THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT94: Isotopen Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. Some other people have been doing their own analyses of the survey results. See this post on top blog recommendations, this one on politics, personality, and religion, and these collected findings. I don’t necessarily endorse all of these analyses and there’s some good pushback and additions in the comments.

2. Comment of the week is the really good (and really long) debate between algorithmic bias researcher Ilya Shpitser and algorithmic bias article writer Chris Stucchio. It starts here and continues for several hundred comments – go down to here if you want to start at the point where it gets interesting. Can I convince Ilya and Chris to do an adversarial collaboration explaining what everyone agrees on in this area and what’s still controversial? If not, does anyone else who’s at least kind of an expert on this want to do it? Also a fun comment – this comment on how Karl Marx believed a weird pseudoscientific theory linking national character to soil quality.

3. I wrote an article for the new Less Wrong site – A Less Wrong Crypto Autopsy.

4. GiveWell wants you to know that they’re hiring for some open positions. They do very well-respected effective altruism work. Some positions are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, others are more open to people doing them remotely.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1,074 Responses to OT94: Isotopen Thread

  1. maintain says:

    https://www.zeemaps.com/map?group=2862910#

    I made this zeemaps map for readers of SSC. You can go there, select your location, enter your contact info, and find other people near you.

    This could be a great opportunity to meet other rationalists if you’re not near any of the cities with regular meetups.

    (Note: Please make sure to enter contact info, or else there’s no point.)

    • Bugmaster says:

      I don’t think it would be very rational to give out my real name and location to some random website, especially since its entire purpose seems to be to aggregate that data.

      • maintain says:

        It doesn’t have to be a real name.

        And how else are you supposed to meet people if not by giving your general location and some contact info?

        • Matt M says:

          Hell David Friedman is probably the most famous person who posts here, and publicly shares his home address in the comments!

        • Deiseach says:

          And how else are you supposed to meet people if not by giving your general location and some contact info?

          Some people *coughcoughmecoughcough* prefer to scope out the joint first and see who’s hanging round before they do something as madly reckless and blindly dangerous as telling strangers their (or even a) name and address 🙂

          I put up contact info, some loo-lah finds it, great – I’ve got a loo-lah trying to be my friend and even worse, they know in some vague way my real world location. I don’t put up contact info, I get the chance to see “anybody around?” and decide if I want to let people know real world location.

    • maintain says:

      I forgot to say in the original post:

      To add a new marker, go to Additions->Add Marker – Simple

      Make sure to put an email address or other contact info in the Description box, or people won’t be able to contact you and you are wasting your time.

    • jasonhise64 says:

      Added myself with a short bio. Note for anyone else doing the same that while it appears you can edit details after posting, if you include a picture it will be stretched into a square thumbnail and as far as I can tell, at least from the mobile interface, that thumbnail is set in stone.

  2. I wrote a myth for class that’s a creation myth from the perspective of plants: http://download.lin.anticlack.com/myth.pdf

  3. bean says:

    I’ve finally started the “So You Want to Build a Battleship” series at Naval Gazing with the Strategic Background.
    Also, I was wondering if anyone would be interested in doing illustrations for me occasionally. I occasionally find myself wanting maps of battles, and not being able to find ones that work at web resolution. I don’t have the skills to do it myself, so if someone is willing to basically convert existing maps into the format I want (occasionally and with generous time limits, as I find myself working pretty far in advance), I’m willing to trade by doing a post or series on a topic of your choice.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Can you say a bit about what format the existing maps are in, and what format you want, and what other constraints / desiderata / etc. there are on what needs to be done?

      • bean says:

        This first came to mind when I was looking at redoing the Jutland posts. Basically, I’d provide a track chart from an existing battle (an example from Jutland) and some instructions for how to trace it over, so that it hopefully looks decent at web resolution (I can go up to about 700 px wide right now). In the case I linked, I’d probably ask that the mapping be done by squadron so it all fits nicely. A typical battle might have 4-6 different snapshots, maybe with some trails to show where the various ships have been coming from. Jutland is likely to have somewhat more. I don’t like the maps that do the whole battle on one sheet with a bunch of times on them, so in a lot of cases, it might be making several snapshots from one map. My brother, who’s a graphic designer, said it would be fairly easy to do in a vector graphics program, but my attempts to use inkscape failed miserably.

    • Lillian says:

      I’ve finally started the “So You Want to Build a Battleship” series at Naval Gazing with the Strategic Background.

      But first, all you folks out there should read Stuart Slade’s classic article on the subject.

    • tmk says:

      Have you written anything about the transition from Britain having as many ships as the next two powers, to America being the largest sea power? It seems to have happened in only a few decades.

      • bean says:

        Not really. I have a lot of topics to write about.
        In simple terms, the US was always hamstrung by inadequate funding until the 1916 fleet buildup, which was intended to give parity. The British were nearly bankrupted by the war, and after the war, the Washington Naval Treaty gave the two sides parity. The two navies stayed the same size until the late 30s, when the USN pulled ahead due to greater US industrial muscle.

  4. keranih says:

    So, in Scott’s survey of the commentariant, and in his rough analysis (noted on tumblr), he emphasized a division between people based on their reactions to Donald Trump, and to Bernie Sanders.

    …no mention of Hillary Clinton. Unless I missed it, not any mention at all.

    I found this odd. Not as odd as the Democrats trying to promote a Kennedy as the next party leader, but still a bit…unexpected.

    • shakeddown says:

      I think the Hillary axis was mostly correlated with Trump opposition and less orthogonal to Bernie support, so it wasn’t a good PCA vector.

      (Also, AFAICT the Kennedy thing is dumping a lousy job no one wants on him, not trying to make him party leader).

      • keranih says:

        If your read on Kennedy is so, good.

        I think the Hillary axis was mostly correlated with Trump opposition

        This sounds plausible, but I wonder to what extent it is true – was it more correct for the left half of the spectrum? In other words, did the right half reverse this, where they were strongly against Hilary and cared less about Trump?

        Either way, 15 months later, and here we are, a different world.

    • Deiseach says:

      no mention of Hillary Clinton. Unless I missed it, not any mention at all.

      Does this fall under “don’t mention the war”? I seem to find that any kind of reference to She Who Shall Not Be Mentioned generates a lot of heat and not much light; I think at least one of my sub-reddit bans was for being Somewhat Unimpressed By The Great Leaderess, and I’ve been regularly hauled over the coals on here for “all you want to do is bash Hillary!”.

      • keranih says:

        The survey went on about a number of hot button things, so I don’t think that’s entirely it.

        I think shakedown’s got something closer to the heart of it.

    • Wrong Species says:

      That’s because no one likes Hillary. Her entire presidential campaign rested on not being Donald Trump and when she couldn’t even win based on that, she pretty much lost all relevance.

      • shakeddown says:

        I liked Hillary. Enough people did that she easily beat Bernie in the primary and easily won the popular vote. It’s just become cool to bash her, like Nickelback.

        • cassander says:

          Why? I mean this sincerely, I’m genuinely curious, assuming you mean like to mean something other than “she would enact policies that I approve of”. I mean, I don’t like politicians in general, but even among that group she has always stuck out as especially mendacious and inept.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I’m pretty sure the main reason that she won was because people thought she would beat Trump and Hillary>Trump. If we could re-do the 2016 primaries with full knowledge of what happened in the general election, I bet you anything that Bernie would have won or barring that, some other Democrat.

          Maybe “no one likes” was a bit too strong. I still don’t think she was anybody’s ideal candidate. And I don’t mean ideal as in Perfectly Platonic Ideal of a candidate, but that she worse than other potential Democratic candidates. But she had enough pull to get other people to back off so she could run with as little opposition as possible.

          • Brad says:

            The core of the voting Democratic Party was never going to vote for Bernie Sanders. If by some miracle it was Sanders vs Trump, a centrist independent certainly would have run. Probably Bloomberg. And Trump would have won by a significantly larger margin.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Many, many people absolutely revere HRC

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I didn’t have her on the survey because I wanted to keep question number limited, I thought it was excessive to ask about both her and Obama, and I thought asking about Obama would be more interesting since he seems like a less personally controversial representative of the political tendency he and Hillary share.

  5. giantpurpledildo says:

    Rather than post my freshly written comment under 1000 others on the Mistake vs Conflict theory thread, I’ll put it here.

    I think it would be useful to break down these “theories” into a few distinct dimensions:

    1) What is the ultimate source of social/political/economic problems?
    2) What is the best approach for solving said problems?
    3) How should we debate the problems and their solutions?

    As formulated by Scott, these two theories (in their purest form) would answer as follows:

    Mistake Theory
    1) stupidity and/or ignorance (often due to a lack of data)
    2) empiricism, open debate, reason, and democracy
    3) all points of view should be heard and all arguments considered solely on their merits, so that we can find the best ideas

    Conflict Theory
    1) the bad guys have the power
    2) revolutionary action is required (the whole damn system needs to be torn up and the good guys need to take power)
    3) Anyone who doubts the revolutionary cause is either evil or brainwashed, and deserves to be “smashed”, not debated. And the bad guys are always wrong, by definition.

    The conflict theory approach often has merit on the first two dimensions. In the context of 21st century first world countries, I definitely tend towards mistake theory, but ultimately any rational person who thinks carefully about this stuff is going to come down somewhere between the two extremes. And it’s easy to see how a sane person in, say, 1917 Russia might come down on the conflict theory end of the spectrum.

    But on the third dimension, I completely reject the conflict theory answer. Anyone who thinks that way truly is a troglodyte (and if you want to know what that sort of thinking looks like at scale, read up on the Cultural Revolution). Furthermore, I don’t think it’s a corollary to the conflict theory answers to 1 & 2. You can be a committed Marxist revolutionary and still believe that a) it’s okay to debate the guy with the Powerpoint, and b) him being a shill doesn’t ipso facto disprove his argument.

    • onyomi says:

      In the other thread I was asking for real-life examples of “hard conflict theorists” and “easy mistake theorists.” Soon later on Twitter this example of what seems like the former appeared (I am, to some extent, assuming the “hard” part here based on familiarity with Malice’s comments elsewhere, which seem to be of the “voters are rationally ignorant/too dumb to be trusted with complex policy decisions” variety–a kind of Moldbuggy, Machiavellian, elitist ancap-ism).

      This made me think that maybe a lot of libertarians, myself included, are more “hard conflict theorists” than commonly recognized, though in a manner somewhat orthogonal to the debate as typically framed. The answers might be something like:

      1. The very notion that social problems can be solved through politics, including debate, voting, leadership, etc.
      2. Stop trying to use politics as a solution at all; the problems are too complex, and to the extent good answers exist and are discoverable by individuals, they won’t get implemented through political means due to public choice incentives. Let the wisdom of crowds emerge from countless voluntary interactions.
      3. Irrelevant so long as that debate does not really interfere with 2.

      • Matt M says:

        This made me think that maybe a lot of libertarians, myself included, are more “hard conflict theorists” than commonly recognized

        Yeah, I think a lot of libertarians are conflict theorists who are deluded into considering themselves mistake theorists.

    • TomA says:

      I’m having difficulty with the terminology “mistake theory” and “conflict theory”. Perhaps a different way to describe this dichotomy is to ask if your personal political beliefs are driven more by innate biases or by cognitive reasoning (e.g. habitual mental reaction vs. higher order analysis/discretionary decision-making)? We have both of these attributes; of which, the first is often invoked involuntarily and subconsciously, and the second is rarely invoked absent deliberate focus and effort. Some people vote their gut based largely upon herd allegiance, while others vote their brain based upon critical thinking to yield maximum self-interest. I think most people tend to persist in one of these patterns and not flip-flop between modes of conduct.

      • skef says:

        Have you read the recent post on this site the OP is referencing? In its terms, your dichotomy between “innate biases” and “cognitive reasoning” almost certainly pegs you as a mistake theorist.

        • TomA says:

          I think you may be misunderstanding my comment. I’m suggesting that humans have both types of mental proclivity and may conduct themselves in either mode depending upon their individual uniqueness. For example, a poor person (with precarious security or sustenance) may be biased toward an amygdala-centered response (conflict theory) because that is what worked best in our evolutionary past. Conversely, a wealthy person (having no existential anxiety) may have the luxury of expending discretionary cognitive energy because there is no significant evolutionary penalty for doing so. In other words, environment may be a driver for which of these behaviors predominates.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that it’s pretty obvious that having an (existential) threat around pushes people into tribalism/conflict.

            Arguably poverty is a threat very similarly to a hungry lion on your heels. In both cases you will generally be looking for rapid, drastic fixes more than gradual improvements.

            Of course, we now live in an environment where the poor generally just make their lives worse off if they try to do drastic things.

          • skef says:

            I think you may be misunderstanding my comment. I’m suggesting that humans have both types of mental proclivity and may conduct themselves in either mode depending upon their individual uniqueness.

            I think you may be missing a level of the discussion.

            Individuals clearly have different approaches to problems with other people. These categorizations are more about how to correctly describe the nature of social disagreements. Disagreements are relational rather than individual.

            You are describing two kinds of individual, one makes decisions based on “biases” and another who uses higher-order reasoning. A disagreement (over whatever) between a biased person and a reasonable person presumably should be resolved by correcting the bias and going with the reasonable answer. By categorizing people this way you imply that disagreements boil down to one party making a mistake. This makes you a mistake theorist.

            An alternative scenario would be two people correctly using high-level reasoning but still disagreeing (about whatever) because they have conflicting interests. There is no bias to be corrected, but at most one can get what they want. Someone who thinks most disagreements are like this (or still would be after all biases are corrected) would be a conflict theorist.

      • Vorkon says:

        I agree that the terms aren’t very good, and said as much in my (admittedly late, so I doubt many people saw it) comment on the original post.

        Specifically, I don’t think that framing them as theories makes much sense. I’d prefer to call them a mistake and conflict mindset; calling them theories implies that the theorist is consciously applying that framework to other interactions, and I don’t think that’s what is happening here. It’s just describing different ways of thinking.

        Calling them conflict and mistake strategy, as 1soru1 does below, also makes sense to me, if you prefer that.

    • skef says:

      I would say your conflict theory #3 puts too much emphasis on attitudes as independent of power relations. To the extent that resolving difference through debate is irrelevant, the attitudes of those without power are at best only marginally relevant. Also: if one generally looks at problems in terms of power relations, then one can simplify by concluding that anyone who doubts “the revolutionary cause” and lacks power must be brainwashed.

      So how about:

      3) Anyone not in power who doubts the revolutionary cause is brainwashed. Those that don’t actively oppose us should be ignored — many will come around after the revolution. Those that do oppose us will be the unfortunate but necessary casualties of making things right.

      • giantpurpledildo says:

        I don’t disagree about power relations. I made the “evil” vs “brainwashed” distinction thinking that would come down to whether the person/entity in question was part of the evil power structure or part of the oppressed (in the view of our hypothetical conflict theorist). Yes, the pure conflict theorist might choose to ignore rather than ‘smash’ members of the oppressed who fail to support the revolution, but that’s an implementation detail.

        Question 3 is really about the fundamental attitude towards debate and critical thinking. And the conflict theory answer is that there’s no room for either, at least with regards to the major societal issues that are to be addressed (theoretical physicists can harmlessly debate string theory or whatever). Dissenting views (maybe the bad guys have a point; maybe we can win them over via rational argument) should be denounced and dismissed, not given any sort of good faith consideration. The fundamental dogma is simply beyond question.

