but in my experience here in NJ (where you also cannot pump your own gas), gas station attendants are far more likely to top off than many customers (e.g. me). Even when you ask them not to top it off, they seem to do it anyway.

      Yes, this is anecdotal but it’s not clear to me that hiring minimum wage professionals to pump gas will necessarily help the problem.

      My state has banned Vapes from all public areas. There’s no evidence this is at all helpful, but ample evidence that these are a very helpful harm-reduction tool. Discouraging their use is nuts.

      Sorry, can you explain this? I don’t see the distinction.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Sounds reasonable on the surface

        Interesting. From first principles I can make the argument either way. On one hand the station owner might be more concerned about contaminating his own site than a random driver would be. On the other hand, there is profit in systematically selling an extra four ounces of gas with every transaction.

        The fact that it probably isn’t the owner who actually pumps the gas might swamp either analysis. (And who does own a gas station? The guy who runs it? The gas company? Some random landlord?)

    • Fahundo says:

      Rural freeway speed limits in my state are 80 mph. You want nuts? That’s nuts.

      80 mph is about what I drive when the posted limit is 70. Having a limit of 80 doesn’t seem that nuts to me.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      The push back vs vaping is odd.

      There is finally a nifty alternative to cancer causing tobacco. I didn’t see a single anti tobacco ad when I went to the movies, just anti vaping.

      What? With just….minor regulations, might as well give ads against coffee (Utah applauds)

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect this is largely path dependency and fighting the last war. There was a big struggle to push back on the very powerful and wealthy tobacco industry, from the time (I think in the late 40s/early 50s) it started to become clear that smoking was really bad for you when you looked at statistics instead of individual cases. It took *decades* to make any progress, with the tobacco industry pushing back all the while–lobbying, hiring consultants to argue the results, sending PR people to blow smoke about the issue, etc. Finally, after a long struggle, the public health people won, crushed their enemies, saw them driven before them, and listened to the lamentations of their women. Along the way, they managed to ban or restrict tobacco ads, sue companies, get Congress to carry out various actions against them, etc. And smoking rates started falling, and have continued falling. Smoking was banned in most public places and offices, cigarettes were taxed, etc.

        Now, along comes something that looks a lot like smoking. It’s probably not as bad for you, though I don’t think we really know that for sure. (Anyone know of strong evidence?) It’s certainly still addictive (thanks to nicotine). At a guess, there’s a public health benefit if smokers switch to vaping and nonsmokers don’t take it up, but probably not if lots of nonsmokers take up vaping. And all the infrastructure of law and organization and sentiment that won the previous war is still around, ready to crush someone else. We’re probably lucky that vaping hasn’t been outright banned.

        • ohwhatisthis? says:

          Well, for the simple variants of vaping(basic delivery system and we’ll known flavorings used in industry) there hasn’t been a fuss from the biochemists. I think that calls for a basic level if regulation to ensure the system doesn’t stray from that, but not a great deal.

          It feels like banning flavored coffee after the most basic regulations are in place.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          Isn’t the absence the many dangerous chemicals contained in smoke already strong evidence? (The evidence of the danger of those chemicals is strong.) It’s like non-alcoholic beer… evidence is strong that it is less harmful to the liver than regular beer, even without direct observation, just because of all of the evidence that alcohol causes liver damage.

          Also, nicotine itself is actually FDA approved (in the form of gum, patch, and inhaler) so I assume that has met some high safety standards. Nicotine isn’t what causes the health problems.

        • riceowlguy says:

          I believe all of this is true; I also believe there is a strong class element to bans on public smoking/vaping (we can’t ban poor people, but we can ban poor-people behaviors).

          • JohnBuridan says:

            Agree. I think there are lots of hidden taxes on poor people. Cigarette taxes being one of them.

            I consider the Lotto a tax on poor people, since poor people by-and-large buy the Lotto tickets. On the other hand, I also think it would be paternalistic to take away the State Lotto, and “free marketing” the lotto would open up even more predatory practices than my state pursues.

            I have never been able to make up my mind about these issues. Cigarettes and the lottery are both poor people behaviors, and as a cosmopolitan urbanite, I don’t partake in them. But some of my behaviors are wasteful, self-indulgent, and unhealthy (like spending hours putzing around on the internet…).

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think it’s correct to call something a tax if you’re not compelled to pay it. State lotteries are certainly a regressive source of revenue, but they’re not taxes.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            I’d expect that competition between multiple, private lotteries would produce a return rate higher than that of the monopolistic state lotteries; net-net, it would be less predatory.

          • Randy M says:

            Is it known what the average pay-out of vegas slots are?
            edit: Apparently, in the 80-90%s
            Versus state lottery
            Decide for yourself whether money going to “state funds” counts as pay out or not.

            Of course, at the end of the day, no lottery can out put more than is put in (barring those that are fronts for welfare or something) so even if the pay-outs are very high in percentages, the population that plays cannot do any better than break even on average.

          • Nornagest says:

            Wow, Massholes play a lotta lotto.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think it’s correct to call something a tax if you’re not compelled to pay it.

            Poll/head taxes being illegal in the United States, and AFIK no state levying sales taxes on food, there are no taxes that one is absolutely compelled to pay in the US. One is compelled to pay taxes only if one engages in a taxed activity, e.g. earning income, or buying luxury goods. Or gambling.

            If the state says “you must pay us X% of every dollar you gamble”, that’s a tax. If they ban every game of chance but the one they run, and that one offers odds X% worse than casinos would pay in a free market, that’s IMO close enough for government work.

          • bean says:

            edit: Apparently, in the 80-90%s
            Versus state lottery

            I’m not sure this is entirely fair, because of time scales and different games. If I pay you back 80% every time you pull the lever, you’re going to be below the 50-60% (eyeball) that lotteries pay out after three spins. From my time near slot machines (I hate the Vegas airport), that’s not a very long time. You’d need to find a private lottery.

          • devilbunny says:

            John Schilling, although I don’t know how trustworthy the group is, these guys report:

            States that tax groceries (rate if not fully taxed): Alabama, Arkansas (3%), Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois (1%), Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri (1.225%), Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee (5.5%), Utah (1.75%), Virginia (1.5% + 1% local option tax), and West Virginia (5%).

            I’ve lived in one of those and can confirm, you pay sales tax on EVERYTHING. However, since I also don’t know any place that you can legally engage in subsistence farming on land you don’t own or rent, I’d also say that property tax is also nigh-unavoidable. I suppose one might choose to be homeless and try to subsist in shelters/soup kitchens.

        • Nornagest says:

          Anyone know of strong evidence?

          Nicotine isn’t exactly great for you, but it’s not the main cancer-causing agent in tobacco: most of the damage it does is simply from inhaling burning crap consistently over years. (The consensus in what I’ve seen, for example, is that smoking marijuana is about as bad on a per-unit basis and for the same reasons, but there are very few people out there smoking sixty joints a day.)

          There’s no particular reason to think that vaporized propylene glycol would have the same health effects. Not even sure it’s as addictive: tobacco contains MAOIs that vaporizer liquid, as far as I know, doesn’t, and I think those have been implicated in its mechanism of addiction.

        • skybrian says:

          With vaping, if you mix it yourself you can decide how much nicotine to put in, all the way down to zero. It’s useful for quitting gradually.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Vapor is less of a public nuisance than smoke but it’s still incredibly obnoxious to have to walk through a cloud of vapers to get into shops. If it’s banned to throw stink bombs in a given place then cigarettes of either the traditional or electronic varieties should be too.

          • JohnWittle says:

            Indoor tobacco use was not banned because it smells bad, it was banned becauseit pushes a health hazard onto others. Vaping does no such thing; we know that vaporous propylene glycol is safe to inhale (OSHA agrees), we know that the quantity of nicotine in second-hand vapor is significantly below the threshold of action.

            I would say a more accurate analogy would be “If it’s banned to boil a pot of water in a given place, then electronic cigarettes should be banned too.”

            the primary health risk of cigarettes comes, not from the nicotine, but from the simple fact that any time you have a complete combustion of a hydrocarbonic substance, the gaseous output will be carcinogenic, period. Whether the organic substance is tobacco or lettuce, you will get the exact same lung cancer at the exact same rate.

            But electronic cigarettes don’t burn anything. They make the nicotine solution evaporate. And vapor is nothing at all like smoke.

            Either the people who suppressed cigarettes need to admit that their actual concern was the smell and not the health hazards, or they need to stop implying that any ban on cigarettes should also apply to eecigs.

          • Indoor tobacco use was not banned because it smells bad, it was banned becauseit pushes a health hazard onto others.

            That was the reason given, but I’m not at all sure it was the real reason. When my university was pushing to ban all smoking on campus, outdoors as well as indoors, they offered a claim about health effects but seemed strikingly uninterested in whether it was true.

            My conclusion in that case was that the motivation was neither the health of non-smokers nor the smell. It was paternalism towards smokers. Make smoking less convenient and people will smoke less.

            But I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the political pressure was motivated by smell. I think everyone in my family is less willing to eat in a restaurant or stay in a motel room if there is a noticeable smell from people smoking there.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I think that a big reason is that the addiction tends to turns quite a few smokers into antisocial bastards. That is my fair experience, at least. An example is that they built a nice smoking shelter about 15 yards from the entrance to my work site, with the opening towards the building, so it should not be very windy or particularly cold. It has a nice roof against rain.

            Yet there are still quite a few smokers who go stand right next to the entrance, so non-smoking workers have to pass through the smoke. Now, this is not the worst experience, but an example of how too many smokers are not willing to go the extra yard(s) to not inconvenience others.

            Of course, the only reason why the current inconvenience is relatively mild is because smokers where banned from smoking in placing where their antisocial behavior was more damaging. For example, I left a hobby because many of the participants would smoke.

      • eqdw says:

        It’s not bizarre, it’s business and politics.

        Tobacco is taxed to hell and back. It is a major source of revenue for most state governments.

        Let’s say you wanted to dodge the tobacco tax by growing your own tobacco and making your own cigarettes. This is nearly impossible without a large amount of land and a full time job as a tobacco farmer.

        Hypothetically, vape juice is taxed to hell and back.

        Let’s say you wanted to dodge the vape tax by making your own juice. You buy a gallon jug of nicotine for like $100 from a chemical supply store. You mix in vegetable glycerine (trivially refineable from vegetable oil, dirt cheap at the store) and propylene glycol (aka humidor liquid, trivially cheap at any cigar shop) and that’s it.

        They can’t tax the jug of nicotine, because it is a major component of pesticides and pesticides are big business, necessary for farming. If they taxed nicotine, they would dramatically drive up the price of food.

        They can’t tax VG because you can make it in your kitchen

        They can’t tax PG because it is a major food additive in tons and tons of things.

        The bizarrely disproportionate pushback against vaping is 95% a tax revenues thing.

        —-

        The remaining 5% is an upper-middle class dignity quality of life thing. Watching the guy beside you blow a giant cloud of smoke in your face is obnoxious as hell and this gives support to crusaders who want to restrict it

        • wintercaerig says:

          I grow what seems like an awful lot of tobacco in my small back yard, although as a non-smoker I can’t say how many cigarettes or pipefulls my leaf-bundles would produce. The plants don’t require much fuss at all, compared with, say, tomatoes. More people could probably at least supplement their habit it if they really wanted to and fully registered that it was an option.

          • Nornagest says:

            As I recall there’s a fairly lengthy drying/aging step between tobacco plants and smokeable tobacco, so it’s a little more complicated than just planting some and waiting.

          • wintercaerig says:

            No, I cure it, too. It does take long, but it’s not complicated.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          They could denature the nicotine used in pesticide. It’s already done when ethanol is sold as paint thinner (i.e., without liquor taxes).

          • Nornagest says:

            It is not clear to me that the number of deaths or injuries caused by idiots drinking denatured alcohol is less than the marginal deaths or injuries that would be caused by alcoholics feeding their addictions with industrial ethanol if it wasn’t denatured. Similar questions would apply to nicotine.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            I was just saying I think it is possible to tax nicotine that way. But…

            1. You can’t just count the deaths, you also have to count the tax income.

            2. Barely anyone drinks denatured alcohol, which has no more appeal to be drunk than any other paint thinner, gasoline, etc..

          • Nornagest says:

            I think you’re underestimating the number of idiots out there.

          • Desertopa says:

            If we’re being really ruthlessly utilitarian, it may be appropriate to apply a discount to the utility impact of their deaths if they’re that stupid. Probably they have loved ones who’ll feel bad if they die, but anyone stupid enough to kill themselves drinking denatured alcohol probably isn’t doing society a lot of favors in other ways as well.

          • Nornagest says:

            Sure, but you could reason similarly about alcoholics.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Watching the guy beside you blow a giant cloud of smoke in your face is obnoxious as hell

          Compared to the obnoxiousness of actual cigarette smoke, the obnoxiousness of exhaled vape is statistically indistinguishable from zero. I might be an outlier there (I remember some lively disagreement here on whether breathing someone else’s cannabis fumes was worse than their cigarette fumes), but I doubt I’m *that* much of an outlier.

          • Protagoras says:

            Agreed, I find cigarette smoke extremely annoying and am indifferent to vaping fumes.

          • The Obsolete Man says:

            I have to sit three feet away from someone who vapes heavily all day in an office area. *Most* of the time it doesn’t bother me too much, but when there is no demand for A/C or heating to circulate the air the smell can get very distracting and pungent. It would be like someone plugged in a bowl of cherry cigar scented potpourri. I complained once, but we allow it where I work and there is nothing I can do. Like I said, though, when the air is stirring it’s tolerable. I would be happy if they forced them to use unscented vaping liquids.

          • Aapje says:

            It’s basically on par with people who wear perfume. Just like perfume, it can be mild or really pungent, like what The Obsolete Man experienced.

        • taradinoc says:

          They can’t tax the jug of nicotine, because it is a major component of pesticides and pesticides are big business, necessary for farming. If they taxed nicotine, they would dramatically drive up the price of food.

          Sure they can. States do similar things with alcohol already.

          For example, pure ethanol is useful as an industrial chemical, and for some uses you really want pure ethanol, not denatured. But the state would like to tax ethanol used for drinking, and also limit the proof of drinking alcohol, without dramatically raising the cost of Doing Science.

          Solution: only sell pure ethanol through state-operated or -licensed suppliers, and establish some standard of documentation/inspection/auditing that buyers must meet to establish that they’re really Doing Science with it.

      • eigensheep says:

        The whole reason people vape is that the smoke contains chemicals that make you miserable when you aren’t getting them. Putting make-people-miserable chemicals in the air people breathe seems pretty awful, even if it turns out they won’t kill you.

        • JohnWittle says:

          That is not why cigarettes were suppressed. Cigarettes were suppressed because second-hand smoke causes cancer. We already know for a fact that inhaling propylene glycol vapor is perfectly safe, OSHA has allowed Industries to subject their workers to PG vapor for days on end without a mask for almost a century. That is why propylene glycol was chosen, from the thousands of possibilities, as the tasteless medium for the nicotine and flavoring agents.

          Nicotine on its own is not carcinogenic.

          Complete combustion of any organic material is going to create gaseous outputs that are carcinogenic. Whether the material your burning is tobacco or lettuce or firewood, the rate of cancer from breathing it in will be exactly the same. Electronic cigarettes, on the other hand, do not burn anything, they evaporate the substance to be inhaled. The safety risks are roughly on the same scale as putting unknown spices in a pot of boiling water and inhaling the resulting vapor.

          • Cigarettes were suppressed because second-hand smoke causes cancer.

            Have you investigated the scientific support for that claim? I tried to, back when my university was in the process of banning all smoking on campus, and concluded that it was much weaker that claimed. I wouldn’t be surprised if living with a smoker has a significant health effect, but I’m skeptical of claims about much lower levels of exposure–they seem to be based on what is probably cherry picked data.

          • Protagoras says:

            It’s the sort of thing that could be causing a lot of problems while still being very difficult to detect in studies. Though I probably give the claims about the risks the benefit of the doubt just because I don’t smoke and find smoke annoying.

          • Desertopa says:

            The “second-hand smoking causes cancer” justification always seemed like fake consequentialism to me. Or rather, it was a rhetorical excuse to justify both paternalism (discouraging people from smoking for the sake of their own health,) and prevention of a public nuisance. People who would otherwise be largely indifferent to the risks to their own health, or to the irritation they impose on others, are likely to have a harder time justifying a willingness to give other people cancer.

          • It’s the sort of thing that could be causing a lot of problems while still being very difficult to detect in studies.

            (Second hand smoke effects)

            As I understand it, there were two approaches used. One was to compare nonsmokers who lived with smokers to nonsmokers who didn’t live with smokers. I don’t know how good the studies were, but I don’t find a significant effect implausible and it looks like a fairly straightforward approach.

            The other was to look at cities that had imposed bans, I think typically on smoking in public, and compare their health outcomes to those of similar cities without such bans. The problem there is cherry picking. Statistics such as deaths from heart attacks in a city vary randomly from year to year. So all you have to do is find one city with a ban that had unusually low deaths in the succeeding year, one otherwise similar city without a ban that had unusually high deaths in the same year, take those as your two cities and claim causation.

            I have two reasons to think that was the source of the claims I looked at. One is that the effect was implausibly large and fast. The other is that some people at the NBER did a study simulating the effect of comparing all such pairs and found no effect.

            But I could be wrong. Perhaps Scott or someone else can look into the question more carefully than I did and see if there is any real evidence that outdoors second hand smoke imposes a significant health risk.

            Incidentally, the claims I saw were about heart attack risks not cancer risks.

    • nameless1 says:

      80 mph/h tracks Europe 130 km/h pretty closely. However I think American drivers are generally worse because 1) car is a necessity, not optional 2) for this reason any fool can get a driving licence with very little training. The median European driver is a fairly aggressive, but skilled 40 years old upper middle class male. All my female relatives refuse to drive out of fear of them. Some of my male relatives refuse to drive as well because they like beer more.

      I find car safety inspections very important. It is not about finding some fault at a relatively new and normal car. It is about banning 30 years old heaps of rust with no brakes off the street. To be fair it could be abolished for the first 10-12 year of a car. But not after.

      • quaelegit says:

        So in Europe female drivers are thought to be worse/more dangerous?

        In America it’s the opposite. Although it’s also an age thing — YOUNG male drivers are considered particularly dangerous (and thus have very high insurance premiums), I don’t know that anyone fears 40 year old male drivers of any level of experience.

        Also in my family at least aggressive drivers are considered more dangerous, but mostly because of deviation from the mean — slow pokes are also considered dangerous if not in the outermost lane.

        • Aapje says:

          He said that (a decent subset of) women refuse to drive because they find other drivers too aggressive, not that they are considered more dangerous.

        • A1987dM says:

          Dunno about Europe in general, but in Italy there’s a proverb saying “women at the steering wheel, constant danger” (it rhymes in Italian) and a few jokes based on that.

          • powerfuller says:

            Yeah, I think the common (politically incorrect) sentiment where I’m from (New England) is that women are worse drivers in general, but in minor ways (cutting you off or causing small accidents), while young men are more likely to fail in huge, flaming-ball-of-death ways. I remember reading that women caused fewer accidents in total numbers, but more than men as a ratio of miles driven, which could mean they’re worse for want of practice. Don’t remember the source. In my personal experience, the worst drivers are those who didn’t learn to drive until they were over 20 years old.

          • Aapje says:

            @powerfuller

            My non-scientific and very subjective assessment is that in my country, female drivers much more often made mistakes due to fear and male drivers due to aggression, when I was young, but that more recently, this has greatly equalized, with women being aggressive quite often as well.

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            I’ve always taken a bit of issue with the stats that tend to compare based on miles driven. I know why we measure it that way – because it’s easy and it will give us some indication of driving quality. But there always seemed to be a very large potential distortion.

            Maybe this doesn’t result in that big of a shift, but if women are equaling men in accidents for miles driven, my guess would be that they actually are better drivers.

            I’ll use my parents to illustrate this. My father worked at a research park about 10 miles away – about a 20 minute drive. My mom was a stay at home mom and did lots of shopping and errands and stuff at various stores about 10 minutes away all within a mile of each other. But she only probably drove an average 6 miles a day vs my Dad’s 20.

            Here’s the thing though. My Dad’s drive consisted of driving down our hill to a major arterial – driving along the arterial with little or no lane change for 4 miles, get on the highway, and drive the remaining six. The trip back was the same thing.

            My Mom’s drives, instead, involved constantly turning into and out of parking lots, and turning on major arterials and side streets.

            Driving accidents don’t occur when you’re driving straight along a road without changing speeds or stopping at lights or merging or making turns. They tend to occur when you’re doing something. And while my Dad easily drives 3x as many miles as my mother, my mother is taking a lot more ‘actions’ that are likely to lead to accidents. To the point that if my Mom got 3x as many fender-benders, I’d consider her a comparable driver to my Dad.

            I think if the average man and woman at all reflect trends similar to my parents, then comparisons between genders based on miles driven may not reflect an accurate picture. For lack of better phrasing, I don’t think all miles are created equal in terms of how likely you are or are not to get in an accident based on skill. And I think the different genders have statistically different kinds of miles that they drive. Driving 100 miles on the highway, to me seems less likely to result in an accident than driving 5 miles running errands. And men commuting long distances to work on highways while women doing more technically involved driving over fewer miles shopping, seems like a likely trend.

            Again, I don’t know how significant of a distortion this will be, but it seems liable to be large.

          • Nornagest says:

            Most of the people I see driving aggressively are men in Audis or BMWs, but the most aggressive driver I’ve seen recently was a thirtysomething woman in a minivan. With a handwritten sign in hand reading “OWN YOUR SHIT”. I wondered for days whether she’d written it on the dashboard while tailgating me at 75 MPH, or if she just carries around a stash of insulting signs to flash at other drivers.

        • Viliam says:

          My sexist stereotype says that male drivers are more likely to drive aggressively, but female drivers are more likely to use their phones and ignore their surroundings while driving. I guess it means that male drivers are more dangerous to other drivers, while female drivers are more dangerous to pedestrians.

          (Europe; using the phone while driving is technically illegal.)

      • eqdw says:

        I am Canadian. When I was 19 I took the tests for my driver’s license. I had 9 automatic failures on my test when I got back. For things as stupid as “did not spend the full three seconds shoulder-checking before changing lanes”

        I moved to California when I was 22 and had to take another drivers test there. I failed the written test. So they immediately gave me a new test to take. Because apparently you get three chances on the written test. So that is to say, I took the written test, which is multiple choice out of 4 answers. I got it back with the questions I got wrong marked as such. I was then asked to immediately rewrite the same exact test again. Even if I guessed randomly I’d have a 75% chance of getting any given question right, and iirc 15/20 was the passing mark.

        Then I took a road test. I did decently well, except for the part where I almost hit a pedestrian (he darted out between two parked cars without looking and I couldn’t see him). In Canada this would be an automatic failure, even though it was his fault. In California, my driving tester rolled down the window to tell the pedestrian to go fuck himself and stay the hell out of the road.

        Given my experience with the DMV in California, I am 100% convinced the entire thing is just a jobs program for the otherwise-unemployable dipshits who work there

        • Incurian says:

          “did not spend the full three seconds shoulder-checking before changing lanes”

          Looking over your shoulder for three seconds sounds very dangerous.

          • The Obsolete Man says:

            You didn’t need to look over your shoulder for three seconds in older cars. The last car I owned that I could make a quick glance to the sides and rear to determine if it was safe to change lanes (or backup – another important task) was a 2001 model. Yes, they do come equipped with backup cameras now and optional lane change alerts and whatnot, but even with the backup camera on my current car I’ve still had close calls in parking lots. I see a lot of newer cars parked facing out of the stalls, and that’s what I do as well. Of course, then you run into the difficulties of backing up newer cars (even with the camera). There are no cues to where the vehicle is anymore. Look through the windshield and you can’t see the hood at all. Even pulling IN to parking spots, it is easy to be off center.

        • Randy M says:

          I failed the written test. So they immediately gave me a new test to take.

          Let’s not go bringing up our public schools.

        • Deiseach says:

          I almost hit a pedestrian (he darted out between two parked cars without looking and I couldn’t see him)

          When my father was teaching my brothers to drive, this is the part he hammered into them – always slow down in an area with parked cars and be on the look-out because a kid (usually, although adults will do it too as you testify) will charge straight out into traffic from between two cars without looking, where you can’t see them beforehand, and you need to be ready to slam on the brakes fast.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Adults darting, or wandering out into the street is so much less a problem as you can often catch a glimpse (even if just subconsciously) through windows or between cars before it happens. With kids they can be 100% obscured so much easier.

    • alchemy29 says:

      Banning vaping in public is not nuts (provided smoking similarly banned). A lot of vapers are teenagers and teenagers are susceptible to exposure and social influence.

      There’s no evidence this is at all helpful, but ample evidence that these are a very helpful harm-reduction tool

      Notice the non-symmetrical argument. There is no high quality evidence that allowing people to vape in public increases use, it’s true, but there is also no high quality evidence that allowing people to vape in public is a useful harm reduction tool. Vaping may be on the balance beneficial, but banning it in public may also be perfectly reasonable.

      Some indirectly evidence that banning in public is useful – 30% of vapers were non-smokers before and a decent chunk of those were teenagers: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4359356/

      People can’t vape if they don’t know about it, and the mechanisms that they learn are either advertising or real life exposure.

      • baconbacon says:

        100% of smokers were non smokers before, many of them non smokers as teenagers!

        • alchemy29 says:

          Okay, I concede that not all 30% would have been non-smokers otherwise. But I suspect a large percentage would have been.

          Edit: Would you agree that there are a large number of people who vape who not have otherwise smoked? If not here is some evidence that will hopefully change your mind:

          http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/07/07/peds.2015-3983?utm_source=TrendMD&utm_medium=TrendMD&utm_campaign=Pediatrics_TrendMD_1

          Briefly, the combined vaping smoking prevalence is increasing – and is 50% higher than the smoking rate a decade ago. Prior to vaping, the smoking prevalence was steadily decreasing since the 50s in every age group. It’s hard to deny that vaping in is not only substituting for smoking, but is drawing in new users and a lot of them.

          Why is that a problem? For once thing, vaping is not benign. Nicotine contributes to heart disease and there are other harmful substance produced such as aldehydes (obviously less than smoking, but not insignificant). Second, vaping does not only substitute for smoking – but it can increase the odds of one going on to become a smoker.
          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5580820/

          Smoking prevalence is decreasing and it has been for a long time. Purer nicotine products work and are highly effective. Though there might be some small substitution effect, smoking has not noticeably decreased any faster since e-cigarettes were introduced and many e-cigarette users go back to smoking.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Though there might be some small substitution effect, smoking has not noticeably decreased any faster since e-cigarettes were introduced and many e-cigarette users go back to smoking.

            That depends heavily on the trend line you choose. If you start from 1995 ish, which was a local peak for teen smoking then you can easily draw this conclusion. If you start from any year prior to 1993 or 1994 (eyeballing graphs here) you get a huge acceleration from the trend line down starting fairly close to the time of the introduction of e cigs (more investigation to the popularity and adoption timing needed). Secondly you expect trend lines like these to flatten out. It is (in most cases) easier to get a drop from 10% to 9% than from 7% to 6.3%, and even harder to get a decline from 7% to 6%. Bounded trend lines behave very differently than unbounded trend lines.

            To highlight how dramatic these two effects are if you were to extrapolate the trend line from the mid 90s down to the early 2000s you would ‘expect’ teen smoking to be totally eradicated by before 2025 (depending on what data you are looking at etc) (again I am eyeballing data, not aiming at precise numbers). I’ll try to get a more complete reply to the earlier parts of your posts in a few hours.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        I think your whole argument about social influence should lead to the exact opposite conclusion from the one you draw. Because that social influence will be a force that works against cigarettes. The more socially acceptable or even encouraged it is to vape, the less likely people are to smoke.

        People can’t vape if they don’t know about it

        Right, and if they can’t vape they’ll be more susceptible to dying from cigarettes. I don’t get how you are seeing this as an argument against causing people to know about it.

        • alchemy29 says:

          I agree that if vaping is more socially acceptable then fewer people will smoke. But fewer people would also be non-smokers, non-vapers ie. people who would have been non-smokers will vape.

          Vaping is great for smokers I agree! But I find it frustrating that people who think this are unwilling to even consider that there is a tradeoff in making vaping abundant and unregulated. Vaping is not benign – nicotine is already known to contribute to some of the microvasculatory complications of smoking (strokes, heart disease). More people vaping is not a good thing in and of itself.

          • pansnarrans says:

            As far as we currently know, the health differences between smoking and vaping are far, far greater than the health differences between vaping and not vaping. We’re probably into “meh, you get worse effects just from standing near a road” territory here.

            I won’t deny the trade-off, and there’s also the question of how many dual users would have quit entirely if they hadn’t been able to use e-cigarettes as a mostly benign crutch. But that group would have to be pretty big before I’d start wanting to disincentivise vaping.

      • A1987dM says:

        30% of vapers were non-smokers before

        IOW 70% of vapers were smokers before.

        • Combining that and the previous comment and ignoring the non-smokers who would have become smokers if the vaping option was not available …

          In order to argue for policies to suppress vaping you need to claim that the health benefit of not vaping over vaping is at least 7/3 as large as the benefit of vaping over smoking. Which seems wildly improbable.

    • Michael Watts says:

      It’s the same process with leftovers; if I save them, I feel responsible. If I keep them in the fridge for long enough, discarding them becomes responsible. That way I get to feel responsible twice! So it goes with regulation.

      You might as well cite the source of the joke.

    • Vulpecula says:

      Groundwater contamination is an issue around self-service gas stations, which I always assumed was what Oregon was most concerned about because they also outlaw “topping off” the tank. I concluded gas station attendants were an extension of the concern (prevent overfill spillage). But of course I might be wrong.

      Given how quickly gas will volatilize, I don’t think this is a primary cause of contamination. Leaky (in service) underground tanks are a bigger issue, as are old tanks which may have just been abandoned and never decomissioned.

    • shenanigans24 says:

      I’ve always thought the speed limits were too slow. Cars were so much less safe and hard to handle even 30 years ago it amazes me that the limits haven’t gone up with the cars.

      Anyone ever hit 80mph in an 80’s model chevy or ford car? It feels like you’re reentering the atmosphere. Today I’ll accidentall go 80+ accidentally and catch it when I look down.

      • Johannes D says:

        The past is a different culture. People were crazy back then and it shows in the traffic death statistics. Doesn’t really make sense to compensate for safer cars by raising speed limits to keep casualty rates the same.

        • Ghillie Dhu says:

          Not necessarily the same, but probably higher than the status quo.

          When the speed limits were originally set, there was a tradeoff made between safety & inconvenience; if cars are safer, ceteris paribus, too much convenience is being sacrificed at the same speed limits.

        • albatross11 says:

          It’s fun to see how people in the past were crazy, until you reflect on the fact that people in the future will surely see us the same way….