    • Shion Arita says:

      My answers (mostly Hard Mistake theorist but with some personal additions)

      1: It’s lack of intelligence and knowledge, but to put it really specifically, I think the thought processes necessary to have good epistemology are complicated enough to be inherently unavailable to people less than ~1.5-2 standard deviations above average general intelligence. And not all those capable of it have learned since society as a whole hasn’t noticed it as a valuable skill. The lack of knowledge part is quite difficult as well; the universe is a chaotic system, of maximal computational complexity, which means it’s inherently hard to predict the impact of actions in a kind of irreducible way.

      2: The only real solution is to fundamentally change human nature (probably through some kind of physical hard modification of biology), and have society deliberately focus on trying to teach rationalism and good epistemology. For the knowledge part, better models help a lot but they can only be found with a lot of deliberate effort. My suggestion is to try to test decisions in ways as close to an ideal scientific experiment as reasonably possible.

      3: to quote the mistake theory entry: “all points of view should be heard and all arguments considered solely on their merits, so that we can find the best ideas”. Sure there’s a lot of dumb and tiring stuff that you just want to not have to keep hearing but people disagree on what that is, and any other strategy can be strategically used to create a totalitarian society, which has never resulted in a good outcome.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Speaking as someone on the 3rd sigma…

        1.5-2 sigma people really, REALLY overestimate the validity of their epistemological systems.

        • James says:

          Fourth sigma here. Puny third-sigmas wildly overestimate the validity of their skepticism of two-sigmas’ epistemology.

          • Anonymous Bosch says:

            Fifth sigma here: Butts lmao

          • Thegnskald says:

            That is the joke, yes.

            But no. Epistemology is bad. Necessarily so; any epistemology must justify itself, being itself a type of knowledge, which would, for any non-trivial epistemology, violate axiomatic law.

            Most people, sooner or later, just take some epistemology as axiomatic. Which is fine. You just have to understand that this is what you have done.

            “Good” and “bad” thus aren’t objectively relevant descriptors of an epistemology; they certainly aren’t valid, since they can’t justify themselves. Good or bad – for what?

            And we get back into a question of values. And everybody looks at the rationalizations the less intelligent use for why their values are objectively valuable, and can see the flaws. Cyclically, people develop rationalizations to the limit of their ability – meaning people develop rationalizations whose flaws are too difficult for them to solve, or, with help, they might go further until the flaws are too difficult for them to understand.

            People who are somewhat more intelligent than average push dumb people along, and get pushed along by those who are much more intelligent.

            The much more intelligent hopefully notice the parallels in their own intellectual development – and stop bootstrapping themselves into rationalizations they can’t break free of.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous Bosch

            Horseshoe theory?

    • albatross11 says:

      I’d add another dimension to this: Suppose I’m trying to come up with a good description (useful for predicting the future) of current disagreements in politics or in the big wide world. As a description of how things *are* (rather than how they should be), I think a conflict theory is often a much better fit for reality than a mistake theory.

      For example, a conflict theory of some ideological conflict would predict that a lot of the participants were primarily fighting for their side, and weren’t so concerned with the specific factual and moral claims they’re using right now to fight for their side[1]. It would predict that many people advancing arguments would have their positions in the debate more-or-less determined by their position in the world. Those both look like pretty good descriptions of the world for many conflicts.

      A conflict-theory view of the world would predict that many apparently factual debates turn out to be about exercises of power or influence. That would predict things like lots of powerful/influential people agreeing that some points of view must be excluded from the public square, or some academic departments at some universities pretty-much explicitly excluding their political opponents. If this kind of theory were a good fit for reality, we would expect that factual or moral claims in political controversies would often get a response that had nothing to do with the factual or moral claim, but instead was about trying to shut the speaker up via outrage at them even raising those questions. Again, this looks an awful lot like our world.

      IMO, as a theory of how sensible people should discuss important issues and resolve their disagreements, some kind of mistake theory seems great. As a theory of how people in this world often resolve their disagreements, it doesn’t look like a great way of predicting how things are going to work out, whereas a conflict theory of some kind does.

      [1] To see this in action, look at how prominent Democrats and Republicans swap sides on issues involving how much respect and deference the office of the president should receive, whether the massive surveillance powers of the government should be rolled back, whether deficits are a major problem or nothing to worry about, etc.

      • 1soru1 says:

        Rather than conflict and mistake _theory_, it would probably be more useful to talk about conflict and mistake _strategy_.

        I mean, the obvious synthesis of conflict and mistake theory is that people have interests, and are statistically prone to make mistakes that at least do not negatively impact their interests. For example, if someone lives in a region with no people in group X, and has a wrong view about them, they will never suffer any negative consequence for that false belief.

        Even given that synthesis model is unambiguously true, you still have a choice of whether to try to explain their mistake to them, or defeat them. Which is a choice of strategy.

        Equivalently, if the security guard says ‘stop thief’ and you know you haven’t stolen anything, do you stop or run?

    • Thegnskald says:

      Conflict theory doesn’t require the other side be the “bad guy”, only that their values are incompatible with your own.

      A good Mistake Theorist, using that categorization and treating people as the archetypes (which I won’t repeat my arguments against), is open to the possibility that they are factually mistaken.

      A good Conflict Theorist isn’t necessarily open to being morally mistaken – that is mistake theory – but rather, is open to the fact that dissimilar values aren’t evil. They are different. This opens up the possibility of specific kinds of compromises that Mistake Theory doesn’t permit; it doesn’t permit giving ground, as in the conflict between modern pro-and-anti gun control people, as only one side can gain ground there; but it does permit compromises such that both sides further their values. For example, the pro-train and pro-bus factions might be able to negotiate the establishment of funds for transfer stations, which can increase usage for both of their preferred modes of transport, allowing both more train lines and more bus lines to be profitable, and thus expanding both.

      ETA: Whereas a Mistake Theorist, in the train/bus compromise, may be more prone to seeing such a compromise AS a mistake, since it promotes an incorrect ideology, making it more entrenched and difficult to undo.

    • Deiseach says:

      1) What is the ultimate source of social/political/economic problems?
      2) What is the best approach for solving said problems?
      3) How should we debate the problems and their solutions?

      (1) Human nature
      (2) Paperclips!
      (3) How many paperclips – that’s a trick question, naturally it’s ALL THE PAPERCLIPS

      (I’m serious about Number 1, and some seem to be hoping/gambling on AI for Nos. 2 and 3)

    • Wrong Species says:

      Anyone who is a pure mistake theorist is just straight up wrong. Go ahead and try to prove that abortion should be allowed or not allowed based solely on empirical facts.

      • yodelyak says:

        I think your “straight up wrong” points at how mistake/conflict are useful tools for identifying *strategic defaults* or mindsets–neither is supposed to be a coherent theory of why humanity isn’t a perfectly functioning superorganism.

      • yodelyak says:

        If we think with conceptual tools labeled mistake-lens and conflictlens, I think abortion as an issue is much more a mistake-lens issue than, say, safety net policy or the military-industrial complex.

        In my experience, most one-sided abortion views are locked (to the extent they are) because they’re part of a constellation of attitudes and tribal identifications–not because people come with inherently conflicting moral views on the subject of the unborn, or because financial-type incentives interfere significantly with people’s moral views (the way they might in the situation where a billionaire might privately concede a higher-tax would be morally better, but still spend millions to oppose it out of financial self-interest.)

        When I was a teenager, I had a “pro-life” period that lasted a few years, and I was also very, very strongly mistake-lens at this time, and successfully argued many people my own age toward being pro-life. Then I encountered the “box with 1000 fertilized eggs versus a six-year-old child” trolley-problem, which completely flipped me to wanting people to reason about fertilized eggs as though they had *some* moral weight, but not anything near the equivalent of human life. In short, I found I was mistaken.

        • Deiseach says:

          Then I encountered the “box with 1000 fertilized eggs versus a six-year-old child” trolley-problem

          Which could be perfectly consonant with an “abortion is wrong” mindset, and still say “okay, pick the child over the box of embryos”.

          But what about “that six year old versus a thirty year old Elon Musk” trolley problem? What if that six year old is Actual Adolf Hitler and one of those embryos is the person who will solve the Friendly AI problem? Whose life is more valuable to humanity there? You can invent any kind of trolley-problem you like to get an outcome supporting your view, and I think trolley-problems are basically useless for ethical determinations.

          One of Margaret Sanger’s (I think genuinely held) beliefs and arguments for legal birth control was “if you want to get rid of abortion, then contraception is the only way to do this”. Yeah, right up until the condom breaks or the pill didn’t work because you were sick or something else. The idea there may be “I didn’t intend to get pregnant but now that I am, I will have to have the baby”, but in reality it’s “I didn’t intend to get pregnant, I can’t be pregnant, what do I do?” and you will need abortion as a back-up, particularly as time goes on, the mind-set moves from “even fun sex means the chance of babies” to “contraception means fun sex and no babies” and therefore the attitude solidifies that “we used contraception because we didn’t want a baby, now this has to be solved because we are not going to accept having a baby because that is not what we were promised if we used contraception, and abortion is the only solution here”.

          The problem is, give in any degree, and then it goes “Okay, you’ll compromise on abortion up to twelve weeks. How about thirteen weeks? Why should a woman who could have gotten a legal abortion last week suddenly be prevented from getting one this week, or because she was mistaken about the exact date she got pregnant?”

          I’m seeing that right now in Ireland, where we’re arguing over legal abortion, and the compromise position is “make it legal up to twelve weeks” and already the “oh but twelve weeks isn’t long enough to get a diagnosis (so your eugenics fears are misplaced)” opinions are being aired (right now abortion is being sold to the Irish public on grounds of sob-stories about “I was pregnant and my child was diagnosed with this Fatal Foetal Abnormality and I had to go to England in secret for an abortion – this is inhumane”, so I am anticipating that the “twelve weeks won’t diagnose such cases” will be used to push against strict limits).

          We’re gonna get abortion here. And I’m damn sure all the “only up to twelve weeks” stuff is gonna fly out the window as soon as the law is passed.

          • yodelyak says:

            Shoot. I’ve stepped in a landmine. I intended my comment to argue that on abortion, it’s easy for a teenager to have a facile view of the issue, and then find they were mistaken, as a support for the idea that mistake-lens (plus an awareness of how hard overcoming tribalism-blinders and people’s general struggle to find a coherent meta-ethics to, you know, persuade) is a find model for understanding how some people approach disagreements on the issue. I did, as a teenager, and I had considerable success persuading others. I don’t really want to talk about trolley problems or abortion in this space–I’m not actually out to persuade anyone on either thing, and it seems far afield.

        • Wrong Species says:

          It seems that we interpreted “mistake theory” differently. To me, it means that people have the same values and think differences from wrong beliefs are based on empirical facts. And thought experiments are obviously not empirical evidence. You seem to include “moral mistakes” as well. But if that’s the case, then it seems like differences in values would just collapse down to whether you have the right ethical theory or not, meaning that all differences come down to mistakes.

          • Not that people have the same values but that the different views on what policy to support are not usually due to the different values.

            The way I usually put it is that I doubt there are many libertarians who would prefer what a socialist thinks a libertarian society would be like to what a socialist thinks a socialist society would be like, or many socialists the other way around.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Then I encountered the “box with 1000 fertilized eggs versus a six-year-old child” trolley-problem, which completely flipped me to wanting people to reason about fertilized eggs as though they had *some* moral weight, but not anything near the equivalent of human life.

          I don’t see why that refutes the pro-life position. After all, in the vast, vast majority of abortion cases, the conflict isn’t between the foetus’ life and the life of a born person, but between the foetus’ life and the mother’s convenience/financial situation/career plans/etc. We as a society are already fine with the principle that people can be inconvenienced to preserve the existence of things that are less important than human lives (hence why we have laws against killing rare animals, say, or destroying historic buildings).

          • Morgan says:

            It’s not a refutation in and of itself, but it gives you a foundation that makes pro-choice arguments actually relevant.

            What it does do is address the foetus = child equation that is often either explicit or implicit in the arguments made by a lot of pro-life advocates. It’s perfectly possible to concede that a foetus has less moral weight than a born child and still be pro-life, but a lot of pro-life people are making their arguments from the position that the moral weight is equivalent.

            “A foetus has moral weight which is less than that of a born person but still significant” and “a foetus has moral weight equivalent to a born person” are both valid starting points for a pro-life argument.
            However, you can also make a pro-choice argument from the former position, which you can’t from the latter except in the specific case of “carrying this to term will definitely kill the mother”. If you’ve been making arguments from the latter position, and thinking about the trolley problem moves you to the former, then it opens up the possibility of the pro-choice view being acceptable, and a lot of arguments you might have previously dismissed out of hand start to look relevant.

          • Matt M says:

            What it does do is address the foetus = child equation that is often either explicit or implicit in the arguments made by a lot of pro-life advocates.

            Really? I don’t feel like this is necessarily the case.

            The overwhelming majority of pro-life people are willing to accept exceptions for things like rape or incest. I feel like that pretty clearly implies a moral weight of less than a full person (otherwise, no exceptions would be tolerated).

            Even something like “without the abortion the mother will certainly die” is an exception everyone seems to agree on – but if the moral weights were equivalent, this would seem non-obvious.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Come to think of it, we seem to have no problem assigning different values to the lives of different categories of human without thereby suggesting that some of those categories aren’t actually human at all — “Women and children first” is a generally accepted principle, for example, but any argument to the effect that “We have no problem saving women and children over adult males, therefore adult males aren’t human and it’s OK to kill them” would probably not meet with an enthusiastic reception.

          • Aapje says:

            @The original Mr. X

            That is actually occasionally a popular sentiment.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Aapje:

            The reference in the link to “men of military age” makes me suspect that that the massacre was primarily motivated by a fear that the Bosniaks would fight the Serbians, rather than a belief that Bosniak women were human but Bosniak men weren’t.

          • Aapje says:

            @The original Mr. X

            I took your comment as figurative, since I don’t think that very many people actually mean it literally when they refer to dehumanization. It seems to be commonly used to argue that certain people are valued less than others, not that they are literally seen as similar to rocks or animals.

      • John Schilling says:

        Go ahead and try to prove that abortion should be allowed or not allowed based solely on empirical facts.

        I can show using empirical facts that abortion will be allowed in any western democracy for the foreseeable future, subject to restrictions whose de facto effect will be within a fairly narrow range. That being the case, it’s probably a mistake to invest very much in fighting over the issue. Might as well argue about whether it is fair and just for the Midwest to be hit by so many tornados.

        • Wrong Species says:

          That reminds me of the onion article with the title “Report: Stating Current Year Still Leading Argument For Social Reform”. Has anyone ever been convinced solely by this argument? If some alien told you that every other species of our development level went on to support child molestation, would you decide to drop your opposition right there and then?

          • Matt M says:

            I’m picturing a political cartoon with a bound person about to be sacrificed to please the Rain Gods shouting “Don’t you know you’re on the wrong side of history???”

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I remember reading something somewhere about the 1930s, to the effect of “back when it was possible for intelligent Tuvans to think that Communism would improve things” … if the policy you are talking about has obvious negative effects that were not obvious before it started to be implemented, then you can reasonable pull out the “stating current year” argument.

    • vV_Vv says:

      2) empiricism, open debate, reason, and democracy

      How is democracy a Mistake theory thing?

      Mistake theory, taken to its logical conclusion, leads to a Platonic republic ruled by philosopher kings/enlightened despots/Harvard professors/Wall Street bankers/Silicon Valley VCs/[insert your favorite elites]. These are the people who are better at resolving empirical questions over socially important matters, at least according to themselves.

      Democracy, on the other hand, starts with the assumption that different people have different interests and they are usually good at figuring out what they are, therefore it provides a method of weighting these different interests and achieve a functional government without resorting to bloodshed. Therefore I would put democracy in the Conflict theory camp.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think a lot of people favor mistake theory within the movement/inner party/intelligensia, and conflict theory outside.

    • arlie says:

      That’s not how I understood Scott’s idea conflict theory. How about something more like:
      1) Society is an ongoing competition/struggle between individuals and groups. Struggles have casualties.
      2) Current losers should fight better, maybe form alliances against current winners. One viable solution might be a balance of power, where no one side can fully dominate. (This is the normal state of the world, as those who fail completely at this struggle are generally eliminated – genocide etc.)
      3) Discuss strategies among natural allies (family, tribe, class, …), and then make broader alliances for mutual benefit.

  6. The Nybbler says:

    Why are the two neutrons different colors?

  7. Daniel Frank says:

    Are there any good counter argument against Donald Shoup’s thesis on the high cost of free parking? See here for . a good summary: http://www.accessmagazine.org/articles/spring-1997/the-high-cost-of-free-parking/

    Shoup’s argument on the negative impact of non-market based parking systems/regulations is convincing to me, and I’ve only seen praise for it. That being said, these policies are ignored by nearly all municipalities in the world.

    Is there hope for cities to start implementing smart parking policies soon? Is Shoup wrong? Are there other, more important factors at play?

    I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Speaking entirely anecdotally, I know that there are several shops and restaurants that I personally never visit, because there’s never any place to park near them. In my case, the lack of parking is directly causing these businesses loss of revenue, which indirectly lowers tax revenue for the city. The article doesn’t seem to take this into account (though maybe it does and I missed that point while skimming it).

      By analogy, consider roads. Roads take up space that could be used by housing and businesses. People generally assume roads are free, but in reality they are quite expensive. Instead of waiting for market demand to resolve road placement, city planners just sort of put in roads wherever they feel like, using whatever arcane formulae they learned at civil engineering school. What’s worse, roads encourage the proliferation of cars. Isn’t it time to abolish free roads ?

      • matthewravery says:

        The obvious replies:

        I know that there are several shops and restaurants that I personally never visit, because there’s never any place to park near them. In my case, the lack of parking is directly causing these businesses loss of revenue, which indirectly lowers tax revenue for the city.

        If parking were more expensive in that area, perhaps there would be spots available when you wanted to go to that restaurant.

        By analogy, consider roads. … Isn’t it time to abolish free roads ?

        This is entirely true. We subsidize car travel heavily in this country with how many roads we have. Abolishing free roads might not be the answer, but we could build fewer while providing alternative transportation options.

      • markk116 says:

        I think the premise is that when parking becomes a bigger hurdle than it is even now, many people will opt for alternative means of transportation, thus lowering the total required parking area. This glosses over the fact in many cities there is no viable alternative (expensive/lengthy/filthy public transportation or no separated bicycle lanes) to going by car.

        • Matt M says:

          This glosses over the fact in many cities there is no viable alternative (expensive/lengthy/filthy public transportation or no separated bicycle lanes) to going by car.

          What about Uber?

          I’ve calculated that in my personal circumstance, using Uber exclusively would be a net financial gain as compared to buying any car priced over $20,000. I expect as technology develops, this will tilt more in the favor of Uber and less in the favor of car ownership.

          Ride-sharing allows you to enjoy the benefits of driving, minus the pain of having to park. I’ve been known to occasionally take an Uber downtown, even though I own a car, for the sole purpose of avoiding the hassle of looking for a place to then pay to park (I live pretty close to downtown, so the economics are good).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Maybe if self-driving cars become a thing. If anything, Uber is under-priced. They lost $645 million on $1.75 billion of net revenue. So, if you wanted to lock yourself into Uber long-term, I would mentally double the price of each ride.

          • SamChevre says:

            No no no–this is a mistake.

            Uber’s revenue only includes Uber’s cut of the fare (~30%). Even if you count all Uber’s losses on self-driving cars as needing to be made up for by fare increases, it would increase fares less than 50%.

          • Matt M says:

            I haven’t used Lyft, but I’ve heard they are pretty similarly priced. Are they also grossly unprofitable?

            Also, Amazon was grossly unprofitable for many many years, and managed to figure out a way to turn it around without significantly raising prices.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            My mistake. However, Uber needs to earn a respectable ROE. It doesn’t need to break-even, it needs to actually earn a profit to get more capital.

            I still wouldn’t bank on Uber continuing at current rates unless it becomes much more efficient.

            Also, while the rate for Matt is probably fine, the rate for me (at least in the few times I have taken it) is insanely high. Getting from suburbs to downtown Chicago apparently involves a lot of surge pricing. Thankfully I have a good transit network to solve this problem, but were I in a different city, the trade-off might not be so obvious?

            Also, Amazon was grossly unprofitable for many many years, and managed to figure out a way to turn it around without significantly raising prices.

            The Amazon story isn’t over it. It’s P/E is still insanely high.

            Based on what I can read, Lyft is still losing money. I don’t know what amount of that is variable cost and what amount is fixed cost. If they are still losing money on every ride at the margin, you can’t make that up with volume.

          • Matt M says:

            And yeah, if “this thing is losing money therefore expect prices to rise” were sound strategy, then public transit doesn’t look very great either. They just take their bailouts from the local government, while Uber takes its from huge investment firms.

            And I also concede that my situation is about maximally optimized for Uber usage, and “just use Uber” isn’t necessarily viable for everyone. My larger point here is that Uber isn’t just an alternative to public transportation, it’s also an alternative to parking woes, both hassle and cost.

            Hell, I Uber both ways to my office because it’s cheaper to do that than to park nearby. Now that’s only the case because I live in a narrow band of “close enough that Uber is dirt cheap but NOT close enough to just walk”, but still…

          • John Schilling says:

            They just take their bailouts from the local government, while Uber takes its from huge investment firms.

            If investment firms had the power to literally print money but their boards were elected by popular vote of the Silicon Valley technophiles, Uber’s future would be as secure as that of public transit. If.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Matt,

            Sort of true that public transit is subsidized, but the difference is government does not expect a return on their investment. Generally speaking, investors DO need to see a return on their investment, or else they need to buy something else.

            The relevant metric for government is whether government is cash-strapped and needs to cut back on its subsidies, or whether the public utility is under-charging you. My monthly train ticket has indeed risen by about 30% in the last year and a half. It’s probably still a bit under-priced, but that depends on how much the stupid Metra wants to sink into capital improvements. The train cars are pretty much crap.

            However, to give you an impression of MY situation (which might be more reflective: Chicago has 2.7 million in the city limits out of 10 million in the MSA, IIRC, so a lot of suburban folk), my train ticket would have to double, and then some, to match Uber+cheaper public transit, and then that adds a crap-ton of time to my commute.

            Uber might be more useful for one-off trips, I suppose. It’d cost, what, $10 round-trip to go to the closest grocery store to make a weekly run? That’s not terrible.

        • Aapje says:

          @markk116

          This glosses over the fact in many cities there is no viable alternative (expensive/lengthy/filthy public transportation or no separated bicycle lanes) to going by car.

          It’s not like infrastructure/public transport is a force of nature though.

          If a city puts in a lot of effort into making the alternatives much more viable, then more and more middle and upper class people will switch to the alternatives, which in turn fixes many of the issues.

          Of course, this requires making the costs first, in a way that seems wasteful when critical mass has not yet been reached. It’s common for people to fixate on this short term view, rather than have a long term vision.

          Another issue is that Anglosaxon culture seems fairly hostile to non-car alternatives (not even just for themselves, but also quite intolerant to others who use these alternatives). Such cultural issues may be hard to change.

          • Iain says:

            Additionally: parking lots take up space. This study found that 14% of LA is dedicated to parking. This website estimates that 64.7% of downtown Houston is a road, a parking lot, or a sidewalk.

            If you aren’t driving, that’s a lot of pavement to walk past to get from place to place. Free parking makes driving more convenient at the cost of alternatives.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If a city puts in a lot of effort into making the alternatives much more viable, then more and more middle and upper class people will switch to the alternatives, which in turn fixes many of the issues.

            They can’t, though. Cars are too much better than public transit. What the city has to do is make driving worse. A LOT worse.

          • Iain says:

            Driving is so much better because cities have been designed so heavily around driving. It’s not the only way to organize things. Take, for example, this account of public transit in Zurich. My girlfriend spent three months doing research in Zurich, and I can confirm that public transit across Switzerland is genuinely excellent, to the point where even if she’d had access to a car it would have nearly always been better to take transit.

            It is, to be sure, hard to see how you get there from here. But the appeal is real.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Nybbler

            Cars are shite in heavily urban areas. You have too many people wanting to use the same roads at the same time, so if everyone were to drive to their destination, traffic would gridlock. Because of the high density, driving in a heavily urban area tends to mean driving fairly small distances from traffic light to traffic light, for an overall pace that is often not substantially better than cycling (if there is decent cycling infrastructure). The land is very, very expensive, which makes it extremely costly to have an car unused (and thus parked) for 20-22 hours a day.

            Urban trips are shorter on average, while the distance to parking spots (at the beginning and the end of journeys) tends to be larger, making trips by car have relatively more overhead. In contrast, alternatives tend to work better in heavily urban areas, with less overhead relatively to suburbs and rural areas.

            Cars are good in suburban areas and great in rural areas, but really not very good in urban areas. Of course, many American cities have crappy alternatives, which makes cars look better. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king 😛

          • The Nybbler says:

            Cars are shit at very high density because everything’s shit at very high density. You can be stuck in gridlock in your car or take circuitous multi-leg public transit rides. Either way it’s going to be terrible.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Aapje:

            Another issue is that Anglosaxon culture seems fairly hostile to non-car alternatives (not even just for themselves, but also quite intolerant to others who use these alternatives). Such cultural issues may be hard to change.

            I think that’s mostly an American thing. At any rate, here in the UK I’ve never encountered any hostility towards people who take the bus or train to get somewhere.

            @ The Nybbler:

            Cars are shit at very high density because everything’s shit at very high density. You can be stuck in gridlock in your car or take circuitous multi-leg public transit rides. Either way it’s going to be terrible.

            The London Underground (for example) is usually by far the quickest way of getting somewhere in central London, and there are enough lines and stations that circuitousness is rarely a problem. Not everywhere is as crap as America.

          • Aapje says:

            @The original Mr. X

            Perhaps it’s more specific to hatred of cyclists. There seems to be a fairly high level of violence in the US, UK and Australia, compared to other countries like France, Germany, Canada, etc.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            As of 2015, only a slight plurality of Londoners use public transit, and that includes things besides train. 36% still use cars.

            http://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-9.pdf

            High density still sucks at moving over any significant amount of distance. The average Londoner commutes 74 minutes a day. You have a million people that commute more than 2 hours every day.

            I ran some quick numbers. If you work in the Merchandise Mart and wanted to go visit the Duke of Perth, 3.5 miles away, for some good brews and live the awesome yuppie lifestyle, you are taking a 30 minute journey. That’s basically as convenient as convenient can be in Chicago, because both items are by the brown line.

            In my low density suburb, I can drive to my sister’s place, 9 miles away, in 15 minutes, and have some brews with my brother-in-law. Or I can leave my house, in the busiest time of the day, on the busiest arterial road, and still get to my parent’s house, 10 miles away, in 30 minutes.

            Lower density enables much quicker travel, and it’s usually done via car.

            Higher density involves crappy travel if you have to go longer than a few miles. This will probably be the case until you have good bicycle travel, like maybe the Dutch.

          • Aapje says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            People are still urbanizing, so apparently it’s better than the alternative.

            As for the car being popular in London (or other cities): suburbs are at the edge and part of most cities and cars work there (as long as people don’t try to drive into the center).

          • rlms says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy
            The average Londoner Georg who commutes 74 minutes a day could well live in Woking (i.e. outside of London, 30 miles away from his job in Battersea) adn get to work a lot faster by public transport than by driving.

            @Aapje
            Eh, what do you mean by “better”? Given the choice between earning $x (PPP adjusted) in a town and $1.5x in the city, people might prefer the latter, but I expect many people would go for the former with equal salaries (I would).

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Within the context of actually available options.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t see how the existence of suburbs and commuter towns does anything to change the fundamental point. I live in a commuter town and commute via public transit to the Central Business District. my traffic is still relevant for the City of Chicago to consider. Saying the London Underground is the most convenient thing for moving around London proper isn’t helpful if you are bringing in a sizable amount of commuters from surrounding towns.

            That the Tube is the best thing for moving around DT London is also irrelevant, because the point is that moving around DT London, or DT ANYWHERE, is a gigantic PITA. DT London might be better, but let’s say I am trying to go from the Queen’s Theatre to Elmington Estate. This is 3.5 miles. Google Maps say the only practical option is to take the 176 bus and it will take me 40 minutes. This is marginally faster than my brisk walking pace. Maybe that’s a timing thing, I dunno.

            Either way, it’s much, much slower, and much, much more difficult than living in a low-density area where driving is a practical option. It is perfectly reasonable for a society to prefer the latter and pay a higher cost for the luxury, and it makes a lot of sense for the US where we have a LOT more space anyways. What’s the point of having it if you aren’t going to use it to increase living space per person?

            This conversation is mostly moot, though, because the objections most of us suburb-dwellers have to city living are the crappy schools. Affluent couples can move to affluent suburbs with some pretty good schools. There’s also crime concern, though I think that’s overplayed.

            And I’m one of the pro-urban, pro-high density, pro-transit suburbanites! You should see what the others say!

            Re: whether one is better than the other. Beats the hell out of me. This is why we have political decisions.
            I can say that in the Chicagoland area, the cumulative value of suburban real estate property is probably higher than the cumulative value of city real estate property. (include our collar counties, and the suburbs are definitely higher). Probably better to use a per-resident metric. Maybe the value of Chicago would be better if we had better mass transit, but as Matt M said, the mass transit system is heavily subsidized, much like roads are.

          • John Schilling says:

            Cars are good in suburban areas and great in rural areas, but really not very good in urban areas.

            They work reasonably well in Los Angeles; better than any of the alternatives for most people, at least.

            It seems to me that the urban areas where cares are really not very good, are the ones that were built before the invention of the (mass-produced commodity) motorcar, when almost everyone would have to travel by foot. If that’s the case, there isn’t going to be enough room to retrofit roads and parking areas for efficient automobile usage, even busses will be marginal, and subways are the obvious choice once you’ve got the technology to tunnel under existing infrastructure.

            And once cars were introduced on a large scale, we saw a halt or at least prolonged pause to high-density urban expansion in favor of car-friendly suburbs.

            So where are the counterexamples, the cities which were founded or saw substantial geographic expansion after say 1925 and which have the character of “cars are crap, but anyone can walk anywhere”?

          • Iain says:

            Tokyo?

          • John Schilling says:

            Tokyo is reasonably walkable and served by an effective, if crowded, subway system. That’s something, at least. The traffic and parking situations didn’t seem terrible to me, but I’ve never tried driving there so I wouldn’t know fr sure.

          • Matt M says:

            I haven’t really ever had to – but I’d suspect that driving in most of the bay area isn’t especially easy or convenient. Portland and Seattle aren’t great (but not nearly as bad as NY or Chicago)

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            The Nazis very considerately enabled a fresh start in much of Rotterdam and it’s still not very pleasant to drive in. When I was in the city center recently, I parked in a very empty city garage. Seems like people are voting with their feet, saying that the alternatives are generally better.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’d suspect that driving in most of the bay area isn’t especially easy or convenient.

            Most of the bay area is low-density and is served by substantial highways, so getting around by car at most times is easy. Unfortunately the system gets hopelessly congested during rush hours, so it really depends on what you are trying to do.