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      The nozzle of every self-service gas pipe I’ve used has a sensor that switches off the pump when the nozzle is dipping into gas. It just clicks and instantly stops flowing. Spilling gasoline by way of overfilling the tank is difficult or impossible.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that a greater source of spillage is left-over gasoline in the hose that drips out.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          You’re supposed to put the hose back in its place in the pumping unit, where it is held in a more or less vertical position.

          Bottom line: no skill is needed to essentially not spill a drop. Gasoline is not viscous, and doesn’t tend to drip. It’s on or it’s off, in most circumstances.

          • Michael Watts says:

            You can’t put the hose back into the pumping unit without first removing it from your car and then moving it through the intervening space. While you do this, gas will leak from the nozzle onto the ground.

            I’d really like to refuel my car without spilling gas on the ground, but it’s just not possible to do. (Living in the SF Bay Area.)

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, that part is where the leaking typically happens. I shake the nozzle a bit and then turn the nozzle when it is hovering over my fuel…hole. So then it’s curved upwards instead of downwards.

            I typically manage to not spill any while doing that, but most people presumably don’t do that and probably spill a bit, regularly.

          • The Nybbler says:

            With most of the hoses I’ve used, if you use Aapje’s procedure you won’t spill any fuel on the ground (or on your paint), but often enough there will be enough fuel on the end of the hose (held by surface tension I suspect, which is lower than water but non-zero) that when you hang it up, some will drip onto the pump. This is an air pollution issue rather than groundwater however. Groundwater contamination from filling stations is mostly from leaking tanks.

  2. I’ve felt for a long time that the main problem with public debate was an utter refusal to use Google Scholar. Want to know if pumping gas causes deaths? There’s research. [though that particular question seems irrelevant, because having someone else pump just transfers death risk…]

    If there’s no research on a topic, default to libertarianism on the premise the people know their own preferences better than random policy guessing.

    This leaves fuzzy lines, where there’s mixed reaearch. In this case, just go down the hierarchy:
    1. Literature review (Wikipedia?)
    2. Meta analysis
    3. Expert opinion polls?
    4. Double blind experiments
    5. Etc

    I’m not talking about making a career out of this – literally 3 minutes on Google Scholar and some simple math should quickly make it clear (on most political issues) whether a position is obviously right, obviously wrong, or unclear/too complicated for a lay person to have an opinion on without a lot of effort. If you’re not willing to spend 3 minutes on Google Scholar, consider that you might be using the issue to signal something rather than to gain genuine knowledge.

    On the cases where it’s not clear, maybe don’t vote on those issues and/or listen to famous/widely-cited experts?

    In this case, a simple Google search reveals the odds of dying while refilling are roughly 1 in 5 billion, which makes the safety argument absurd. The health effects argument is dumb because you’re just transferring risk. So this leaves convenience and jobs. If convenience is truly valued at the price (ie wages), the service should stay without a government mandate.

    • nelshoy says:

      I really wish Google would take the tiniest steps to encourage this. You’d think with all the concern around bubbles and fake news they’d make science a priority.

      Make Google Scholar clickable from the search page drop-down.

      Start showing more scholarly results when you type in vocab beyond what you’d find in a pop article

      Asking way more obviously, but maybe get the machine learning crank rolling on translating abstracts into easy-to-understand language so you get Simple English reviews that come up instantly and take a few seconds to read.

      (most people just looking for specific answers are only going to take a few seconds realistically, and now for a lot of questions that means mined responses from questionable pop articles and Quora-like sites)

    • baconbits9 says:

      I just spent 3 mins on google scholar informing myself about the replication crisis.

      • albatross11 says:

        How’d you do that? I’d like to check and see if I get the same answer you did.

      • Is it perfect no?

        Is it 50 steps up from where we all with minimal effort? I’d say yes.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Is it 50 steps up from where we all with minimal effort? I’d say yes.

          Citation needed. There have been a large number of people who have claimed that “if we just ran the system the way I think, things would be so much better”, the outcomes not so much.

          • I don’t have a citation for you – I can’t prove that if people shifted half of their news-reading to wikipedia-and-google-scholar-reading, then political discourse would dramatically improve.

            However, I think you’re being needlessly pessimistic. I don’t see my claim as “if we just ran the system the way I think, things would be so much better”.

            Instead, I see my claim as “if people were more educated about experts’ best guess concerning policy effects, they’d voter better”. This claim seems trivially true to me.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Instead, I see my claim as “if people were more educated about experts’ best guess concerning policy effects, they’d voter better”. This claim seems trivially true to me.

            You are being derisive of people’s opinions which have no factual basis, and are sure about your opinions with no factual basis. There are many ways you could have searched the literature that would have resulted in studies which support your view, and many ways which would have resulted in studies that cast it into doubt. There are probably studies that could be interpreted either way. Many of these studies would fail to replicate in one way or another, but you could have confidently come back here even more sure of a false belief if you had read the wrong (or right) study, or perhaps have come to a bad conclusion after reading the wrong study and updated your priors erroneously.

          • if people were more educated about experts’ best guess concerning policy effects, they’d voter better

            That’s plausible if we define experts as people whose best guess is likely to be right. But if we define it as people whom a poorly informed voter will believe are experts it is a good deal less clear. If you don’t know enough to create an informed opinion about an issue for yourself, you probably don’t know enough to tell which of the “experts” are telling you what they have good reason to believe and which are telling you what they want you to believe.

            I mentioned in a recent comment the issue of second hand smoke. The experts claim that smoking bans sharply reduce heart attack deaths to non-smokers. I know that’s true because when my university, surely better informed than the average voter, wanted to ban all smoking on campus the email they sent in support of that policy cited a claim to that effect apparently originating with the California EPA.

            As best I can tell, there was no serious scientific support for the claim. But in an environment where everyone involved disapproves of smoking, serious scientific support isn’t needed.

            To generalize that point, just look back through Scott’s posts of the past several years to see how often people base what purport to be informed scientific views on research somewhere between flimsy and fraudulent.

      • Sorry, I feel like this deserves a longer reply.

        To me this object feels akin to how most people think “but I once read that third world charities are corrupt, so I better not donate to them” – rather than spending 3 minutes googling “effective donating”.

        It’s easy to criticize a plan. Often it is useful to criticize a plan. However, such criticism should be constructive.

        Just as one shouldn’t dismiss third word charities without making at least a token effort to find non-corrupt ones, I don’t think you should dismiss the academic literature because of a replication crisis without an alternative.

        As far as I know, peer-reviewed research is the most accurate way to understand how society functions – it’s not ideal, but it’s the best of bad methods.

        Finally, I tacitly addresses the replication crisis with my hierarchy – as far as I know there is no meta-analysis replication crisis.

        • WarOnReasons says:

          peer-reviewed research is the most accurate way to understand how society functions

          Is there evidence that peer-reviewed research is really more accurate than common sense for the purpose of understanding society?

          • Nornagest says:

            Not peer-reviewed evidence, I’ll bet.

          • I’m not really sure how such evidence could be gathered – even in theory. But I never claimed that peer-reviewed research was the *only* way to understand how society functions.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            According to your previous comment it is *the most accurate* rather than the *only* way. So I was wondering why you think that peer-reviewed research is more accurate than common sense. Personally, I can think of at least a few situations when relying on peer-reviewed research rather than common sense can be positively dangerous.

        • baconbits9 says:

          However, such criticism should be constructive.

          I would say that this is flat false. The more complex a thing, structure or organization gets the more ways there are to damage/break it, and our culture is profoundly complex. Viewing it as a system to be optimized or engineer is just flat wrong, and we have seen attempts at these things go horribly, horribly wrong. Criticism should be constructive for people who have something that is obviously, or at least probably, within their grasp. Children, new employees, etc are at one end of the spectrum, people claiming to know obvious truths about how to improve society are way the hell on the other side.

          • So, I understand your claim is that for “people claiming to know obvious truths about how to improve society”, criticism need not be constructive.

            Would you mind explaining why this is the case?

          • Mary says:

            If you were thrown back in time to when doctors bled patients, is it your duty to keep your mouth shut when you have nothing more than “stop bleeding them”?

          • “Stop bleeding them” is constructive – it dictates a specific policy action: not bleeding them.

            Contrast this with telling someone that researching the academic literature is a waste of time, because of the replication crises. This doesn’t suggest how to make decisions.

          • I’m pretty sure I remember Casanova refusing to be bled at some point.

          • Mary says:

            Then so was the criticism you called not constructive.

          • I disagree. Saying “but replication crisis” doesn’t tell me what polices to support, or how to choose which policies to support. It doesn’t provide me a new source of information to consider. It doesn’t even demonstrate that any alternative is better than peer-reviewed research.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Contrast this with telling someone that researching the academic literature is a waste of time, because of the replication crises. This doesn’t suggest how to make decision

            First I replied to your claim that 3 mins of time was enough to improve public debate. 3 mins on google searching the replication crisis is an obvious point against your base assumptions. 3 mins on google on how biased people react to facts that contradict their beliefs is another point, and 3 mins thinking about how any of the results you got from those 6 mins might be bunk are another point against.

            Your initial argument relies on the idea that people who are currently willing to wade into public debate without any facts will react rationally to being presented facts, and furthermore that the social structures built under a system of uninformed people spouting off will smoothly transition under this change with predictable, positive consequences.

          • albatross11 says:

            My impression is that most people engaging in a political discussion, including most pundits writing columns and bloggers writing posts, haven’t bothered doing even the level of work to learn about their subject implied by, say, reading the relevant Wikipedia pages and maybe doing a little Googling around.

      • Jayson Virissimo says:

        I accidentally clicked ‘Report’ on this comment. Sorry.

    • entobat says:

      In this case, a simple Google search reveals the odds of dying while refilling are roughly 1 in 5 billion, which makes the safety argument absurd.

      Maybe the gas station attendants are Trained Experts and know how to avoid breathing excess fumes and getting too much gasoline on the ground, saving millions[citation needed] of lives each year.

      • Aapje says:

        Or perhaps the accumulative effect of continuously breathing in fumes is much worse than having many more people breathe in very few fumes.

    • deluks917 says:

      Your model of how to resolve political discussions differs rather radically from mine. My model is that most evidence is hard to conceptualize and its difficult to agree on which sources are trustworthy. Even when I have spent ~30 hours researching issues I often come to unclear conclusions. The replication crisis has shown that researcher choices can have large effects on the conclusions. Given that the evidence tends to be muddled many people’s conclusions tend to heavily influenced by their pre-existing models of the world and of which sources are reliably making good decisions about how to analyze their data.

      I find it interesting to wonder about how you came to your model.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Yea. The bigger problem today is people think 3 minutes searching on Google or wiki is enough to know about anything

        • So, I get what you’re saying, but in my life, I encounter many views every day that wouldn’t stand up to reading even Wikipedia. If everyone just read the Wikipedia article on, say, Gun Control, then I think public debate on that topic would be much stronger. Ditto with the gender gap, income inequality, etc. It doesn’t make you an expert, but it puts you heads and shoulders above the average voter.

          People currently read the news to ‘get informed’ – I think reading Wikipedia or Google Scholar is more effective at giving useful knowledge to voters on the margin.

          • Nornagest says:

            Wikipedia is not reliably neutral or comprehensive on controversial topics. Part of the issue is that some more controversial search terms are basically jargon, and to understand that jargon you at some level need to accept the worldview that it comes out of; to give a less controversial example, Wikipedia math pages are generally written by mathematicians and so tend to be incomprehensible to people that aren’t. And part of the issue comes from the biases and preoccupations of the demographics most likely to contribute to Wikipedia; but another part of the issue comes out of Wikipedia’s internal culture, which is kinda cliquey and rewards first movers, insiders, and people with the free time and level of obsession needed to hover over a page 24/7 and revert any edits. You rarely see anything outright false, but pretty often you can look through the edit history and find that anything too challenging to that particular page’s self-appointed king has been edited and challenged and NPOV’d into toothlessness.

            It does probably beat the news, though.

          • Viliam says:

            If more people would read Wikipedia, the edit wars on Wikipedia would probably be even stronger, because editing the page in favor of your side would become a more powerful weapon.

            My personal rule for Wikipedia is “always read the Talk page, including the Archives”, because when some information is censored out of the article, there usually remains some trace on the talk page. (I am not sure about the rules, but I guess removing info from the talk page is generally forbidden.) Of course that only tells you that the other opinion exists, not how many people share it or how reasonable it is.

            As an example of how much a Wikipedia page can be dominated by one person, just look at “Less Wrong”. That page is pretty much a personal playground of David Gerard from RationalWiki; he keeps adding information about new reactionaries and basilisk, and removing any mention of effective altruism or anything else that actually is a frequent topic on LW. It had nothing in common with how LW is actually used most of the time. (And I would strongly discourage anyone from trying to fix it, because wiki wars and character assassination of political opponents is precisely where David has decades of experience. You are going to lose that fight; and then he would turn the outcome into a massive PR in his favor, like he is the last defender of Wikipedia against the hordes or vandals from the rationalist community.)

      • I don’t disagree:

        literally 3 minutes on Google Scholar and some simple math should quickly make it clear (on most political issues) whether a position is obviously right, obviously wrong, or unclear/too complicated for a lay person to have an opinion on without a lot of effort.

        Lots of things are complicated and hard to have an informed opinion on. The replication crisis is a problem. Still, if there’s one intervention that (per minute) would improve the average voter’s ability to debate/vote on issues, I still think it’s reading Wikipedia articles and/or meta-analyses.

    • Garrett says:

      I suspect that part of the problem is that debate occurs on multiple levels and people don’t always want to argue at the same level. As a result, people get accused of ignoring evidence when they are instead arguing at a different point.

      Roughly:
      (a) annecdote
      (b) statistics
      (c) principle

      To use as an example one of my own pet hobby-horses, I’m a proponent of gun rights via the right to self-defense as a principle. So if someone points at eg. the Las Vegas shooter (an anecdote) or a study showing that gun ownership increases overall murder rates (a statistic) I’m not going to be persuaded because I hold a position based on the principle, not because I think that it works out on-average better for society.

      But if I’m trying to change someone else’s mind and their opinion is based only on statistics, I can show why it is that the studies they are referencing are flawed (if applicable).

      • I’m not sure which of two things your “position based on principle” means.

        Consider minimum wage laws. One argument against them on principle is that they are a violation of individual rights, since they prohibit two people from an exchange that both of them agree to.

        An entirely different argument is that they are a bad thing because demand curves slope down, hence raising the minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs for low skilled workers.

        Neither of those is anecdote or statistics, but one is based on moral principle, the other on economic theory.

  3. How do disabled people pump their gas in most of the country?

    Gas station clerk here: there’s a big blue button by each of the middle pumps, and you can just roll down your window and push it to have us come out and help you.

    And is there some kind of negative effect from breathing in gas fumes?

    If there is, then *someone* has to accept those negative effects unless we’re also going to start requiring gas masks. If it turned out that such a risk did exist, then people could presumably just pay extra (either directly or indirectly) for us to help them.

    Edit: admittedly, though, we do occasionally get people driving off with the pump still in their gas tank and ripping it off of the main dispenser (which, thankfully, is designed such that this doesn’t result in any kind of major leak). Customers are idiots, but I don’t even think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who’s witnessed any kind of major incident. Even if there was one, we have a big red shutoff button under the counter and barriers to keep the gas from going down the drain.

    (PSA: if there’s ever a fire at the gas pump, don’t try to pull the pump out of your car, as this just shoots gas everywhere and makes a bigger fire.)

    • Randy M says:

      admittedly, though, we do occasionally get people driving off with the pump still in their gas tank and ripping it off of the main dispenser

      I double check every single time and still worry about doing this. I’m glad there’s an auto-shut-off for that situation, at least.

    • Witness says:

      admittedly, though, we do occasionally get people driving off with the pump still in their gas tank and ripping it off of the main dispenser (which, thankfully, is designed such that this doesn’t result in any kind of major leak).

      This is the part where I admit to being the idiot that did this, once.

      Thank God for the engineering and design behind that one.

    • nameless1 says:

      > admittedly, though, we do occasionally get people driving off with the pump still in their gas tank and ripping it off of the main dispenser

      That is adult ADHD, Scott, not accountants not liking to stare at numbers. My version: “Darling, have you seen my…?”

    • kominek says:

      Gas station clerk here: there’s a big blue button by each of the middle pumps, and you can just roll down your window and push it to have us come out and help you.

      FWIW gas stations in my area tend to have signs which read something like “9AM – 9PM: if you need assistance pumping gas, park in this spot, honk your horn, and we’ll come out”

    • vV_Vv says:

      What about people smoking while they pump their gas?

      To be fair, I’ve seen even professional gas station clerks doing it. (And yes, I know that gasoline is not easily ignited by a cigarette, but this doesn’t stop me from freaking out when I see someone with a gas pump in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other).

      • Antistotle says:

        In Wisconsin in Februrary with a stiff wind a blowin? Yeah.

        In Phoenix in August with no wind? Be a LOT more careful.

        • A1987dM says:

          Wouldn’t wind make that stuff more dangerous rather than less?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Wouldn’t wind make that stuff more dangerous rather than less?

            A cigarette will easily ignite gasoline vapor. If it’s windy, you won’t get an ignitable cloud of vapor. Once a fire is started the wind makes it worse.

            Nowadays with vapor-recovery hoses you usually don’t get much vapor anyway, but those sometimes fail.

      • The Nybbler says:

        When I was a gas pump jockey working self serve, I’d turn off the pump when people were smoking. This was procedure but most cashiers ignored it because the customers got really irate. I doubt it would cause a fire under normal circumstances, but if the auto-cutoff failed and gas spilled out (which I did see happen), I can imagine the surprised customer dropping the cigarette into the pool of gas.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      admittedly, though, we do occasionally get people driving off with the pump still in their gas tank and ripping it off of the main dispenser

      I did that once at a full service pump! After the attendant had started pumping, I went into the gas station store to buy something, got back and just drove off without realizing the nozzle was still in the tank. Ooooops!

  4. limestone says:

    Maybe the real lesson of Oregon is to demonstrate a sort of adjustment to prevailing conditions. There’s an old saying: “Everyone driving faster than you is a maniac; anyone driving slower than you is a moron”. In the same way, no matter what the current level of regulation is, removing any regulation will feel like inviting catastrophe, and adding any regulation will feel like choking on red tape.

    Those who feel like choking on red tape, and those who feel like inviting catastrophe, probably aren’t the same people. For example, as a libertarian, I believe that most, if not all, such regulations should be abolished. On the other hand we have people who think regulations can fix problems and make life better, and are generally in favor of them. So I think that the highway analogy only hold at the society level; but then, it is only logical that the current state of affairs is a middle ground between different groups’ and peoples’ opinions.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not so sure it’s different people.

      Sure, there are some exceptions, the rare mutant who only wants more rules and the one who only wants less.

      but almost every real human you talk to can typically name some set of rules/regulations from their area of interest/employment that they consider crappy, poorly written or intended to deal with a pointlessly rare situation while having negative effects.

      Whether it’s a metal worker who knows that his workplaces rules on safety gloves are bad in relation to someone working with a lathe and actually increase danger or a nurse who knows that some set of forms is there purely to hamper vexatious lawsuits, not to actually improve patient care and may indeed be actively harmful to patient care.

      But at the same time there’s almost nobody who isn’t aware of something sketchy that happens that they want to outlaw/regulate away.

      Even most libertarians seem to have such a list though they tend to have mentally categorized the things they want to regulate away as “already the governments fault” and thus don’t really see it as “additional regulation”.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        Do you believe that the experts in the area always want rules abolished and not rules added or kept in place? I think the lathe operator is much more likely to be required not to wear gloves, long sleeves, watches, bracelets, etc. (see OSHA‘s take) and is also more likely to think that this regulation ought to remain in place than be removed.

        • Murphy says:

          The lathe operator I’m thinking off was mentioning this as part of a lathe intro safety course where he mentioned a few places he’d worked that had braindead “safety” rules. It was the employer that had those internal regs, they did indeed contradict basic good sense. Not USA so not OSHA.

          Some old hands re: liquid nitrogen had some similar issues with badly written policies and regs that actually increased danger.

          An old crane operator I knew took great issue with the fact that there were 2 utterly contradictory set of rules for cranes in high winds, one of which, if followed, would lead to cranes falling over but for which you could theoretically get nailed for violation.

          If you can’t think of a single poorly written rule/reg/policy in your field of expertise then typically spend longer in your field. Many such rules have good reason behind them…. some are the idle musings of someone who just thought it would be a good idea.

    • pharroah says:

      Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, is doing some great work fighting protectionist occupational licensing, such as requiring something like 1200 hours of training in cosmetology to get a license to braid hair. They also fight civil asset forfeiture, imminent domain abuse, and other individual rights violations. Worthy of support, IMO.

    • riceowlguy says:

      It’s a really good illustration of the ratchet effect on regulations and/or public services. Once a government starts regulating a service (e.g. Internet service) or providing that service directly (e.g. education) or some hybrid (e.g. health care), people simply can’t imagine a world in which there is no regulation or public provision of those services.

      For example, I simply can’t imagine a world in which public safety services (police, fire, EMS) aren’t run by the government. But that could be a failure of imagination on my part.

      • Mary says:

        Police services are as old as government, and necessarily a government duty. If I hire the Feminist Fists Justice services to protect my child from being kidnapped by his father, and the boy’s father hires Ancient Patriarchal Order services to rescue his child kidnapped by me, we have a bloodbath in the making. This could only work if they had a cooperative agreement — which is to say, an overarching police system.

        One notes that in The Diamond Age, the competing services are joined by the Accords. The Ashanti, having caught their criminal, immediately bring him before the nearest judge, who happens to be Confucian Chinese.

        • Police services are as old as government, and necessarily a government duty.

          That is not the case. There have been societies where rights enforcement was private and decentralized.

          My draft on legal systems very different from ours gives some examples (Iceland, Somaliland, Comanche, plus embedded systems that enforced their own rules below the radar of the official system) and has a chapter (15) that discusses the conditions such a system has to meet and how some systems met those conditions.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            Can you just explain briefly how you could get around the problem raised in the post above yours?

            Obviously, you can just tolerate it (i.e., it doesn’t have to “work”), but is there supposed to be something more than that?

          • I spent a chapter explaining it, the chapter is webbed and I posted the link. What you need is some mechanism such that right makes might, such that the use of force against someone works better if he has violated your rights than if he hasn’t. I described a variety of societies which had mechanisms of that sort.

            One of them lasted for a third of a millennium.

            Another commenter has posted the link to the pdf of a book where I described how such a system might work in the modern world.

          • Mary says:

            I’ve read them already before I posted that. What they have in common is the lack of government.

          • @Mary:

            Perhaps I misunderstood you. I thought that when you wrote:

            “Police services are as old as government, and necessarily a government duty.”

            you meant that police services were necessarily done by government, hence without government such services did not exist. Was your point only that if there was a government then police services were necessarily its duty?

            That statement is, I think, also false unless you make it true by definition, claim that something that doesn’t provide police services isn’t a government. Saga period Iceland had a legislature and a court system but the enforcement of verdicts was private. So no police services but something one might call a government–the reason I tend to refer to it as semi-stateless.

            I can’t prove that your “as old as government” is false, because government is older than written history. But given that there have been stateless societies with law enforcement I don’t see any reason to assume that no such society predated the existence of government.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            @DavidFriedman

            What you need is some mechanism such that right makes might, such that the use of force against someone works better if he has violated your rights than if he hasn’t. I described a variety of societies which had mechanisms of that sort.

            So, we’re talking about a child custody dispute here, right? I don’t completely get how this is responsive to the question that is raised.

            What you’re saying is we need a “mechanism” such that enforcing the custody of one parent “works better” than enforcing the custody of the other parent? This is what prevents the custody dispute from becoming “a bloodbath in the making.”

            OK, so how is that different from the standard “monopoly of force” idea? How is the custody enforcement which “works better” conceptually different from the custody judgment by a party with a monopoly of force?

          • Mary says:

            It doesn’t have to be a custody dispute. It could easily be a theft. The fact is that we pull in the police because they can use force to stop the crime. Two competing police forces, both authorized to use force, are a blood-bath in the making.

            And societies before government do, statistically, have MUCH higher death rates.

          • So, we’re talking about a child custody dispute here, right?

            I don’t think I am. I thought I was responding to Mary making a general and very widely believed claim that I think I can show is false.

            OK, so how is that different from the standard “monopoly of force” idea?

            Consider a very simple version, a society where there are some people in your village who almost everyone knows are honest and competent. I claim you violated my rights–stole my cow. You deny it. I propose that one of those people arbitrate the dispute, offering to compensate you for your time and trouble if he rules that you are innocent in exchange for your agreeing to return my cow if he rules that you are guilty. If you object to my choice of arbitrator you can suggest someone else who all of us trust.

            If you refuse, most of our neighbors conclude that you stole my cow, some of them are willing to help me reclaim it, none of them are willing to help you stop me from reclaiming it. If you agree, the arbitrator finds you guilty and you refuse to return the cow, the same thing happens. If the arbitrator finds you innocent and I refuse to pay the compensation I agreed to now everyone knows I am in the wrong. They may or may not be willing to help you seize something of mine in compensation but they will be reluctant to trust me in the future, which is costly for me.

            That’s an example in a very simple society, but both you and Mary are making a general claim–not that under some circumstances law enforcement requires an agency with a monopoly over force but that under all circumstances it does.

            Note that in my example, there is nobody with a monopoly over force.

            For a more detailed working out of that example, see the chapter on kindergarten anarcho-capitalism in the third edition of Machinery.

            For several real world examples, see my draft of legal systems very different from ours, especially Chapter 15.

          • albatross11 says:

            You need a mechanism by which the rights enforcement agencies can resolve conflicts across agencies, either of the form: (where Alice and Bob are customers of different agencies)

            a. Alice says Bob did X, Bob says he didn’t.

            b. Alice and Bob agree Bob did X, but the law Alice subscribes to forbids X, while Bob’s law allows it.

            I think those are two different kinds of problems. Almost certainly you’d expect (a) to be handled by some kind of arbitration between the companies, either by a neutral arbiter or by negotiation–both companies want to forbid doing X, so there’s not an inherent conflict. This also tracks with some current-world stuff, like when there’s a car wreck between people with two different insurance companies, or when there’s a legal dispute between residents of two different states.

            In case (b), you’re down to negotiations ahead of time between rights enforcement agencies, and a lot of the idea behind _The Machinery of Freedom_[1] is that this will be resolved by negotiation between rights enforcement agencies (turning generating good law into a private good instead of a public good). And that will mean Alice may be able to buy a rights-enforcement package that will forbid her and people in her house from smoking dope, say, but won’t forbid her neighbor from doing so–because the rights enforcement agencies have negotiated out what they will and won’t try to enforce based on what their customers demand and such. I don’t have a good intuition for how plausible it is that this would work, and it’s been long enough since I’ve read it that I’m probably mangling the idea, though.

            [1] I read this book quite a long time ago, so I may be forgetting things.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        I simply can’t imagine a world in which public safety services (police, fire, EMS) aren’t run by the government.

        Volunteer fire departments have a long and honorable history. For a discussion of how police services might look in the absence of government, see David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom (third edition; second edition is available as a free pdf).

  5. antpocalypse says:

    As an Oregonian expat, I’m tickled by this little burst of exoticism we get to enjoy, even if it’s almost exclusively accompanied by derision. It beats being identified only by Portlandia…

    FWIW, I haven’t heard/read anyone I know personally in Oregon express any safety concerns about the change, because frankly nobody with two brain cells to rub together can be sold the idea that the barely-awake teenage attendant is privy to some secret gas-pumping lore that spares him from going up in a fireball (although nearly everyone I know has traveled out of state and pumped their own gas at some point, in fairness). I have, however, watched plenty of people take their lumps from out-of-state friends armed with those same three Facebook comments, so my impression is that actual Oregonian indignation over the change is almost undetectably small next to the “Oregonians are scared to pump gas!” meme.

    I have heard a handful of people talking about the loss of attendant jobs, since allegedly their creation was part of the original justification for the ban, but it’s a pretty uncompelling concern since, a) that’s a terrible way to create jobs (should we ban self-scan checkout? (actually, I guess some people would probably say yes)), and b) as Scott mentioned, the change only affects rural areas late at night, anyway.

    • kenziegirl says:

      If the change only affects rural areas late at night…

      Sooo, I’m having a really hard time seeing how that would impact jobs at all. I imagine how in the situation you’re describing, there’s at most two people on duty anyway, and most likely only one. Just because someone has to pump their own gas, that hardly means the business owner would just leave the station unmanned.

      • CatCube says:

        I think part of it is that you just couldn’t get gas at night. Since it didn’t pay to have somebody on hand to pump gas, and it was illegal to not have somebody on hand to pump gas while open, all the filling stations closed at 6pm.

        (Moved to Oregon a couple years ago, so I don’t know the whole history of this. But this was the rationale from the Hood County Sherriff’s office:

        …House Bill 2482 amends a current law, ORS 480.341, also known as the Adulting Pilot Program (unofficial title). This law allowed drivers to pump their own gas after hours in Eastern Oregon. Prior to this law, if you found yourself sans gas after Eastern Oregon shut down for the night (6pm), you were in trouble. As highly combustible as the scorn of your significant other can be, it doth not turn the old crankshaft….

        • quaelegit says:

          > As highly combustible as the scorn of your significant other can be, it doth not turn the old crankshaft….

          This was a fun read. Someone at the Hood County Sheriff’s office is handling this right! 🙂

      • antpocalypse says:

        Yeah, that was basically my point, sorry if it was unclear. The people talking about loss of jobs might be more relevant if the whole state switched to allowing self-service at all hours (which is what some reporting seems to be implying), but that’s not the case.

      • John Schilling says:

        Here in California, at least, gas stations are often wholly closed and unmanned at e.g. 2:00 AM, but it is still possible to buy gas from a self-serve pump with an integral credit / debit card reader. A few even have bill readers. Think “vending machine for gasoline”.

        Small businesses, and remote franchises of large corporations, generally can’t afford to hire dedicated night clerks or night watchmen. There generally isn’t going to be enough business for a night clerk, and we are generally a high-trust society that doesn’t need night watchmen. So the business is going to be shut down, with the lights off and the doors locked. It may still be possible to make a few sales, for the modest profit of the owners and the great convenience of the customers. Shall this be allowable?

    • eqdw says:

      Most of the grocery stores in the upper-middle class part of the bay area that I live in make a principled refusal to allow self-checkout, for exactly this reason (jobs). Berkeley Bowl brags about it.

      Meanwhile I’m sitting here wondering why these people think it’s socially just to destroy well-paying self-checkout-machine-making jobs to generate more minimum wage underclass servant jobs

      • Deiseach says:

        destroy well-paying self-checkout-machine-making jobs

        Are they well-paying, though? Or even jobs? This seems to me like something that could be (or would be, as soon as feasible) heavily-automated manufacturing work of making the physical machines; the NCR Corporation is one of the big players in this whole field and their jobs/careers page seems tilted towards the white collar side of work. So I’m wondering is it “physical nuts’n’bolts made in a factory in China, shipped back to the US for re-assembly”?