          • Nornagest says:

            Tokyo (aka Edo) has been huge for a long time — larger than any European city for much of the 18th century, though London passed it up in the 19th. It did get flattened by firebombs in WWII, but you could say the same for a lot of big European cities.

    • keranih says:

      What is the catchment area that the business supported by the parking draw from? The article doesn’t seem to grapple with how daytime parking includes quite a number of people from out of the area, and how these strangers won’t become accustomed to the parking system if they get pissed off and refuse to do business there.

      And then there’s this:

      Selling daytime RPP permits to nonresidents can generate substantial revenue. For example, Los Angeles charges residents $15 a year per car for permits in RPP districts. One nonresident permit at a price of $100 a month ($1,200 a year) will replace the residents’ payments for eighty cars. One nonresident permit will more than replace the median property tax on a single-family house ($922 a year) in the United States.

      To be clear here, the author is assuming that while LA can’t get its poor drivers to drive while insured, licensed, or not smoking crack whilst on the highways, they *can* enforce parking permits. They are also somehow assuming that US homeowners will gladly & willingly fork over the equivalent of their property taxes for a parking permit in an area where they don’t even live. In LA, proterty taxes are 5 times the national average by one estimate.

      Speaking strictly as someone who doesn’t like paid parking – it’s the inconvenience and lack of security as much as the cost. Figuring out the location, payment methods and how to avoid dark corners while paying for parking means that in most cases, I can shop elsewhere, and if so, I will.

      • shakeddown says:

        LA can’t get its poor drivers to drive while insured, licensed, or not smoking crack whilst on the highways, they *can* enforce parking permits.

        The required complicity rates are different. f LA got all the drivers that are insured and off crack to pay parking fees, that would be more than enough to solve this problem.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Conflict theory version: People opposed to free parking aren’t really opposed to it because of economic efficiency or anything like that. They’re opposed to it because they’re urbanists who don’t like cars because they interfere with their communitarian vision of walkable neighborhoods and everyone using clean, efficient public transportation. Furthermore, replacing free parking with metered parking, while it inconveniences the heck out of drivers, cannot provide them with the ends they want, because real public transportation is so terrible that it takes NYC levels of difficulty to make driving worse. So what will actually happen is drivers will be annoyed, local businesses will lose business to places which _do_ have free parking, but nothing else will change; it’s pure loss.

      Mistake theory version: Most obviously, when considering the cost of parking, the author fails to consider the value of parking. Manhattan notwithstanding, people won’t shop or dine where they can’t park. Nor (again outside Manhattan) are they likely to rent or buy a place where they can’t have a car. Or have visitors with cars. If you are charging just above the market-clearing rate for street parking (so there are always vacant spaces), and a developer takes advantage of your lack of parking minimums, your parking rates will go up by a LOT (like those $40 toll roads in DC) when people move into that building. Then you’ll have a lot of unhappy residents who now can’t park their car anywhere near their home.

      • Aftagley says:

        They’re opposed to it because they’re urbanists who don’t like cars because they interfere with their communitarian vision of walkable neighborhoods and everyone using clean, efficient public transportation.

        Would the proper term for this people then be… commute-tarian?

    • shakeddown says:

      Related: urban highways destroy wealth.

      The parking thing seems true AFAICT. People (with cars) tend to ignore car-related public costs (just like public transit riders ignore the subsidies for that – that they have less to ignore is a coincidence rather than virtue).

      (Also, anecdotally, the building I live always has a half-empty parking lot, which is a huge and expensive waste of space I think they were legally obligated to put because parking requirements).

    • Deiseach says:

      From a very limited exposure to a local council trying to work this out, local businesses hate “pay and display” parking, because they want potential customers to be able to park their cars near their shops/establishment for hours (and buy lots of goods which require a car to take them away, rather than “a bag full of shopping which you can walk home with”). This is why the large supermarkets prefer to build on the outskirts of towns rather than in the city centre, because it gives them space for large car parks. You can’t do the same in a built-up urban centre (unless you have multi-storey car-parking and even that’s part of your building space taken up instead of having square footage devoted to displaying more goods).

      On the other hand, people coming into town hate having parking spaces taken up for hours by those who got there before them, because this means they’re driving around looking for parking and wasting time. So they want limits on how long anyone can park in a space, and “pay and display” is one way of imposing those limits.

      On the third hand, everyone hates paying for parking because (a) why should I have to pay for something that was free up to now (b) it’s not right that if I’m ten minutes late back to my car I get hit with a parking fine (c) why do I only get an hour/whatever time span is allotted, I need longer than that to do all my business in town (this is the “everybody else taking up a parking space for longer than X period is selfish, I need to take up a parking space for longer than X period because I have so much to do” attitude).

      Parking warden is a thankless job because nobody wants to pay fines for “I was only a few minutes over the time” (er, no, you were there for three hours) and nobody is rational about parking or realising that if there are only so many spaces in the town square and there are more people coming in than those spaces, to give everyone a fair turn, there needs to be a limit.

      This is also why people park on double yellow lines, park half way up on the footpath, park outside shops “because I’m only nipping in for five minutes”, and generally clog up the streets and force the traffic into the middle of the road, etc.

      Nor (again outside Manhattan) are they likely to rent or buy a place where they can’t have a car.

      Perennial problem in the town where housing was built on streets before cars were a thing, now people want to park their car outside their door (and let visitors park their cars as well), the streets are narrow so everyone (or even just several people) parking on both sides now forces the traffic into one lane in the centre of the road, people next door get annoyed because “the neighbours have two cars and are parking one outside my door!”, non-residents who want to park on the street and go do their shopping can’t, etc. etc. etc. Constant rows about “gaming the system” when applying for permits for on-street parking, local representatives making appeals for Mrs Murphy with her mobility problems who needs to be allowed park outside her door on the street (then everyone else on the street wants the same treatment) – it’s a mess.

      • albatross11 says:

        Another twist to this: some places enforce parking primarily to keep the parking scheme working well, but many other places use parking enforcement as a revenue source. That rewards confusing rules and strict enforcement even on people who are using the parking in the way the planners envisioned, and it definitely p-sses people off when their car gets towed.

        • Deiseach says:

          This is why I think that sanguine “just charge for a resident’s parking permit, no problems there, and charge out-of-towners an arm and a leg” part of the article is someone who’s never dealt with the actual running of a pay-for-parking system.

          By the time all the interference from businesses, local representatives, heart-rending public interest media stories about “Here is 68 year old Maria Lopez who is on oxygen. She relies on her son being able to park outside her door and transport her by car, because she cannot even walk a few feet down the street. And the heartless bureaucrats are charging him out-of-town rates for this!” has been factored in to your original nice clean technocratic scheme, about six people will end up in actuality paying for the permits, and they’ll try and get those on a reduced rate/special circumstances.

          • The Nybbler says:

            about six people will end up in actuality paying for the permits, and they’ll try and get those on a reduced rate/special circumstances.

            Except that those of us who don’t get any sympathy at all will end up paying for the permit, then not getting any spaces because the sympathetic people have taken them all up, then getting towed when we park in the next region over because our permit’s not good for that. And when we tell it to the judge, the judge will tell us the lack of parking we paid for is our problem and who do we think we are fobbing it off on others by taking up parking we’re not entitled to?

          • Deiseach says:

            Except that those of us who don’t get any sympathy at all will end up paying for the permit, then not getting any spaces because the sympathetic people have taken them all up

            Already happening in some areas and yes, there’s holy war over it: A is “I paid for my space and it’s being taken up by B” and B is “I am poor sick widow/other sympathetic person and I need three spaces for my adult kids/caretaker/boyfriend to park”. Traffic wardens apply letter of law? Cruel heartless bureaucrats! They don’t? Unfair treatment and is this what we’re paying the council for!

            This is the problem with technocracy: you can make neat, clean little architectural models and work out beautiful schemes. Then you have the messiness of real life on the ground trying to make these schemes work, and they won’t, so they get bashed about and knocked out of shape to try and fit the circumstances, then no-one is happy and the technocrat is all “If they’d only stuck to my original scheme, it would have been all right!”

          • Nick says:

            This is the problem with technocracy: you can make neat, clean little architectural models and work out beautiful schemes. Then you have the messiness of real life on the ground trying to make these schemes work, and they won’t, so they get bashed about and knocked out of shape to try and fit the circumstances, then no-one is happy and the technocrat is all “If they’d only stuck to my original scheme, it would have been all right!”

            I believe the term is “evenly-spaced rectangular grids.” 😀

      • tmk says:

        I can tell you’re in UK. Americans seem to have a very different perspective on parking, because of all that empty space they have. Continental Europe also has a different attitude from the UK, for unclear reasons.

      • Matt M says:

        In my hometown, the more creative neighbors used to buy cans of yellow paint and paint their curbs yellow (not sure if this is just a US thing, but yellow curb = not allowed to park here) outside their house in order to discourage strangers from parking.

        The city was NOT pleased with this, but so long as they didn’t catch someone in the act, there wasn’t much they could do…

    • cassander says:

      in a world without free zoning, where it’s not possible to build parking structures wherever they are demanded, free parking might result in more utils than the alternative.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I am generally not a fan of minimum parking requirements. However, I am highly skeptical of some of the statistical claims. For instance, the cost of an additional parking space, because UCLA is building parking garages below ground. Uhhh…so, why can’t they build ABOVE ground? Is it because there are perhaps other silly zoning requirements that only allow a certain maximum height?

      There’s also some fallacy of composition going on here. The cost of putting a parking spot at UCLA is not the same as the cost of putting a parking spot in Podunk, Iowa.

      The number of auto trips involving free parking is 99%. Okay. I don’t drive in downtown Chicago because it is insanely expensive and insanely hard to park. It is also insanely expensive to purchase a train ticket. So I live out in the suburbs, and only drive in the suburbs. All those trips in the city that I might have taken are not included in the above figure, although the parking fees definitely altered my behavior.

      Then there is this:

      Selling daytime RPP permits to nonresidents can generate substantial revenue. For example, Los Angeles charges residents $15 a year per car for permits in RPP districts. One nonresident permit at a price of $100 a month ($1,200 a year) will replace the residents’ payments for eighty cars. One nonresident permit will more than replace the median property tax on a single-family house ($922 a year) in the United States

      How exactly is the median property tax in the US relevant for the budget in Los Angeles? My property tax is about $26,000 per year, which also has no relevance whatsoever for the citizens in LA.

      I think other zoning restrictions and environmental impact studies and general grift are far bigger concerns than minimum parking requirements. I’d be willing to keep the minimums if we can knock down some of these other PITAs.

      • bean says:

        It probably also bears pointing out that UCLA does charge for parking now. Admittedly, I was just there to use their library, but this does not seem like the best source to cite.

      • Gossage Vardebedian says:

        Your property tax is $26,000 per year? Yeah, you live in the Chicago suburbs all right.

      • baconbits9 says:

        How exactly is the median property tax in the US relevant for the budget in Los Angeles? My property tax is about $26,000 per year, which also has no relevance whatsoever for the citizens in LA.

        I’m pretty sure that “property tax” in the above quote is not including taxes that support public schools, just as a note on the scale difference.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          That makes a bit more sense. An extra $1200/year is definitely not trivial income for those non-education expenses. On the other hand, you still likely cannot charge that in, say, rural Iowa.

    • Darwin says:

      I think the primary argument would fall along the classic lines of ‘Would this be a feature of a more perfect system?’ vs. ‘Would our current system benefit from changing it to have this feature?’

      Yes, free parking drives cities to grow in ways that create all of these problems. However, people have now spent decades trying to make optimally rational decisions on things like where to build houses, where to build businesses, how to build roads, how to build public transit, etc., conditioned on the fact that there will be free parking.

      If we got rid of this feature now, we would expect those decisions to stop being optimal. Does this correspond to economic damage to the people who built their lives under this assumption? How much damage would this cause, compared to how much benefit? While a system that started out without free parking would naturally evolve into a better state than the current one, is there a clear path from the current state to that better state if we get rid of it now? How long would it take to see those benefits, and is it better to just wait and see if self driving cars solve these problems first?

      I don’t have clear answers to those questions, but I think those arethe dimensions along which you’d argue against the proposition of acting on his arguments.

    • disciplinaryarbitrage says:

      One just-so story about “other, more important factors” coming right up:

      Imagine a world in which most municipalities require by law that grocery stores and restaurants accept all credit cards, and prohibit them from varying prices based on payment method. Accepting credit cards costs merchants fees and a share of their revenue, and those costs are passed on to their customers regardless of whether they use credit cards or cash. These places also have laws restricting who can import food to stores in the community–you need an expensive permit to transport food, you can’t add more trucks to your fleet without jumping through complicated regulatory hoops, and so on.

      Now, imagine that a segment of young, trendy consumers eschew credit cards. Some of them have lousy credit and can’t get cards, and others regard the use of credit as destructive to society and therefore use cash only on ethical grounds. Not only do they have to pay the elevated price for groceries and meals to cover the card-users fees, but they don’t even get rewards points back! These consumers notice that the price of quinoa and avocados and fair-trade coffee has been going up dramatically at Whole Foods and their neighborhood co-ops and cafes. Some of them report being forced to spend unreasonable portions of their paychecks just to buy a bunch of organic kale and a pint of kombucha!

      Some of these consumers organize to find solutions to the food crisis. A few notice some academic work showing that food prices could be much lower if merchants didn’t take credit cards, or passed on the cost to their consumers. Case studies show that in far-away places that don’t require stores to take credit cards, food prices are much more reasonable. The activists start lobbying for getting rid of the card requirement. However, most decision-makers use credit cards, and the idea of a store not taking their card is strange and frightening. Sympathetic beneficiaries of the policy add weight to keeping the status quo (won’t you think of the poor germaphobes who refuse to touch cash and need to be able to use their cards?), who are quietly signal-boosted by the credit card companies that benefit monetarily. And where the activists succeed in getting the credit card laws repealed, prices decrease a bit but are still too high.

      – – – – –

      I think Shoup’s argument is basically right, and implementation of his recommendations could reduce costs of real estate on the margin, allowing for various cost savings for consumers and producers. Where it’s most embraced, though, is by urbanites who lean on its potential to decrease housing costs. However, the fundamental issue behind skyrocketing cost of living in high-productivity metros isn’t parking requirements on their own, but the whole package of restrictive land-use policies (and the incentives that incumbents have to maintain and strengthen them) that restricts expanding the supply of housing (and to a lesser extent commercial development) to meet demand.

      Why doesn’t his prescription get followed? Mostly because it requires new market entrants to internalize the cost of providing parking and limiting the risk that incumbents face of their users who currently rely on free/cheap on-street parking being driven off by increased congestion. In the same way that restrictive land-use laws broadly benefit incumbent landowners at the expense of renters and prospective homeowners, requiring new entrants build (or occasionally acquire through long-term leases) their own parking protects the position of better-organized incumbents at the expense of developers and potential new businesses.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’ve been thinking about this question for years (since living for several years in a neighborhood that had just enough on-street parking until the local university decided to encourage its students to park in the neighborhood and walk the mile to school rather than park on campus, and suddenly parking became a major problem.)

      I think that the model Shoup uses is fundamentally the wrong model,a nd while it gets some interesting results, it’s fundamentally unhelpful.

      The right model for on-street parking is Elinor Ostrom‘s “commons” model. Most of the common restrictions, and demands, make fundamental sense in that context. If you are taking resources from the pool, you need put a proportional share back in (required parking minimums).

      This is a fundamentally different sort of an analysis, and I think makes more sense–but i haven’t seen an academic version of it.