        The original manufacturers of self-checkout equipment were predominantly systems integrators who designed original equipment such as scanners, developed the weight-learning algorithms, and then worked with computer, conveyor, and scale makers to put together the system. After the idea got traction, the retail POS equipment providers decided to enter the business directly, and some of the pioneer companies were acquired.

        Now, and for the foreseeable future, the “big three” of self-checkout are NCR, IBM, and Fujitsu, together accounting for about 96 percent of the market share. These companies supply the vast majority of POS hardware and software systems, so it will be difficult for a fledgling company to effectively compete in mainstream retail.

        So the people displaced from working in the supermarket on checkouts are not going to get equivalent jobs in the self-checkout machine making factory (unless they are computer engineers, management, sales, etc). Or I could be completely wrong and there’s a factory in Redbone, Somestate, where you get a good union job on the assembly line making these machines!

      • pansnarrans says:

        Shops use self-service machines to save money. If they had to employ as many people making the machines as would be employed serving customers otherwise, and those employees were paid more, AND you still have to pay for the parts to make the machine, they wouldn’t save money.

  6. BobCatP says:

    So maybe the scary thing about Oregon is how strongly we rely on intuitions about absurdity. If something doesn’t immediately strike us as absurd, then we have to go through the same plodding motions of debate that we do with everything else – and over short time scales, debate is interminable and doesn’t work. Having a notion strike us as absurd short-circuits that and gets the job done – but the Oregon/everyone-else divide shows that intuitions about absurdity are artificial and don’t even survive state borders, let alone genuinely different cultures and value systems.

    This seems like a fairly classic version of weak post-modernism. Our beliefs, and even what we accept as reasonable or absurd beliefs, are heavily based upon our current society and its expectations.

    I think you’re absolutely right. I just find it amusing that I’ve seen a lot of rationalist-types I follow recently seeming to rediscover a weak form of postmodernist thought that’s been floating around for years. What I like about the rationalist approach, is that they tend to go to the conclusion that this is something to fight and be vigilant against, rather than embracing and just using this ambiguity to push an agenda (in the case of most postmodernists, typically a very left-wing one).

    • John Nerst says:

      Our beliefs, and even what we accept as reasonable or absurd beliefs, are heavily based upon our current society and its expectations.

      Yes, the absurdity heuristic is probably just an implementation of status quo bias. And the reason we have status quo bias is probably one or more of these three:

      1) intuitive Chesterton’s Fence application

      2) instinctual conformity to consensus, because cognition is primarily social

      3) mental labor conservation – thinking something through properly is taxing, and if there aren’t great personal rewards to be had it makes sense for our minds to flinch away from even opening an idea up for consideration.

      There are several reasons why it would make sense to refuse to examine an idea, labor saving is one, being threatened by its potential application is another, and so of course is signaling personal virtue.

      “That’s absurd” is what it feels like from the inside. Note how often people use “ridiculous” or “absurd” to describe things that are merely wrong or likely wrong. Latest example I can think of is someone on twitter calling phrenology “ridiculous”. No, it’s not ridiculous. It turned out to be largely wrong and baseless, but that isn’t the same thing as being ridiculous – if we didn’t know about how it doesn’t work, it’d make perfect sense. And it did, that’s why people believed in it.

      using this ambiguity to push an agenda (in the case of most postmodernists, typically a very left-wing one).

      Traditionally yes, which is why it’s interesting (and honestly, kind of amusing) to see how similar appeals to “challenge dominant narratives” and “bring up alternative views” has become popular on the right recently.

      Hopefully that will help us develop all-around antibodies to this strain of thought, although that does require people to actually notice the similarities, which is far from certain considering how impressive our hypocrisy skills can be.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        • Peffern says:

          Is there a collection of John Nerst anti-postmodernist posts yet?

          • John Nerst says:

            Am I getting repetitive? 🙂

            Not sure I’m anti-postmodern exactly, I often write pro-pomoish things but in other words. I’d say that applies to many rationalists (as BobCatP touches on).

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        2) instinctual conformity to consensus, because cognition is primarily social

        Can you prove this statement other than anecdotally? Can you do so for broad kinds of people?

        Similar to your point #3, I could claim that cognition is primarily comfortable – you’re more prone to believe or justify that which doesn’t make you uncomfortable. For those who are concerned with making social waves (either trying to avoid doing so, or trying to explicitly do so), then yes, consensus will be a primary motivator. But this would be due to comfort, not social conformity per se.

        • John Nerst says:

          I’m not sure they can be teased apart…

          In general, “primarily social” could be a slight overstatement. Heavily social for most people.

          I don’t have the time to hunt down the best texts on this right now, but what I’m referring to is pretty standard stuff from the sequences, Robin Hanson, Jon Haidt, Mercier & Sperber etc.

  7. engleberg says:

    Customs change all the time, but civilization dies a little every time someone says ‘there ought to be a law’.

    • panoptical says:

      If that’s true, maybe there ought to be a law against it.

      • Incurian says:

        That’s kind of what the constitution is.

        • engleberg says:

          Constitution! Merica! Fuck Yeah!

          • Nornagest says:

            Less of this, please.

          • pansnarrans says:

            FWIW I’m from the UK and I’m jealous of some parts of the US constitution. Not the guns bit. But the first amendment is pretty cool.

          • publiusvarinius says:

            @pansnarrans:

            Personally, I’m fond of the Fifth. Europe really needs something resembling due process.

          • jumpinjacksplash says:

            @publiusvarinius

            It’s Article 6 ECHR. Jurisprudence on it is slightly narrower than on the 5th, but it’s stamped out most of the more egregious abuses (e.g. Belgian presumption of guilt).

          • engleberg says:

            I doubt anyone in Europe has any dog-loyalty to articles in the ECHR comparable to Americans and our Constitution. Dog-loyalty is more functional for a society, though it does have a crass, duck-noises side objectionable to the gesta of the Norns.

  8. jooyous says:

    So I’m guessing the outrage reactions to the gas stations aren’t for the same reason that the regulation was passed in the first place; I’m guessing it’s just a reaction to “Oh noes, a thing I’m used to is changing and that’s scary! Let me rationalize reasons for why it’s scary!” This is totally understandable! It also gives you very little insight into why that regulation was passed in the first place!

    By that reasoning, I’d expect the manicurist law was passed because there was some well-connected interest group that was interested in installing a middleman into that industry. Like, the way taxi companies are lobbying to regulate Uber? However, I’m sure that group was able to produce some children and/or old ladies that were horrifically stabbed by incompetent manicurists to garner support for their regulation. Even though this was not the real reason they wanted it! I would also expect that most average humans would not react to the nail salon regulation getting changed because they would never find out; like, no one actually checks if their manicurist is licensed.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      The manicurist is using equipment that can spread disease between customers, so there does need to be some way of enforcing some hygienic standards on them.

  9. simbalimsi says:

    Where I live you pump it yourself but when I come from all gas stations have employees to pump and I doubt it is because of a regulation. People just wouldn’t buy from the stations to save a few cents where everybody can see they have to pump like a pleb. That’s because wages are far lower there and oil is much more expensive. I think as the ratio of oil price to wages go down, the tendency to use pump yourself go up.

    I live in Netherlands now and melatonin can be sold in supermarkets or herbal supplement shops. Magic truffles, marijuana and opium are all legal. But it is forbidden to buy or sell or bring in the country a tablet of NyQuils. Anything with pseudoephedrine is as forbidden and prosecuted as heroine or whatever.

    Here also for nearly every medicine except very basic NSAIDs, claritine, diarrhea medicine etc you have to have a prescription which I find stupid. If it is not a dangerous/abusable I should be able to buy it with my own money and prescription should be for insurance purposes. Once I was on a trip to another country and my eye drops (for glaucoma) finished. I forgot to bring spares. It took me literal begging to the pharmacist to convince him into selling me one. Why TF should glaucoma drops need prescriptions? It does not make you high or anything? That’s overkill.

  10. spencer says:

    What is “There is no royal road” a reference to?

  11. melboiko says:

    In my country there are no self-serving gas stations at all. I assume this must be regulation, though I didn’t really think about it, and I’ll wager most people don’t. Having some working-class bearded dude pump you gas/ethanol is just How Things Are Done.

    As a result, I feel like the U.S. is very weird, and Oregon was normal but now will become weird, too. There’s no rational basis for this feeling, and it’s not even fear or anything, just inertial resistance to cultural change. I wonder if the three Oregonians who wrote the posts had a similar feeling of “well this is just weird”, and then came up with rationalizations to justify it.

    (Of the rationalizations, “what about the jobs” is the most plausible to me. With current figures of wealth concentration, the (this one isn’t just a feeling) utterly absurd U.S. college costs, and in the absence of basic income and universal healthcare, isn’t it a good thing to provide unnecessary jobs to the lower classes? Given American’s cultural resistance to the idea of “handouts from the government”, it seems smart to disguise social support in the form of jobs. Or of, dunno, military.)

    • kominek says:

      Of the rationalizations, “what about the jobs” is the most plausible to me. With current figures of wealth concentration, the (this one isn’t just a feeling) utterly absurd U.S. college costs, and in the absence of basic income and universal healthcare, isn’t it a good thing to provide unnecessary jobs to the lower classes?

      no. the work they’re performing is unnecessary, and wouldn’t be done if not required by regulation (as you can see in all the surrounding states). as such it is a misallocation of resources. the wealth paying them to hold up a hose should be invested in more productive activities.

      Given American’s cultural resistance to the idea of “handouts from the government”, it seems smart to disguise social support in the form of jobs.

      great, then make it easier for jobs to be created, don’t mandate which jobs have to be created. it is even possible to make it easier for jobs to be created and save tax dollars! see Tabarrok’s mention of barbershop and manicurists.

      • Another way to put it, it would be more efficient if the state just paid all people who become unemployed as a result of this deregulation if you’re worried about inequality. Then the gas companies can focus on most efficient use of their resources. Of course, one could argue unemployment insurance already does sort of do this….

        • Andrew Cady says:

          You can’t just pay the people who become unemployed, because you can’t actually distinguish between those who would have worked and those who are just signing up for free money. Even people who would have worked (in some other job) will quit/refrain, for the free money.

          The pumping of gas functions as a kind of punishment to discourage people from freeloading unnecessarily. The fact that customers then don’t have to pump their own gas is just a kind of side benefit. Think of it as similar to “proof of work” cryptographic schemes (hashcash, captcha, the bitcoin ledger). I guess it is also similar to conspicuous consumption and expensive signaling.

          It’s seems to me that it’s hard to argue that hashcash must be “inefficient” just because the hashes are worthless computations. They produce knowledge about the actors that would not necessarily be possible to obtain by cheaper means.

          Can you actually give a less expensive way of proving that a gas station attendant is willing to work, as a condition of giving him the unemployment wages?

          • JayT says:

            You could make the government payment for non-workers below the minimum wage. That would encourage people to go find a job.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            You can, but then the incentive to work is only the difference between the min. wage and the unemployment benefit, which can’t be much, unless the benefit is so small that it is imposing a major hardship.

  12. dk says:

    RE: hot drinks

    My parents sometimes try to get me to drink warm or hot drinks, even when the temperature is very high or I’m sweating or tired. They say drinking hot liquids when I’m hot helps cool me down on the outside, whereas drinking cold liquids does the opposite.

    They were born in South Korea. Drinking hot liquids for health reasons is common in East Asia.

    Anybody have experiences with culturally specific beliefs in the efficacy (or harmfulness) of drinks based on their temperature? Anyone know the origins or histories of such beliefs?

    • nelshoy says:

      Careful, that silly superstition might end up actually being invaluable Metis!

      https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-hot-drink-on-a-hot-day-can-cool-you-down-1338875/

    • melboiko says:

      I read somewhere that hot drinks and spicy foods are common in warm areas because they induce sweating, and sweating in turn is an efficient cooling system.

      For this to work, you must be wearing breathable clothing. Most ethnic wear is loose and breathable, but drinking masala chai while wearing a three-piece suit will just backfire.

    • Randy M says:

      I disbelieve this unless there is some error in your homeostasis mechanisms or some mismatch between comfort and internal set-point, which to be fair might very well be common. My wife, for example, has a very narrow band of temperature comfort these days.

      • quanta413 says:

        I’ve heard (no idea if it’s true) that your internal setpoint for temperature is strongly affected by the temperature in your head which you can most easily affect by changing the temperature of your mouth. So drinking hot drinks makes you think it’s really hot and encourages a lot more sweating to cool off. Or something like that.

        • Randy M says:

          That makes sense. Tricking the thermostat, basically.
          But it seems like it would then be best to swill some hot liquid and then spit it out. Decreasing the temperature of something by adding heat to the system just seems very counter productive.

    • vV_Vv says:

      They were born in South Korea.

      Isn’t that the country where there is a widespread belief that sleeping in a room with a running fan will kill you?

      Drinking hot liquids for health reasons is common in East Asia.

      The most likely true reason is that in premodern times, and even today in various places, drinking fresh water is unsafe, so you’ll either have to boil it (and while you are at it, you may add tea or something for flavor or for the stimulant effect) or drink an alcoholic beverage instead.

      The traditional beverages in Europe are wine, cider, beer and mead, which are all made form readily available ingredients. The traditional versions available to the common people would have been much weaker in alcohol content than the modern versions, so people wouldn’t get drunk unless they really went out of their way.

      If I understand correctly, alcoholic beverages in East Asia were a luxury before modern times, thus East Asians traditionally drink tea.

    • A1987dM says:

      Yeah, people having hot soups (I mean in temperature, not in spiciness) in the summer was one of the things I found weirdest about South Korea. (Also, their cooling/heating the hell out of buildings so that indoor temperatures are actually lower in the summer than in the winter, but I merely found that very annoying, not particularly surprising.)

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        I recently moved to a city with alot of south asain immigrants and this has been a massive culture shock for me.
        In rural canada houses and building are ussually 17-19 degrees in the winter if not lower as this saves on the heating bill, and some places as low as 14-15 if there’s alot of in and out foot traffic. Whereas in toronto alot of building (not all but alot of university residences, businesses ect) are kept at 23-25!!!
        Like places where you aren’t even going to take off your coat you step into tropical weather and start sweating immediately. And then you go outside covered in sweat and freeze half to death because your wet in the cold.
        But the worst is they did this in residence at my univesity so you could never dress for the weather! If you wore a sweater, hoddie and long underwear under your jean (you know normal clothes for when its minus 30 out, just slip on a coat and you canstep outside) you die of heatstroke in the tropical heatwave they’ve artificially created. So your forced to go back to your room and undress and redress whenever you want to go outside theb undress and redress the second they got back.
        Is it anywonder everyone stayed inside and gained 20lb first year.

  13. Yosarian2 says:

    I live in New Jersey, and when a previous governor tried to suggest that we bring in self service gasoline, people flipped out. He said he got far more angry letters about that then he did when he raised the sales tax. So he dropped the idea, and it hasn’t come back since.

    I think people don’t like change. People who have spent their whole lives sitting in their car letting someone else fill their gas tank for them just come to feel that’s the right and proper way to do it, and the idea of having to do it a different way upsets them. It also becomes a point of cultural identity; I’ve seen people selling t-shirts that say “Jersey girls don’t pump gas.” And the strongest argument in favor of allowing self-serve gas, that it will cost less, is surprisingly hard to make to most people since gas in New Jersey already costs a lot less than gas in other nearby states.

    But yeah, that “resistance to change” in how people do things in their everyday lives is a powerful force. Same reason we can’t get Americans to use metric.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      That’s why the dollar coins have never caught on: People are afraid of change.

      (Ba-Dah-Bump. I didn’t invent this joke, so I did a search to attribute it properly. To my astonishment I could not — all the hits I got for “dollar coins” plus “people are afraid of change” made the latter statement in dead earnest with no apparent awareness of the double meaning.)

    • Mary says:

      When I was a girl, there was no such thing as self-serve.

      So a lot of states managed the flip.

      New Jersey perhaps has invested ego into the notion of this being a distinction.

  14. a reader says:

    Did you know most European countries have no such thing as “medical school”, but just have college students major in medicine, and then become doctors once they graduate from college?

    We have “medical schools” (more precisely, “medical universities”) in Europe (at least in Central-Eastern Europe), the main difference is that here people go to them immediately after high school:

    http://www.medicalstudyguide.com/medical-universities-in-europe.html

    But I envy you, Americans, for the possibility to choose a “major” only in college. Here there are separate admissions for separate disciplines and we had to choose careers at 18 (and quite frequently, as in my case, parents decided for their children). I would have loved to go to a good university without a fixed career path, to see there what interests me the most.

    Other American things that seem strange to an European:
    – frequent male babies circumcision for non-religious (“medical”) reasons
    – driving cars at 16, voting at 18, but not drinking alcohol until 21
    – also age of consent at 18 in many states (in Europe is between 14-16)
    – late term abortions in some states without medical reasons
    – firearms – civilians having semi-automatic riffles, mass shootings every year

    • ownshoes says:

      It’s the same in the UK. We have medical schools. The students there don’t ‘major’ in medicine, they study medicine and nothing else.

      Outside of medicine, I know of a couple of universities that have adopted the US approach of having majors and minors. But most don’t. I’m pretty comfortable with that – I would guess you end up with a much deeper subject knowledge and very good at whatever skills were required in the course of obtaining it. And most degree subjects will prepare you for a variety of potential careers.

      But then having read the blog it’s perhaps time for me to question my complacency, there.

    • nameless1 says:

      Actually we choose a career at 14 in the sense of going to a good gymnasium or bad trade school. At that point at least the color of the collar is chosen.

      AFAIK American drinking and driving laws actually have a relationship to each other. We are used to get drunk then take a night bus home. Apparently many Americans have a situation where it is either drunk driving or a fairly expensive cab. Or a designated driver. So the explanation I heard was that 18 years old in this situation would be too likely to drink and drive, so you either ban them from driving or from drinking. Looking at even some of our “disco accidents”, BMWs wrapped around trees, it actually makes a certain sense. We would rather ban them from driving but that is because driving is not a necessity here. Many students in the US have to drive to college.

      For firearms, you have to separate legality from culture. Before roughly the 1930’s firearms were entirely legal all over Europe. And even today the rules are not everywhere that strict. Owning a shotgun requires no permit in Austria, just a registration. Very easy. The difference is in culture, namely that pretty much only hunters buy shotguns in Austria and the idea of buying one from home defense is entirely unusual. Or for handguns, while live ammo firing ones not, blank firing guns with tear gas rounds are legal everywhere in Europe yet it is simply not part of the culture to carry one.

      • Yosarian2 says:

        Yes, that is exactly what happened. The drinking age was lowered to 18 in many states right after the Vietnam war (a lot of people were angry about the idea of a war veteran coming home from combat and then getting in trouble for drinking a beer), but drunk driving accidents went way up, and eventually the federal government pressured states to bring it back up to 21.

      • Aapje says:

        @nameless1

        Tear gas (and pepper spray) are actually illegal in The Netherlands (although you can pop over the border into Germany and buy it there).

      • A1987dM says:

        Actually we choose a career at 14 in the sense of going to a good gymnasium or bad trade school. At that point at least the color of the collar is chosen.

        At least in Italy, that’s mostly the case but it’s not like it’s forbidden to go to university after going to a trade school, and I even know a few people who actually did so.

        • jimbarino says:

          We took a trip to Italy this fall, and the Airbnb host we had in Florence told us he was working all sort of extra jobs to save enough money to send his kids to college in the U.S. According to him, the schools in Italy are cheap, and still not worth the cost. It kinda surprised me (he could be a lone crank, though)

    • b_jonas says:

      Voting at 18 years old isn’t strange for Europeans though. You can vote at 18 years of age in most European countries. A few countries and territories, including Austria and Scotland, have recently reduced the voting age to 16, but since this is a recent change, a voting age of 18 probably isn’t that strange there either.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Voting at 18 years old isn’t strange for Europeans though.

        In most European countries, 18 is the legal age of majority which applies to all sort of things including voting, driving and drinking alcohol.

        Americans can serve in the military at 17, but no booze until 21. Weird.

      • mintrubber says:

        Voting at 18 isn’t strange, what is strange is that you can drive without being able to vote (or consent to sex and military service), and legal adults aren’t allowed to drink alcohol.

        In Europe most of us drink small amounts of alcohol all our life (although it’s illegal, the laws are not enforced) and can consent years before we’re allowed to touch a steering wheel or vote. Driving is still considered a privilege.

        • b_jonas says:

          That’s correct in essence. In Hungary, we can get a driving license at the age of 17 years. The U. S. has age limits varying by state and phase of moon, but many 14 year old people are allowed to drive. You are allowed to buy alcohol or tobacco from the age of 18 years, but that rule has existed only for the last fifteen years or so, so most of us remember the time before that. And

          • shenanigans24 says:

            I don’t think any state allows licenses at 14.

          • Several states allow a learner’s permit at 14, however, so many 14 year old people are allowed to drive, although with restrictions.

          • bean says:

            The states with the lowest driving ages are also the rural ones. South Dakota’s licensing process was described to me as making sure that you can drive to your job or basketball. The restrictions limit hours and probably passengers, and let’s be honest, there isn’t much to hit in South Dakota.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Other American things that seem strange to an European:

      – Big, noisy cars. Americans seem to associate them with manhood, for some reason. Also pickup trucks, which in Europe are strictly cargo vehicles used for professional purposes and thus mark anybody driving them as working class, while in the US are owned as personal vehicles and driven for personal transportation with manly pride.

      • Kyp says:

        When my parents got me a barebones truck to go off to college, these are the reasons they gave:

        1. Safety, as you sit higher above the ground and are less likely to have anything roll up onto your hood and then through the window (and are generally more resistant to impact).

        2. Being young at the time and with lots of life decisions still to make, having a vehicle that could move things was extremely useful (and I’ve used it 20+ times to help other people move, frequently in situations where they would have been in real trouble without it).

        3. You can get a truck without all of the expensive bells and whistles (my truck, brand new, was only just over 10k) that even a very basic sedan tends to have.

        Additionally, I think a lot of it is also that gas is much, much cheaper here, and so having a truck that uses more of it isn’t as big of a financial constraint. Although, I will still agree with your point about big trucks as a signal, at least in some cases. Growing up in the South, a lot of people who had money would buy pickup trucks with luxury interiors, as opposed to the West Coast, where I am now, where it’s strictly sports cars. So different cultures, different ways of signaling status through vehicles.

        • Nornagest says:

          The perception of safety is mostly bogus. In a collision with another vehicle the larger and heavier one, all else equal, is likely to be less damaged, but in a collision with a static object like a tree or a Jersey barrier you’re fighting your own mass. Also, trucks and SUVs are less maneuverable and less inherently stable than sedans: higher center of gravity means more rollovers, and weight is much more unevenly distributed. Unloaded 2WD trucks are particularly prone to traction loss in wet or snowy conditions, because their drive wheels are under the lightest part of the vehicle; my dad used to throw a few sandbags into the back of his truck every winter.

          The rest of your points are reasonable, though.

          • shenanigans24 says:

            Smaller cars have higher mortality rates in accidents than larger ones.

          • Kyp says:

            The idea was mostly for safety in car-to-car collisions, the whole ‘you can control your own driving, but you can’t control everyone else’s’ line of thinking. Obviously head on collisions with objects are still possible, but the driver is generally in more control over those situations. You’re correct about the rollovers, although my truck is not raised particularly high, so the center of gravity is comparable to a mini-SUV probably.

            The traction loss issue is definitely real, I have to accelerate pretty slowly in wet weather, but I grew up in an area where it almost never snowed, so it didn’t come up all that often in a way that raised any significant dangers.

          • Protagoras says:

            @shenanigans24, Nornagest mentions that larger vehicles are, all else equal, safer. But that isn’t the only factor, and trucks and SUVs are less safe than their size alone would suggest. Large sedans (and IIRC minivans) seem to be the safest vehicles.

      • shenanigans24 says:

        I find it odd that Europe has virtually no trucks. Whenever I bought or wanted to move something too big for a trunk I had to pay someone to move it. I wonder if part of the reason nobody has them is due to it being something they associate as distinctly American.

        • jimbarino says:

          The thing that got when I was driving in the UK? No bumper stickers, or ornamentation of any kind. I don’t know if this is illegal or just custom. Now, I am upper-middle class snobbish enough to hate bumper stickers (and a tour of Berkeley has given me a particular hatred of Volvos plastered with everything leftish slogan you could think of…) But after awhile I must admit I found it oppressive…

          • Morgan says:

            They’re definitely not illegal and some people do have them, they’re just not a massively popular thing.

            (beyond the obnoxious “baby on board” ones)

        • vV_Vv says:

          I find it odd that Europe has virtually no trucks. Whenever I bought or wanted to move something too big for a trunk I had to pay someone to move it.

          Yes, by the same logic whenever you need milk you go and buy it at the supermarket rather than milk your own cow, and whenever you witness a crime you call the cops rather than shoot the perp with your own gun, and… wait, I’m starting to see a pattern 🙂 .

          • And by your logic, if I follow it, whenever you want a soft-boiled egg for breakfast you go to a restaurant, since nobody would have a stove and a pot in his house. You never drive yourself anywhere since you can always call a cab.

            People in the U.S. are very unlikely to own their own semi-trailer truck just in case they have to move something. But a pickup truck is a close substitute for a car at a similar price and may be a superior substitute if you need to move stuff more often than you need to drive with more than one passenger.

    • vV_Vv says:

      frequent male babies circumcision for non-religious (“medical”) reasons

      It started as an attempt to prevent masturbation, which I’m told wasn’t quite successful, but possibly explains the cultural weirdness for us Europeans to watch American teen comedies where the guy uses hand lotion.

      • ragnarrahl says:

        The “hand lotion” imagery is just as common in Japanese anime, and circumcision is not at all a part of Japanese culture except for actual rare medical uses.

        As someone circumcised, I can assure you that nothing about circumcision necessitates this as such.

        • Vorkon says:

          Seconding the “as someone circumcised, I can assure you that nothing about circumcision necessitates this as such,” from my own experience, however my last girlfriend tells me that her last boyfriend before me most certainly did.

          I’m not sure if it was on purpose or just a botched operation, though, as I never actually met the guy. I suppose I can imagine a religion that endorses circumcisions which take off an extra-large portion of skin in order to discourage masturbation, but that ALSO sounds like a rumor that people would spread to discredit such a religion, so who knows. Either way, I’ve never actually met any circumcised people who have had a problem with masturbation firsthand, so it can’t be too common, but they do exist.

          I can say that the most common explanation I’ve heard from parents who get a non-religious circumcision today is “so that I don’t need to spend so long cleaning shit out of there when he poops his diaper,” so there’s that.

          • Viliam says:

            Circumcision doesn’t have to actually prevent masturbation. It just needs to be a strong signal that as a parent you care about preventing masturbation. (I mean, back in those days when the habit expanded through USA.)

      • It started as an attempt to prevent masturbation

        The claim is controversial. I found a long discussion online. It’s clear that preventing masturbation was one argument for circumcision, not clear whether it was the main one.

    • kramler says:

      We have “medical schools” (more precisely, “medical universities”) in Europe (at least in Central-Eastern Europe), the main difference is that here people go to them immediately after high school:

      Yeah, the idea that Europe has no medical schools is mistaken. It is true that our system of higher education is very different, but a more accurate way to summarize the situation would be to say that we have no colleges. Generally speaking (details obviously vary):

      Once you’ve graduated from high school, you either
      – go into the workforce,
      – sign up for a five-year masters (or MD, or JD) program.

      These days, the masters program will typically have a waypoint that you are supposed to have reached after three years and that entitles you to a bachelors degree, but you are not expected to leave at that point. If you leave with nothing but the bachelors, everybody will treat you as a dropout. (This is because up until some twenty years ago there usually was no bachelors at all; it was masters or nothing.)

      Once you have your masters you can obviously apply to be admitted to the PhD program.

      One reason we dispense with college is that our high schools tend to be pretty good and produce pretty consistent results. This means that the additional filter that is college is not necessary. Another reason is that the trades get a lot more respect here, plus we have strong and popular vocational schools, so everybody who opts for the masters is pretty sure they really want to be in a masters program. This means that the academic orientation phase that college also serves as is also unnecessary.

      I’m not saying our system is better; it has just evolved differently, in response to different incentives, and it gets results that people are generally satisfied with. If there is one aspect that people are unhappy with it’s the moderate-but-noticeable social selectivity at the secondary level.

      Other American things that seem strange to an European:

      I have a few of my own:
      – “party schools”
      – “campus police”
      – universities effectively run by the athletics department, with the president serving at the pleasure of the football coach
      – the HOA can tell you what color to paint your house
      – your hometown (pop. 500) has a SWAT team and it guns down your grandma because somebody made a phone call
      – pay-to-win justice system
      – no meaningful presumption of innocence; suspects are publicly frogmarched around as much as possible and have their names dragged through the mud before they’re even charged, then nine out of ten defendants go straight from indictment to sentencing without even a token trial merely because they can be strongarmed into a shitty plea bargain
      popular elections of prosecutors, with candidates campaigning on conviction rates; are you nuts?
      – weak protection of personal property; see e.g. “civil forfeiture” or the ludicrously high frequency of “eminent domain” expropriations for ludicrously arbitrary reasons
      – gerrymandering
      – legislators with de-facto lifetime appointments
      – no separation of powers between executive and prosecution service
      – no separation of powers between head of state and head of government; the emergency reserve powers are vested in the same guy they are mainly supposed to check lololol
      – five-hour queue at the polling station; eight hours if you’re black
      – voting machines with no paper trails
      – want to vote in a primary? decent chance you have to register your party affiliation with the state first
      – incoherent freedom-of-speech regime that practically begs for mob rule and maximum chilling effects: the public can’t do anything against the crowd shouting down the dissident because that would mean a “privileged first speaker”; everybody agrees it’s acceptable for the risibly powerful internet giant (pharma multinational, defense contractor, …) to punish people for mainstream political speech because the company is technically not government and therefore not meaningfully different from some random homeless guy
      – remind me why Joe Arpaio is not in jail again

      • Nornagest says:

        Thank you for your list of political grievances.

        • kramler says:

          Oh, I wouldn’t really call them grievances. I mean, it’s explicitly a list of things I am not subject to. But you’re welcome anyway.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s also mostly a list of things Americans aren’t subject to; it just gives you a sense of smug superiority to believe otherwise and the people who make their fortunes infotaining you know it.

        • jimbarino says:

          Excuse me, but Festivus was last month…

      • Andrew Cady says:

        nine out of ten defendants go straight from indictment to sentencing without even a token trial

        That’s off by an order of magnitude. It is literally 99/100. (Seriously.)

        For felonies it’s lower, more like 95% or so (top google result says 94% for state, 97% for federal). Felonies are a small minority of convictions, of course.

      • shenanigans24 says:

        Hopefully one day we’ll change that law that says black people must wait 8 hours to vote.

        • kramler says:

          Did I say it was a matter of law? Do you think the disparity is unproblematic because it happens organically?

          Also, @John Schilling:

          I don’t think anything I said was more superior than the “lol euros can’t even medschool” in the original post. I get this kind of sneer from grey tribe medical dudes every week of every year, although I’ve yet to see any evidence that we’re really doing any worse.