  8. Jliw says:

    What’s a job that’s easy to get, doesn’t involve contact with people, and isn’t completely awful?

    I’ve got a degree (chemistry) if there’s some little-known niche desperately hiring, but otherwise I haven’t had much luck, and we’re basically at “one step away from begging friends for loans” so I’m ready to go for McDonald’s if I have to. I’m just hoping there’s some similarly always-hiring job that is horrible in ways I can tolerate (tedious, physically demanding) rather than “deal with strangers all day”.

    Can also develop/program sort of decently, albeit not really at a professional level yet, in a few (hipster) languages; don’t have qualifications, though, so not sure how to leverage.

    Thanks for advice if anyone has any.

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve got a degree (chemistry) if there’s some little-known niche desperately hiring, but otherwise I haven’t had much luck, and we’re basically at “one step away from begging friends for loans” so I’m ready to go for McDonald’s if I have to.

      Unless your local area is going through an extreme labor shortage, McDonalds won’t hire you unless you lie on your resume. “Overqualified” is a real thing (more specifically, they’re afraid, and rightfully so, that you’ll bolt the second a better offer comes your way)

      • Jliw says:

        Yeah, can’t blame them there, heh. Thanks for the reminder — I’ve (sort of stupidly) been angrily loading my resume with more and more of anything I can think might be relevant (“Now that they see my Associate AND my Bachelor’s, they can’t help but hire me as Senior Ditchdigger!”)… this might be counterproductive.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I don’t know anything about chemistry, but in software engineering, it’s a bit of a balancing act. Recruiters want you to pad your resume with every single keyword imaginable. Have you ever washed a cat in your life ? Put down “dog groomer”, it’s close enough ! On the other hand, many actual employers (who are the clients of those recruiters) tend to discard over-padded resumes out of hand. It’s harsh, but they get flooded with so many resumes that they have no choice but implement some strict filters.

          • Deiseach says:

            Have you ever washed a cat in your life ? Put down “dog groomer”, it’s close enough !

            Gasp! I am shocked and appalled, Bugmaster! That is LYING on your CV and, as per the Damore “lied about his chess ranking” commentary demonstrated, this means NEVER, EVER TRUSTING ANYTHING YOU, A PROVEN AND NOTED LIAR, SAYS EVER AGAIN!!!!

            😀

        • Deiseach says:

          Experience applying for every damn job I could think of – if you’re going for something like burger-flipping or supermarket shelf-stacking, Matt M is right about the overqualified part (even our local pharma plant turned me down for a production line job on the basis “you’ve got A Qualification, you’ll leave the second you get a better job offer, why should we bother training you in?”) so strip as much of that out as possible, instead shove in any kind of manual/part-time job you had (e.g. worked in a shop after school as a teenage job, did summer work picking fruit, basically I HAVE DONE LOW-LEVEL WORK BEFORE AND AM RELIABLE).

          Anything more professional, in your relevant field of study or above the shop-floor, that’s where you stick in “And I have a Certificate in Taste-Testing Organic Yoghurt Flavourings” 🙂

          Good luck!

      • Brad says:

        > they’re afraid, and rightfully so, that you’ll bolt the second a better offer comes your way

        Maybe you are using McDonalds as a stand-in for some larger catagory, but McDonalds, McDonalds doesn’t care. They experience tremendous turnover. It’s expected, it’s planned for, it’s not an issue. Someone with a college degree can be trained to do any of the entry level jobs in hours.

        I worked at a McDonalds in high school, and by the time I left after around 12 months I was the longest tenured non-managerial employee other than a two or three people that worked in the back and didn’t speak any English.

        If you let the hiring manager know that you have reliable transportation, will show up for every scheduled shift on time and sober, and will finish out the remaining scheduled shifts before you leave, you aren’t going to be rejected for being overqualified.

        • Matt M says:

          I applied there when I was getting out of the military and got no response (Bachelors & Associates, 8 years military experience, front-line leadership experience, etc.). I didn’t aggressively follow-up or anything.

          • Witness says:

            I’ve never worked in fast food, but my understanding is basically that it’s pretty easy to get hired *if* you stick around and talk to the manager when you turn in your application (assuming you can present yourself as reliable and willing to do the job).

            I doubt more than a small percentage of people who fill out the application and walk away get a response.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Have you tried something like Rent-a-coder ? I’m not endorsing that site specifically; but there are lots of websites where you can apply as a freelance programmer, and people can hire you to work on their project. Usually, there’s some sort of a bidding process involved. Prices are likely to be quite low, but it’s better than nothing…

      • Jliw says:

        Thanks — it certainly is better than nothing.

        I’m supporting another individual so this kind of freelance work has been an intermittent support, but I’ve been thinking it’s time to just get the most compensation possible regardless of how distasteful the job (as long as I can actually do it). I’ve never tried a systematic approach like Rent-a-coder, though — might be volume here would be as profitable as, and more resume-building than, the average McJob.

    • keranih says:

      If you are willing to deal with physical labor, go find a production factory with a warehouse that is hiring. If you’ve got a clean driving record, they’ll almost certainly looking for a floor sweeper or people to load cardboard boxes into the recycling machine. And next week (trust me, next week or the week after) they’ll be looking for a new forklift driver.

      If they seem the sort to say “you’re over qualified” tell them, “Yes, I will be looking for a job that pays more, in line with my talents. But until I find that job, I will be here at work, on time for my shift, every day. I will be clean, tidy, sober, and I will work the whole shift through. I will not steal from you and I will not start fights with my coworkers. When I find the next job, I will give you two full weeks notice and will attempt to find a replacement for my current position.”

      Demonstrate that you can drive a forklift without running into anything (shockingly, this is apparently harder than it sounds) and you’re set for life. More importantly, you’ll have access to the QC department and the interior job hiring section.

      If you can not in good faith make the statement outlined above, *fix that*, then readdress.

      • Jliw says:

        Thanks — this sounds ideal. I love driving and my record is clean (although I’m really clumsy in person, heh — I survived labs by moving very, very slowly), so I’m hopeful.

        Right now I’m thinking the first step entails Googling around, looking on e.g. Indeed, and checking the Yellow Pages maybe, for warehouse/factory-related keywords — please lemme know if I’ve missed an obvious route here!

        • Deiseach says:

          You can do forklift driving courses and get a cert to prove “yes I can drive one of these and no I won’t knock anything over or run into someone”.

          I’m sure there are similar in the US and while it might take a couple of days and cost money, it would get you a slightly better job than “sweep the floor”. Forklift drivers do seem to be in more demand than “guy on production line” jobs.

      • Michael Handy says:

        Forklift Driving is an excellent “get money quick” job. Keep in mind many countries require a driving license, that takes one or two days to get.

        Bartending is also good, even if clumsy, get whatever your countries equivalent of an RSA (Responsible service of alcohol) is, and you’ll have work in most urban areas.

        That said, if you like stats and simple programming and you hate actual work, might I suggest taking the Google AdWords and Analytics exams and looking for a digital marketing agency, especially as a junior SEM expert. Turnover is high (less than a year at entry level.), as is demand, and the work is not too draining, especially once you land senior roles and can pawn off the drudge work.

      • phil says:

        I drove a forklift stocking overhead items at Lowes for a little while.

        I found it to be probably the most moment to moment enjoyable job I’ve had (unfortunately not the best compensated).

        It does take some spatial awareness, a temperament for ‘its better to go slow and get it right rather than rush it a break something’ is helpful as well.

        All in all, it was a good way to earn a paycheck.

    • metacelsus says:

      For chemistry in particular: if there are any pharma companies near you, they might be hiring lab / QC techs. This probably involves little interaction with the public.

    • WashedOut says:

      Most jobs invole some interaction with people. If you’re fit and strong I recommend doing labour hire work either through an agency or direct to construction/landscaping companies.

      If you prefer office work, either lab tech or start a cv/resume review service.

    • secret_tunnel says:

      A friend of mine was telling me the other day that nursing homes are always understaffed and will pay more than minimum wage to anyone who applies. Of course, being a nursing assistant involves a LOT of contact with people and sounds completely awful.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      >What’s a job that’s easy to get, doesn’t involve contact with people, and isn’t completely awful?

      WebCam model. Better be hot for that one. But being hot ain’t always easy, and for most, age == less demand.

      But really, id suggest changing the attitude. 1. Get used to the fact that IRL, getting anything good requires hard work and the grind and 2. Any stable job will probably involve some contact with people, though you have some leeway in getting more introverted (though probably not no contact with people) jobs.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        Webcam models absolutely do have to talk to people. It’s a sales profession.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I think that’s a bit unfair. True, all jobs require some contact with people — your employer at the very least — but many jobs depend primary (if not exclusively) on people skills, whereas others do not. For example, consider the difference between a software engineer and a salesman. I interpreted “doesn’t involve contact with people” to mean something like “doesn’t depend primarily on people skills”, and not “requires the employee to be a total hermit”.

    • outis says:

      Construction worker. There’s huge demand on the west coast (yes, you can’t build anything there, but they STILL can’t get enough workers for the few things they can build).

    • RDNinja says:

      Try going into Air Emissions Testing. When you’re out doing a test, you might spend all day with little more than radio contact with other people. It’s a lot of travel (most jobs are with contractor crews that cover multiple states), often late nights, and involves working in industrial settings at heights.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Just another thought on top of the others if they don’t work out, look for night shift positions. They have high turnover for obvious reasons, and rarely involve working with people also for obvious reasons. The two main qualifications will be showing up and not sleeping on the job. Even things that sound like “having to deal with people” such as hotel concierge will often just mean “having to deal with 3 people over 8 hours, while standing behind a desk filling time” (some hotel types will have more after hours activity than others).

      Promotion and actual responsibility is surprisingly easy to obtain, I was out of work for a few years and walked into a franchise bakery where I had basic experience (worked a couple of summers at a different franchise 10+ years before). It took all of 5 months before I was the lead baker coming in alone and working the first 2-3 hours independently and setting up the days work for everyone because the previous guy just stopped showing up at one point and they were desperate (also I could do fractions in my head which put me in the 99th percentile for potential employees). The pay capped out at $13-$14, and I was working midnight to 8 or 9, and I was there for a total of ~15 months, so its not an amazing long term proposition, but it was passable in a lot of ways.

    • James Miller says:

      Ask local college chemistry departments if they need a grader. You could work as a grader for the AP chem exam.

    • Notsocrazy says:

      I’ll second the warehouse/factory recommendation. Not gonna give out a location quite yet on this site but I happen to know that the factory I work at is hiring fairly frequently and they touted the turnover as impressively low during my interview. Someone just got fired for consistently failing to show up a week ago.

      I can also attest that this sort of job (at least, my job and the others at my factory) fulfills your requirements of mostly only being shit insofar as it is tedious (exceedingly) and physically demanding but doesn’t really require one to interact with people in general.

    • temujin9 says:

      Since it sounds like you’re open to continuing to freelance, send me an email (temujin9@greenfieldguild.com) with as much of a software resume as you can scrape together. I can’t promise steady work yet, but I know how to leverage hobbyist developers into professionals, and I can promise any work that does come will be mentally challenging, and not require interaction with the public.

      Other options:
      – Companies like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Crowdflower let you work from home on largely automated tasks. They don’t pay much, but it’s “under the API” work that doesn’t require human interaction (unlike, say, Uber or Favor). There are no doubt other similar sites.
      – Most freelance software gig sites are clients looking for the lowest bidder (never a great trait in a client), and the lowest bidder is usually in Romania or India. That said, if you want to buff up your resume a bit, they can be somewhat useful.

  9. limestone says:

    I’d want to test my libertarian beliefs, so — any advice on where I can find the most compelling argumentation for the left-wing economic viewpoint?

    • Bugmaster says:

      I’m not sure what counts as “left-wing”, but I personally don’t understand libertarianism at all (although purely economic libertarianism, as opposed to total libertarianism, might be easier to swallow). So, if you want to practice explaining your beliefs to a skeptical idiot, you can practice on me 🙂

      • limestone says:

        The core idea of libertarianism the political ideology, as I understand it, is that initiation or threats of violence are unacceptable (however, responding to violence with violence might be OK). This is usually referred to as the Non-Aggression Principle.

        Ideologically, a free market is an natural consequence of NAP: any government regulation of markets, any forced redistribution system, any property right infringement is a NAP violation because of the implied threat of violence.

        Now, why do we even need market regulations?
        First, a regulation can be introduced to solve an economic problem, thus supposedly improving the economy. However, any market regulation also introduces problems: higher costs for businesses, higher barriers to entry, red tape — ultimately decreasing the economy efficiency. Market regulations are often implemented because they trade a visible improvement for damage that is usually distributed throughout the economy, and thus invisible. But such invisible inefficiencies add up, and as a result a regulated economy performs worse than its unregulated counterpart would.

        The second reason is a moral one: some people believe that free market capitalism leads to oppression, and so must be restricted by regulations. However, since neither violence nor threats of violence are allowed, all the exchanges in a libertarian economy are voluntary. If a person doesn’t think a deal is beneficial for them, they can simply decline it.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I think ohwhatisthis? brings up a solid objection to economic libertarianism, below. Rather than reiterate it, let me ask you this: what mechanisms does libertarianism employ in order to enforce NAP, given that not all human beings subscribe to it (and in fact, very few do) ?

          Additionally, how do you deal with non-violent situations ? For example, a while back Scott brought up the scenario where I move into your neigbourhood, and start farming African killer bees at my house, because apparently these monsters make the best (i.e. most lucrative) honey. Unlike me, you don’t have the genetic mutation that makes you immune to bee stings, so what do you do ?

          • limestone says:

            what mechanisms does libertarianism employ in order to enforce NAP, given that not all human beings subscribe to it (and in fact, very few do) ?

            As of now, I believe that such mechanisms should be the police and the army.

            Additionally, how do you deal with non-violent situations ? For example, a while back Scott brought up the scenario where I move into your neigbourhood, and start farming African killer bees at my house, because apparently these monsters make the best (i.e. most lucrative) honey. Unlike me, you don’t have the genetic mutation that makes you immune to bee stings, so what do you do ?

            It is hard for me to answer this question in general, because different types of situations can be resolved by different free market mechanisms. Considering the bees example, one should realize that the risk of getting bee-farming neighbors, or neighbors that do any other thing you don’t like, is an inherent risk of owning a house in a neighborhood. You have several options:
            — If you want to live in this exact neighborhood and get rid of bees, you can make a deal with the neighbor, so he would abstain from keeping bees in exchange for something, or you can buy his house, and so on
            — A typical free market tool for risk management is insurance. You can insure your property against undesirable neighbors moving in, as well as other events that reduce value of your property

            Also: if the bees somehow damage yourself or your property, then it is in fact a NAP violation and should be resolved in court.

          • Bugmaster says:

            As of now, I believe that such mechanisms should be the police and the army

            Wait, I’m confused: aren’t those institutions features of a centralized government ? If so, then how is your proposed society still libertarian ?

            you can make a deal with the neighbor

            No deal. He makes way more from honey sales than you can afford.

            You can insure your property against undesirable neighbors moving in

            Ok, so what happens when the beekeeper does move in ? Do I have to move out ? Presumably I collect the insurance payout in that case, but still, the system seems kinda skewed in favor of beekeepers. They bear no costs and reap all the benefits.

            if the bees somehow damage yourself or your property, then it is in fact a NAP violation

            Well, that’s arguable. It’s not like he deliberately sicced his bees on people. Also, how do courts work under your system ?

          • limestone says:

            Wait, I’m confused: aren’t those institutions features of a centralized government ? If so, then how is your proposed society still libertarian ?

            I think that you are confusing libertarianism with anarcho-capitalism. Libertarian ideology by itself is compatible with the existence of the government, as long as the government does not violate NAP. Also remember that the NAP does allow violence, but only in response to violence. Hence, the government can punish violent criminals and participate in defensive wars while fully subscribing to the libertarian ideals.

            I’m actually in favor of a strong police force, as I think that efficient NAP enforcement is both extremely important and hard. The obvious problem is that government incentives aren’t well aligned with the task of not abusing the power and of using it efficiently; perhaps the optimal solution somehow involves private or semi-private law enforcement, but as of today, I’m not exactly convinced. Non-functional law enforcement, however, basically means giving up power to thugs — nothing libertarian about that.

            Ok, so what happens when the beekeeper does move in ? Do I have to move out ?

            You collect the insurance payout, and then either use it to make a deal with the beekeeper, or to move to another neighborhood.

            Presumably I collect the insurance payout in that case, but still, the system seems kinda skewed in favor of beekeepers. They bear no costs and reap all the benefits.

            If the beekeepers became a noticeable problem, then it would create demand for no-bees neighborhoods, and real estate companies would start adding clauses prohibiting beekeeping, or charging extra for beekeeping, to their contracts.

            Also, how do courts work under your system ?

            Pretty much as they do today, regarding the NAP violations.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Also remember that the NAP does allow violence, but only in response to violence.

            Assuming you are defining “violence” in a non-idiosyncratic way (i.e., “drawing of blood or bruises on a physical human body”), then you quickly run into a problem of property requiring the threat of the initiation of violence to be maintained (outside of an unrealistic world without conflicts over scarce resources).

            Otherwise, I could just use your property, ignoring your protests.

          • limestone says:

            Assuming you are defining “violence” in a non-idiosyncratic way (i.e., “drawing of blood or bruises on a physical human body”), then you quickly run into a problem of property requiring the threat of the initiation of violence to be maintained (outside of an unrealistic world without conflicts over scarce resources).

            In libertarian thought, “violence” is usually defined in an idiosyncratic way, such that attacking or seizing property counts as violence too. There are some philosophical justifications for why it is so — they are a bit stretched in my opinion, but whether or not you accept them, keep in mind that the concept of NAP includes aggression towards property.

            While a world without conflicts over scarce resources is indeed unrealistic, libertarianism offers a way to resolve such conflicts — and that is to uphold private property rights with no exceptions.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If you insist on translating “initiation of violence” into “violates libertarian property norms”, then its those property norms you need to be talking about. Because if the NAP means simply following libertarian rules, then saying “libertarianism means not violating the NAP” is a circular re-iteration, doing no argumentative work by itself.

            So regarding self ownership: I simply reject it. It doesn’t lead to outcomes that align with my goals. And I suspect most other people reject it to, at least in the sense that it is defined by libertarians.

            Do I have evidence most people reject self-ownership? Sort of. If it was most people’s core ethic, then things like broad support for taxation, hard-drug laws, and the welfare state would be quite strange. The “self ownership” ethic doesn’t seem to have much explanatory power for describing human behavior.

            While a world without conflicts over scarce resources is indeed unrealistic, libertarianism offers a way to resolve such conflicts — and that is to uphold private property rights with no exceptions.

            There are two types of conflict going on here: rules conflict, and frustration conflict. The first is when the governing set of rules creates a contradiction. The second is when two people want diametrically opposed things to happen.

            Libertarianism is not unique at solving the problem of rule-conflicts. For example, I also have a way to solve all property rule-conflicts: Let the state determine all legal ownership. It’s 100% seamless! However, my system, and your system, both run into human frustration conflicts, that are caused by the overarching system.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @limestone:

            I think that you are confusing libertarianism with anarcho-capitalism.

            That’s absolutely true — my bad. But now, I am somewhat more confused: how do you split the duties of the government vs. the market ?

            Let’s assume that a government of some sort exists; I’m not sure how we’d pick one under libertarianism (would it be a democracy ? an oligarchy ? some sort of feudalism ?), but let’s just assume we did it, somehow. I have this vague idea that we’ve surrendered some of our violence-based actions to the government; that is, when someone initiates violence against me, I call the police instead of responding in kind personally. This sounds good in theory, but I’m confused about the specifics.

            For example, consider the bees. When I get stung, I can sue the beekeeper in court; the court is (presumably) administered by the government. If the beekeeper loses, and refuses to cease and desist with the bees (and/or refuses to pay the penalty), the government sends the cops after him. But the question is, how does the court make its decision ? Is there a set of laws that is applicable to the situation ? If so, how did these laws come into being ? Did someone vote on them ? Are the laws applicable to everyone in the land equally ? What prevents people from utilizing the law-generation mechanism in a way that some other people would disapprove of ? Basically, how is situation any better than what we have now ?

          • Nornagest says:

            would it be a democracy ? an oligarchy ? some sort of feudalism ?

            Modern libertarianism is basically a product of the Sixties and so generally assumes democracy.

          • limestone says:

            If you insist on translating “initiation of violence” into “violates libertarian property norms”, then its those property norms you need to be talking about. Because if the NAP means simply following libertarian rules, then saying “libertarianism means not violating the NAP” is a circular re-iteration, doing no argumentative work by itself.

            Sorry, but I fail to see your point. Libertarianism is defined as “upholding the NAP”, and NAP is defined as “do not initiate or threaten to initiate physical violence, or violate property rights”. Where does the circular logic occur?

            So regarding self ownership: I simply reject it. It doesn’t lead to outcomes that align with my goals. And I suspect most other people reject it to, at least in the sense that it is defined by libertarians.

            Do I have evidence most people reject self-ownership? Sort of. If it was most people’s core ethic, then things like broad support for taxation, hard-drug laws, and the welfare state would be quite strange. The “self ownership” ethic doesn’t seem to have much explanatory power for describing human behavior.

            Actually, I don’t think that is true. Most people “reject” libertarianism because they don’t even know about it. Libertarianism is counterintuitive. If you ask a random person “would you want X to be free of charge?”, they will probably answer yes — who doesn’t like free stuff, right? Yet, after a discussion about the economic implications, most people I’ve talked to either agree with the free market viewpoint or at least see the appeal.

            Likewise, I think that most people at least partly accept libertarian moral premises. Few people like the idea of taking away the result of their labor at a gunpoint.

            However, my system, and your system, both run into human frustration conflicts, that are caused by the overarching system.

            Yeah; some people would certainly get frustrated that they don’t get to take away stuff created by others! But so what?

          • albatross11 says:

            A government that never violates the NAP will have a very hard time collecting taxes.

          • limestone says:

            A government that never violates the NAP will have a very hard time collecting taxes.

            It can charge taxes in exchange for protecting the citizen against NAP violations; that way, paying is both voluntary (at least in principle), and highly incentivized. That, however, makes the government a monopoly w.r.t. protection against NAP violations, with all the problems that it entails. But, today I don’t know of any better solution.

          • That, however, makes the government a monopoly w.r.t. protection against NAP violations, with all the problems that it entails.

            I believe the basic problem with the position was pointed out by Roy Childs in his letter to Rand, which got him read out of her movement.

            Retaliatory force either is or is not an initiation of force. If it is, the government should not do it. If it isn’t, a government that forcibly prevents other people from doing it is itself initiating force against them.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Libertarianism is defined as “upholding the NAP”, and NAP is defined as “do not initiate or threaten to initiate physical violence, or violate property rights”.

            Every modern ideology supports property rights, they just disagree what those property rights are. No one has the position of “Oh yes, this is your moral right, but you shouldn’t be allowed to execute it”. Libertarianism is distinguished by its support of a specific brand of property rights, so the details do matter.

            Few people like the idea of taking away the result of their labor at a gunpoint.

            Okay, I know libertarians use an idiosyncratic definition of “violence”, so I’m willing to play along with that. But when you start to use synonyms of the common-understanding of “violence” to make your point, I’m going to have to bring it up again: Property relies on “gunpoint” to be enforced. For those who don’t like the “gunpoint”, flocking to private property is not a solution. The rule of property is enforced in a non-voluntary manner, just like taxation by the state.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Have a different and perhaps more plausible example.

            You live in wildfire country. Your neighbor has a small fireworks factory in their house. They’re not immune to fire, they just don’t want to believe something might go badly wrong.

            They haven’t yet caused a fire.

            Now what?

        • Linvega says:

          I never really got the NAP.

          I mean, what is the worst thing that the goverment is going to do to you, unless you yourself physically fight against the enactment of law? They take your money and throw you into a small, damp, moldy room. That’s what landlords in london already do with me anyway!(and I’d wager my money that the jails in some countries are less damp & moldy than london flats)

          Okay, that was a bit of a cheap joke, but it kind of alludes to my point: What is violence, and doesn’t every conflict between individuals hold the threat of violence? And the more powerful an individual, the more powerful the threat. There are countless people that got their livelihood destroyed by companies, be it because they dared to start a competing company, they were in the way or simply because the company could get away with it and it was cheaper for them. And all of this without ANY outright violence, only with dumping prices, or character assassination, hard-to-proof toxic chemicals, or even long-term detrimental effects, like greenhouse gases.
          Acting like only the state-sanctioned ‘violence’ is bad seems very weird to me.

          Additionally, it seems to be very far disconnected from reality. In practice, even in an libertarian society, poor people will still feel the full brunt of state-sanctioned violence, it’s just that the rich need to fear it less, the classic example being a poor family that gets evicted with help from the state because it simply can’t afford the recently increased rent(or worse, because the money maker in the family lost his job and can’t get a new one).
          It misses the reality that some people will just have no bargaining at all, so they will be forced to continously take deals that hold them in perpetual misery just to survive. Or they even need to turn to crime once nothing else is an option for them (and there will always be people that fall by the board in such a system). And market mechanisms can’t protect you if you can’t afford them in the first place, like insurance.
          Mind you that I don’t mean to insinuate all crime is just people that have no other options; It’s the other way around, that a system with less safety nets will have more people at rock bottom, which will lead to more crime overall.

          And it gets even worse once you ponder the definition of violence in the libertarian mindset. Property ‘stealing’ (like the aforementioned poor family that can’t afford the increased rent) is violence. However, this only reflects the importance to which libertarians hold property; It doesn’t reflect the broader population, which often have additional or entirely different values. Especially, suddenly, every single ideology can claim it has a NAP, fitted to their own values!
          After all, for a devout christian/[insert religion], sinning surely is a form of violence. So forcing people to not be gay, or only procreate for having childrens, or whatever, is just the states using their violence to answer your violence. In fact, this line of reasoning is often employed just with slightly different words, like ‘why are WE being FORCED to let people sin unpunished?’
          Or for an extreme communist, holding any property at all is violence. Rince and repeat for any ideology you can think of.

          That said, I do like libertarian principle for practical purposes. The market is a useful optimization scheme, as long as it works. However, it suffers from the tendency towards monopolization, both in a given market and on the personal level, and that it tends to let people fall by the board if they start with nothing and aren’t immediately needed by the economy. A monopolized market ISN’T good at ressource allocation anymore and as such needs to be strongly avoided.

          That’s why I’m in favor of basic safety nets that are as undistortionate as possible:
          1) access to everything that we need to survive, like water, food, housing and basic health care
          2) access to everything everything we need to take part in the economy at all, like education and roads/public transport
          3) financed by increasing taxes towards the rich, though again as small as possible
          This combats monopolization on the personal level and more importantly, makes sure that nobody literally starves to death and is incapable of taking part in the economy. The market on the other hand would easily let some people die/not educate them simply because it’s not a good investment for any singular actor, or in the worst case, even for all actors together (think of people that can’t do more than what automated machines can already do cheaper, though I don’t think that’s the only example).
          Furthermore, I’m in favor of any anti-monopolization laws, from small subsidization for newcomers, to laws against unreasonable price dumping and at worst, breaking up companies that have become so big that they suffocate the market.
          The purpose of these measurements however is not to replace or even ‘combat’ the market, but instead to use it as a tool for us.
          But ‘true’ libertarianism always seemed like unrealistic idealization of the market and property rights that elevates them above the level of ‘mere human welfare’.

          • Acting like only the state-sanctioned ‘violence’ is bad seems very weird to me.

            And only state-sanctioned discrimination is bad.

          • limestone says:

            Acting like only the state-sanctioned ‘violence’ is bad seems very weird to me.

            That is absolutely not what I’m saying. Violence done by the individual people or the non-government entities is not in any way better than the state-sanctioned violence. That is why I advocate for a strong police force.

            There are countless people that got their livelihood destroyed by companies, be it because they dared to start a competing company, they were in the way or simply because the company could get away with it and it was cheaper for them. And all of this without ANY outright violence, only with dumping prices, or character assassination, hard-to-proof toxic chemicals, or even long-term detrimental effects, like greenhouse gases.

            First, note that is does sometimes happen with outright violence. In countries with weak law enforcement, people have been outright killed for daring to start a competitor company! But this is precisely the kind of thing NAP enforcement would protect us from.

            And if an unethical company cannot do anything to you or to your property — what actual damage can they do? Sure, they can spread libel against you.. if someone would believe them. Still, it comes nowhere close to the extent the government or the companies can harm you in a non-libertarian society.

            Also note that if something is hard-to-proof — it is hard-to-proof regardless of the economic and political system.

            It misses the reality that some people will just have no bargaining at all, so they will be forced to continously take deals that hold them in perpetual misery just to survive. Or they even need to turn to crime once nothing else is an option for them (and there will always be people that fall by the board in such a system). And market mechanisms can’t protect you if you can’t afford them in the first place, like insurance.

            First, in a libertarian society, situations where a person cannot earn enough to survive, so that they have to resort to crime, are exceedingly rare. Market competition drives prices for basic necessities down, and low barriers to entry result in the abundance of available jobs.

            However, we can imagine the least convenient situation. Suppose there is a person that is so profoundly disabled, that he can do no useful work at all. For such cases, the solution is charity.

            That said, I do like libertarian principle for practical purposes. The market is a useful optimization scheme, as long as it works. However, it suffers from the tendency towards monopolization, both in a given market and on the personal level, and that it tends to let people fall by the board if they start with nothing and aren’t immediately needed by the economy. A monopolized market ISN’T good at ressource allocation anymore and as such needs to be strongly avoided.

            I’ve came to the conclusion that the market tendency towards monopolization is, by and large, a myth. Every actual monopoly that I know of involves either the government interference with the economy, or an industry with artificially high barriers to entry. Without market distortions, however, a monopoly that has grown sufficiently ineffective would soon be defeated by the new businesses. Sure, it can take some time for a monopoly to burn through all its safety nets; but still.

            It’s the other way around, that a system with less safety nets will have more people at rock bottom, which will lead to more crime overall.

            Let’s think about how can people can find themselves at the rock bottom. Naturally, there are a lot of possible jobs. Just look around: almost anyone could use some help in their daily work or household activities! But today, due to the fact that any employment has at least some fixed cost associated with it — you have to deal with all the red tape, you have to pay at least the minimum wage, etc. — so people don’t bother with employing someone unless it is absolutely necessary. Also, do not forget that having low barriers to entry means that there are much more businesses overall in the economy, thus much more job opportunities.

            While resources can indeed be scarce, the assumption that work opportunities can naturally be scarce is flat out ridiculous to me. There is so much useful work to be done, literally everywhere around us.

            And, basically, if you are capable enough to commit crime, then you should be capable to do at least some kind of useful work.