          Incidentally, most points on that list are direct analogues to common grey tribe talking points. I have a handful or two of HN types, HXDers, and transhumanists in my feed; I get a steady stream of reminders about how my home is a crapsack hellscape. (Been over to Chez Reynolds today? Hoo boy.) If you personally don’t notice, it’s for the same reason fish don’t notice water.

          I admit that SSC is not exactly Helicopter Twitter (or HN, or D&K) and that Scott is really not the problem (I’m no Gerard) and I also admit that in this sense I probably vented in the wrong thread on the wrong site.

          Regarding the alleged smugness, the thing besides healthcare that I get the most sneers about is criminal procedure, and the median grey position in this area has a few aspects that a few of us really do find disturbing (and irrational, both in the sense of “gets bad results” and in the sense of “we would expect rationalists to oppose this”). I’m happy to discuss these if anyone’s interested.

          • I don’t think anything I said was more superior than the “lol euros can’t even medschool” in the original post.

            There was no “lol euros can’t even medschool” in the original post. What the original post said was that Europeans did medical education in a way that seems odd to Americans, with the implication in context that Americans would regard a proposal to do it that way as crazy, and Americans did did it in a way that would seem odd to europeans, presumably with the same implication.

            You are responding to an insult that wasn’t there.

  15. b_jonas says:

    I’m a European ignorant in the way the U. S. works. Can you please clarify on the gas station situation?

    Here in Hungary, in a gas station, most people pump fuel to their own cars. There are attendants at every gas station, and they are eager to pump fuel for you (and wash your window). But people usually reject the offer of the attendants, both because the attendants expect a tip for that service, and because they want to go in the gas station building for paying afterwards, so they have to get out of the car anyway. After pumping fuel, people go into the gas station building and pay at a checkout desk. You can pay with cash or card. If you pump fuel and then realize you don’t have money on you, that’s not a problem, but you have to leave your car at the station until you get the money. There’s always things unrelated to cars sold in the building, usually at an inflated price, so that the gas station gets a quick profit from hurried travelers who must refuel their car and need a bite of food quickly, but don’t have time to go into any other shop at the moment.

    Handicapped people who have a difficulty getting out of the car will ask the attendant, and they are even expected to honk to call an attendant when there isn’t one around. They can also pay at the attendant directly, but that works only if they pay with cash, because the only card payment terminals are in the building.

    People tanking their own car seems safe enough to me. The most frequent danger is that people occasionally pump the wrong type of fuel (diesel fuel in a gasoline car), and it’s very expensive to repair a car after that. Going off with the hose still in the car or causing a fuel are bigger dangers, but seems to happen rarely enough.

    When I visited Sweden, I found that gas stations work completely differently there. People still pump fuel in their own car. The difference is that you have to pay for the fuel in advance, with card only. You don’t go into the building at all. There’s a card payment terminal right next to the fuel pump, and you can’t even start pumping fuel before you pay. You have to decide how much to pay, and then either the pump will give you the exact amount of gas for that much money, or, in the more common case, pump until your car is full, and the additional money will be refunded to your car in a few days.

    In some gas stations, there’s still a small building with an attendant where you can buy things, both for your car or unrelated, but you don’t have to. Presumably the attendant in such stations would help handicapped people if they ask for it. But some gas stations, mostly in rural areas, are completely unmanned. There’s no building you can go into, and they don’t sell anything but fuel.

    The system in Sweden seems alien to me, and it’s no wonder it’s not used in Hungary. There are poor or old people here who don’t own a bank card or barely use it, yet they still use a car. You can’t just deny those people fuel, that would be absurd. And having to reserve extra money for days would hurt poor people, which is exactly the kind of thing why those people don’t have cards. On the other hand, the system works perfectly in Sweden, because there, everyone has bank cards, and you can pay with card practically everywhere that takes money.

    (I omitted some parts of the gas station lore, like toilet access and tire pressure, because they seem less relevant and the post is already too long.)

    So in your post, when you talk about “self-service gas stations”, which kind are you thinking of exactly? How do gas stations work in most of the U. S.? From wireheadwannabe’s reply, I guess unmanned gas stations aren’t common.

    (I wish people would write about obvious basic lore like this more often. These are things that everyone knows and don’t learn in the school, yet it can be hard for someone in a different place or future time to figure out. As it stands, people of the future will have to reverse engineer this lore from random remarks dropped in unrelated writings, or scenes that happen to appear in a film, yet there are a lot of holes those will leave. The reason I find the Kalevala more fascinating than other myths is that it contains a large amount of description of everyday life.)

    • AlphaGamma says:

      People tanking their own car seems safe enough to me. The most frequent danger is that people occasionally pump the wrong type of fuel (diesel fuel in a gasoline car), and it’s very expensive to repair a car after that.

      IME it is more commonly the other way round, with gasoline in a diesel car, as diesel fuel fillers and the nozzles on diesel pumps are larger than those for gasoline, so the diesel nozzle won’t fit into the tank of a gasoline-powered car. It is still possible to do it this way round, but it takes effort.

      There are (at least in the UK) services that will drain and flush your fuel tank if you pump the wrong fuel and realise it before you drive off. Some car insurance covers this service.

    • SamChevre says:

      The US works more like you describe Sweden, with a couple differences.

      I have never seen a routinely unattended gas station. In rural areas where gas stations close at night, sometimes you can still buy gas at the pump with a card.

      Key difference from Sweden: you CAN pay for gas at the pump, with a card–OR you can go inside, pay the attendant with either a card or cash, and then pump your gas up to the amount you paid. If you pay at the pump, it only bills you for the amount pumped–you do not pay a set amount and get the difference refunded. (This probably is based on the US using credit cards, rather than debit cards, primarily.)

      • CatCube says:

        In some places in the US (upper Michigan I know of) you can still pump your gas and then go inside to pay for it after. Places there have been drifting towards prepaying always, and I expect the speed of adoption will pick up as the fewer remaining places that allow post-pay become magnets for fuel theft.

      • Aapje says:

        @SamChevre

        it only bills you for the amount pumped–you do not pay a set amount and get the difference refunded. (This probably is based on the US using credit cards, rather than debit cards, primarily.)

        That also works for debit cards, in The Netherlands.

        The way it works is that the unmanned pump checks with the bank that you have at least 125 euros in your bank account and the bank then puts a hold for that amount on your bank account. Then you fill the car and drive off. The actual bill is then transmitted to the bank. Once the bill is processed by the bank, the blocked amount is released.

        The consequence of this is that you cannot use an unmanned pump if you have less than 125 euros in your bank account and that you can only pump gas up to a 125 euro bill.

    • mobile says:

      The presumption in the US is that people pump their own gas. If you want an attendant to pump it for you, you typically have to summon them using a call box at the pump or by honking your horn. When you do get an attendant to pump your gas, you don’t tip them but you do get charged a premium (around $0.30/gallon [$0.08/L] in California). But under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a station should not charge the full-serve premium to disabled people.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t get why they wouldn’t have an attendant. Don’t gas stations make most of their money on concessions?

      • Antistotle says:

        After a certain hour the cost of having the store open (employee, electricity, loss from occasional robbery) will exceed the sales from concessions. If you can still sell gas, then shutter down.

        • Wrong Species says:

          That makes sense at night but he said that in Sweden they don’t have any attendants at any time. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

          • Aapje says:

            Unmanned gas stations have lower prices in The Netherlands, so I assume that the shop doesn’t actually make that much money overall.

    • christhenottopher says:

      One difference with US gas stations and Swedish is if you use a card you don’t have to choose the amont you want to buy before pumping. The card gets swiped and approved, and then will get charged however much you wind up pumping. In many, but not all, stations there are different prices for cards and cash, with cash typically being a few cents per gallon cheaper (which in case you weren’t aware, our prices are calculated with the old imperial gallon units rather than metric liters). Cash payments universally have to be done in the attached convenience store and all gas stations have such a store. This must be done prior to pumping any fuel.

      One trend that has picked up some steam is the prevalence of gas stations associated with supermarkets. Originally this was just with membership stores like Costco or Sam’s Club where one of the benefits of paying membership fees was access to their gas pumps (which generally had significantly cheaper gas prices). Now however, grocery stores without membership fees have started hosting their own gas stations, often with discounts for people involved in their store loyalty programs (I get my gas at a nearby Kroger supermarket since I shop there anyways and get $.03 per gallon off just for having a free Kroger loyalty card and $.10 per gallon off if I spend $100 dollars that month on groceries, combined with Kroger gas being on the low end of gas prices anyways it’s easily the cheapest option).

      • JayT says:

        It depends on the station. Some put a hold for something like $50 on your card and refund the difference, others just charge you the exact amount.

        There are also stations around me that allow cash payment at a kiosk near the pump, so they can still take cash after the store has closed.

  16. meltedcheesefondue says:

    >and over short time scales, debate is interminable and doesn’t work.

    The problem with debate is that most of the arguments on either side are true. It will likely be harder for disabled people to get gas in Oregon; it will probably be slightly less safe, etc. Conversely, credentialism and licensing laws do restrict the supply and increase the cost of the services.

    The problem is that debates are terrible at comparing different costs and benefits. The debate over licensing doctors and over licencing hairdressers is essentially the same, and the effect on increased costs is the same. It’s only the magnitude of the harm of non-licencing that is different.

    Incidentally, this is one of the reasons for a professional civil service: competent people who are capable of estimating these trade-offs, in standardised bureaucratic form. Regulatory capture is an problem, but the civil servants are generally competent at this – or, at least, vastly more competent that letting each issue be decided by public debate.

    • CatCube says:

      As a member of the civil service, I’m going to push back on that. We’re a self-interested group, just like everybody else. We have *different* incentives, true, but unfortunately “doing the right thing for everybody” is often not the top incentive. “Bureaucratic form” often incentivizes doing stupid things that follow the rules, even though we know that it’s not the best way to do a particular thing.

      • colomon says:

        Moreso, in most cases it’s literally impossible to “do the right thing for everybody.” Even if a team of well-trained bureaucrats could better estimate the risks than I can, they cannot really know my own tolerance for risk nor the benefits I get from taking the risk.

        Take self-serve as an example. Ever since I could drive I’ve pumped my own gas. I’m not just comfortable with doing it — as an introvert I am substantially more comfortable if I don’t have to interact with another person to get the job done. My mother, on the other hand, spent 76 years always having someone else pump her gas and is incredibly uncomfortable if asked to do it. Plus she’s quite gregarious and loves talking with strangers, so having someone wait on her is a pleasure.

        As long as the risk of horrible gas pumping accidents is low, the cost(including risk)/benefit ratio of self-service vs full-service is very different for me and my mother. And a bureaucrat has no business deciding which of us is correct, because we both are correct.

        • mintrubber says:

          Isn’t this a good reason why the laws should be eliminated so this is *not* regulated? Your mother and others on her side strongly prefer an attendant, so the market will provide. You prefer doing it yourself, so now you have this option.

          The old status quo (regulation) allowed just one way of doing things. The new status quo slightly favors the other way, but both can coexist.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            The market might or might not provide the optimal set of options.

            E.g., in this case, eliminating a requirement for full service might or might not leave the option of full service in place.

      • meltedcheesefondue says:

        >As a member of the civil service, I’m going to push back on that. We’re a self-interested group, just like everybody else.

        Indeed, I never doubted that.

        >“Bureaucratic form” often incentivizes doing stupid things that follow the rules, even though we know that it’s not the best way to do a particular thing.

        “Better that a separate public debate on each individual issue” does not mean “perfectly ideal”^_^

        Or, to pick an american example, everyone seems to find the TSA incompetent and bureaucratic. That doesn’t mean abolishing the TSA and letting passengers search each other is the way to go.

        • Lillian says:

          We could abolish the TSA and let the airlines do it. They already do so in countries where they don’t trust the locals to do it correctly. In one occasion this lead to a ridiculous number of redundant sequential security checks because the locals didn’t trust each other either. In order:

          X-rays and metal detector by military internal security.
          Check-in with airline.
          Document check and travel taxes paid to local IRS.
          X-rays by local anti-drug agency.
          X-rays and metal detector by airport security.
          Document check by immigration officers.
          Document check and X-rays by airline at gate.
          Pat down in gangway by military anti-drug division.

          • soreff says:

            X-rays and metal detector by military internal security.
            Check-in with airline.
            Document check and travel taxes paid to local IRS.
            X-rays by local anti-drug agency.
            X-rays and metal detector by airport security.
            Document check by immigration officers.
            Document check and X-rays by airline at gate.
            Pat down in gangway by military anti-drug division.

            At which X-ray does the radiation illness start? 🙂

          • Lillian says:

            The x-rays are for the luggage, humans are subjected to metal detectors.

        • “Better that a separate public debate on each individual issue” does not mean “perfectly ideal”

          I don’t know what you are imagining. The usual alternative to the government deciding something for everyone is each person deciding it for himself.

          Suppose we were shifting from government provision of meals to private provision. Would you describe the new system as “a separate public debate on each individual issue”?

          The obvious alternative to TSA would be each airline, or perhaps each airport, deciding for itself on what precautions to take. It would be in their interest to take account of both costs to passengers due to the precautions and costs to passengers due to terrorism that the precautions could prevent.

          • meltedcheesefondue says:

            We are comparing three things here: public debates/referendums on every issue, civil servant regulation, and general libertarian lack of regulation.

            I didn’t bring up the third, I was comparing the relative merits of the first two.

            Before we get into any debate about libertarianism, I want to check if anyone disagrees with my comparison of the first two options.

          • meltedcheesefondue says:

            >each airline, or perhaps each airport, deciding for itself on what precautions to take.

            Minor nitpick: unless you’re going to completely change how airports operate (doing away with departure lounges, and re-searching transit passengers), you’re going to have to have a consortium of airlines and airports deciding on common standards to have, across most of the planet. This probably won’t be too different from today, and there won’t be much or any consumer choice.

          • John Schilling says:

            The obvious alternative to TSA would be each airline, or perhaps each airport, deciding for itself on what precautions to take.

            The obvious problem is that you’d then have to reclear security every time you make a connecting flight, because the security standards at the connecting airport will be different than those of the one you departed from. Or hub airports will have to settle for lowest common denominator security, which means maximum hijacking risk, which isn’t going to happen. Or, as melted cheese notes, there will be a cartel. I’m guessing that’s going to happen, and it’s going to default to something TSA-like.

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            @John Schilling, the TSA has only been around since 2001, and many airports still have private screening which, by all accounts, is much more pleasant and at least no less competent (a low bar, I know) than the TSA proper.

          • John Schilling says:

            I am aware of the TSA’s history, thank you. And I am aware of the existence, even now, of airports that use private screening agencies instead. But, before and after 2001, all airport screening* had to meet standard federal requirements no matter who was doing it. The proposal was for airports or airlines to be able to set different screening requirements, which isn’t going to work if you want to have connecting flights without rescreening at each stop.

            * For scheduled airline flights in the United States

          • We are comparing three things here: public debates/referendums on every issue, civil servant regulation, and general libertarian lack of regulation.

            With a government as extensive and a polity as large as ours, public debate and referenda on every issue would be unworkable–nobody would have time to do anything else. But the more issues you shift to your third alternative the less that is true for the remaining issues.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The obvious problem is that you’d then have to reclear security every time you make a connecting flight, because the security standards at the connecting airport will be different than those of the one you departed from. Or hub airports will have to settle for lowest common denominator security, which means maximum hijacking risk, which isn’t going to happen. Or, as melted cheese notes, there will be a cartel. I’m guessing that’s going to happen, and it’s going to default to something TSA-like.

            The lowest common denominator security shouldn’t be an issue as insurance companies for the airlines won’t be particularly eager to allow them to follow shoddy procedures. As long as attackers, and their connections, can be identified at a reasonable frequency and the liability assessed to the security that let them through then you have an incentive to normalize standards without a cartel.

          • John Schilling says:

            Insurance policies generally don’t cover terrorist attack. When they do, it’s usually because a government stepped in to act as an insurer of last resort. So if the plan is that we’re going to replace TSA airport security standards with insurance-company airport security standards, that’s not going to change anything – it’s still going to be the federal government writing the standards.

            And even if private insurance companies were willing to write their own policies to their own standards, that still doesn’t get you the postulated diversity of standards, because Security Airline’s insurance company isn’t going to let them fly if a customer who came in via Liberty Air can just walk across the terminal and connect to a Security Air flight.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And even if private insurance companies were willing to write their own policies to their own standards, that still doesn’t get you the postulated diversity of standards, because Security Airline’s insurance company isn’t going to let them fly if a customer who came in via Liberty Air can just walk across the terminal and connect to a Security Air flight.

            There isn’t a postulated diversity of standards, what David Friedman posted was

            The obvious alternative to TSA would be each airline, or perhaps each airport, deciding for itself on what precautions to take. It would be in their interest to take account of both costs to passengers due to the precautions and costs to passengers due to terrorism that the precautions could prevent.

            Which is a postulation of diverse approaches, not diverse standards. The fact that standards might, or would, converge isn’t the issue, the issue is weather workable standards could evolve without an airline cartel or the federal government setting standards.

            Insurance policies generally don’t cover terrorist attack.

            If airlines are shielded from liability in this manner then that approach won’t work, but there are still other ways for standards to converge without a cartel.

    • Incurian says:

      Regulatory capture is an problem, but the civil servants are generally competent at this

      Agreed.

  17. P. George Stewart says:

    I don’t have a problem with debating the status quo.

    How about we debate the status quo idea that there’s something wrong with “being exclusionary?”

    • Are you saying that you wouldn’t mind being excluded , or that you don’t expect to be?

      • P. George Stewart says:

        I’m talking about the premise of the linked article re. best friends.

        • bassicallyboss says:

          I saw no problem with the article’s argument. I’ve always had a close circle of 5-15 close friends, with 2-6 or so being very close. It’s worked out very well for me, and I have very rarely felt socially excluded.

          On the other hand, I am somewhat against making the argument that it’s better. People have different preferences and social styles, and maybe the “best friend” thing works for some people. Suggesting alternative arrangements is great, but the better/worse framing makes this seem like something with the potential to evolve into another one of those unnecessarily politicized things that everyone hates each other over. Even assuming the claim is firmly right and that having one best friend is doing friendship badly, I’d rather see that than see people hating each other over friendship.

    • Fahundo says:

      being exclusionary

      Exclusionary how? Like when a teacher doesn’t allow a student to pass out party invitations in class unless everyone is invited, or what?

      • entobat says:

        I assume OP’s problem is that it’s treated as a priori Evil that we might do something to make disabled people’s lives harder.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      Whether or not there is a (moral?) problem with being exclusionary, it is a real world practical problem of any school administrator, teacher, parent (etc.) whenever an actual child is being socially excluded within their school. It is very high stakes to that child, because of how human psychology works. Since the school does not (or should not) want to be in the business of forcing any child to exist in a living hell, they have to (try to) do something.

      • The Nybbler says:

        They can’t. The pariah is the pariah and any attempt the school makes to change that will only result in further exclusion.

        • albatross11 says:

          Many bullying/outcast situations in schools are resolved in some way other than permanent pariahood or moving schools.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Moving schools doesn’t help; the pariah has learned only pariah behaviors, and the students at the next school will pick this up immediately and slot the pariah into the correct role. Resolution might occur at puberty, but might not also.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Why are you so sure of this?

          • Matt C says:

            > Moving schools doesn’t help

            It did in my case. When I moved to a new school I stopped being a pariah. I wasn’t particularly liked, but I wasn’t a pariah.

            When I moved on to junior high, back with my first set of classmates, I returned to pariah status.

            While I was in junior high I joined an extracurricular group that had no overlap with the kids at my school. In that group I was liked and respected. (This was a turning point in my life, though I didn’t understand it at the time.)

            A change of schools or a new social group can help an outcast kid. Not saying it will always help, of course. But the idea that social status is branded into a kid’s forehead and follows him inevitably wherever he goes isn’t true. (In my experience, outcast kids eventually recovering from outcast status is the rule, not the exception. I’m certainly not the only one.)

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            Some children do figure out why they became outcasts or even became outcasts in part or in full because of circumstance.

            A fresh start can then allow the kid to evade becoming a pariah in the new environment, although this is not a solution for all bullied kids.

          • Lillian says:

            This yet again reminds me of how i seem to have had my childhood in some bizarre alternate dimension. Despite the fact that i was conspicuously weird everyone was nice to me. We’re talking awkwardness, poor keeping, bad social skills, odd habits and mannerisms, the works. Also disruptive in class when not sleeping or skipping, constantly facing disciplinary problems, and a huge edgelord who obviously thought she was smarter than everyone else. Yet the only reason i had very few friends was my unwillingness to put in effort towards maintaining social relationships. Nowadays i’m a much more pleasant and attractive person, and people are definitely nicer for it, but i still have few friends because i’m still lazy.

            Maybe i just have this aura that compels people to be nice to me even when i’m exhibiting a large number of outcast markers, but nobody at my schools seemed to be outcast at all. You know how fat shaming is a thing? The fattest girl in my class was not just reasonably well liked, but so gregarious that i still remember her given name (granted, it was Unique). Also you know the whole nerds vs jocks thing? Our quarterback was class president, a straight A student, and an AP calculus tutor. Seriously, most American school dramas on TV are about as relevant to my experiences as Japanese ones.

          • jimbarino says:

            @lillian –

            Just curious: are you attractive? A somewhat conventionally attractive girl, even one who is a self-described “edgelord”, will always have people being nice to them…

          • Huzuruth says:

            @jimbarino

            Lillian is absolutely adorable, a fact I can independently confirm, but was a late bloomer and would not have been considered attractive in her youth. Her childish elements and overall attractiveness definitely help her socially these days.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          I don’t really know firsthand, but it seems to me that our society has more or less forced various groups to be accepted over the past century, e.g. gays, blacks. Successfully. I somehow have the impression that this must have filtered down to school children at least in many places.

          Somehow I have this sense that some kid in a wheelchair (for example) is going to fair vastly better today than 100 years ago, and that it definitely had something to do with essentially mandating social acceptance by force. It was then (it seems) a harsher world than we would permit today. These days you are just not allowed to bully the cripple in the same way. You are, instead, mandated to put forward at least a “phantom acceptance” (to use a term from Goffman’s Stigma) — which is, at least, very different from exclusion or “pariah” status. And actually will, I think, be enough to enable the handicapped person to form meaningful social bonds (not necessarily with everyone).

          I suppose the reason this kind of thing is possible is that social status is not “essential” or inherent in the individual. It’s a social configuration. So if society forces you to accept someone this is the same thing as their having a higher status and thus legitimately being more acceptable. (It’s not a situation where an objectively unacceptable person is required to be accepted, but where an unacceptable person is transformed into an acceptable one, though purely by the change of the surrounding social environment.)

          That can’t be true about every possible thing that would make someone a pariah, so that we can’t hope to make everybody accepted. But kids can be pretty superficial.

          • P. George Stewart says:

            It’s never been socially acceptable in Christian societies to do things like bully cripples.

            I think it’s true that there’s been more acceptance of differences, non-obvious mental and physical conditions, etc.; and certainly there have been big improvements in the legal situation for different lifestyles, sexual choices, etc.

            But it might be worth considering whether the pendulum has swung too far. The legal situation should reflect equality of treatment, that’s been a good thing, a definite progress; but it’s probably been wrong to try to suppress soft forms of social sanction altogether (e.g. social shaming for teen promiscuity, the upholding of stoic virtues, family values, etc.). It seems to have resulted in social regress.

          • nameless1 says:

            >I suppose the reason this kind of thing is possible is that social status is not “essential” or inherent in the individual. It’s a social configuration.

            Yes and no. You have to fill out the boots you socially wear. A military officer who has official rank but is timid to give orders, hold discipline and even punish will not have actual status in the eyes of the soldiers. The movie Titanic was basically about a low-status man behaving as if high status captured the heart of a girl from a man who had high-status but behaved low-status.

            PUAs are experts at simulating far higher status than they actually have. Of course this rarely survives one fling but that is what they are after.

            Perhaps it works intergenerationally but not inside one generation. I.e. if you boost the status of the low status kid he will still behave submissively and that is an invitation to bully, but if in the generation all kids of a given group are raised so that they internalize their elevated status then not.

            But there is something else that makes me skeptical. Being a short man (I am tall, so it is not personal exp) is in many ways similar to being a minority. Bullied at school, overlooked for promotions, sexual advanced refused, and some military and police type jobs even discriminated with a minimal height, in the past, not sure if they still do. Yet, there was never ever a short liberation/equality movement, because short people have obviously equal rights, save those few jobs.

            So when gays or people of color were equalized, how do we know that they were not equalized IN THE SPECIFIC WAY short men are equal – i.e. only formally?

            One could form an argument that gay or black movements went beyond equal rights and there were other things, more culturally status boosting things done. So if they would stop hiding the height of short Hollywood actors in movies with tricks, and they would start tweeting stuff like “a number does not determine your value as a human, #bodypositivity” (wait, that is taken by the horizontally challenged, but anyway) would that change, too?

  18. AC Harper says:

    Perhaps, just perhaps, we shouldn’t allow ourselves the distraction of a bin marked “things we have to worry about”?

    It’s possible that you have a shelf of DVDs you have not yet watched or books you have not yet read – but the fact that you ‘have a place’ for them reducers the need to *do* something at the expense of some generalised anxiety about the stuff that is piling up and needs your attention.

    Perhaps Puritans and Pecksniffs, and others in the grip of some overwhelming concern, wish to control others through laws or social conformity because this promises to discharge their anxiety over “things we have to worry about”? It won’t of course, there will always be something else, but because it is essentially an emotional argument evidence is superfluous.

  19. fightscenegrades says:

    Somewhat tangential to Scott’s overall point, but the Oregon situation reminded me of Rothbard’s “Fable of the Shoes,” which goes more or less thusly: Imagine a society where all shoes were provided by the government and have been for as long as anybody can remember. They weren’t always of the best quality, and you often had to wait longer than you would like to get them etc, but overall everyone still gets their shoes.

    In this world, anyone who tried to reform this and open up shoes to private markets– to make it look more like the world we all take for granted– would be treated like a dangerous maniac. “But who would decide how many of these bizarre ‘shoe stores’ there will be? How will they make enough of the right sizes to fit all different customers? How will poor people be able to afford them?”

    • Andrew Cady says:

      Is the proposal just to allow someone to open up a shoe store? Or is the proposal to eliminate the entire supply chain and funding that presently provides the society’s shoes, in order to create a space for the free market to supply shoes? The “dangerous maniac” element comes entirely from the second proposal, but “open up shoes to private markets” sounds more like the first proposal.

      • Drew says:

        I’m not sure that “allow private markets” and “eliminate government shoes” would be seen as all that different.

        To flesh things out, let’s assume that the government sells “shoe fitting” as a flat-rate service. It’s understood that people with standard-size, healthy feet provide a subsidy for people who need custom work or orthotics. (Compare to schooling & special education costs)

        The debate would be driven by a “pro-accessibility” faction and a “pro-market” faction who support the extreme forms of the policies. Politicians fall somewhere in the middle.

        The pro-accessibility faction has a tactical advantage. Right now, their favored projects (subsidized prosthetics) are imposed by regulatory requirement (fit everyone!) rather than an explicit tax. This obfuscates the cost of their projects and makes the efforts much harder to undo.

        This is very much a thing in real-world politics. Demanding that a business pay a $10k tax for ‘disability infrastructure’ would seem outrageous, but costs of ADA compliance can be easily that large.

        The pro-market faction would respond with a wedge like, “allow private stores.” The private stores wouldn’t have the “serve everyone!” regulatory requirement that the government does. On the surface, the pro-accessibility faction can’t object; as the proposal stands, everyone can still access government shoes at the previous price.

        The pro-accessibility movement can make reasonable inferences about adverse selection. As soon as the private stores got opened, the easy-to-serve customers go to the private market for savings / quality. And the cost/customer in the government store will spiral upwards.

        In a few years, the populations will end up split with the government stores devoting more and more resources to custom work. And, instead of defending an abstract principle like, “Everyone Deserves Shoes!” the pro-accessibility faction will get pinned to specific numbers, “yes, it’s worth spending $50k on custom-designed prosthetics”

        As soon as that happens, the pro-accessibility faction will have lost bulk of their stakeholders (‘people with shoes’) and are fighting a much harder battle. Marginal pressures being what they are, the pro-accessibility faction will expect to lose ground.

        Since both the pro-accessibility faction and the pro-market faction can see how these moves will play out, the initial “allow private stores!” will be (somewhat correctly) treated as a referendum on the whole social policy enabled by public stores

        • Andrew Cady says:

          @Drew

          I’m not sure that “allow private markets” and “eliminate government shoes” would be seen as all that different.

          I don’t know man. This seems completely absurd.

          To me it seems like literally every person I have ever met in my life has been capable of seeing the difference between (to give a realistic example) whether or not single-payer healthcare program exists, and whether or not private healthcare exists.

          Similarly I am confident that every single person I know would be capable of understanding — without explanation — the difference between private schools being allowed, and public schools being shut down. (Otherwise, they wouldn’t even be able to comprehend the status quo, which has the first and not the second.)

          I don’t know on what basis you can say people wouldn’t see the difference. Personally my own experience of people doesn’t leave me believing it’s plausible. People seem overwhelmingly to be able to make the exact same distinction in these other contexts. I literally believe that you would have to be severely mentally handicapped not to understand this distinction. I would be shocked if you could find an adult counter-example who didn’t have a diagnosis.

          Either way though, my question is still open as long as Rothbard, at least, can see the difference.

          • simon says:

            FWIW, here in Canada private paid health care is largely illegal for stuff covered by the single payer system, and proposals to legalize it are unpopular. Such proposals are denounced as”two tier health care” and arguments against them explicitly point that it would remove the incentive for the wealthy to support the current system.

            So from my experience, it does seem Drew is correct here.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            @simon

            If Canadians cannot distinguish between abolishing their public healthcare system, and legalizing whatever paid healthcare options are illegal, then why do they have an entirely separate term “two tier healthcare”??

            Also, just to be clear, you are claiming that Canadians consider “two tier healthcare” to be just as “maniacal” as abolishing public healthcare?

          • John Schilling says:

            Canada, of course, has a two-tier health care system. Canadians rich enough to fly to Minnesota for health care, and all the rest.

            Pretty much everyone has at least that two-tier system; the question is strictly about adding a third tier in the middle, or covering your eyes and humming real loud to pretend the first tier doesn’t exist.

          • nameless1 says:

            This is seriously weird, apparently we “Eurosocialists” are far less allergic to the inequality of two tier than North America… calling a doc for an appointment in Austria is like “all right, you prefer a privately paid appointment, €70 per hour within two days or on the state insurance in two months?”

          • Nornagest says:

            Not that weird. There’s a similar dynamic going on in education: most European nations use multi-tracked school systems that discriminate on student ability early and often, while the American system is nominally single-tracked through 12th grade and goes to great lengths to preserve the appearance of nondiscrimination. In practice there’s plenty of discrimination going on, but it’s mostly done informally until college admissions.

            Americans aren’t as friendly to nationalized systems as Europeans are, but in the presence of a nationalized system they also tend to be more sensitive to equality. This is one of the reasons I think the common model of Americans as right-wing and Europeans as left-wing is oversimplified.

      • andagain says:

        Is the proposal just to allow someone to open up a shoe store? Or is the proposal to eliminate the entire supply chain and funding that presently provides the society’s shoes, in order to create a space for the free market to supply shoes?

        The first proposal would undoubtedly be described by its opponents as identical to the second. Just like the arguments over Charter/Free Schools.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          @andagain

          No, I really don’t think it would.

          Schools are quite different. A school isn’t a commodity durable good, it’s a network. The “customers” are the same thing as the “product.” Completely different structure economically/socially/etc..

          It’s because of the network structure (which makes it at least somewhat true) that people say this about schools. For shoes it’s not at all true, so nobody would say it.

      • Viliam says:

        Is the proposal just to allow someone to open up a shoe store? Or is the proposal to eliminate the entire supply chain and funding that presently provides the society’s shoes, in order to create a space for the free market to supply shoes?

        Well, technically it is just a proposal to allow someone to open up a shoe store, but it is obvious where this slippery slope leads. First the rich people, and later the middle class will start buying shoes in the private shops. The remaining customers for the public shoes will mostly be the poor people. Then the rich will resent having to subsidize poor people’s shoes; there will be pressure to make their production cheaper; the quality will drop, but no one with political power will care anymore because they will not have to wear them.

        Shoes are not a luxury; they are a necessity of life. Bad shoes can cause health problems. Poor people include women and minorities, so it is obvious how the private shoe industry would reinforce sexism and racism. Maybe that is the actual reason why people propose “free shoes”. And if you believe that it is not your reason, perhaps you are just unaware of your privilege. It is not a coincidence that many people talking about private shoe shops happen to be white males.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          People might oppose allowing the shoe store to open up.

          But they won’t treat the person who makes the proposal a “dangerous maniac” in the way that they would if the proposal was to abolish the public shoes. Will they? They won’t ask those specific questions, as stated by OP, will they?

  20. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    How about injections? So far as I know, giving oneself an injection is something that the vast majority of people can learn, but it’s usually done by a medical professional.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think giving yourself an IM injection is not too hard–two of my kids with food allergies carry epi-pens and know how to give themselves an IM injection; similarly, most vaccines are IM and so they don’t take a huge amount of training to be able to administer.

      Heroin addicts seem to learn how to do IV self-injection, but often with a lot of bad outcomes. I assume this is because IV injection takes some skill, but probably also because junkies aren’t notable for their careful ways.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Heroin addicts seem to learn how to do IV self-injection, but often with a lot of bad outcomes. I assume this is because IV injection takes some skill, but probably also because junkies aren’t notable for their careful ways.

        It also doesn’t help that street heroin often excipients (cutting additives) that can cause damage when injected (e.g. talc, flour, chalk) and heroin addicts do lots of IV injections, while in a medical setting anybody requiring frequent administration of IV drugs would have a venous cannula inserted.

    • eccdogg says:

      Yeah, my daughter is a type I diabetic and we give her injections occasionally and were able to learn over a weekend at the hospital. And before insulin pumps diabetics gave themselves multiple daily injections.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      The medical professional is also the gatekeeper to whatever is being injected. DIY injection doesn’t save you a doctor’s appointment.

      • b_jonas says:

        That’s not true. I get the flu shot almost every autumn. I need two visits to the doctor for this. The first time, he writes me a prescription for the vaccine. The second time is very soon after I buy the vaccine in a pharmacy, so that the doctor injects me. If I did the intramuscular injection myself, I would be saved the second visit. But such injections happen so rarely that it’s not worth for me to learn how to do them.

        • albatross11 says:

          In Maryland (US state on the East Coast), pharmacies can give the standard vaccinations without any doctor’s order, and there are typically pharmacies in every decent-sized grocery store. The result is that my last several flu vaccines have been at the grocery store, done by a pharmacist.

    • Antistotle says:

      Type one diabetics used to (dunno these days) have to shoot up several times a day. Presumably they get pretty good at it.

      I assume that giving a shot properly is, like many, a perishable skill like perl or archery. If you don’t use it with some regularity your skils degrade and if it goes long enough you make a mess of things.

      I get a shot every three or four years or less. I would be HORRIBLE at it. Besides, I’d have to have STRONG incentive to cause myself that kind of pain.

  21. Anon. says:

    >Figure out what cognitive strategies you would recommend to an Oregonian trying to evaluate self-service gas stations. Then try to use those same strategies yourself.

    That’s a nice thought, but you should check out this essay, “The Control Group is Out of Control”…

    How do I know it’s crap? Well, I use my personal judgment. How do I know my personal judgment is right? Well, a smart well-credentialed person like James Coyne agrees with me. How do I know James Coyne is smart? I can think of lots of cases where he’s been right before. How do I know those count? Well, John Ioannides has published a lot of studies analyzing the problems with science, and confirmed that cases like the ones Coyne talks about are pretty common. Why can I believe Ioannides’ studies? Well, there have been good meta-analyses of them. But how do I know if those meta-analyses are crap or not? Well…

  22. Murphy says:

    Re: the absurdity filter.

    It’s something that’s always niggled at bit at my mind.

    I’d like to bring up AI without getting bogged down in another AI safety discussion: before we have anything genuinely potentially dangerous it’s looking more and more likely that we’re going to have weak-AI scientist AI.

    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/04/1st-artificially-intelligent-adam-and-eve-created.html

    “The Adam system was basically told “go look at yeast” and successfully theorized, experimented, analyzed and refined its results from start to finish. Other automated assistants have the humans coming back asking “Did you do what I told you?” Adam is asked “What did you do?””

    Automated hypothesis generation, experiment design and falsification could very well become a very big deal in science.

    But this brings up some issues. First: sometimes such systems are going to come up with hypothesis that humans would consider utterly absurd, not just a little absurd but completely out of the field. Very occasionally those hypothesis that a human would reject without hesitation are going to turn out to be correct.

    Sometimes hypothesis are going to conflict with the Sacred Cows of society. Sometimes those hypothesis are going to actually be correct and that will grate against human values, hard.

    It makes me wonder whether a source of genuinely true statements about reality unfettered by what’s socially popular might end up about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. Whether the future might see smart people, scientists even, dismissing the outputs of such programs because some of the outputs seems just too absurd, even if those statements are genuinely correct.

    Or perhaps sometimes they’re not absurd but happen to be offensive to the powerful, like if the machines start spitting out replications of kolmogorov’s work in a communist society or start spitting out answers that happen to align vaguely with claims popular with some socially reviled group. Do the angry mobs start burning the servers? or the programmers?

    • grreat says:

      This is already starting to happen, from hat I’ve read, in the categorization and hypothesis of human behavior being ‘racially biased’. Machine learning applied to how high bail should be based on risk, takes in all previous data, and then strongly correlates risk to racially sensitive factors. Now people are talking how to hard wire AI to not pick up our biases, not be racist, when the AI is just making hypothesis from the available data.

      • albatross11 says:

        A lot of that’s just straightforward statistics, and we get wrapped around the axle talking about it as a society because most people don’t understand probability distributions even when their brains aren’t being jammed up by moral outrage.

        For a whole bunch of these issues, what we actually need to do is to surface the tradeoff. For example, blacks commit more crimes than whites per capita, and men commit more than women, so a statistical model predicting who will commit a crime should start assuming a black man is more likely than a white woman to do so. That makes for more efficient policing, but imposes extra costs on innocent black guys (and the great majority of black guys are innocent). So we need to work out the right tradeoff, which might be anything from “no use of race in predicting crime” (less efficient policing, but fewer costs landing on innocent black guys) to “racial profiling FTW” (more efficient policing, but lots of black guys get stopped and frisked to make it happen), or any number of points in-between (police getting quotas for how many blacks they may stop and frisk per day, tuning the relative rates of frisking to try to equalize the rate of finding concealed weapons/drugs/whatever, etc. )

        But this is not the kind of debate most of our public media are designed to have. Even the good media sources are mostly staffed with innumerate people who can’t follow a statistical argument; most media would never imagine giving their readers/viewers some boring discussion of tradeoffs when there’s outrage to be farmed for ad clicks.

        • So we need to work out the right tradeoff, which might be anything from “no use of race in predicting crime” (less efficient policing, but fewer costs landing on innocent black guys)

          Are you assuming that costs on innocent black guys count more heavily than costs on innocent white guys? If not, I don’t follow your argument. Wouldn’t you expect the failure to use information to result in greater costs on innocent people, not less?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            My expectation is that the use of that information is likely to be in ways that increase costs to all.

            E.g. racially-profiled “stop and frisk”, I expect the following to occur:
            1) All blacks decrease the amount of friskable goods they have on hand relative to the other racial populations.
            2) Other black crime still exists to justify the “stop and frisk” policy.
            3) Many black kids become pissed off at society for being profiled, and some of these become more likely to commit various crimes out of anger*.
            4) Black crime and recidivism increases from anger, frustration, etc… thus justifying increased rates of profiling.

            5) Higher-status members of non-black racial groups become complacent about stop and frisk knowing it likely won’t happen to them thanks to the profiling.
            6) Some of these people increase their rate of carrying friskable goods.
            7) This increases the rate of whatever external costs are generated by those friskable goods.

            8) People are encouraged to see themselves as belonging to separate categories than their fellow citizens and permanent residents more frequently than they were prior.
            9) They form various value judgments about others based on this categorization. This includes value judgments which says crime A committed by one of mine is less serious than crime A committed by one of yours – because isolated one-off versus perceived epidemic.
            10) The strength of our Republic suffers from this balkanization.

            * – I’m white, but the one and only time I purposefully littered is when someone was following me and a friend around the store believing we were shoplifting. I littered out of anger (a plastic drink lid), and am not happy about it. Later on this friend stole from me, so perhaps the person following us around had reason for the profiling, but I didn’t know this at the time. I imagine things are much, much, much worse for a typical black kid.

          • Murphy says:

            It’s somewhat debatable what effects different policies might have.

            For arguments sake lets hypothesize a massively exaggerated case. a group of humans with some genetic issue that produced both a very visually recognizable phenotype and a massively increased tendency towards criminal activity in ~50% of individuals with that phenotype. Perhaps some version of psychopathy but even more pronounced.

            A system which takes that mark into account, looks at a statistical model and uses it as part of deciding whether you’re guilty… would lose some accuracy if it was forbidden from taking the mark into account since at ~50% it would be a powerful predictor. possibly too powerful and merely having the mark and being nearby could push you to the top of the heap in terms of viable suspects. You could easily find yourself pushed ahead of the real murderer in a case because while he’s got a motive and opportunity the motive is a weaker predictor than you having the mark so you end up in jail while the killer walks free to kill again.

            if you’re part of the other 50%….. at some point the equation would flip your own incentives.

            Even if you’re part of the 50% not unusually inclined towards criminal behavior you’re still human and you’ll still respond to incentives. If you’re already suffering the stigma that a convicted criminal would normally suffer you might as well reap some profits.

            If you face a system which will utterly fuck you over at the drop of the hat over something you have no control over and which isn’t your fault…. at some point the most rational thing you can do is attempt to burn everything down in the hope that whatever replaces it is better or that you somehow end up on top.

            At some point you’re drawing a circle around some people and openly saying “society is purely built for the rest of us, this is going to suck for you but we’ve decided to fuck you over to benefit the rest of us on average” So you can start turning people who wouldn’t otherwise be criminal into people who lose their incentives to avoid criminality and gain large incentives to attempt to destroy your society because it becomes a net negative for them.

            And some people will join them out of a sense of fairness.

          • albatross11 says:

            No, I’m assuming that there’s a broad social benefit to less crime at the same cost of policing, and that the natural way to do that may land more of the costs on black men than on anyone else. (Probably black men, then hispanic men, then white men, then Asian men, then black/hispanic/white/Asian women–that’s how the crime stats go, I think.)

            So we should surface that. We can get less crime by more hassling of mostly-innocent black guys. Is it worth it? That “is it worth it” question seems like a public policy one that ultimately should resolve to voters’ values.

          • We can get less crime by more hassling of mostly-innocent black guys.

            And less hassling of even more frequently innocent non-black guys, if I understand your model correctly. Why is it “hassling of mostly innocent black guys” that you are seeing as the cost rather than “hassling of mostly innocent guys”?

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            I suppose because that’s the cost I’m used to thinking of in this case. You’re right that we care about *all* the extra hassling.

            Suppose catching a criminal is worth A, and hassling someone costs B. We can afford to do n searches, and if I search a criminal I always catch him, and I never arrest an innocent person. (And I’ll ignore the cost of doing the searches.) Suppose I have some strategy that will allow a fraction f of my searches to be of actual criminals.

            The benefit of the searches is n( fA – B ).

            That is, every search is a hassle (even criminals’ dislike of being frisked gets counted), but a fraction f of the searches take a criminal off the street to considerable social benefit.

            Thinking about it like this, it’s clear that just in terms of this equation, the highest benefit strategy is the one that maximizes f–if I can choose my targets 1% more correctly, I’ll always see an increase in the total benefits to the searching. (Though we don’t know, without filling in the numbers, whether my searching is positive or negative benefit.)

            Now, my intuition here is that this equation doesn’t quite capture everything. Instead, there’s probably a higher cost to someone if he’s *constantly* getting searched than if it’s only once in awhile. If we end up in a situation where a 16 year old black kid can’t walk down the street without getting searched, then it sure seems like that black kid is bearing a whole lot of the cost of our crime-reduction strategy. We might want to do something about that on grounds of fairness, in the same way that seizing my home to build a highway might give a maximal social benefit, but paying me its value, even if that added some administrative costs, would be worthwhile on fairness grounds so I don’t end up bearing some huge chunk of the cost of the highway.

            Also, it seems like the whole policy may be offensive enough to young black men or to the whole society (because we don’t like seeing the police constantly hassle black guys walking down the street) that we might decide not to use even a positive-benefit strategy like this.

          • Viliam says:

            Crazy idea: maybe all people searched by police should receive a coupon, and later they could exchange a given number of coupons for some gifts. So maybe the black boys would be searched more often, but as a consolation, they would also get more cool toys.

            On a second thought, no, that would create serious perverse incentives. Everyone would want to seem like some kind of non-violent offender; the kind where the police will not shoot you, but will stop you often.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            One of the notions offered in Niven and Pournelle’s Oath of Fealty, set in an arcology, is that the local police are seen to “work for” the residents rather than being in authority over them, and are service-oriented extending even to things like short-term baby-sitting (something enabled by the high-tech security infrastructure; residents seem to consider the loss of privacy a decent deal).

            Having read that book nearish to when I read Machinery of Freedom, I naturally saw that as an advantage of private police over public. But in retrospect I think it’s more a matter of communitarianism. Not everybody wants to live in the arcology, and more importantly, not everybody is permitted to live there. With that kind of population, it’s a lot easier for the police to be like Sheriff Andy Taylor.

          • Lillian says:

            Better crazy idea: Make policing more efficient by drastically reducing the number of things that are crimes. We can start with damn near everything that falls under a vice squad’s purview. People won’t have to worry about being stopped over contraband if there’s no contraband.

            This is something that i find is often lacking from policing discussions. People tend to focus on making the fraction better by improving on the numerator, forgetting that you can also make it better by improving on the denominator. There are lots of things that are crimes that shouldn’t be, imposing large enforcement costs on the community for little to no attendant benefit.

          • What I found interesting about Oath of Fealty was the point implied by the title. When a private organization is providing the services we normally associate with government, it is likely to become the object of the same sorts of feelings of loyalty and identity usually associated with national governments.

            The reaction to the assistant head of the arcology being arrested by the L.A. police for killing some pseudo-terrorists in the process of blocking an attack that, if they had been real terrorists (which they were pretending to be) would have killed a lot of people was not “this is an unfortunate miscarriage of justice” but “This is an enemy act. He is a prisoner of war and it is up to our people to rescue him.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Re: Oath of Fealty and firing the vice squad

            David’s right that a big theme in Oath of Fealty was that the residents thought of the cops as “us” instead of “them.” And that’s an attitude I’d like to see cultivated everywhere if possible. I was thinking: What makes it possible?

            a. Not having the cops responsible for raising revenue with fines is a big deal–probably everyone who drives for long enough in the US gets a ticket driving through a speed trap–where the police write tickets not for public safety, but to raise revenue for the town. If I suspect any cop I see of wanting to give me a ticket to raise revenue, that’s setting them up as the enemy.

            b. I think a lot of police departments have informal quotas for tickets or arrests, not to raise revenue, but to make it easier for the supervisors to figure out whether the officers are doing their jobs. This kind of metric probably also sets up some bad relationships between police and the community–you can have a cop walking around thinking “I’d better find someone to arrest today, or I’m gonna get yelled at by the boss.”

            c. Having the community standards and the law in substantial agreement. When like 30% of your population is smoking dope and it’s illegal to smoke dope, there’s a built-in conflict between police and citizens for 30% of your citizens. This is where the “fire the vice squad” idea comes in. But the driver here is that we need to agree on what is and isn’t acceptable. In a community where almost nobody wants to smoke dope, having the police arrest people for smoking dope doesn’t set them up as the enemy.

            d. Having the police see their job as more helping you than correcting you, at least most of the time. If you’re beating someone up, the police need to stop you doing that, but if you’re a little drunk in public or something, having them see it as their job to get you home safely is very different than having them see it as their job to arrest you for public drunkenness. (And here we get to community standards again, and making the law agree with them.)

            One pattern I can see w.r.t. community standards is that the law is largely a tool for imposing my set of standards on you. The more of that we have, the more the people having someone else’s standards imposed on them will see the police as the enemy, for perfectly rational reasons.

            So, if a small fraction of the community wants to smoke dope, and the majority wants dope smoking stamped out, then the dope smokers aren’t going to see the cops as their employees. If most of the community wants to see underaged drinking stopped by sending the underaged drinkers to jail or closing down the bars they get beer from, teenagers are likely to see the police as the enemy pretty instinctively when they have or are seeking alcohol. And so on.

            It seems like:

            a. There are some ways of running your police/legal system that inherently set up an us/them situation with the police–speed traps and ticket quotas are two examples.

            b. The more homogenous our standards of acceptable behavior that should be imposed by law, as a community, the easier it is to get people mostly thinking of the police as their friends/employees instead of as the enemy. This seems like an argument for localism, since you can probably get more agreement about the right standards to have the cops enforce in one town than you can in the whole country.

            c. The more you use the law as a way to impose values or standards on some part of the community, the less it’s possible to have people see the police as “us” rather than as “them.” You could even end up in a situation where lots of conflicting value systems are being imposed by law, and so *everyone* sees the cops as trying to bully them into following some set of standards they don’t want to follow. (The vice squad raids the gay bar *and* the city shuts down the wedding cake company for refusing to do gay weddings.)

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          But this is not the kind of debate most of our public media are designed to have. Even the good media sources are mostly staffed with innumerate people who can’t follow a statistical argument

          In this example the primary issue with using statistics to justify profiling is that statistics do not identify cause and effect, especially when put into practice during an ongoing situation. Yet people still use apparent effects and causes to justify starting, continuing, or increasing profiling. And they do so in a self-serving manner.

          • albatross11 says:

            anonymousskimmer:

            Why do we need to identify cause and effect? If I know that in some area, 90% of the muggings are done by blacks, focusing police attention on blacks will probably decrease the number of muggings more than focusing it on everyone equally. It doesn’t matter whether the reason blacks commit more muggings than everyone else is that all the blacks in this area are poor and can’t get jobs, or they have bad schools, or they’re under some kind of evil curse, or it’s structural racism and self-hatred. Those might matter for other policies, but for this one, we just need to know the percentages.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            @albatross11

            focusing police attention on blacks

            Which, by the way, might influence the reported statistics. (Not necessarily the muggings, assuming the victims continue report them at the same base rate, but if demographic group A is a target of closer police scrutiny than another demographic group B, police has certainly more chances to find about all kinds of minor or major lawbreaking by members of group A.)

            It doesn’t matter whether the reason blacks commit more muggings than everyone else is that all the blacks in this area are poor and can’t get jobs, or they have bad schools, or they’re under some kind of evil curse, or it’s structural racism and self-hatred. Those might matter for other policies, but for this one, we just need to know the percentages.

            This line of reasoning can sort of work if the data is good. However, one of the better reasons why people are against it is because people foresee that such statistics would not used only for directing police action, but as yet another bit of information in the discussion about the causal pathways and policies. (Insert any fresh news item on the various Chinese dystopian machine learning profiling projects.) Another one that the number of blacks who are not committing muggings (I’d believe it would be a quite large number) would experience the increased police suspicion as humiliating.

          • albatross11 says:

            Right, there’s definitely an extra cost if you have a small group of people who basically get frisked every time they walk down the sidewalk, or stopped every time they drive their BMW through the expensive suburb after dark. It’s not so obvious how to balance that against catching more actual armed muggers or car thieves.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I came to the realization yesterday that power differentials corrupt.

            It’s not just the powerful who tend to become more corrupt thanks to their power, the powerless also tend to become more corrupt thanks to their lack of power. Where “tend” means “influenced toward”.

            The solutions cannot be to heavily tax or regulate (aka fine or police) either party, but more along the lines of addressing the power differential itself.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, power differentials make things work less well because the powerful people making the decisions need not take the impact of their decisions on the powerless into account.

        • raj says:

          Classifying people in any way will “impose a cost” on innocents. So the question is, is it important to address this issue with protected classes but not unprotected classes (e.g. poor, low education attainment, perhaps men with high testosterone …)

          • albatross11 says:

            We should care about everyone who gets hassled by the police. But if you have a subset of people who are constantly getting hassled by the police, they’re bearing a pretty heavy extra burden relative to the people who aren’t.

            [Added] Also, there’s a social effect if you have some identifiable group visibly getting hassled by the cops a lot, even if that’s the optimal strategy for decreasing crime and minimizing the number of innocent people hassled. I don’t know how to quantify that, but it’s there, and it matters.

            And this comes down to a tradeoff of values. Shall we have the cops stop and frisk people to keep guns off the streets in high-crime areas? Shall we allow them to use racial/gender statistics to inform their selection? If so, shall we do anything to decrease the impact on the constantly-getting-frisked guys and the social impact of having the cops visibly hassle black guys all the time?

      • DocKaon says:

        The existence of a correlation under one set of circumstances pulled out by a black box set of proprietary algorithms tells you nothing. That’s the failure of most machine learning methods, they are incapable of actually pulling out causal factors. They tell you nothing about what you should do when your interventions are large enough to impact the system.

        • The Nybbler says:

          That’s the failure of most machine learning methods, they are incapable of actually pulling out causal factors.

          They’re certainly capable of pulling out causal factors; they’re just not able to indicate which factors are causal.

  23. Freddie deBoer says:

    The most common argument against haircutting licenses is that they amount to rent seeking to drive up wages. But you can get a $6 haircut in states with such regulations and the average hairstylist makes like $25K a year. If that’s rent seeking it’s very, very ineffective rent seeking.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The rent seeking in these cases is often by the bureaucracy implementing the rules.

    • albatross11 says:

      One other issue that is more visible from an h.bd perspective: some groups (notably blacks) tend to do a lot worse on written tests and classwork than other groups (whites, Asians). So one result of imposing schooling and written test requirements on hairdressers is likely to be that you make it harder for blacks to get work in that field relative to whites and Asians.

      Now, if the written test is actually testing for important, necessary knowledge for doing the job well, that’s probably still reasonable to do–regardless of racial numbers, you want your airline pilots and cardiac surgeons and nuclear power plant operators to really know their stuff. But if it’s just a bullshit requirement put up to respond to lobbying by incumbent hairdressers, or to be seen to be doing something politically, then it’s worth realizing that it’s going to screw some people harder than others.

    • nameless1 says:

      From a European perspective, it seems the US is better at haircuts despite that we send hairdressers to 4 year trade schools, mandatory. Still the hairs I see on TV are better than ours. I don’t know. Could it be equipment? My hunch is that here people simply don’t bother, because good looks are less important from a career viewpoint. I have always wore my suits as a mandatory uniform nothing more. And they look like one. I read articles from the US how wearing suits is about looking sharp…

      • Randy M says:

        we send hairdressers to 4 year trade schools, mandatory.

        That puts things in perspective.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Hair cuts in the US range from $6 to $600. If you’re seeing it on TV it is more likely to be the latter.

      • 57dimensions says:

        I would hesitate to compare haircuts based on what you see on TV, because the way hair is styled on TV is very different from a typical haircut.

    • Wrong Species says:

      You don’t need to be a millionaire to be a rent seeker. In fact, it would make more sense that they are more likely to do these minor things that go unnoticed than overplay their hand.

    • Murphy says:

      I was under the impression that some of that was related to parasite spread through hairdressers with some lice etc spreading through hairdressers. I’ve read some accounts from hairdressers who have to be overly paranoid sterilizing everything after a client has come in with a lice infestation. (who they directed to some kind of specialist who could treat the lice)

  24. albatross11 says:

    It seems to me that the existence of non-horrible places that do something differently (allowing/banning self-serve gas, making the age of consent 14 vs 18, making most medicines available over the counter, etc.,) makes a pretty good argument that these things aren’t utterly crazy to do. They may or may not be optimal policy, but saying “let’s do X the way it’s done in ten other states” or “let’s do X the way it’s done in most of Europe” at least ought to pass the crazy filter, since we have worked examples of X more-or-less working out okay.

    Digging deeper, we can try to look into the effects of doing X based on how things look in the states where they do/don’t. (Like, if there were many times more gas stations fires per car in states that allowed self-serve gas stations, that would be a pretty strong reason to consider banning them.) Really doing that well requires some fairly sophisticated experimental design (looking for natural experiments), but we can at least get a first cut by just looking.

    For example: Lots of European countries have strict gun control and hate-speech laws. These may be good or bad policy, but those places don’t actually seem to collapse into police states or round up and execute all their least favorite ethnic group too often, so at least some of the imagined disaster stories about adopting those laws fall apart with a little skeptical thought.

    • Jack Lecter says:

      I wouldn’t say they “fall apart”.

      Yeah, some people are always going to claim that as soon as their unflavored policies are adopted everything’ll Go to hell in a handbasket. Every group has some people with, shall we say, a flair for the dramatic.

      But a lot of people have the local equivalent of Cosmic-Endowment level concerns. We notice that, periodically over the course of human history, society kind of goes haywire and starts constructing a reasonable facsimile of hell on earth. This is very, very bad, and no one’s come up with a rigorous way of hell-proofing what we have now yet. So we’re left to drive down the probability as best we can, while balancing the risk against the benefits of trying to help people.

      This would sort of be Pascal’s Mugging, if the damned thing didn’t keep actually happening.

    • Murphy says:

      One danger: it becomes very easy to ignore that perhaps the reason that country X does fine is that it has a bunch of other quiet safety systems that are preventing the problem in a different way. Looking in from outside it may not be obvious. You implement the policy, steamroll over objection by pointing to that country and 20 years later the other country is still stable while the equilibrium in your own has collapsed.

      The bigger danger:

      lets use the example of cancer. Lets imagine that pesticide X is accepted and commonly used in another country.
      Pesticide X is actually responsible for a 1% increase in cancer deaths in that country. But they mostly look the same as common cancers.

      38.5% percent of the general population will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. That gets boosted to 39%. Does it barely matter?

      Have you and idea how hard it is to tell the difference looking at the national level if there isn’t some super-weird or rare form of cancer involved?

      but that 0.5% matters. it matters a lot. It matters to within an order of magnitude of things like preventing repeats of holocaust. With the swipe of a pen you can sentence 1.6 million people (that’s assuming only a single generation is affected) to getting cancer and a large fraction of them will die putting the pen-sweeper deep down in whatever circle of hell is reserved for those who cause megadeaths or notably increase the total sum of human suffering through negligence.

      • Jack Lecter says:

        It’s a good point about hidden costs, although, in fairness, there could be hidden benefits, too. (A priori less likely, but far from impossible).

        I sort of suspect some people who talk about banning guns are imaginging a world where, well, we just don’t have guns, instead of actually picturing what’ll happen when they try to enforce that policy.

        The Drug War hasn’t given us an analogous world where we just don’t have drugs. Enforcement has costs, and enforcement of prohibition-style ‘victimless’ crimes tends to blow up some pretty important stuff in the process, for reasons that have more to do with human psychology than the rightness or wrongness of the law taken by itself.

        Also, please don’t wreck free speech. I think it’s a load-bearing part of our current edifice.

        • albatross11 says:

          Jack:

          I do too–I’m not a fan of either hate speech laws or gun control. I am saying that various parades of horribles that are suggested as likely outcomes of some change in the law are a lot less plausible when you can point to other places that made the same change 30 years ago and still seems to be functioning okay.

          I think we should separate out the subtle-effect problem (you make a change with a small, subtle effect, but when applied to a nation of 300 million people, that still means a lot of actual human suffering or benefit) from the replace-the-fuse-with-a-penny problem (you eliminate some rarely-needed safety mechanism because lots of people do without apparent problem, but you have overloaded circuits or just get unlucky and your house burns down).

          Both are important, and they’re related, but they probably get chased down in different ways.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            albatross11:

            Thanks for responding! I often enjoy your comments on here- you think precisely. I learn, sometimes.

            That’s actually a really valuable distinction- tangled as they are, there are likely to be places where they separate.

            Sorry to have misread you- was on my way out the door, and if I’d read more carefully I would’ve picked up on the nuance and not been so quick to jump on the object-level example.

      • Antistotle says:

        The question missing is what effect does removing pesticide X have?

        If people use Pesticide X because it’s REALLY good at killing bad bugs, significantly increases crop yields making food cheaper and more plentiful, then what happens when you *reduce* crop yields by forcing farmers to use a less effective fertilizer?

        How many more deaths are you going to cause by making food more expensive?

    • fion says:

      UKIP did this during the 2015 UK general election campaign. Whenever they talked about immigration, they’d advocate an “Australian-style system”. I would guess their reason for stressing this was essentially what you said.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I live in the US and in a state that has lax gun control laws. It certainly doesn’t feel to me that society is falling apart. And yet the US has an abnormally high homicide rate and a particularly high mass shooting rate. Assuming that, for the sake of the argument, that banning guns would save lives, the fact that we aren’t living in a Mad Mad dystopia is a hardly an argument against gun control. Maybe we are the crazy ones but even the craziest of worlds look banal from the inside.

      • The US has an unusually high homicide rate for a developed country although not, I think, for a New World country.

        Whether the US has a particularly high mass shooting rate seems to be a question people disagree on. Here is an article arguing the contrary.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I guess if you compare the US to a mix of countries that are poorer, less developed, and include some of the highest homicide rates in the world, then the US looks pretty average. Very comforting.