            And it gets even worse once you ponder the definition of violence in the libertarian mindset. Property ‘stealing’ (like the aforementioned poor family that can’t afford the increased rent) is violence. However, this only reflects the importance to which libertarians hold property; It doesn’t reflect the broader population, which often have additional or entirely different values. Especially, suddenly, every single ideology can claim it has a NAP, fitted to their own values!
            After all, for a devout christian/[insert religion], sinning surely is a form of violence. So forcing people to not be gay, or only procreate for having childrens, or whatever, is just the states using their violence to answer your violence. In fact, this line of reasoning is often employed just with slightly different words, like ‘why are WE being FORCED to let people sin unpunished?’
            Or for an extreme communist, holding any property at all is violence. Rince and repeat for any ideology you can think of.

            That is true. But I’m advocating for these particular boundaries of violence usage, and this particular NAP. The libertarian NAP is a position statement, not an argument in and of itself.

            That’s why I’m in favor of basic safety nets that are as undistortionate as possible:
            1) access to everything that we need to survive, like water, food, housing and basic health care
            2) access to everything everything we need to take part in the economy at all, like education and roads/public transport
            3) financed by increasing taxes towards the rich, though again as small as possible
            This combats monopolization on the personal level and more importantly, makes sure that nobody literally starves to death and is incapable of taking part in the economy.

            I believe that even without the existence of such regulations and state provided services nobody would literally starve to death, and everyone would be capable of taking part in the economy, while the mentioned services would be provided more efficiently by the free market; thus rendering such measures unnecessary.

            It’s not that we disagree on whether letting people literally starve is a good or a bad thing.

            Furthermore, I’m in favor of any anti-monopolization laws, from small subsidization for newcomers, to laws against unreasonable price dumping and at worst, breaking up companies that have become so big that they suffocate the market.

            The mechanism of venture investment seems to do a good enough job of supplying newcomers with the necessary resources; I’m not convinced that any regulation or subsidization is actually necessary here.

          • Aftagley says:

            I’ve came to the conclusion that the market tendency towards monopolization is, by and large, a myth. Every actual monopoly that I know of involves either the government interference with the economy, or an industry with artificially high barriers to entry. Without market distortions, however, a monopoly that has grown sufficiently ineffective would soon be defeated by the new businesses. Sure, it can take some time for a monopoly to burn through all its safety nets; but still.

            DeBeers functioned as an international monopoly on Diamonds for most of the 20th century, the barrier to entry wasn’t overwhelmingly high (diamonds aren’t *that* rare) and they didn’t have government support.

            Most major sporting organizations effectively serve as monopolies and the barrier to entry there is literally as low as “find someone who can throw/kick/whatever a ball. The relationship between the state and say, the NFL, is slightly more complex than my other examples, but it’s not being propped up like a utility, at least.

            Luxottica allegedly controls 80% of the eye ware market globally and most major glasses chains are controlled by them. Again, no government assistance here.

            These are the three examples I was able to think of off the top of my head. Give me a few more minutes and I could find you dozens more. All of these succeeded as monopolies and have been able to successfully fend off new companies entering the market.

            You underlying point is incorrect. Monopolies are real and dangerous.

        • The core idea of libertarianism the political ideology, as I understand it, is that initiation or threats of violence are unacceptable (however, responding to violence with violence might be OK). This is usually referred to as the Non-Aggression Principle.

          It’s a common starting point, but some libertarians have dispensed with it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Ideologically, a free market is an natural consequence of NAP: any government regulation of markets, any forced redistribution system, any property right infringement is a NAP violation because of the implied threat of violence.

          This is useless because people see violence as being “implied” at different stages in the process. You post a 35-mph speed limit in your residential neighborhood, I blow through it at 100 mph. Did you “imply” violence when you posted the sig and hired your first traffic cop, or did I “imply” violence when I drove at a speed endangering innocent bystanders, or is this a case where the NAP doesn’t kick in until we’re prying the remains of your toddler from my radiator and I have to pay weregild or something?

          The NAP leads to trivial, obvious solutions in cases like robbery and rape, which distinguishes it not at all from every other ethical, legal, and political system that has no trouble saying that robbery and rape are wrong and that it’s OK to beat up robbers and rapists to make them stop. But it is absolutely no help in resolving the hard problems that underlie actual disputes, and NAP-based arguments persuade almost no one ever. Not even other libertarians, if they don’t already agree with you. Instead you get silly semantic gamesmanship about who really “initiated” the “implied” violence, and from there the useless finger-pointing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The NAP applies to property, if X ‘owns’ the road then X can set the rules for using the road. The 100 mph driver is clearly the aggressor in such a situation, in the same way a person walking through a farmer’s cornfield is the aggressor.

          • albatross11 says:

            I can’t find the link in a couple minutes Googling, but David Friedman wrote a really nice article with a bunch of places where the NAP or simple rules-based libertarianism would lead to bad results. I suspect any simple principle like this is going to be at best an approximate guide to good behavior, not a perfect one.

          • @albatross11:

            Machinery of Freedom, 2nd edition (also in the third), chapter 41.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The NAP is:
            “I’m simply opposed to violence”, defining “violence” as anything that runs contrary to my proposed property norms (and excluding human-bloodshed that is in favor of it).

            Seems like everyone from communists to monarchists supports the NAP, we can go home now.

          • Vorkon says:

            Clearly, the people posting the sign and hiring the police officers initiated the violence.

            When you drive through at 100mph, you don’t intend to hurt anyone, believe you will be able to stop or swerve out of the way in time if anyone does get in your way, and fully intend to stop if you run into a situation where you cannot do so. You might be mistaken about this, but you don’t intend your speed to effect anyone other than yourself.

            The government, on the other hand, fully intends to enforce the dictates of the sign upon you and anyone else driving down that road, and is willing to use force, up to and including killing you if you resist or try to flee from the officers trying to stop you.

            It’s harder to say who’s at fault for the violence, mind you; in fact, it’s probably safe to say that the driver would be at fault if any accident occurred, and that it’s appropriate to initiate violence against him to stop it. But it’s still pretty clear who initiated the violence.

          • John Schilling says:

            When you drive through at 100mph, you don’t intend to hurt anyone,

            When I rob a bank by pointing a gun at the teller and saying “gimme all your money”, I don’t intend to hurt anyone. I believe that my badassitude is sufficient to intimidate people into not putting up a fight; also the bank is insured so the financial losses will be spread imperceptibly thin across a society that owes me (because reasons). I may be mistaken about this, but I don’t intend my robbery to affect anyone but myself.

            Oh, but now that policeman is pointing a gun at me, and he fully intends to enforce that pesky “no bank robbery even if society owes you” law, by hauling me off to jail. That’s aggression, it is! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I’m being repressed! Now I am surely permitted to shoot the policeman in self-defense.

            This is fun, and we can play all day. What we can’t do, is build a stable society around it. If you have a society which A: cannot stop people from driving through residential neighborhoods at 100 mph (because NAP), and B: is populated by actual human beings, then this society will be torn down and replaced by one where people who drive through residential neighborhoods at even half that speed can be beaten to death by mobs.

            I’m the sort of libertarian who prefers a society where the speed limits are explicit, reasonable, and enforced by fines unless you really go out of your way to ask for worse. Presumably you will tell me that I’m not a real libertarian.

          • Vorkon says:

            I’m the sort of libertarian who prefers a society where the speed limits are explicit, reasonable, and enforced by fines unless you really go out of your way to ask for worse. Presumably you will tell me that I’m not a real libertarian.

            Of course not. I said myself that it would be justified to initiate violence against the guy driving at 100mph, didn’t I? I just don’t kid myself about the fact that I’m the one initiating violence against him.

            Nobody other than anarcho-capitalists thinks that the NAP is inviolate, or that you can structure an entire society around it, and that’ll only last them long enough for the nearest private defense insurance agency (or gang leader, as the case may be) to decide they want to be the new government.

            What it IS, is a good rule of thumb. Don’t initiate violence against someone, unless you have no other reasonable option. (Such as when people decide to drive through a residential area at 100mph.) And since all government action, by necessity, carries the threat of violence, you should avoid government action unless it’s meant to accomplish something that you would be willing to kill to accomplish, at least in an edge case.

            Also, the bank robbery example is silly, and you know it.

          • John Schilling says:

            All the examples are either silly, arbitrary, or obvious, and nobody’s ethical or political system has any problem with the obvious ones.

          • Aapje says:

            @Vorkon

            Good rules of thumb are fine when it comes to individual morality, but not good enough when it comes to creating a comprehensive system of government that fails relatively gracefully.

            “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is also a fine rule of thumb, for example. When people took that too seriously, it went rather badly.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      Situations where there are

      1. Large economic incentives to use dangerous chemical X

      2. Usage of chemical X is really really terrible for the local environment and health// or its terribly dangerous for the workers to produce the product without any regulation

      3. Everyone/Most would prefer a world “slightly more expensive product Y and no chemical X//random worker death/dismemberment around them” but no producer of product Y is willing, nor CAN break under capitalistic forces without some system of regulation.

      That’s a common example.

      Anything tragedy of the commons related.

      I wouldn’t call these left-wing viewpoints though. For some reason anything environmental gets lumped in with the left(which only kindof exists in the first place) in American politics.

      • limestone says:

        Anything tragedy of the commons related.

        While libertarianism and the free market does not provide a single tool to solve any tragedy of the commons problem, there are various mechanisms that can be used — but their choice depends on the problem details. Is the depletable resource private or unowned? How many agents participate in the problem? What incentives do they have? What economic pressures are they susceptible to? And so on.

        1. Large economic incentives to use dangerous chemical X

        2. Usage of chemical X is really really terrible for the local environment and health// or its terribly dangerous for the workers to produce the product without any regulation

        3. Everyone/Most would prefer a world “slightly more expensive product Y and no chemical X//random worker death/dismemberment around them” but no producer of product Y is willing, nor CAN break under capitalistic forces without some system of regulation.

        Health damage to the third parties is, as I see it, a NAP violation and can be resolved in court. A possible solution to the local environment damage problems is the privatization of the environment, which would make it possible to resolve them within the private property framework, as well as provide the incentives to do so. High death or injury risk for the workers would lead to decreasing demand for the job, which would have to be balanced by either higher salaries or better safety measures.

        • Aapje says:

          Health damage to the third parties is, as I see it, a NAP violation and can be resolved in court.

          The problem is that it often is impossible to determine with certainty who caused the damage. If I get lung cancer, which of the 100’s of people whose second hand smoke I inhaled caused it? Or wasn’t it caused by any of them and was it caused by a different carcinogen? Was it a man-made carcinogen or one that is natural? Who knows?

          High death or injury risk for the workers would lead to decreasing demand for the job, which would have to be balanced by either higher salaries or better safety measures.

          Except that in your system there is no government inspection, so workers may only find out after several decades when they start dying of cancer, that the workplace was using asbestos a lot. Oops.

          At that point, the company may no longer exist and/or they may not have the money to compensate people. Many of the original owners may already be dead and/or be merely stock owners who owned the stock for some time. Do you favor getting rid of limited liability, getting rid of stocks, etc, so ex-workers can go after those who profited while they worked there?

          Or are you just screwed if you are unable to recognize the actual risks at the time?

          The problem with hard libertarianism is that it proposes demolishing a major pillar of the current system, causing the entire structure to collapse. So then you lose an enormous amount of working solutions and have to replace them with alternative solutions that are unproven and most likely only work in (simplified) theory.

          • albatross11 says:

            By ‘hard libertarianism,’ do you mean anarchocapitalism?

          • Aapje says:

            Believing that all government regulation has to be abandoned.

            Pure anarchocapitalism goes further than that, including things like having no central legal system.

          • limestone says:

            The problem is that it often is impossible to determine with certainty who caused the damage. If I get lung cancer, which of the 100’s of people whose second hand smoke I inhaled caused it? Or wasn’t it caused by any of them and was it caused by a different carcinogen? Was it a man-made carcinogen or one that is natural? Who knows?

            How does this problem go away in a non-libertarian society?

            Except that in your system there is no government inspection, so workers may only find out after several decades when they start dying of cancer, that the workplace was using asbestos a lot. Oops.

            Just like they actually did in a regulated market with government inspection?

            Or are you just screwed if you are unable to recognize the actual risks at the time?

            If you are unable to recognize the actual risks at the time, you are pretty much screwed anyway. In order for the government, or anyone else for that matter, to protect you from adverse long-term consequences, these consequences must be known.

          • limestone says:

            The problem with hard libertarianism is that it proposes demolishing a major pillar of the current system, causing the entire structure to collapse. So then you lose an enormous amount of working solutions and have to replace them with alternative solutions that are unproven and most likely only work in (simplified) theory.

            Another important thing I want to say, is that instantly abolishing all the regulations is a bad idea. The market needs some time to adapt to the new circumstances. Instead, the regulations should be lifted one at a time, in the correct order.

            But the ideal end result is, indeed, an unregulated market.

          • @limestone

            Your objecting that non-libertarian societies aren’t 100% effective at solving problems, but you have no evidence that libertarian ones would be.

          • limestone says:

            Your objecting that non-libertarian societies aren’t 100% effective at solving problems, but you have no evidence that libertarian ones would be.

            There is evidence that capitalist societies perform better than non-capitalist ones, and that industries with less regulation are generally healthier than the more heavily regulated industries.

            That does not exactly prove, but strongly suggest that moving towards libertarian economy tends to improve the economic situation.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > How does this problem go away in a non-libertarian society?

            Because it can act on the knowledge that ‘x% of people got cancer’, instead of ‘these specific people did’.

            You could allow suing for hypothetical damage that could have happened but didn’t, but good luck with setting up institutions that would allow that to produce non-perverse results without insane transaction costs.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this kind of externality is, in practice, quite hard to deal with in any system. It’s not at all obvious to me that US society’s handling of second-hand smoke is anything close to optimal, for example, and I’m not sure how I’d even go about answering the question.

          • baconbits9 says:

            but good luck with setting up institutions that would allow that to produce non-perverse results without insane transaction costs.

            Are you implying that the government can set up these institutions without those concerns?

          • CatCube says:

            @limestone

            How does this problem go away in a non-libertarian society?

            One way is that the government can simply ban smoking indoors in public places, whereas the property owner might prefer to allow smoking in his bar.

            I actually come down on the side of the property owner here, but let’s be realistic about how regulation can solve things.

          • That does not exactly prove, but strongly suggest that moving towards libertarian economy tends to improve the economic situation.

            What about the quality of life situation?

          • Pure anarchocapitalism goes further than that, including things like having no central legal system.

            True of my version. In Rothbard’s version, as best I understand it, enforcement is private but there is a single legal system, presumably constructed by libertarian legal philosophers and assented to by all arbitrators because it’s true.

            Possibly someone here who knows Rothbard’s work better than I do can correct that description.

          • > How does this problem go away in a non-libertarian society?

            Because it can act on the knowledge that ‘x% of people got cancer’, instead of ‘these specific people did’.

            The discussion seems to be about permitting or banning smoking in places such as bars or restaurants. If the knowledge is out there, it is available to potential customers of bars or restaurants. If many of them see the increased risk of cancer as a sufficient reason to favor restaurants that don’t permit smoking, it will be in the interest of many restaurants to not permit smoking.

            The line of argument being offered here only works for external effects that are not localized, such as general air pollution or global warming.

            Of course, individuals may make incorrect decisions about things like what restaurant to go to. The argument against government making such decisions for them is that the mechanism for getting government to make the correct decisions for people works much less well than the mechanism for getting individuals to make decisions that are correct for themselves.