        • Wrong Species says:

          There’s something off about that study. Norway supposedly has a higher rate of mass shooting fatalities than the US at 1.3 compared to the US 0.15. But if you look beyond that the US had a whopping 133 incidents compared to the one in Norway. Because it has a smaller population and the one incident killed so many people, it counts as having a higher rate even though the US has a far worse mass shooting problem. The next highest country on that list was Germany with six mass shootings. Six compared to 133.

          According to this article, part of the reason the US has a lower rate of deaths from mass shootings is because the police are more trained for them. If that’s true, then it just further confirms that the US has a mass shooting problem higher than other countries.

          • John Schilling says:

            According to this article, part of the reason the US has a lower rate of deaths from mass shootings is because the police are more trained for them. If that’s true, then it just further confirms that the US has a mass shooting problem higher than other countries.

            Similarly, we can conclude that Germany has a reckless-driving problem because the part of the reason they have so few traffic deaths is the high standard of driver training. Except I have an inexplicable intuition that there is something wrong with this line of reasoning.

          • Fahundo says:

            There’s something off about that study. Norway supposedly has a higher rate of mass shooting fatalities than the US at 1.3 compared to the US 0.15. But if you look beyond that the US had a whopping 133 incidents compared to the one in Norway.

            US has about 60 times Norway’s population though. If that one incident is sufficiently deadly, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude that Norway has more mass shooting deaths per capita.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John Schilling

            Fair enough. It doesn’t take away from the larger point that the “average rate” by itself doesn’t prove the US is average when it comes to mass shootings, and may not even be strong evidence. The more important number is the 133 compared to the typical one mass shooting. Even if you adjusted it for population differences,(and looking at China, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a larger population would have more mass shootings) that’s a fairly astonishing difference.

            @Fahundo

            I don’t think that Norway having 60 times the population would lead to 60 times the mass shootings. Most countries have only one mass shooting, regardless of population. China has 3 times as many people with fewer shootings. That one mass shooting was probably an anomaly.

          • Randy M says:

            Even if you adjusted it for population differences

            If you adjust for population, the US has twice the (mass) shootings as Norway (US population 323 million / Norway 5.2 million =62.1 times the number of people; divide 133 by 62.1 = 2.14). Sure, that’s noticeable, but when you keep saying “133 to 1” the naive impression is something orders of magnitude worse.

            The US is bigger than any European country; comparing it to any one country on any absolute metric is silly. It would make more sense to compare it to the continent as a whole.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Why is it obvious that the total number of shooting above a threshold is more important than the number of total deaths, or the deaths per capita?

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Randy

            Compare the US to France or the UK. They also have one mass shooting in the time frame but because they have larger populations, adjusting the population creates a more stark effect. Norway is very anomalous because they have a very small population with one very fatal shooting. There isn’t much of a correlation between shootings and population though.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Seriously, look at the data. The only countries that have higher rates of mass shootings and death from mass shootings than the US are small countries. What do you think is more likely, that small countries are inherently more prone to mass shootings(without any other indication that these places are unsafe), or that there is something wrong with adjusting for population with very few data points?

          • awalrus says:

            there is something wrong with adjusting for population with very few data points

            Yeah, I’m reminded of that thing from QI about the Vatican having “two Popes per square kilometer.”

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            @Wrong Species

            China has no civilian gun ownership. Even security guards can’t get them. What they have instead are mass knife attacks, some of which have been incredibly deadly. Can’t find data on how many though, and its really easy to do a Chinese robber syndrome when dealing with actually-China and there are a billion people.

  25. Mengsk says:

    This “absurdity filter” seems very similar to the Overton window, with the main difference being that ideas outside the Overton window are not just considered absurd or silly, but actively abhorrent. If anything the absurdity filter is probably easier to push around through rational debate, since the issues aren’t as morally charged.

  26. Quixote says:

    Its interesting to note that Oregon always allowed self-service in a few cases. In particular, Oregon gas stations have either a key / or a code to enable self-service for Firefighters and other emergency response types to allow them to gas up self-service style if they need gas when a station is closed and the attendants are off duty.
    Source: a relative who is a firefighter

  27. Two points on the case of medical education in Europe.

    1. If the barrier to entry to the medical profession is much lower in Europe–four years of study instead of eight–that might be one reason why medical costs are higher in the U.S.

    2. But a quick google suggests that European undergraduate medical education is six years, so the difference is eight vs six, not eight vs four. Still one explanation, but not as strong.

    • simbalimsi says:

      I guess it is more likely the cost of education rather than the duration of it

    • Murphy says:

      Just went to check my old Uni: the medical degree is 5 years there.

      It’s ireland so the costs of university are dramatically lower since the state covers 1 third level degree for all citizens though in the last few years the supplementary fees have been creeping up a bit.

      From what I can gather with some googling US medschool has a dropout rate in the 62 to 72% range. Again from some googling I’m trying to approximate for the US with published SAT scores but the first med school I can find that lists the info notes that the average student entering the program is SAT 1420 putting them at the 94th percentile. From what I can gather there’s no hard-ish floor like in ireland.

      From what i can gather in ireland dropout is 6-10% for medicine total over 5 years.

      Though that low dropout rate may be partly due to the admissions system. The points needed to get in the door of the medical degrees in ireland typically put someone in the top 1.1% of exam-takers.

      Even if you fail a year and have to pay for repeating the year it’s still dramatically cheaper than many similarly ranked american universities.

      So overall there’s dramatically less risk for the individual to going to medschool in ireland. They don’t come out of college with the equivalent of a mortage to pay off. Because the initial selection process is extremely harsh the risk of actually failing to complete is much lower so there’s also much lower risk of losing the time investment.

      The initial barrier to getting in is extremely harsh, if you’re not in the top 1.1% of students coming out of secondary level education you’ve little chance of getting in but that barrier is not built out of financial risk and once you’ve passed it you have very low risk of losing your investment of time and money.

      Plus if you fail to make the cut you still have all those other courses open to you with no penalty so failing that initial entry is a soft risk.

      On an unrelated note: the most stressed I have ever been in my life by a wide margin was the period coming up to the exams at the end of secondary school in ireland. Moving to another country on my own, burying loved ones, getting a mortgage, every job I’ve done since and everything I did in uni has never came close to holding a candle to the stress levels of the final year of secondary school because the admissions system in ireland means everything hinges upon that. A couple of kids from my school ended up in hospital after having breakdowns.
      Still wouldn’t trade it for the american system.

      • albatross11 says:

        Is there evidence about any difference in quality of doctors from the different systems? I know there are a fair number of foreign doctors here in the US (I think they do medical school overseas and residency/fellowships here), so it seems like someone might have some data.

        If there’s no benefit to requiring an undergrad degree to enter medical school, then it seems like we’re imposing a bunch of needless costs on millions of people….

      • Careless says:

        US students going to med school don’t take the SAT. they already took that for college. They take the MCAT

        • Murphy says:

          The SAT score was the average score that students who were admitted had revived. The point was to estimate the percentile of the population they were from. The MCAT doesn’t tell you that but the SAT score does.

      • pharroah says:

        I don’t know where you got the info that the dropout rate for U.S. medical schools is 62-72%, but as a graduate of a U.S. medical school, I can assure you that it’s far lower than that, probably at least an order of magnitude. Perhaps that’s the rate for changing from pre-med to something else as an undergrad.

        • Murphy says:

          You’re completely correct, I got that completely wrong. First I screwed it up by stating the completion rate rather than dropout rate . Second it was for a particular school that came up first in google.

          In medschool on average in the US it’s apparently about 94% completion rate, give or take a little.

    • nameless1 says:

      Not sure how to include internship and suchlike into both.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Very little of international medical cost differences are doctor salaries. Also, keep in mind that in Europe the state pays for your medical education anyway.

      (and as Murphy mentioned, in Ireland it’s five years, not six.)

  28. Randy M says:

    “in the early 20th century, some doctors considered intellectual stimulation so detrimental to infants that they routinely advised young mothers to avoid it”.

    Yeah, well, my dentist tells me to floss every day*, too, doesn’t mean you can make any assumptions about my behavior from that advice.

    *Or he would, if I had one.

    And, uh, maybe the people who say kids shouldn’t be allowed to have best friends are right.

    That “It’s nice to have more than one close confidant” can drift into “Schools shouldn’t allow kids to have best friends” pushes me three steps closer to libertarian.

    • Jack Lecter says:

      Glad to have you!

      To the extent I’m one- (definitely with a small ‘l’, and probably as an adjective and some hedging thrown in)- it’s this kind of thing that does it. There are lots of perfectly reasonable ways we could use the government to make the world a better place, but we really need a better set of anti-lock breaks to keep from spiraling down the slippery slope. And when you’re trying to coordinate a massive beauracracy’s worth of people, slopes are something you have to worry about.

    • Murphy says:

      I try to avoid letting sacred values get in the way of what I’m willing to consider might be true but just realised that I’m particularly attached to that one.

      I never had a big group of friends but I always had a few really close friends that I’m lucky to have retained many years into adulthood and have a small number of people who I trust absolutely to the extent that I would be entirely comfortable naming them as guardians to any progney I might one day produce without any additional thought….

      In a tradeoff of values… if someone told me I could sell that in exchange for changing reality so someone I went to school with (who was too unpleasant to have any friends at all) didn’t feel left out? I’m about as willing to make that trade as to offer my liver to the class drunk.

      It’s possible that it could turn out that the total number of utilions for enforcing such a trade could be positive but I’d fight you about as hard if you tried to enforce it as I would if the doctors at a remote hospital started advancing at me scalpels in hand while muttering about utillions and the 7 other patients with failing organs and matching tissue types.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      I don’t get why the libertarian world is going to be less imposing on children in schools. Libertarianism isn’t really about the kind of liberty that children have. It’s much more about the kind of liberty that the institutions which control children have.

      • Randy M says:

        This would be a valid point, were the primary institution that controls students in schools not the federal and state governments that libertarianism philosophically opposes.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          Federal and state governments aren’t the primary institution that controls (public) schools. The local (municipal) governments are.

          Also I don’t think of libertarianism as “philosophically opposing federal and state governments”… and honestly I think I understand libertarianism very well, so that I take your statement to be very idiosyncratic.

          I was going on the premise that the libertarians position is to prefer to be able to shop around for private schools instead of playing school board politics. My point was, either way the children themselves don’t get to be any part of the institution that rules over them. And particularly, either way the school can impose this exact policy on them.

          (I would also add that, either way, you can pull your kid out of the school and enroll them in another one. Either way, you’ll probably have to move to do this… slightly more likely if you require a public school.)

          If the argument instead is that the federal government and state governments are more likely to impose such a policy, well… that doesn’t seem true for one, more likely exactly opposite. But it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with libertarianism either.

          • Randy M says:

            Let me clarify

            That “It’s nice to have more than one close confidant” can drift into “Schools shouldn’t allow kids to have best friends” pushes me three steps closer to libertarian.

            The sentiment that because something is good, it should be mandatory, is not confined to education or children, and seeing the ease of the transition makes me highly sympathetic to small government positions.

            I’m not worried about the policy effects of this particular policy on my (home-schooled) children; I’m worried about all the other policies that voters who want to enforce the optimum solution will inflict.

            To further clarify the follow-up, libertarians are not opposed to the existence of government, but they do tend to oppose an expansive role of it in an individuals life (such as one arm of it trying to dictate the nature of friendship).

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, it’s useful to think in terms of incentives and information.

            a. Are the people choosing the textbooks to use in the public schools, or what classes will be offered, strongly incentivized to maximize the outcomes for the kids? Or are they more focused on, say, keeping power by avoiding pissing off any important interest groups, keeping the teachers’ union happy, and maybe making deals that give them some side benefit?

            b. How will the people making those decisions know how they’re working out? And will there be any mechanism to push them to respond? (In Thomas Sowell’s terminology, is there effective feedback?)

            My intuition is that the parents are overall in the best position w.r.t. incentives–not all parents are great guardians of their kids’ well-being, but overwhelmingly parents care more about their kids’ well-being than strangers on the school board or on the state textbook board, or even than teachers. (Though I think most teachers actually do care quite a bit about the kids they’re teaching, because that’s the sort of thing that draws people into teaching. They have a lot of power over how their classroom runs, but not so much about what textbook they use or what they must cover–even if the 30-year-veteran math teacher thinks the new syllabus from the county for precalc is idiotic, he still has to cover it.)

            In terms of information, it’s more mixed. Various experts are surely better informed about what science should appear in the science books, what history in the history books, etc. But parents have a huge amount of immediate information about how things are going for their kid. Whatever the ultimate value of your clever new reading instruction method, if my kid isn’t learning to read, I can try to do something about it if I’m allowed the power to do so. More importantly, if I notice my kid is miserable or floundering in school, I can try moving him to another school or homeschooling him or hiring a tutor or taking him to a counselor or something–I have both a lot of incentive to help him and a lot of information about what’s going on.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            @Randy M

            It seems to me you’re going back and forth between the ordinary everyday idea of “mandatory” (in which it’s possible for a private organization to make something mandatory) and the libertarian idea of mandatory (in which the power to dictate things in this way is routinely upheld as a vital freedom of the party who gets to make the rules).

            Now you’re hinting again that the problem is it’s a public school imposing on kids this way, therefore it’s the state.

            In reality, private schools tend to be the places you find the strictest impositions on the students. (E.g., sex-segregated boarding schools with curfews, mandatory religious practices, punishment by physical labor, etc.). And public schools even give you the libertarian option of “exit,” as you have noticed in your own life. The only thing anti-libertarian about the whole thing is the property taxes. Not the strict treatment or micromanagement (etc.) of children.

            Now I suppose it would be unfair to impute any such position onto you personally. All I’m doing is extrapolating from libertarian principles as I understand them — in order to criticize them. So I don’t know whether you agree with this or not.

            But the libertarian as I understand him is going to be the first to say, “it’s their school; they own it, so they can run it however they want” when objections are made to those strict curfews. I just want to point that out when you put forward libertarianism as supporting the freedom of the students in a school.

          • sharper13 says:

            In regards to:

            Federal and state governments aren’t the primary institution that controls (public) schools. The local (municipal) governments are.

            Having been the Chair of a School Board for half a dozen years, I can attest that while some people may think this, it isn’t really true in the U.S.
            Outside a few specific local arrangements, municipal (i.e. city) governments have virtually nothing to do with running public schools.

            Theoretically the Board of the School District does everything, but they tend to be severely bound by State law to minor budget allocations, approving capital expenses/borrowing and hiring the Superintendent.
            Primary funding is controlled by State law, maybe a 10% difference could be made by a School Board’s decisions. Funding from grants is controlled by Federal Regulation and what they will approve, pretty much forcing schools into cookie-cutter implementations if they want the grant money for things like technology.

            State education law controls who you can hire, what you have to teach, how to teach it, right down to the number of hours in the school day. A local board may have a little wiggle room in creating policies, but when the Feds and the State require you to have a health polciy which includes vending machines and only allows X,Y and Z (to use one actual dumb example), there isn’t a lot of control left to the local Board.

            Bottom line, when the State legislature is in session, the local school boards pay close attention so they know how their schools are going to be required to be run differently that year. Local boards can influence specific hiring/discipline to a certain extent (as permitted or denied by State law) and the process of building a new school, but in terms of actual policy it’s virtually impossible to deviate much from the “standard” ways of doing things because they are encoded as assumptions into the State laws and State/Federal regulations which actually govern everything.

      • ragnarrahl says:

        There’s certainly a strangely large number number of libertarians who don’t believe children are quite the same thing as human beings, but it’s far from universal. I certainly don’t believe any institutions should be able to override a child’s self-ownership.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Are there any philosophies that don’t draw distinctions between children and adults?

        • Andrew Cady says:

          Is the child allowed to leave the premises of the school if he or she does not want to fulfill the requirements imposed upon students? If not, what does “a child’s self-ownership” even mean?

          Anyway my point wasn’t about what libertarians believe about children. It could just as well be adults — the point is they’re (1) physically present on someone else’s property and (2) not a party to any contract limiting the authority of the property owner. Libertarian theory doesn’t really impute to any person (child or adult) much liberty in this situation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Liberty isn’t ‘given’ in libertarian philosophy, it is (generally) argued as the default nature of man. It is a substantially different approach than most current takes.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            @baconbits9 I edited in a change from “give” to “impute.”

          • albatross11 says:

            It would be cleaner for libertarian philosophy if there were no children, senile people, madmen, intellectually disabled people, etc. But we don’t actually live in that world, so we have to work out how to try to get substantial personal liberty along with not letting eight year olds decide to stop going to school because they don’t wanna, not letting women with 60 IQs be turned into sex toys by unscrupulous men, not letting crazy people kill themselves because the little voices tell them to jump off the bridge, etc.

            So we have to work out some notion for how to make those tradeoffs. Like children are substantially under the control of their parents or guardians until they reach some age at which they are considered adults, and madmen can be involuntarily committed if they’re a danger to themselves or others, and people with intellectual disabilities can be put in group homes with as much freedom as they can handle without letting them become sex toys for evil people, and so on.

    • Nornagest says:

      I can kinda see where it’s coming from. Schools are now under an enormous amount of pressure to socialize their charges, not just provide reading/’riting/’rithmatic instruction or even inculcate cultural values, but all tools they have to do that with are pretty blunt instruments. You can’t talk students through their individual issues because each teacher has thirty students to deal with and there just isn’t enough time in the day, and there’s all sorts of incentives pointing towards approaches that are quantifiable or at least concrete. Basically all you’ve got is the curriculum, the rules, and maybe the motivational posters on the walls, and after you’re through with reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic there’s not much room in the curriculum for socialization. If the latest fashionable child psychology paper emphasizes a broad range of acquaintances and the PTA’s up your ass about it, what else are you going to do?

      It’s still a stupid idea, of course.

      • Randy M says:

        Basically all you’ve got is the curriculum, the rules, and maybe the motivational posters on the walls, and after you’re through with reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic there’s not much room in the curriculum for socialization. If the latest fashionable child psychology paper emphasizes a broad range of acquaintances and the PTA’s up your ass about it, what else are you going to do?

        If they’re changing the motivational posters, fine, no biggie. It’s the rule changes I worry about here. What does it mean to not be ‘allowed’ to have a best friend? (other than hyperbole)
        “Suzy, you said Jane is you ‘best friend.’ Please apologize to all your other friends here.”
        “Johnny, you sat next to Joe at lunch yesterday, today you sit next to Bobby.”

        • baconbits9 says:

          Where is the logical difference here between “don’t have best friends” and “don’t date exclusively”? Poor Johnny can’t get a date and feels excluded, meanwhile high school relationships break off frequently, often causing distress. I’m not saying you should sleep with lots of people, just a close knit group for sexual exploration.

          What drives me the most nuts about all of this is 75-90% of these articles are just about stuff you have to go through to grow up, and the rest are endemic to cramming people into public schools.

          • powerfuller says:

            Yeah, Randy’s line “Johnny, you sat next to Joe at lunch yesterday, today you sit next to Bobby.” struck me as a children’s version of Brave New World’s “orgy-porgy” mentality.

            I think the article also suffers from the fallacy of thinking that you can change the world by changing words. I can appreciate the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” idea, but it’s not like banning the term “best friend” is going to suddenly make kids like all their friends equally, or be equally open and able to be friends with everybody. Or make losing one’s favorite friend easier. Also, I don’t think it’s best friends clogging up all the friendspace that’s preventing the weird kid with no friends from having one.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Also, I don’t think it’s best friends clogging up all the friendspace that’s preventing the weird kid with no friends from having one.

            Ironically I think it is the weird kids who need best friends. The odder you are the harder it is to make a connection with lots of people, finding one person who gets you can be an amazing thing. I feel like this is/was true for me for a lot of my life, and when my best friend just stopped talking to me when I was 29 it was really rough. I don’t think banning best friends would have made a positive difference (we met after high school anyways), it isn’t like there was a line of kids looking to be my bestie throughout school. Actually now that I think about it that was the 2nd time my closest friend just stopped talking to me, the other one was in between 8th and 9th grade, high school came and he just stopped even acknowledging me in the halls after we had been friends since 1st grade (in fairness he was my best friend, but I wasn’t his, but we were reasonably close).

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            Indeed, so while the intended outcome may be to cause people to have 5 friends instead of 1, in reality it may cause the most downtrodden kids to go from 1 to 0.

        • dark orchid says:

          > “Johnny, you sat next to Joe at lunch yesterday, today you sit next to Bobby.”

          Meanwhile, the kids are establishing their own friendships and pecking order via some combination of snapchat, tumblr reblogs and likes on various sites and apps, which the teachers have very little control over. “Johnny, yesterday you liked one of Joe’s photos, today you like one of Bobby’s” isn’t going to happen.

  29. It is worth distinguishing between beliefs about issues where your belief determines what happens to you and beliefs about issues where your belief determines what you say or how you vote but has very little direct effect on you. The problem of getting accurate beliefs exists for both. But in the former case you have an incentive to solve it. In the latter case you don’t.

    So I would expect people to be less rational about whether self-service gas stations should be legal than about whether, if they are legal, they should choose them over full service stations.

  30. Jordan Jurcyk says:

    As someone who has long thought that the idea I needed to have a ‘best friend’ was damaging to me in my youth, I still find the immediate jump to a full ban to be pretty wild. We need not rush to ban everything we think might have some negative effect.

    • nameless1 says:

      Once I became a father I learned to understand these attitudes better. It seems that when it is about our kids, we don’t really have a sense of nuance left due to safety worries. For example the of some dealer pushing drugs on schoolkids now scares me, I want zero dealers near schools, and I want it pretty badly, that is, I would pay a months salary of mine to ensure it right now. And this makes me understand the rigidly banbanban attitudes about drugs far better now. While I personally think personal consumption should be okay and only dealers punished, from this viewpoint the overkill of a generic ban is understandable.

      This of course sounds like an open admission that we cannot raise our kids to make sane choices. And in nastier debates that is often raised as a way to discredit the opponent, you are bad lazy parent etc.

      The thing is, one of the basic experiences of fatherhood for me so far is how nearly impossible it is influence our kids behavior. Especially since they banned hitting them – that is how our parents influenced ours. We know how irrational even adults are, kids are often worse so you cannot just expect an argument or explanation works. If you try it with positive emotional influence, hugs and love, you find that kids can be capricious. Sometimes you can influence them that way, sometimes they have enough with hugs and love and want to fsck with you. Or you can go the negative way and yell at them or ground them but then you find exactly the same thing as the judicial system has found: punishments that aren’t dramatic, just unpleasant, are useless.

      So ultimately yes, we have to ban all negative influences from near our kids because yes, we cannot parent them into not giving in to them. Better admit it. Maybe we are bad parents, maybe it is up to individual genetics, maybe something else.

      And yes, it is weird, today half the authoritarianism in the world comes from worried parents who really want someone to please think of the kids.

      I have an idea. Can’t we just separate it? We could just build a wall through cities and on one side would be families with children in a super safe, micromanaged, overregulated environment, and on the other side single people partying free, partying hard?

      • albatross11 says:

        One aside–I think our kids’ environment is actually quite a bit safer than previous generations’ kids’ environments. It feels like there are a bunch of new and scary risks (largely because “the danger that threatens YOUR children” is really effective at capturing your eyeballs for advertisers), but I think it’s really just the sad realization as parents that sometimes, you do everything you can do (including spanking your kids if necessary) and then they still do what they’re going to do. The feeling of helplessness, of knowing there are really important things you can’t control–that’s very unpleasant and a pretty effective lever for getting your attention and your support for doing dumb-but-reassuring things.

      • johan_larson says:

        Can’t we just separate it? We could just build a wall through cities and on one side would be families with children in a super safe, micromanaged, overregulated environment, and on the other side single people partying free, partying hard?

        To some extent we already have. In one of his essays, Paul Graham makes the point that suburbs are boring because they are designed to be safe environments for young children. You can find all sort of hard-core edgy stuff downtown or out in the country, but not in the suburbs.

        • Murphy says:

          The weird thing is the only place I ever lived where my impression was “holy shit this place has a hideous drug problem” was the most suburban suburb that ever suburbed.

          it was a small town with endless little estates of identical houses and the most boring place I have ever lived ever. I’m not even a partying kind of guy but if I’d lived there much longer drugs would have started looking really attractive.

          The whole place was effectively optimized for little new families with little kids . But it had nothing interesting. NOTHING. Not so much as a bookshop (though it did have a selection of cafes and ornament and handbag shops for the yummy-mummy types).

          So guess what? once the kids hit their teens it started to hit them that there was nothing in this town to entertain you. Enter drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. So much drugs.

          So the insane control-everything young parents find a lovely boring suburb community and a few years down the line the choices they made that seemed optimal when their kids were 3 are now the exact choices that are leading their child to be part of the shambling collection of perpetually-stoned teenagers experimenting with whatever substances might break up the hellish monotony of living in their parents dream-community.

          I now live in London which on paper has some crime hotspot areas… but apart from the occasional teen smoking some pot there’s not much of the same. Most of the teens are awake and sober and going somewhere with something to do to keep their brains from melting from boredom.

          • Randy M says:

            It seems like this was the situation for most of human history, though–life was largely monotonous, without constant novelty to entertain.
            Maybe I’m wrong about that, and festivals, troubadours, whatever were a pretty common part of daily life.
            Maybe the temptations of drugs, etc. are so strong that we need unprecedented levels of novelty to compete. Or in fact many people in history were alcoholic much of the time out of boredom.
            Maybe adolescence itself is novel, and in prior ages people faced struggles of survival and the challenges of married life much earlier. Maybe that’s what that curiosity is for.
            Or maybe there’s some other aspect of life that has changed, that suburbs remove rather than just novelty. More community integration rather than age-segregation, more involvement with productive work rather than abstract education, more religious devotion, etc.

          • Murphy says:

            I remember an old article by Paul Graham which argued that historically a much larger fraction of the teenage population felt useful. because they were.

            Humans seem to do well when they have work to do that actually matters, that they know isn’t just busy-work and that if they died tomorrow it would actually matter.

            Now we’ve got a large fraction of the population who are mentally fairly close to adult but who have little agency and who can’t really do much that matters.

            Sadly if you tell some people this their reaction is to attempt to create busy-work and decide the solution is to have young people carry water to the ocean because they fundamentally miss the point.

          • Randy M says:

            Sadly if you tell some people this their reaction is to attempt to create busy-work and decide the solution is to have young people carry water to the ocean because they fundamentally miss the point.

            I agree creating busywork is going in the wrong direction as well, but what do you suggest as an alternative? I don’t see another one that is obvious or simple.

          • Antistotle says:

            I remember an old article by Paul Graham which argued that historically a much larger fraction of the teenage population felt useful. because they were.

            Que rant about minimum wage laws destroying entry level jobs.

          • Nornagest says:

            At this kind of scale, I think minimum-wage laws are a drop in the bucket. Most of the issue comes from the fact that 90% of the population is no longer making a living off subsistence farming techniques that’re incredibly labor-intensive but could be done by a trained gorilla.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            Those teenagers felt useful because their labor was even more valuable than the minimum wage. That’s why it wasn’t busywork.

            Lowering the minimum wage is creating busywork. You can maybe give people some extra immediate options for money (though probably lifetime it costs them) but you won’t make them feel like their life is valuable if it’s valued at even less than what pays minimum wage today (already doesn’t seem valuable).

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think that follows. Working the kitchen at a McDonalds is not a good job, but I wouldn’t call it busywork: it’s very clear what you’re doing (flipping burgers) and why you’re doing it (because people want burgers). There’s much more lucrative stuff out there that feels much more intuitively pointless.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Lowering the minimum wage wouldn’t force people to take those jobs, and so it isn’t the same as busywork.

            Your position is basically “teenagers labor is low value and they are so pathetic that they can’t handle knowing its actual value”, which sounds a lot more demoralizing to me than “your labor is worth $3 an hour”.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            @baconbits9

            Your position is basically “teenagers labor is low value and they are so pathetic that they can’t handle knowing its actual value”, which sounds a lot more demoralizing to me than “your labor is worth $3 an hour”.

            Can’t handle knowing?? They always know its actual value.

            (NB. if a worker is being paid minimum wage, it’s because their labor actually has (at least) that value to the employer.)

            What I’m saying is demoralizing is doing work that isn’t worth enough. “Enough” is somewhere more than USA minimum wage — and is definitely enough to be self-sustaining.

            Spending 8 hours to make $1 is demoralizing. It is going to create a feeling of uselessness, that feeling will (generally) accurately reflect an objective reality, and on a behaviorist psychology level you are doing negative reinforcement in the opposite of the direction you (presumably) want.

            @Nornagest

            Working the kitchen at a McDonalds is not a good job, but I wouldn’t call it busywork

            It’s not useless, but I think it does have the problem of not being worth “enough.” If you have a slightly below average IQ or better, it will feel like you are wasting your time. And although you can tell yourself “people want burgers” you can’t tell yourself that people want burgers so much that they’re willing to give you a decent living for making them burgers. It’s more like they’re kind of ambivalent about how much they want burgers but you’ve made a burger offer that’s such a ridiculous lowball that they’ll accept it, though not enthusiastically or anything.

            On top of that, all your biggest customers are basically salt+sugar+fat addicts who are trying to quit buying your product because it is going to kill them. Your parent company makes sure to blast as much temptation in front of their eyes in every way and as often as possible in order to defeat the persuasive influence of their doctors and children who want to see them live a long life. (Your ability to serve the burgers as quickly as possible is a vital part of keeping the instant gratification behavioral feedback loop in place.) These customers don’t want burgers at all, but they have a hard time resisting in the moment, thanks to your efforts.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are swinging back and forth. A teenager who can’t get work due to the minimum wage doesn’t know the value of his labor, only the upper bound. It could be a penny less or 0$ for all they know.

            What I’m saying is demoralizing is doing work that isn’t worth enough. “Enough” is somewhere more than USA minimum wage — and is definitely enough to be self-sustaining.

            Based on what? People self report the enjoyment of doing work for nothing. You also haven’t compared it to the “demoralization” of not being able to work period. You have to make really unsupported assumptions (like labor being only worth $1 an hour, and it being more demoralizing than perpetual unemployment) to get close to that mark.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            @baconbits9

            I’m not swinging back and forth. I interpreted you as saying that minimum wage workers would have their pay cut and therefore learn the true worth of their work. So I was saying that people employed at minimum wage know the value of their work. i wasn’t saying that unemployed people know the value of their work.

            Either way though I wasn’t previously making any appeal to the hardship/cost of knowing the value of their labor. Rather it’s the hardship/cost of having to perform the labor that has (almost) no value.

            What I’m saying is demoralizing is doing work that isn’t worth enough. “Enough” is somewhere more than USA minimum wage — and is definitely enough to be self-sustaining.

            Based on what? People self report the enjoyment of doing work for nothing.

            1. Doing work for nothing is actually quite different from what we’re talking about. Because work that is done for nothing generally has some other fact about it other than the “for nothing,” by which to measure its value. People who voluntarily do some labor for free, knowing ahead of time they’re doing it for free, are the least likely to think they’re wasting their time on something useless. (Also, people who do work for nothing generally have very good bargaining power vs. whoever would give them work orders.)

            On the other hand, I’m talking about people working sub-minimum wage jobs, which generally speaking won’t have much else like that going on. Sometimes they will though. I’m just trying to talk about averages.

            2. People also self-report feeling just what I’ve said. We have all heard this before, there are books and movies. I don’t claim to have some kind of scientifically rigorous representative sampling though.

            You also haven’t compared it to the “demoralization” of not being able to work period.

            True. That is also demoralizing. It is probably only slightly less demoralizing, and mostly only because of the fact that at least there is free time and freedom attached to being useless. It’s not demoralizing in the same way though, because it might demoralize you on searching for work, or even continuing to live, but obviously it’s not going to demoralize you on the work itself (since there isn’t any).

            Anyway I didn’t mean to imply anything about the demoralization of unemployment. I was originally comparing modern useless “service economy” youth workers to valuable preindustrial/agricultural economy youth workers. Not to the unemployed.

          • nameless1 says:

            But what exactly would teenagers want around the house? OK I grew up in Eurosuburbia where the train with one change would take me into the city center in 45 minutes but we didn’t go to places as teenagers. Where would we go? We were not yet allowed to drink, our lunch was waiting for us at home and generally we were not given lunch money, or if yes then still not much so just McD, we would walk from the school to the train and talk, that was our social life, then go home, and don the homework and then turn on the computer. What would really other teens want to do, before the drinking age? After the drinking age i.e. college students just get drunk all the time but before?

            The only thing I can think about is the cinema. Because in my time we had no torrent, but it is clear today most teens prefer to torrent for free here rather than to beg parents for cinema money…

      • We could just build a wall through cities and on one side would be families with children in a super safe, micromanaged, overregulated environment, and on the other side single people partying free, partying hard?

        And where do you put the families with kids who believe the micromanaged, over regulated environment is bad for them?

        • Murphy says:

          disect the city into 3. Party city, hyper regulated land and party-family land.

          or just don’t specifically restrict families from party city.

      • At only a slight tangent …

        Thinking about the experience of being a parent, the scariest risk to me isn’t kidnapping or pregnancy or drug use. It’s the risk of having a child who doesn’t like you.

        Whether by genetics, child-rearing strategy, or pure luck I have never experienced that first hand as either parent or child, but it seems clear that a fair number of my children’s friends have.

        That isn’t a risk that a protective environment prevents and it is one that some levels of parental control might increase.

        • Randy M says:

          That seems not the worst outcome, but rather as a bad fail case that is much more likely than the worst outcomes.
          However, I suspect that a lot of people who don’t like their parents or children get that way not from under- or overparenting, but from being unlikable generally, especially in a genetic way. Quick tempered, easily finding faults, disinterested, etc.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The parents need to fundamentally understand that their children are not for them, they are for their children. This fundamentally means that your child’s future is not an extension of your life. Your child’s future belongs to them.

            Healthy boundaries are important to cultivate for both parties, and to encourage from both parties.

            What you say does exist, but it is not the only failure mode.

            http://www.issendai.com/psychology/estrangement/

          • engleberg says:

            Disinterested does not mean uninterested- this is an easily-found fault I’m quick-tempered about.

          • Randy M says:

            Disinterested does not mean uninterested- this is an easily-found fault I’m quick-tempered about.

            I think this is no longer the case, at least google gives me “having or feeling no interest in something.” as a second definition. I suspect the word has acquired the meaning people think it should have.
            See, English, this is why you don’t try to have unintuitive word distinctions.

          • Jack Lecter says:

            Well, *I* say we need an aggressive, government-funded information campaign to stop people from inherently devaluing their lives by using the wrong prefix. Many children don’t realize what they’re doing when first they decide to throw away their linguistic integrity this way.

            We should probably also have some reasonable laws about how to portray people who say ‘dis’ but mean ‘un’ in the media.

            I think we can build a better society. It won’t be easy- probably many of the old order will have to be disposed of, and that is a tragedy. I must admit that one or two rivers might end up running red with the blood of the unarticulate, so great will be the number of those culled. But tomorrow, the sun will rise on a better day, a purer day.

            We owe it to our children.

            (Not making fun of anyone in particular, and definitely not anyone here. Sometimes, you just want to be silly.)

          • engleberg says:

            Disinterest is exactly what kids need from parents for childish problems. Uninterested parents are not good parents. The difference is important.

            The risk that your kids won’t like you is pretty awful. The risk that you won’t like your parents is worse.

          • nameless1 says:

            >The parents need to fundamentally understand that their children are not for them, they are for their children. This fundamentally means that your child’s future is not an extension of your life. Your child’s future belongs to them.

            I actually don’t agree. The main reason we have a child is that we felt we owe it to our parents. I don’t understand why after getting so much from our parents we should not think we owe them something. And our kids to us, too.

            It is another thing that we need not be be assholes about it and not use emotional blackmail or anything. We can sort of decide to let that debt go out of consciousness. But it is absolutely still there.

            I mean, Mill was wrong – we obviously have obligations that do not arise out of our own choices. Reciprocal altruism is not necessarily based on choice and consent. If you have an accident and are unconscious and someone takes you to a hospital, you are still indebted to that person and should feel gratitude, despite that you did not choose to be saved.

            I am not a big believer in liberalism in the sense that choice, consent and contract/voluntariness are super important things, I think these became big only because in the last 200 years or so politics was dominated by lawyers. So we have the language of law in politics – people whose job is to decide if a trade contract was properly fulfilled tend to see the whole society functioning as contracts. Well I am not a lawyer so I don’t really care.

            But if you want to put it in a contractual language, we have debts arising from contracts we constantly validate by implication, we express the agreement by conduct. By the very fact of enjoying our lives, having fun and not killing ourselves we imply we like to be alive and healthy and thus we validate the debt to the person who took us to hospital, or to our parents.

            Again, it is a different thing to not be an ass about it and not hang this debt around our kids heads like a Damocles sword but let it be forgotten.

            Our parents we not assholes about it. They sometimes mentioned they would like a grandchild. But made no pressure. It was up to me to realize I owe them at least this.

            Similarly,

      • John Nerst says:

        No, that would be absurd.

      • Lillian says:

        The thing is, one of the basic experiences of fatherhood for me so far is how nearly impossible it is influence our kids behavior. Especially since they banned hitting them – that is how our parents influenced ours. We know how irrational even adults are, kids are often worse so you cannot just expect an argument or explanation works. If you try it with positive emotional influence, hugs and love, you find that kids can be capricious. Sometimes you can influence them that way, sometimes they have enough with hugs and love and want to fsck with you. Or you can go the negative way and yell at them or ground them but then you find exactly the same thing as the judicial system has found: punishments that aren’t dramatic, just unpleasant, are useless.

        This is something my mother can relate to a lot, thanks to me being a very difficult child. Except for one point, she would very much disagree with notion that hitting your kids influences them in any positive way. Now she’s biased, she absolutely hates the idea of hitting anyone, especially her children. She would only do such a thing if she was desperate and out of options. Unfortunately for her, that describes her state of mind when i was in third grade, and the school was calling home every week about my misbehaviour.

        Long story short, it ended in tears, mostly hers. You’re a father, surely you can imagine how painful it must be to realize, after a couple of months whipping your daughter every time she gets in trouble in school, that it’s not working, that it was never going to work, and you’ve been hurting your little girl for nothing.

        Mom kind of gave up on disciplining me at all after that. What was the point? Nothing she did seemed to have the slightest effect. And yet, my behaviour actually somewhat improved. Not a lot, and not immediately, but enough my parents were satisfied that hands off was the best approach. Though that may not be the cause of the improvement, since i did get along better with my fourth and fifth grade teachers, and by sixth grade i’d matured a bit. It’s funny, at the time i somewhat resented them for not taking a firmer hand, because i sincerely believed i would behave if only they would, but now i understand they were right to not continue an exercise in futility.

        So in conclusion, i’m not exactly impressed with the grand power of physical discipline to compel right and proper behaviour. Sometimes the child already genuinely wants to be good, she just doesn’t know how, and no amount of beating is going to magically instil that knowledge.

        • how nearly impossible it is influence our kids behavior

          I think that’s a considerable overstatement. It’s probably true for some parents with regard to some kids in some contexts. But I ended up with a lot of my parents’ values and resulting behavior and my kids ended up with a lot of mine and their mother’s.

          None of us were adopted, so I can’t prove that the correlation isn’t entirely genetic, but I doubt it. Judith Harris, who Scott recently mentioned, argued that children’s personalities are largely determined by their peer group but mentions the special case where the family is the peer group. I think that was true to a large extent for both the family in which I was a child and the family in which I am a parent.

        • nameless1 says:

          I don’t know as I never tried hitting and never will, but in my case it was not a conscious punishment on my parents part, it was not like “your teacher called, now I am bringing the belt” stuff like that never was done. But you know I constantly challenged them. If they asked me to be silent because they want to make a phone call of course I grinned and started to sing loudly. And then I got a slap. It was not punishment as such. I think it was more like I explicitly challenged their status in the family dominance hierachy and they just put me back, roughly like how a dog takes a puppy at the neck skin and shakes him. It is not something as cold as punishment, just a physical reminder of the hierarchy.

          And now I make it sound like my parents were very authoritarian… absolutely not! They mostly just wanted the kind of respect people should show to each other, everybody. That if they ask you to keep silent because I am making a call 99% of adults would comply. But PRECISELY because I was that bad kid who took these things as a challenge, they had to establish hierarchy! You could say that *I* was the authoritarian who took these requests as a chance to *establish* dominance by denying them so my parents had no choice left but to establish their dominance. I think they would have been happy with a nearly egalitarian, older friend relationship, if I was that type.

          To be fair the reason I was not that type was not inborn but largely because my classmates were engaged in a brutal game of everybody bullying everybody else to establish a hierarchy, a pecking order. I was usually on the losing side. I think I tried to take it out on my parents. Who else, I had no sibling and hated animals so no pets. So those slap was just my parents not having that, not really a punishment. I mean my classmates did exactly the same, one would challenge another kids position in the hierarchy with a form of disrespect like smearing a greasy food wrapper on his face, of course he would respond with hitting. I was 7 when I knocked out an already very loose milk-tooth of a classmate in such a situation… I was respected for like 3 months and then back in that horrid game.

  31. John Garrett says:

    Our only obligation as parents is to be better parents than our parents were for us. Parents begin with an illusion of control which disappears quickly: the choice we should face is to choose control, which eliminates influence, or to choose influence, which eliminates control.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      A parent’s obligation is to be the best parent they can be to their particular children. Even if that means recognizing than they cannot do enough on their own and need to bring in third parties (which is pretty much always the case in e.g. education, socializing, career advisement).

      For too many parents the mistake they make is actively not making their parents’ mistakes while blindly making new mistakes.

    • Our only obligation as parents is to be better parents than our parents were for us.

      Why? I hope I have been as good a parent for my children as my parents were for me.

  32. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    My guess as to how the “best friends” article is misleading: “banning best friends” actually means “banning the phrase ‘best friend'”. Which you could still object to, but it isn’t anywhere near the same level of horror and invasiveness as banning the actual friendships.

    • mdet says:

      Yeah, I’d chalk this up to terrible / clickbaity writing.

      The idea that “Instead of labeling a singular ‘best’ friend, kids would be better off cultivating a network of close friends” doesn’t seem unreasonable at all to me. We already say the same thing to adults as relationship advice: “You shouldn’t be entirely dependent on your partner, you should also have other personal friends you can hang out with and confide in. That way you can more easily weather temporary disagreements or even permanent breakups without having to rewrite your entire life & identity”

      Swap out the word “partner” for “best friend”, and then add unnecessarily polarizing words like “ban”, and you’ve basically got that article.

      • baconbits9 says:

        If you leave out that it is written by (I think, given the context) a psychologist who references her other opinion writings to bolster her factual claims, and is taking a very specific view of individual’s needs while claiming to be inclusive. If you are trying to be inclusive you don’t tell everyone that they need the same damn advice as everyone else, unless you think that people are all highly similar in want, need and trait characteristics.

        • mdet says:

          Yeah, I reread it with a friend, and that is not exactly the advice she was going for. But my attempt to steelman the position “Kids should put less emphasis on ‘best’ friends and more on friend networks” got me to the position above

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I wonder how many of the people who want to ban best friends also think polyamory is immoral.

      • Helaku says:

        kids would be better off cultivating a network of close friends

        It’s easy to say. Obviously that advice is not suited to everyone. Every relationship requires at least some energy & resources to invest not saying about emotions.

      • nameless1 says:

        But your partner isn’t just the best girl in your harem! Wait, I would actually like that 🙂 The point is for monogamous people partners are exclusive, while best friends are nowhere near exclusive, “best” means precisely that there are other friends, too. Just one is special.

        I think there is a basic and normal human instinct for that. I think it comes from the idea that leadership is usually singular. So we sort of cast a vote who we would like to see as a leader even if it is not the case. So if we have 5 cats we will have a favorite cat. That is simply the cat we would like to be the leader but of course cats haven no such thing.

  33. schazjmd says:

    >”And then there’s the discussion from the recent discussion of Madness and Civilization about how 18th century doctors thought hot drinks will destroy masculinity and ruin society.”

    I wonder if that’s why Joseph Smith included a prohibition on “hot drinks” in the Doctrine & Covenants.

    Of course, in practice, people thought “well, that can’t mean tea and coffee” and the response was “yes, that means tea and coffee”, and instead of the response being taken to mean “hot drinks includes tea and coffee”, it was interpreted as “hot drinks only means tea and coffee, whether hot or cold”.

  34. Paul Zrimsek says:

    Speaking of Chesterton, this seems relevant: “A man is perfectly entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it.”

  35. HeelBearCub says:

    It’s that so much – even the legitimacy of friendship itself – can now depend on our culture’s explicit rationality.

    I think you just got done showing that these sorts of things have always needed to be defended from the absurd. You have not established that there is anything at all unique about now.

  36. Careless says:

    CPAP masks are a prescription item in the US. That’s my current record holder for stupid government rulemaking of this sort.

    • Deiseach says:

      CPAP masks are a prescription item in the US.

      I wonder if that’s a legal fudge to permit them to be bought via your health insurance plan, rather than buying them out of pocket yourself, though? I can imagine people saying they’re part of their medical treatment (you have to have a mask to use the machine, after all) so why do they have to buy them themselves and the insurance companies saying they only pay for prescription items.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have a patient whose CPAP is clearly set at the wrong level, but it’s locked so he can’t change the setting himself. He has to have a doctor do it for him, and his health insurance doesn’t cover any of the relevant doctors, so he just uses a poorly-set CPAP.

      • bean says:

        Could you point him to where lockpicks can be found? It’s not particularly hard to do, and they’re legal in California.

      • Careless says:

        I can sort of understand the machine itself being a prescription item, although I wouldn’t designate it as such myself, but the mask? It doesn’t affect pressure (while the diameter of the hose, which is not prescription, can). It’s not high tech.

        Anyway, too high or too low? Can be a partially simply solved problem for certain very narrow parameters. But not a solution a doctor who wasn’t a CPAP expert could suggest to a patient, I believe

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        The hole in the system is that you can buy used machines online perfectly legally.

        Many have settable pressure.

        I’m surprised to hear masks are prescription. My nasal pillows that I use instead of the masks are cheap consumer products, but I couldn’t quickly find masks on Amazon. Maybe they have to be custom made for your face.

  37. blacktrance says:

    The generic libertarian answer is worth giving. For a lot of these kinds of problems, the solution is “free to choose”, not “try to collectively figure out the right choice”. If a European medicine results in a 1% lower death rate, why should I have to wait for the FDA to figure that out? Prima facie, I should just be able to buy it and use it if I want. If I’m worried about inhaling toxic fumes at the gas station, I should seek out those with attendants. Etc. We can debate what the default choice should be, but we shouldn’t be bound by it.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This solves the political problem (maybe) but not the epistemological one.

      • blacktrance says:

        It doesn’t fully solve the epistemological problem, but it puts some bounds on it. If I’m considering taking melatonin, I can look at other users and see that it’s not having hugely negative effects on them (e.g. they haven’t died or gone crazy). It wouldn’t detect subtle differences, but it’s better than nothing, and it gives me the opportunity to decide that if the negatives are small/unlikely enough not to register, the benefits are worth it. On the other hand, banning a substance/practice/etc puts a lot of people in the “it’s banned, therefore it’s bad” -> “it’s bad, so it should stay banned” infinite loop. (“19 percent of opponents said marijuana should be illegal because it is illegal.”)

        And it lowers the stakes. In a free society, if the default is wrong, I can deviate from it. As things are, I have to persuade and/or mobilize enough people to change the law/norm – or suffer.

      • It reduces the problem. It doesn’t make getting information easier but it increases the incentive to get it.

    • DavidS says:

      There’s also the point that the individual’s choice in a practical sense doesn’t necessarily exist. E.g. I don’t know how many states have both gas stations with and without attendants. So it’s more a theoretical ‘if there were enough of you and information was spread you’d get your choice’ thing.

      Similarly Scott uses the speed limit example: I can’t choose to drive on main roads where the speed limit is 20mph as they don’t exist.

      • Don P. says:

        Massachusetts has both self-service and pump-your-own, and has for decades. I’m pretty sure that some stations have both, with no extra charge for the service. (I’m a self-service fueler, myself.)

  38. eqdw says:

    Actually, how sure are we that Oregon was wrong to ban self-service gas stations? How do disabled people pump their gas in most of the country? And is there some kind of negative effect from breathing in gas fumes? I have never looked into any of this.

    By going to a full-service gas station, of course.

    A _massive_ pet peeve of mine, in general, that is _everywhere_ in the wake of this gas thing, is people creatively reinterpreting reality in the following pessimistic way:

    The law allows people to pump their own gas

    People are freaking out saying that the law forces them to pump their own gas.

    There is a world of difference between “this is now an option available to you” and “this is now the new and only option available to you” and maliciously interpreting the former as the latter is a fully general argument against any new option on offer in any situation for anything ever.

    • Deiseach says:

      There is a world of difference between “this is now an option available to you” and “this is now the new and only option available to you”

      My experience has been that “this is now a new option available to you, the customer, to make your experience even better” mostly results in “this makes things more inconvenient, take longer, and puts an extra burden of time/effort on you, the customer but it allows us to shave pennies off our costs and every penny counts, so suck it up!”

      Also that “this is an extra option” soon does become “this is the only option” – I’ve seen it with bank services over here over the years, and I bet “you can pump your own gas if you want” will become “you have to pump your own gas, like it or lump it”.

      • adder says:

        I bet “you can pump your own gas if you want” will become “you have to pump your own gas, like it or lump it”.

        Wait, pumping your own gas is the extra option? I guess the ‘extra’ depends on what you’re used to as the default. But I’m pretty sure ‘pump your own gas’ is worth considering the basic option, with ‘have someone pump your gas’ being the extra option, seeing as the latter costs the seller more.

        Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in Oregon ends up having to pump their own gas. But if they’re really concerned about the fumes as much as they sound, someone could make a killing offering pump service for some extra cents per gallon.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        This is how it works:
        1) Oregonians are outraged by the prospect of having to pump their own gas.
        2) Some gas stations, eager to please these customers, proudly display “Full Service!” banners.
        3) Other gas stations fire their attendants and cut gas prices by a few cents a gallon.
        4) Oregonians exclusively patronize the self-service gas stations, because they’re cheaper.
        5) The full-service stations go self-service or go out of business.
        6) Oregonians say “see, the full-service stations are gone! We told you the law would force us into self-service!”

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, in the presence of economic incentives for one of those options, that does tend to become the only option sooner or later. And self-service gas is cheaper and logistically simpler. That is not the same thing as the law forcing you to do it, but it does have the same results. It’s probably been twenty years since I’ve seen a full-service gas station outside of Oregon.

      But let’s be real here. It’s not hard and it’s not unsafe. Find me a mutant dog with opposable thumbs and I’m pretty sure I could teach that dog to do it. And Google informs me that that the ADA requires gas station attendants to provide assistance to disabled people, even at self-service stations, so that’s that question answered.

      • Well, in the presence of economic incentives for one of those options, that does tend to become the only option sooner or later.

        It’s legal for steakhouses to serve the cheapest cut of beef they can buy. There is an economic incentive, in your sense, to do it–it costs less. There is an economic incentive not to do it–customers are less willing to come and pay money if the steak isn’t good.

        Similarly here. If customers prefer full service, there is an economic incentive to provide it. If the value to the customers of full service is two cents a gallon and the cost to the station is five cents, then the economic incentive is to not provide it–and that’s the right answer.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          Same thing with wheelchair ramps, right?

          • adder says:

            @Andrew Cady
            Sarcasm, right? Yes, state intervention fudges the economic incentives to make sure persons with disabilities get access. But the gas thing is not about that. As mentioned above, the ADA requires gas stations provide equal access: https://www.ada.gov/gasserve.htm. It’s the very top hit when I searched “how do disabled people pump gas in self service stations”

          • Andrew Cady says:

            That isn’t sarcasm. I presume that that is DavidFriedman’s actual position on wheelchair ramps, and for the exact same argument.

            (Sarcasm isn’t necessarily present in a critical remark or pointed question.)

            I am making the point that the argument goes too far — too far for most people, not for DavidFriedman — because it refutes mandatory wheelchair ramps. Understanding why we would mandate wheelchair ramps also tells us why we wouldn’t necessarily want to defer to “the market” in other cases, including this one.

            (I don’t really think we ought to mandate full service, but the reason is not that “the market” always produces “the right answer.”)

          • baconbits9 says:

            Understanding why we would mandate wheelchair ramps also tells us why we wouldn’t necessarily want to defer to “the market” in other cases, including this one.

            Stating that “we” mandated wheel chair ramps is misleading. “We” might be willing to support, or not support mandatory ramps based on a variety of factors, one of which would the level of ramps provided under “the market”.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            I didn’t state that “we mandated” wheelchair ramps. I talked about “why we would.” You are reading this phrase in the wrong way.

            (Even if I had stated that “we mandated” wheelchair ramps, I would just be using “we” to mean the USA. It wouldn’t mean that every citizen agreed with it.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t see “we mandated” vs “why we would” makes a difference. The reason many things get mandated in politics is cost benefit analysis politicians make about their own popularity. “We” (as in the US) mandated a ban on alcohol because a relatively small portion of the population organized and committed to getting it passed into law. Your example, as far as I can tell, says nothing more than the fact that small groups are willing to impose costs on large groups sometimes.

          • I presume that that is DavidFriedman’s actual position on wheelchair ramps

            Correct.

            but the reason is not that “the market” always produces “the right answer.”

            I don’t claim that the market always produces the right answer–I’ve described in some detail in various places situations where it doesn’t. I spend part of a chapter of the third edition of Machinery on market failure in the market for law–situations in which my preferred institutions fail to produce economically optimal legal rules.

            My claim is only that the market does better than the political alternative, that the same logic that occasionally makes the market produce the wrong outcome routinely makes the political system do so.

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      The people who think this are not totally wrong when you consider businesses as herd animals. Case in point: When my locality banned smoking in bars some time ago, behind the scenes one of the big backer of the banning push was actually the local business community, ie. the bars themselves. Why would they do this when they could just ban smoking in their own bar? Because they knew that if they did that unilaterally, they would be punished by their patrons. In essence the law was just a convenient cover so they could all move at the same time.

      • Lillian says:

        Note that they only did this because it’s illegal for businesses to form cartels. If it was legal, most of the bars would belong to the bar cartel, the bar cartel would ban smoking in bars, and the couple of non-cartel bars would still allow smoking along with a large number of other non-cartel approved things. This is the traditional approach to business regulation, with the caveat that it’s also traditional for the cartel membership to be mandatory. Of course mandatory-cartel evasion is itself as traditional as tax evasion.

  39. Icedcoffee says:

    Isn’t this just using a simple heuristic for low-stakes decision-making? E.g. rather than intensely scrutinize the evidence surrounding the (clearly engaging) debate over gas station regulation, we look at standard practice, notice that 48 out of 50 States (and most countries) do it one way, and assume that the overwhelming majority probably has it right. Is this maximally rigorous? Of course not. But we need an easy way to filter out the “absurd” arguments, and putting the burden of proof on minority viewpoints seems like a reasonable filter.

    And as a side note, I’d posit that our “intuitions about absurdity” are more about magnitude than directionality. E.g. what we find absurd is not that “hot beverages reduce masculinity,” but that hot beverages have any strong impact on anything. (Temperature excluded, I suppose.) We disregard these arguments not because we think they are directionally wrong, but because we are pretty sure that even if right, the impact is so minimal that it isn’t worth seriously considering. When dealing with high magnitude issues, (e.g. nuclear power or pharmaceuticals), the lay person’s perception of what is “absurd” probably shrinks quite a bit.

  40. Wrong Species says:

    Why don’t countries more often test run regulations, whether implementing or abolishing them? Make the change for a year, then reverse it for a year and then come together with the research to make the final decision. That way we don’t have to collectively freak out when something new happens.

    • entobat says:

      I think the objection to your plan is that whoever the arbiter of truth is has a lot of power, and unconscious bias or conscious fraud could affect their judgment. “The Democrats want 3% GDP growth this year” is obviously problematic; “The Republicans want to know how good their new tax plan was for the economy this year ;)” only slightly less so. You’d need to keep the predictions secret, and agree on a secret rating agency beforehand (no “your think tank things it was good, mine thinks it was bad”), and somehow prevent leaks.

      I’ve often wondered why we don’t have something standard like this for public officials: if you really think Shmoebamafair is going to Destroy The Economy, put a probability on it and we’ll check in next year.

      “There were complicated effects that I didn’t anticipate but which made everything work out in the opposite direction of what I expected” is a viable excuse, though eventually it turns into “I really don’t know what I’m talking about”. Ditto for “but it would have been even better / much worse if we did it the other way”. If you can’t reliably predict the outcomes of policies you pass, maybe we should replace you.

      I think the real answer is that a lot of what politicians say is signaling to their base rather than something they literally believe, and everyone will forget about the prediction by the time it can be verified. Our culture is happy about that. And at least in the current climate, a Democrat not decrying some policy idea will hardly make Republicans like them more, but will surely making their base like them less.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        You don’t need an automatic process to decide which policy to retain. We’re just talking about is basically just a sunset clause, which is already pretty standard.

        An indefinitely-repeating sunset clause would be an interesting way to stay neutral on which direction becomes default.

        E.g., instead of the income tax cuts expiring in 10 years, they could expire in 10 years, then restart again 10 years later, then expire again in 10 years, etc., indefinitely until further legislative action is taken.

        • entobat says:

          Sure, we can have laws with sunset clauses, but there will still be interminable debate about whether they were good. “Sure, the economy grew better under the Blue president’s tax plan, but that’s only because the previous Red president laid the groundwork for more businesses to get started.” Repeat ad nauseum.

        • Antistotle says:

          That’s kind of ridiculous with income tax rules because the..erm…”people” in government muck about with such things all the time to get some result or other.

          However I do think *ALL* laws ought to be subject to discussion and renewal *individually* on a regular basis. Give the…erm…”people” in government something to do other than pile regulation on regulation.

    • baconbits9 says:

      At least in part (well not the actual reasons) being that it is the accumulation of effects that matter, and such a process would often show perverse results. Left wing economists often point to the high marginal tax rates in the 60s correlating with more investment, not less, to attack the more orthodox position that capitial tax rates will cause a decrease in investment. There is an issue here though, this result is completely consistent with the orthodox position + the anticipation of future lower rates. If rates are raised but expected to be lowered in the near term it would be reasonable for an investor put off liquidating capital during that period, leading to higher net investment for a short time. Proponents of higher rates could well be shocked (shocked I tell you) when they instituted permanent plans and investment (eventually) decreased.

      • Wrong Species says:

        That is high level stuff that is strongly affected by general economic conditions, more than anything else. Take something like the licensed barber examples. If you deregulated it and there was suddenly a surge in Sweeney Todd’s, then it would make sense to regulate barber licenses. But if there was no discernible effect, then it just shows that they are economically inefficient. What other economic effects could change barber safety in such a short time frame?

    • The UK often trials things in Scotland or Wales before implementing in England.

    • Morgan says:

      Depends how significant the cost of implementing the regulations is, either to the government (maybe they need to hire/train a bunch of new civil servants to implement the new regulations) or to the population affected (maybe all businesses need to buy a new widget to comply with the new regulations). Also depends how long it would take to see a significant positive/negative effect.

      If everyone needs to shell out a bunch of money for wheelchair ramps because wheelchair ramps are mandatory, then they’re probably going to be a lot grumpier about doing it if wheelchair ramps are only mandatory for the next twelve months. And probably drag their feet a lot more about getting the ramp set up, and be less concerned about it being a good quality ramp. So the net effect will be less good in a one-year implementation period than in the first year of an ongoing implementation, when everyone knows that they’re going to need to make this work long-term. (And if you scrap the regulation after a year of people complaining about how hard it is to fit ramps to their buildings, everyone who *has* fitted a ramp has already paid for it and doesn’t get that money back)

      If you set a mandatory minimum level of exhaust emissions on vehicles in order to reduce air pollution, it’s going to take a while for the effect to be measurable. Even if the improved air quality would balance out the inconvenience over a decade, the inconvenience will be concentrated in the first year and the air quality improvements will be gradual.

      The cost-benefit analyses for both will look different over a 1-year and a 10-year span, and if there’s a significant chance it’s going to go away in a year, people will look far more at the 1-year analysis.

  41. Deiseach says:

    Europeans: did you know melatonin is sold like candy in the United States?

    Apparently everything in the USA is sold like candy, except actual candy: your great nation is keeping its people safe from the horrible threat of these lethal monstrosities – Kinder Surprise Eggs! Though apparently from the start of this month, you will be permitted to buy a variant of this brand in selected stores – don’t go mad with this sudden access of liberty, now!

  42. adrian.ratnapala says:

    Petrol station regulation, tea drinking and best buddies can all be decided by the rule of thumb that you should prefer to let people to freely do what they want. Scott’s angst only comes about because he has decided that he is too smart to be a libertarian and so now he has to worry about how society should decide every little potential decision.

    Chesterton’s Fence is also an important heuristic. Given a choice between two illiberties, a time time-honoured is preferrable, as our existing society has co-evolved with it.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Ok, what I really want to do is shoot off extremely explosive fireworks in random directions whenever the fancy strikes me. Your house is right next to mine. What do you do ?

      • Nornagest says:

        You don’t follow rules of thumb off a cliff.

        • Bugmaster says:

          IMO that’s the same as saying, “you can’t use rules of thumb to decide on policy”, because each person’s cliff is unique.

          • Nornagest says:

            If your idea of a good time is watching TV, and my idea of a good time is throwing knives at my neighbors’ pets, there is a clear externality that third parties can use to decide who should be left alone and who should be spending some time in front of a jury. Or, I don’t know, a heavily armed insurance adjustor or something if you’re an ancap.
            We can use that to make policy without abandoning the idea that people generally have a pretty good idea of what’s best for them.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Gas stations, drinking hot beverages, and making friendships all involve externalities. As long as you are a member of human society, any action you take has effects (i.e., costs) for the rest of us.

            The question of pumping gas is plainly the question of managing its effects the rest of society. When people talk about environmental concerns, health concerns, and economic concerns, they are talking about addressing these externalities.

          • Nornagest says:

            Yes, it’s a question of scale. And I think the relative scales here are pretty damn obvious. As, I think, do you.

          • As long as you are a member of human society, any action you take has effects (i.e., costs) for the rest of us.

            Costs and benefits.

            In the ideal decentralized system, each actor receives all the benefits and bears all the costs of his action, so it is only in his interest to take actions where the net is a benefit. We can’t manage that, because most actions have at least some positive or negative effects on others. But in most cases most of the cost and benefit go to the actor, which gets us close to the optimum decisions.

            The alternative is to have the decision made through the political mechanism. In that system actors, decision makers, almost never bear any significant fraction of the cost of their actions or receive any significant fraction of the benefits, making it much more likely that the result will to take actions that impose net costs or fail to take actions that provide net benefits.

          • albatross11 says:

            It intuitively feels like this is a transaction-cost sort of thing. In principle, if everyone affected by my actions got to negotiate with me about it at no transaction costs, I guess I’d have a more positive impact (or maybe a less negative one, depending) on the world. But as it is, transaction costs for intervening in other peoples’ day-to-day decisions are very high, so we either ignore them or we impose very coarse one-size-fits-all laws or social norms or whatever that try to push things in the right direction.

          • If transaction costs are zero the problem of inefficient decisions due to externalities vanishes, as Coase pointed out. But with realistic transaction costs, it’s still the case that for most private decisions most of the cost and benefit go to the person making them.

            If I hire someone to mow my lawn and pay him ten dollars, he may get some benefit from it–perhaps he would have been willing to do it for nine. But I am getting most of the benefit (mowed lawn) and bearing all of the cost (nine dollar loss of his leisure, more than fully compensated by my payment).

            If I spend time and effort deciding who to vote for in a presidential election, I bear all of the cost and receive about 1/300,000,000 th of the benefit of a better decision. If a judge decides a case and sets a precedent, if a legislator votes for a bill, he bears almost none of the cost and receives almost none of the benefit.

            It’s true that in a zero transaction cost world the political system would also produce the right outcomes. But we are much farther from that in the political system than in the private system.

          • Guy in TN says:

            In that system actors, decision makers, almost never bear any significant fraction of the cost of their actions or receive any significant fraction of the benefits

            In a democratic system, where the people making the laws have to live under the effects of them, I would say this isn’t the case. When a lawmaker seeks to (for example) reduce CO2 emissions, he is doing it for his own benefit, as well as his constituents (and also bears the same economic costs as a regular citizen).

            The alternative is to have the decision made through the political mechanism.

            Your brand of anarcho-capitalism advocates for competing political systems, no? So I don’t see what the alternative to politics is here. Are you saying we shouldn’t try to manage the effects of externalities at all?

          • Guy in TN says:

            In the ideal decentralized system, each actor receives all the benefits and bears all the costs of his action, so it is only in his interest to take actions where the net is a benefit. We can’t manage that, because most actions have at least some positive or negative effects on others. But in most cases most of the cost and benefit go to the actor, which gets us close to the optimum decisions.

            It’s true that on most days, I don’t dump Uranium into the lake at the park. But that’s not a good argument against laws that protect us from that sort of thing. Often, the laws are for that 1/10,000 moment.

          • In a democratic system, where the people making the laws have to live under the effects of them, I would say this isn’t the case.

            Start with the simple case–the individual voter. It’s true that if I elect Trump I have to live under Trump. But if I don’t elect Trump and you do I still have to live under Trump. Insofar as my vote affects anything, it affects an outcome for (at least) three hundred million people, so I only end up with about one three hundred millionth of the cost or benefit. So it makes more sense to vote for whomever makes me feel good or whomever my friends will think better of me for supporting, than to figure out who will be best for the country.

            When a lawmaker seeks to (for example) reduce CO2 emissions, he is doing it for his own benefit, as well as his constituents

            First assume, contrary to fact, that the lawmaker is trying to maximize the welfare of his constituents. Further suppose that global warming due to CO2 is a bad thing. It’s still the case that if he votes to bear some cost, say more expensive electricity, to reduce CO2 emissions, the benefit is shared with the rest of the globe, the cost is born entirely by his constituents. So if benefit is merely five times cost, he won’t do it–the benefit for his constituents is less than the cost for his constituents

            Now take the more realistic assumption in which his objective is his own welfare and that of those close to him. If he votes to reduce CO2 emissions by subsidizing solar producers, those producers can contribute to his campaign funds. Their workers may be in his district. If he votes to reduce it by insisting on turning maize into ethanol–which apparently doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions but was claimed to–the benefit goes to the farmers growing maize in his district, the cost in more expensive fuel and more expensive food is widely distributed.

            You should be able to work out more examples for yourself. A congressman votes on programs that impose billions of dollars of costs and, hopefully, provide billions of dollars of benefits. There is no reason beyond chance to think that the programs for which benefits to everyone are larger than costs to everyone will be the same as the ones for which benefits to him are larger than costs to him. It isn’t as if each congressman bears a per capita share of all costs and receives a per capita share of all benefits.

            Externalities are sometimes a problem on the private market. But they are the normal situation on the political market. If you choose to devote time and energy to deciding which president to vote for, the externality of your act is about 99.9999996%.

          • @Guy in TN:

            It’s true that if we had a philosopher king government, a government that acted like a wise and benevolent superman, that government could improve the market outcome by regulating activities that produce negative externalities, subsidizing activities that produce positive externalities.

            But we don’t have such a government. We have a government that turns a quarter of the maize production of the U.S., about ten percent of the production of the world, into Ethanol for the sole purpose of making maize more expensive and so making American farmers richer at the expense of American (and foreign) consumers. Our bit to promote global hunger. Even Al Gore has now conceded that doing that doesn’t actually reduce AGW–but supporting it improved his odds in farm state primaries.

            You need to analyze the political system with the same assumptions as the market–a bunch of individuals trying to achieve their own objectives under some set of rules, not a benevolent divinity. When you do that, the reasons to expect the political system to produce the wrong outcomes are much stronger than the reasons to expect the market system to–although the latter will also sometimes get it wrong.

          • Guy in TN says:

            There is no reason beyond chance to think that the programs for which benefits to everyone are larger than costs to everyone will be the same as the ones for which benefits to him are larger than costs to him.

            This can be investigated. What if laws that are of net benefit to most people, also happen to be laws that align with politicians self interest? We can’t simply assume the correlation is non-existent. What about laws against murder? Laws they keep their city from sinking into the ocean? I would think that since politicians are human, and have the same basic needs as the rest of us, there is going to be some correlation.

            I don’t share your pessimistic view of democracy, that politicians are wholly self-serving and that the people have no say. But even if I were to grant it, I don’t think you have a case against…having laws in general? (It seems like the conversation has shifted beyond the scope of mere externalities).

            Externalities are sometimes a problem on the private market. But they are the normal situation on the political market.

            I would say externalities are everywhere, and in everything. All acquisition of property, for instance, imposes costs on everyone who previously had access to the previously unowned resource. The law is the only mechanism we have to even address externalities. Take that away, and we’d be drowning in them.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You need to analyze the political system with the same assumptions as the market–a bunch of individuals trying to achieve their own objectives under some set of rules, not a benevolent divinity. When you do that, the reasons to expect the political system to produce the wrong outcomes are much stronger than the reasons to expect the market system to–although the latter will also sometimes get it wrong.

            When you talk about the “political system” vs. the “market system”, you are advocating for shifting power from the state, to the landlord and capitalist class. Why do you think that a landlord would have to bear the costs of his own decisions, but a king wouldn’t? Your fundamental error, I think, is believing that unaccountable state power and private power have a different set of incentives. When in truth, an unaccountable state is essentially indistinguishable from that of a sovereign property owner.

            Even if I were to grant your argument, that the U.S. system is indistinguishable from an unaccountable oligarchy or monarchy, that just tells me that the “political system” has devolved into the same thing as the “private system”. And even then, we’d at least have a game plan for salvaging the political system (through democracy), unlike with the private system (where there is no such accountability in our cultural tradition).

            On the practical level, let’s take an issue close to home for me: coal mining. The coal industry is fighting tooth and nail against every EPA regulation. Forget global warming, they don’t even care about lung cancer, heavy metals, broken retention ponds. It’s scorched earth against the poorest people in the nation. How did it come to be that the state is right about this issue, and the industry is wrong? The market generously rewards the coal industry, and the state is the only thing standing between us and outright dystopia.

            Doesn’t this show there must be a flaw in the logic of the market always knowing better than the state? Could it be that the incentive to get re-elected actually kicks in, and outperforms the market every now and then?

          • Garrett says:

            @Nornagest:

            Or, I don’t know, a heavily armed insurance adjustor or something if you’re an ancap.

            This sentence greatly brightened my day. Thank you.

          • I don’t think you have a case against…having laws in general?

            Actually, my case is for a system where laws are themselves a market outcome, hence where the incentives of law makers, like the incentives of the producers of ordinary goods and services, are aligned reasonably well with the interest of those affected. For details see part III of The Machinery of Freedom.

          • Why do you think that a landlord would have to bear the costs of his own decisions, but a king wouldn’t?

            Because tenants can choose among lots of alternative landlords at low cost, hence a landlord who provides a much less attractive package of rents and terms than others will have no tenants. That wouldn’t be true if there were only three landlords and they were able to form and maintain a cartel, but that’s a very unusual situation.

            A king faces some of the same constraint, assuming he isn’t willing go to the extremes of societies such as the USSR and physically prevent people from leaving, but much less.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Why would it be that, after fast-forwarding into a stateless society, the cost of choosing among landlords would necessarily be less than the cost of choosing among states?

            I’ll grant that the costs of changing landlords would be less than that of a state that prevents people from leaving (DPRK, USSR). However, a typical state would also be an improvement over a landlord who kidnaps people. But since you aren’t advocating for that, and I’m not advocating for a DPRK situation, I think we can set those aside.

          • Because economies of scale in home rental don’t run to anything close to the size of most nations. If you are imagining a patchwork of nations each a few hundred acres in area then the situations do become comparable.

            The other difference is that the nation not only allows you to live in its territory, it also makes and enforces laws. In the system I argue for, that function is separate from land ownership, so you can change rights enforcement agencies without moving at all, just as you can change insurance companies today.

          • Guy in TN says:

            You are extrapolating from the modern power distribution, where private holdings are smaller in size than states, and arguing that these will be still be small after we abolish the state, because of to the current land distribution in the United States. It seems to me that landowners are small because the highest position of power is being occupied by the state. After you abolish all entities that go by the name of “state”, you leave a massive power void ripe for the filling.

            By the way, some large private land holding are already larger than small nation states (the J.D. Irving company owns 3.6 million acres, bigger than the Bahamas and Montenegro, for example).

            The other difference is that the nation not only allows you to live in its territory, it also makes and enforces laws. In the system I argue for, that function is separate from land ownership, so you can change rights enforcement agencies without moving at all, just as you can change insurance companies today.

            Are you saying that in your proposed system, landowners wouldn’t have enforcement power (i.e., be able to enforce private law) against people who are occupying their land? That’s a pretty strong break from what most people would describe as one of the core aspects of capitalism.

          • Are you saying that in your proposed system, landowners wouldn’t have enforcement power (i.e., be able to enforce private law) against people who are occupying their land?

            In my system a landowner would have the same right to enforce private law against his tenants as anyone would have to enforce it against anyone. Each individual is a customer of a rights enforcement agency and each pair of rights enforcement agencies have agreed on the private court that will settle disputes between their customers.

            A landowner could bundle rights enforcement with land rental–only agree to rent land to someone who agreed to be a customer of his preferred rights enforcement agency. But potential tenants would take account of that condition, as of any other condition, in deciding what rent they were willing to pay.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            Each individual is a customer of a rights enforcement agency…

            Where do these agencies’ powers to enforce rights come from ? What prevents the landlord from simply buying up all the regional agencies ? You could say “market competition”, but if your landlord owns all the land and all the agencies in sight, that’s a small comfort. In fact, since market consolidation has clear benefits, we would expect this situation to be the norm, rather than the exception.

          • Guy in TN says:

            My preferred rights enforcement agency, the state, is not inclined to agree to private dispute resolution. So this all sounds very utopian to me.

            To paraphrase Scott from two years ago: The thing that you say won’t happen, has already happened.

            At some point, when humans were in small isolated tribes, “rights enforcement” was highly decentralized. Then we created the nation-state, centralized that power as much as possible, and its been that way basically ever since (excluding some rare and usually temporary situations). I don’t see how re-winding the clock again is going to make any difference.

          • You could say “market competition”, but if your landlord owns all the land and all the agencies in sight

            How does that happen?

            An earlier commenter mentioned the Irvine company as a very large land owner, perhaps the largest private land owner. I can’t find a statement for their total land holdings but according to Wikipedia the core holding is the 93,000 acre Irvine ranch. If my calculation is correct, that comes to about 1/26,000 of the land area of the U.S.

            Bill Gates is one of the richest men in America with net wealth of about $88 billion. That’s just about 1/1000 of the total wealth of all U.S. households.

            In a world where one man owns everything I don’t think my system, or any other, is likely to work well, but that is about three orders of magnitude away from the real world.

            The only entities in the world you and I live in that come close to what you describe are governments.

      • Actually, what my daughter and I do is wander around the neighborhood after dark on the Fourth of July watching our neighbors’ illegal fireworks.

        So far as the general question, when a large part of the cost of your acts goes to other people that is a reason to restrict your freedom to take those acts. That doesn’t describe most of the real world cases of such restrictions.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I think this is a good example, because you are absolutely right: 99.9% of the time, those illegal fireworks are hurting no one and are in fact increasing the total happiness in your neighbourhood. The other 0.1% of the time, you have paramedics and the fire department on standby to mitigate as much of the damage as possible.

          So, as most issues, this is a tradeoff. If we allow anyone to set off any kind of firework at any time for any reason, we will need to significantly increase the budget for emergency services; this can quickly become prohibitive (especially given that those services are not 100% effective, either). We could disallow the very idea of fireworks in our society, but this can get prohibitive as well (all that thought-policing doesn’t come cheap). So, we need to find a happy medium. Maybe we make fireworks illegal, but only enforce this rule when someone sets his neighbour’s house on fire — as a deterrent to anyone else who might consider doing the same. Or maybe we hand out licenses for fireworks, provided that the applicant completes a safety training course (kind of like we do for cars). Or maybe we just scrape up the funds for 10x increase in firefighter budgets.

          Concepts like “liberty” and “private property” and “rights” such are excellent ideas, and they serve as a good starting points for building public policy. But you can never stop just at abstract concepts, because, at the end of the day, it’s your own physical house that’s going to end up on fire.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The paramedics and fire departments are on standby for the official licensed displays; the unlicensed ones do not have such. They only cost when someone does manage to set something on fire (rare) or blow a body part off (less rare).

            The thing about totally pragmatic arguments like that one is they always support the status quo, whatever it is; they’re a mechanism for what the post is talking about.

          • Bugmaster says:

            The thing about totally pragmatic arguments like that one is they always support the status quo…

            I’ve personally outlined at least two alternatives, so your “always” is not strictly correct. That said, the status quo is usually status quo for a reason; so, as per the Chesterton’s Fence, I could be persuaded that pragmatic arguments often support the status quo.

        • Aapje says:

          @DavidFriedman

          Actually, what my daughter and I do is wander around the neighborhood after dark on the Fourth of July watching our neighbors’ illegal fireworks.

          Fun fact: About half the fireworks victims in my country are bystanders, not the person setting off the fireworks.

  43. n8chz says:

    Concerning this “majoring in medicine” thing: Is the medicine major administered on a “cohort” basis? That is, is there an expectation that your graduating class (of “medicine majors”) is a subset of your entering class, so that you and your cohortians will have taken all the classes together, laughed and cried together, all that stuff? Or is it like a typical liberal arts major in typical American college catalog, where the requirements for graduation with the major are spelled out in terms of coursework requirements, but checking those boxes is more or less cafeteria-style? Something like, “at least two of MED 306, MED 317, MED 350 and MED 356,” or something like “at least 24 credit hours from courses on the following list”? If not, is it not in some sense “medical school?” If so, how do they keep introverts and autistic folks and the like from becoming physicians and ending up with some kind of “good doctor” scenario?

    • rlms says:

      I think the whole thing of college students being both permitted and obliged to choose a broad range of classes (and hence the idea of majoring) is an American thing. In Europe (or the UK at least), you generally apply to study one specific subject and pretty much exclusively do courses in that. For a subject like medicine, I think there is very little choice in courses, as the content of a valid medical degree is pretty fully specified (only a small number of universities offer medicine). People who aren’t “people persons” are filtered out partially by a semiformal requirement of volunteering experience in some caring role (for instance in a nursing home), and the fact that part of the degree is training in a hospital. But there are certainly some autistic doctors, and I expect they exist in the US as well even if you haven’t met any.

      One thing Scott didn’t mention is that European (at least British) medical degrees take longer than others, generally 5 or 6 years rather than 3 or 4. So the difference isn’t as drastic as it might seem.

    • markus says:

      The same as rmls described about Britain goes for Sweden.

  44. SEE says:

    And is there some kind of negative effect from breathing in gas fumes?

    Of course. One of the constituents of gas fumes is benzene, after all.

    But since the dose makes the poison, that’s actually an argument for self-serve, rather than concentrating the exposure on a few gas station attendants.

  45. Guy in TN says:

    I think about it, and I want to encourage people to be really, really good at rational debate, just in case something terrible loses its protective coating of absurdity, or something absolutely necessary gains it, and our ability to actually judge whether things are good or bad and convince other people of it is all that stands between us and disaster.

    The questions of “how do you determine what is true?” and “how do you determine what is good?” could, uh, fill some books to say the least.

    In the absence of direct scientific study of the effects of policy, I would think that turning to experts and intellectuals for guidance is the best route. Preferably these people would be either (or preferably both):
    1. Close to the subject at hand.
    2. Trusted for their general political or philosophical wisdom.

    So I would listen to what lowly gas station clerks have to say on the subject, since first hand experience is a source of knowledge. And I would listen to what outside intellectuals have to say, since they may have a robust understanding (via history, philosophy, economics , ect) of how These Sorts of Things work in general.

    It’s not a very satisfying answer, I suppose, since these authorities will often disagree with each other. But I’d like to think that the average person isn’t wholly unreasonable, and can be persuaded by sound logic and rationality, even if it takes some drawn out back-and-forth to reach. You rightfully point out that we are awful at debating. But what is the alternative? Something much worse, I think.

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      You rightfully point out that we are awful at debating. But what is the alternative? Something much worse, I think.

      Not necessarily; as something less than fully-rational Bayesian reasoners, we could agree to disagree and go our separate ways.

      • Guy in TN says:

        We could go away, and leave the status quo intact? That’s just a tacit win for one party. If it was over a question of significant importance, I don’t see how the other party would be satisfied with that.

        • Nornagest says:

          If you need some level of consensus to execute a change, and you know you can’t achieve that level of consensus, then choosing whether to walk away is not a choice between the status quo and whatever you actually want, it’s a choice between the status quo and the status quo plus shouting.

          Obviously you don’t know at first whether this is the case, but the longer an argument goes on, the more compelling a case you can make that you can’t achieve consensus.

        • Ghillie Dhu says:

          The key piece missing from your summary is “agree to disagree”; this is not the status quo in many contexts.

          An alternate framing of my point would be: “None” is always a valid policy option which is often overlooked.

  46. Peter Shenkin says:

    “How do disabled people pump their gas in most of the country?” Many gas stations in states where self-service is permitted have one pump island where you can get your gas pumped by a “professional”. You pay more per gallon.

    By the way, in some gas stations in NYC, all pumping is done by attendants. No self-service allowed. These tend to be stations in midtown where entrance and egress is difficult, so the attendants also help people in and out, mainly by directing traffic; fo example, directin someone coming in to which pump to land at.

  47. enye-word says:

    There are way too many discrepancies in approved medications between countries to discuss every one of them, but did you know melatonin is banned in most of Europe?

    Could you include an authoritative citation for this? I’m having trouble finding such a source on the internet, and I’m curious as to what the situation is.

  48. Steve Sailer says:

    “Did you know that in Puerto Rico, you can just walk into a pharmacy and get any non-scheduled drug you want without a doctor’s prescription? (source: my father; I have never heard anyone else talk about this, and nobody else even seems to think it is interesting enough to be worth noting).”

    I’ve been pointing out for decades that the vast increase in the number of baseball sluggers from the Caribbean may have something to do with how easy it is to get steroids over the counter back home. For example, here’s a movie review from 2009:

    https://www.unz.com/isteve/all-star-break/

    The stereotype of Caribbean ballplayers used to be “wiry middle-infielder,” but not anymore.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      Can (mainland) Americans go to Puerto Rico, stock up on steroids/adderall/metformin and travel home without risking customs trouble?

    • Tarpitz says:

      Interesting. The West Indies has certainly produced a lot of devastating T20 hitters in recent years, but at the same time has largely lost its historic knack of raising legitimately fast bowlers.

  49. ratupine says:

    More important the the 3 people from Oregon that said these things on Facebook are the thousands of people that then transferred those views to “Oregonians” or “many Oregonians” or worst “all Oregonians”.

    • Lillian says:

      Misleading clickbait headline. All they did was reduce the penalties for first time possession of personal use amounts by changing it from a felony to a misdemeanour. That’s not decriminalization at all. Even if you think recreational drugs ought to be banned, this is a completely reasonable thing to do, and Oregon isn’t even the first state to do it.

      Also this quote from State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D) is so beautifully obscene: “The proponents of these bills mistakenly believe that drug sentences damage people’s lives, but it’s the drugs that ruin people’s lives.”

      It beggars belief that someone could imply with a straight face that criminal sentencing is not damaging to people’s lives. That is literally its operating mechanism! If it weren’t damaging to people’s lives, it would not be considered a penalty.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Yeah, it bugs me when people use ‘decriminalise’ (which you would normally take to mean ‘make something not a crime’) to mean ‘make something a lower category of crime’. But I suppose we don’t actually have a good word for ‘make something a lower category of crime’.

        • Lillian says:

          The phrase “reduce penalties” conveys the meaning and requires only three more characters. If it is truly necessary to condense it into one word, the accurate one would be”defelonization”.

        • Protagoras says:

          Especially as in sex worker advocacy, it means what you would expect it to.

          • Lillian says:

            It means the removal of criminal penalties in every context, the problem is either careless misuse of the term, or malicious appropriation of it.

  50. Psychoparmacologist says:

    I’m afraid your statement on melatonin being banned in Europe is not correct. It is a prescription medicine distributed under the name Circadine for “the short-term treatment of primary insomnia (poor quality of sleep) in patients aged 55 years or over”. And it has an EMA (European medicine agency) approval meaning, it can be sold in every EU country. If it is actually distributed in every country, I do not know, but it can be imported easily and sold to patients with a prescription.

    The statement should therefore be changed into: you can buy melatonin like candy in the US, but it is a prescription medicine in the EU.

  51. Baeraad says:

    I feel you. I mean, I feel you on what I think you’re saying? Our society has proven itself entirely incapable of rational debate. And intuition has proven hit-and-miss for every society ever. So how is anything ever going to get better?

    … yeah, if you ever think of an answer to that one, be sure to let me know. 🙁

    Though as far as self-serving gas pumps go, I’m going to have to side with the Three Angry Oregonians. Obstructive regulation is good. It prevents people from doing stupid things. Maybe occasionally it also prevents people from doing smart things, but people get it in their heads to do stupid things a lot more often than they get it into their heads to do smart things, so I call it a net win.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Obstructive regulation is good. It prevents people from doing stupid things.

      Just out of curiosity, what stupid thing was the old law preventing? Is it a stupid thing you’ve ever heard of happening in the other 48 states?

      Are there stupid things that the old law encouraged, like driving across the border for a cheaper fill-up?

      • Baeraad says:

        Beats me. I’m not smart enough to anticipate every stupid thing people might think of doing. That’s kind of the point, actually. If there’s a single, simple way that things are going to happen, then it’s under control and if it turns out to be stupid it can be altered. Without that, we’re at the mercy of any Darwin Award winner who thinks he’s got a bright idea.

        And the fact that sometimes people are so dead set on doing things the wrong way that they’ll go to considerable trouble to do it… well, that’s unfortunate, but that’s no reason to not at least try to put some obstacles in their path and hope that they’ll do the right thing out of laziness if nothing else.

    • but people get it in their heads to do stupid things a lot more often than they get it into their heads to do smart things

      Most people have hundreds of opportunities a day to do stupid things, many of them lethal. Hence, if you are correct, the human race went extinct long ago.

      • Baeraad says:

        I said people were dumb, not that they were some kind of deranged lemmings looking for cliffs to throw themselves off.

  52. scpantera says:

    Dunno about Puerto Rico but the prescription drug thing is at least partly true for Mexico. I’m a pharmacist in southern California and every so often a visiting Mexican wanders up to my window to ask where we keep the antibiotics.

  53. JulieK says:

    I don’t think status quo bias is so strong. Look how outraged people can be over violations of rules that are *not* the long-established status quo, like a baker not making certain wedding cakes, or an employer not providing free birth control.

    • Lillian says:

      The fact that status quo can change rapidly is not an argument against status quo bias being a strong effect, but it is an argument in favour of the length of the status quo’s reign being irrelevant. People did not get outraged over gay wedding cakes or free birth control before or was the law of the land, but they did after. This suggests it’s status quo bias at play. This also suggests that the classic Conservative fear that entitlements are a ratchet stands on firm ground. Once you provide an entitlement, it’s considered status quo and hard to revoke. Medieval common law recognised this, if a privilege was reciebed repeatedly, even unlafully, it would be considered custom and the reciever thereafter entitled to it. Unless of course he neglected to recieve it repeatedly, since the custom would then lapse.

  54. ShawnSpilman says:

    My filling station favorites: In California, gas cans must come with a special cap that does not seal properly for transporting and is guaranteed to spill when pouring. You must purchase a separate, non-compliant cap if you want to avoid spilling gas. In Massachusetts, you may pump gas yourself but the pump must not stay on unless you hold it on. Canny drivers carry a clamp for this purpose. It is illegal almost everywhere to fill your tank with the engine running, and yet, no modern car is even slightly less flammable when stopped. The only other state where you may not pump your own gas is — wait for it — New Jersey.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      In California, gas cans must come with a special cap that does not seal properly for transporting and is guaranteed to spill when pouring. You must purchase a separate, non-compliant cap if you want to avoid spilling gas.

      Wait, do you mean that the law mandates a specific design of cap which, due to poor design, does not function as intended but the law has not yet updated to specify a better make, or that the law mandates that cans must have a cap which comes for free which is leaky, and a non-crappy cap has to cost extra, as a weird means of disincentivising the transport of retail-sized cans? Not sure which of those is worse.

      • Andrew Cady says:

        The law mandates cans that are self-closing. It doesn’t mandate a specific design.

        (Since 2012, this is not only in CA, but federal law.)

        The most common design — probably the only one you’ll find in brick&mortar stores, and the only one most people know about — is a nozzle with a spring-loaded lever that has to press against the lip of the gas tank that you’re pouring into. These are pretty frustrating, although to say that they “guarantee” spilling is overstating it.

        Other designs are allowed. For example, this shows a tank with a button on the side of the nozzle that you push with your finger:

        http://www.gad.net/Blog/2012/11/22/one-mans-quest-for-gas-cans-that-dont-suck/

        • The Nybbler says:

          Or you get a “racing utility jug” or any of a number of other containers that aren’t technically gasoline cans. It’s illegal to dispense on-road gasoline into them, but it’s unlikely anyone will stop you.

  55. TomA says:

    Common sense typically takes a long time to evolve and take root in our endemic behavior proclivity (many generations if not longer). But we now live in a world of change at hyperspeed, and natural selection has been supplanted by affluence-driven societal forces that ensure almost everyone lives long enough to reproduce. In other words, adverse behaviors can persist indefinitely without an effective means of self-correction. Most behavior patterns are endemic or wired during early adolescence. Trying to talk an adult into fundamental meme change is a long shot at best.

  56. Manx says:

    Don’t worry about the vase talks about this:

    https://thezvi.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/full-service/

    • John Schilling says:

      The argument there is the same as the one for sub-economy airline service: People who might prefer to pay extra for a higher quality of service, have adopted the learned behavior of “always buy the lowest advertised price” and the self-image “I am a Bad Person if I pay extra for a higher class of service”. They are not going to change that and they cannot imagine changing that. So the only way for them to get the service they want is for all lesser grades of service to be banned.

      • People who might prefer to pay extra for a higher quality of service, have adopted the learned behavior of “always buy the lowest advertised price” and the self-image “I am a Bad Person if I pay extra for a higher class of service”.

        Can you think of any way of testing that conjecture?

        I notice, for instance, that economy class airplanes frequently charge different prices for different seats in economy class, based partly on how far apart the seats are and probably partly on other things. Someone is buying those seats–and it can’t be just because there are no base price seats available since I can usually get base price seats and I’m not particularly good about buying tickets early.

        Does your argument also imply that everyone buys the cheapest dish on the menu, or is it limited to services?

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m not sure where the boundary would be, and probably commodity goods like gasoline are on the “buy the cheapest” side of the divide.
          W/re restaurant meals, obviously e.g. salmon and steak are different things and maybe even different kinds of things, I don’t think there is much of an effect when it comes to people buying what they want vs what they don’t want. And anything branded is “worth” paying extra for; that’s much of the point of branding.

          Where I’d expect a strong effect is when we are talking about a service that is secondary to the item being purchased. If there were a cafeteria-style restaurant with the option of paying extra for table service, I’d expect very few people would pay for table service (even if they often eat at sit-down restaurants). That would be an interesting experiment to test the hypothesis.

          The bit with airlines offering different tiers of economy seating is fairly new, and I think mostly implemented after someone has at least tentatively committed to buying a base economy ticket and being offered the better seat feels like a different transaction. And if a majority of the passengers flying business or first class upgraded to it after paying an economy-class fare, I’d count that as support for the hypothesis.

        • bean says:

          It’s a pretty well-established fact of airline economics that most people buy only on price and schedule. There are exceptions, enough that the airlines can fill the better seats. The best test is probably the time about 15 years ago when American tried “more legroom throughout coach” and didn’t even get preferential booking at the same price.

      • albatross11 says:

        Isn’t it more plausible that this is driven either by:

        a. Information/search costs–it’s easier to use a website to search for lowest price than to carefully work through all the amenities offered by each airline.

        b. Someone else is paying and they demand minimum cost–maybe I’m worried that if you allow sub-economy-class flights, I’ll find myself required to use them for all my work trips.

        [Edit:] I see bean got here before I did….

  57. John Richards says:

    Yeeeeees, I can feel the skepticism of rationality in you. Look inside your heart, you know it to be true. Soon, you will join us idealists and virtue ethicists, and the true power of paradox and subjectivity shall flow you, young padawan.