            For problems that we cannot expect the market to solve, such as global warming, there are then two questions. One is whether government will, on net, do more good than harm trying to solve them. One example of the contrary is the current biofuels program, which converts about a quarter of the maize production of the world’s largest producer, I think something like a tenth of world production, into alcohol. A good deal of the original argument for it was the claim, apparently false, that it would reduce CO2 output. What is clear is that it raises world food prices.

            The other question is whether the benefit from government doing those things where it does do more good than harm is sufficient to outweigh the harm from government doing things that do net harm. We don’t have a good mechanism for limiting government to only activities of the first sort.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > If many of them see the increased risk of cancer as a sufficient reason to favor restaurants that don’t permit smoking, it will be in the interest of many restaurants to not permit smoking.

            Not unless you allow suing on the basis of ‘maybe I got my cancer from you’, or ‘maybe I could have got cancer from you’.

            In the real world, the effect of smoking bans in bars has universally been a dramatic changed from ‘all smoky’ to ‘all clean’. If a theory cannot account for that fact, so much the worse for that theory.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems to me that non-smokers tend to be these things more often:
            – accommodating
            – exiters
            – not that outgoing
            – more moderate in their spending, especially with regard to other vices (alcohol)

            While smokers tend to be more:
            – rule-breaking/domineering
            – complainers
            – outgoing
            – loose with their money, especially with regard to other vices (alcohol)

            Smokers also tend to be very desensitized to smoke smells, for obvious reasons, so they tend to underestimate the amount they inconvenience others. Bargaining with addicts who greatly underestimate the burden they place on others is not pleasant, because they tend to disagree with what non-addicts consider reasonable & their addiction tends to cause selfish priorities, so it easily escalates into conflict.

            Furthermore, there is not a clear tribal split in society between smokers and non-smokers, which results in the more dominant behaviors to become the norm, which is often smoking, for the various reasons I mentioned; rather than have separate accommodations for smokers and non-smokers.

            Fortunately, non-smokers eventually pretty much won where I live and with very harsh laws, the smokers now behave fairly decently.

          • > If many of them see the increased risk of cancer as a sufficient reason to favor restaurants that don’t permit smoking, it will be in the interest of many restaurants to not permit smoking.

            Not unless you allow suing on the basis of ‘maybe I got my cancer from you’, or ‘maybe I could have got cancer from you’.

            It doesn’t require a tort system, merely individuals who prefer not to have cancer and so prefer environments with a lower risk of cancer.

            I can’t sue a restaurant if the food tastes bad but it’s in the interest of restaurants not to serve food that tastes bad because if they do people won’t buy it.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Selecting a menu item is almost always an individual choice, selecting a restaurant is almost always a collective one.

            For any collective that contains members with a preference function for risk of cancer that comes out ‘yes, I smoke’, the end result will always be smoke-filled rooms.

        • Bugmaster says:

          EDIT: Aapje described the objections better than I could, IMO.

          Let’s tackle the classic tragedy of the commons: there are several fishermen who are fishing in a lake. Ownership of the lake is somewhat nebulous: yes, you can partition it on a map, but the fish can’t read the map, so they swim all over the place. Right now, all the fishermen are about equal in terms of fishing prowess (just for simplicity). The lake can support a certain amount of fishing per year; more than that, and the fish population will collapse. Each fisherman does, of course, have a strong incentive to fish as much as possible. What next ?

          We could also consider a variant on ohwhatisthis?’s example. Let’s say that I can make a factory that produces cars. Cars are great, everyone loves buying them and driving them, but each car releases a small — although non-zero — amount of smog into the atmosphere. What do we do ?

          • Nick says:

            Let’s tackle the classic tragedy of the commons: there are several fishermen….

            I approve of your choice of wording. 😀

            It’s worth linking to Scott’s own discussion of this under the heading coordination problems in his old Non-Libertarian FAQ, since someone below has recommended it too.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      As a libertarian, I’ve found some of the strongest and most interesting left-wing non-libertarian arguments to come from:

      — Scott’s own Non-Libertarian FAQ
      — Interfluidity (Steve Randy Waldman’s econ blog)
      — Noah Smith at Noahpinion, Bloomberg, and elsewhere
      — Occasionally John Quiggin at Crooked Timber, though he’s less often careful enough to be interesting

      • limestone says:

        Thanks! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

        • albatross11 says:

          Interfluidity is a good example of a thinker on the left who is absolutely worth reading. Even when I think he’s wrong, I feel like I’m learning something. Another is Freddie DeBoer.

      • SamChevre says:

        Another upvote for Interfluidity. I can’t access it at work, but “Rational Astrologies” and “Wealth as Insurance” are two excellent places to start reading.

    • Left wing as in

      1) Central planning of everything

      2) Highly devolved workers co-operatives

      3) Some nonzero level of publicly provided services and market regulation…?

    • Anon. says:

      The best criticism I know of comes from the right, not the left. The spam filter won’t let me post links, so go to unqualified reservations and read “Why I am not a libertarian” and “From Mises to Carlyle”.

    • Levantine says:

      See Nick Hanauer’s Gardens of Democracy.

    • SamChevre says:

      Not full-on Marxist, and in some specifics dated–but John Kenneth Galbraith’s The New Industrial State is one book I’d recommend highly. If you are a libertarian, it does a good job of laying out how much of the world doesn’t run on free exchange. And its pictures of large organizations and their internal structures aligns with my experience.

    • sohois says:

      I am not a Marxist or even particularly left wing, so I can’t offer any literature which isn’t market based. That being said, I can offer you literature coming from the Corporate Social Responsibility side of things, which I would assume is left of centre – and given Milton Friedman was one of the major opposition figures to CSR, I suppose it’s an area that Libertarians would not normally consider.

      For an introduction to the position of corporate social responsibility, I would recommend Robert Frank’s What Price the Moral High Ground?

      If you want something a little more advanced for academic, then I would recommend starting with: Carroll, Archie B., and Kareem M. Shabana. 2010. ‘The Business Case for Corporate Social
      Responsibility: A Review of Concepts, Research and Practice’. International Journal of
      Management Reviews 12 (1): 85–105

      Archie Carroll is oft cited as one of the key figures in CSR, so any of his works are probably worth seeking out. You might also try Donna J. Wood’s papers.

      • For an introduction to the position of corporate social responsibility, I would recommend Robert Frank’s What Price the Moral High Ground?

        Readers interested in Robert Frank’s views might want to look at the exchange I had with him some years back on my blog. It lowered my opinion of him, since he seemed unwilling to accept the implications of the arguments he was making when they didn’t fit the conclusions he wanted.

        All my posts about Robert Frank
        My summary of our argument
        My response to him with links to the earlier part of the exchange.

    • cassander says:

      Look into water rights and adjudication thereof. It will destroy any faith you have in the ability to always set clear definitions of property rights.

    • Thegnskald says:

      My simple argument:

      You don’t actually want libertarianism. In true, purely consistent libertarianism, the system of rights around property would be unrecognizable to you.

      Take land. We can construct a rights argument for owning the surface of a plot of land you have planted; this is the principle of conversion. This principle doesn’t extend below you – you haven’t converted the minerals.

      You build an irrigation system, fed from a river. You’ve converted the parts you are specifically using – but you haven’t converted the river itself, and somebody else could block or redirect the flow upstream. Your dependency on the river doesn’t constitute conversion.

      Dependencies are the core of the issue; anywhere we are dependent on unconverted resources, libertarianism has no clear resolution.

      The “natural” solution in libertarianism is an ever-increasing complexity of property rights – I am using x% of the flow of the river, so maybe that belongs to me. For sufficiently complex property rights such that a modern industrial economy is possible, however, our freedoms become nondeterministic; the complexity approaches the point where it becomes impossible to know what is or is not allowed. We would need to abstract these property rights through intermediary economic agents whose job it is to mitigate the complexity of risks, but as we see with insurance companies, nobody will take on infinite risk for someone else, so our actions are still constrained in incomprehensible and unknowable-in-advance ways.

      Law is, ideally, a simplified construction of these property rights, such that we can have a complex economic system with intelligible rules.

    • yamahog says:

      If you’re interested in testing your beliefs against authoritarianism, check out Carl Schmitt.

      His early work deals with sovereignty and “political theology” – which seems to advance the idea that religion has a totality to it and that political science should look to religion for answers on sovereignty. He holds that absolute, all encompassing sovereignty is critical for legal order that’s stable enough for norms and predictable/deterministic functioning. His best-known work from this era is “Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty”. In it he writes:

      All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development — in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver — but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries

      His middle work is more or less encapsulated in his best essay/book “The Concept of
      the Political”. Every person who reads it seems to draw something different from it, and what’s worse, it seems like most of those interpretations are congruent with the text. My personal take on it is that he reduces all group relations to that of mutually-recognizing friend and enemy, and supposes that the nature of humanity is wicked. Though the construction of friend and enemy, people create the conditions that permits a State/authority to emerge. Though humanity is fundamentally wicked, humans can be benevolent to those within their dominion. Political conflict is the mechanism by which competitive pressure is applied to the States and the better ones flourish over the weaker ones.

      I haven’t studied his later work, it’s less focused on liberalism and more focused on his conception of the natural order of things.

    • yodelyak says:

      In his much celebrated post, “Meditations on Moloch” our host wrote, just after an example about some fisherman and a lake:

      The more I think about it, the more I feel like this is the core of my objection to libertarianism, and that Non-Libertarian FAQ 3.0 will just be this one example copy-pasted two hundred times. From a god’s-eye-view, we can say that polluting the lake leads to bad consequences.

      So you could start with Meditations on Moloch, or that specific example, and see if that scratches the itch you have.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t know about the economic case against libertarianism but I’ve had a lot of debates on the philosophy of libertarianism in the last couple years. I’m not really interested in debating it again, but I can find some of the previous debates and link them if you want. I think most of them can be really distilled down to this one point I had a while back on anarcho-capitalism where someone said:

      My definition of government requires political authority, where state agents engaging in behavior that would be seen as wrong if done by non-state agents are considered legitimate.

      and I responded:

      Let’s imagine that we lived in ancapia. One guy manages to buy up all the land in the entire world(Assume the least convenient possible world). Suddenly there’s not a difference between government and property. It’s one and the same. He doesn’t need to use his political authority to assert his dominance, he can rely on what I call “Propertarian authority”. You may consider propertarian authority more legitimate but it’s still equivalent for all practical purposes, in this scenario at least. It still involves him having the right to do something that we wouldn’t let the other people do. Property taxes are the equivalent of rent. Regulations are the equivalent of rules. So we agree that every other person growing up in this situation besides the owner never really consents, right?

      Now here’s the catch. This is not just a weird problem for a hypothetical world that’s never going to happen. It’s a problem for any possible world, unless you never have any children and then start from scratch. Someone is going to grow up on a plot of land where they never give their explicit consent. This affects both property owners and governments. So when you say that the government has the ability to do things other people can’t, that’s not true. The government collects taxes. The owner collects rent. Right now, we separate the two, but in your world you’re not really eliminating the government so much as conflating it with property.

      Do read the whole thread to get some interesting points made by different people.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I’m not going to recommend the most compelling stuff, which is long and boring and requires you to know a lot of inside terminology already, but I would like to make suggestions that were meaningful to when I stopped being quite so libertarian and went left, but before I could dive into Marx/Engels/Polanyi/etc: Ha-Joon Chang (“Kicking Away the Ladder,” “Bad Samaritans”) Mike Davis (“Late Victorian Holocausts”) Eduardo Galeano (“Open veins of Latin America”)

      The first step, at least for me, was realizing that “Libertarian Free-Market Capitalism” idea was different than Actually Existing Capitalism (especially historically) and no one building up a state from poverty and desperation would ever choose neoliberal policies, which helped me to see that IMF/WTO/etc. imposing that sort of system on very poor countries wasn’t actually trying to help them at all. Realizing how many times capitalist practices severely messed up something and led to millions dying or neglected that don’t get counted against “capitalism” as a concept like Stalin and Mao’s excesses get counted against “communism” as a concept helped me start to explore history beyond just questions of efficiency and growth.

      Libertarianism worked best for me as long as I considered it in terms of theory, and philosophy, and principle, but fell apart the more I read history. I still am sympathetic to libertarian thought if we could start from square one, but knowing how awful class relations and structures of power were before the Enlightenment and even through the 19th Century make it impossible to want to preserve property relations that still had a legacy of injustice.

      • Morgan says:

        Libertarianism (especially ancap) and communism have a lot in common in terms of “starting from square one”.

        Devising an appealing theoretical utopian end state is a lot easier than working out a path from here to there that doesn’t trip over any of the myriad potential stumbling blocks and go crashing down into ‘dystopian hellscape’.

  10. jhertzlinger says:

    To continue a debate started on the Conflict vs. Mistake thread (I didn’t want to clutter up that thread):

    Blaming problems on newcomers appears to be one of the commonest failure modes in human thinking. This applies to opponents of relaxed zoning laws, opponents of gentrification, and opponents of colonialism. Does it apply to opponents of immigration?

    In a related story, I’ve become more reluctant to blame Trump on Democrats newly converted to conservatism.

    • Jiro says:

      Blaming problems on newcomers may be a failure mode in human thinking, but it can also be successful human thinking in a situation where the problems are actually caused by the newcomers. If you don’t first establish that there actually is a failure and that the newcomers aren’t causing the problems, you’re just engaging in Bulverism.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Democrats newly converted to conservatism.

      I think you may be lumping several things in together here.

      If you mean formerly reliable Democratic voters who broke the “Blue Wall” in places like Michigan, their core beliefs probably changed very little, they just voted Trump instead of Clinton. Those voters were always “conservative” on some things that could be used to wedge them away from voting D.

      • Thegnskald says:

        They also despised Clinton-era policies like NAFTA, which they blame for things like auto manufacturing being moved to Mexico, and Hillary ran to some extent on Bill’s record.

        Also, being against illegal immigration and free trade aren’t “conservative” positions; there are strong leftist arguments for these positions, and in my youth, leftists protested Republicans importing workers and exporting jobs. It has just become politically expedient to pretend otherwise, since the Democratic party now caters to the (surviving) middle class, which has benefited from these things.

        (Even their views on minorities are basically just what the middle class wants. They don’t actually listen to minorities.)

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      You say blaming newcomers is a common failure mode. Is it always a failure mode? Has there ever been an instance in recent (say last ~200 years) history in which newcomers have, in fact, caused problems?

      I’m just wondering if there are any times in which a society can say “we used to not have problem X, then these people showed up, and now we have problem X!” and these people were in fact responsible for problem X, and so blaming them is not a “failure mode.”

      • John Schilling says:

        The Mafia was pretty unambiguously brought to America by Italian-American immigrants, and I believe caused problems of a kind and scale that home-grown criminals previously had not. And now we have the formulation [X] Mafia, where X is the latest ethnicity to have its migrants establish a new organized crime syndicate in their new home.

        This is probably a case of diminishing harms; with enough Mafias already in place and fighting one another the marginal harm from each new one is probably small. And with prohibition and the War on Drugs, we’d presumably have filled that niche with entirely home-grown syndicates if the Italians hadn’t got there first. But it does I think count, at least historically, as a harm caused or brought to the United States by immigrants.

      • isotropy says:

        Infectious diseases.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Oh yeah. There was that time uncontrolled mass European immigration to the New World brought all those diseases and wiped out whole tribes of Native Americans. And then there was also shooting.

          Also apparently now at Christmas markets in Germany and other western European nations they have armed guards, and concrete barricades to prevent terrorists from driving trucks through the markets, horribly murdering everyone. It seems this wasn’t necessary until newly arrived muslim migrants started driving trucks through Christmas markets, horribly murdering everyone, and these safeguards are not needed in nations like Poland, that did not take refugees.

          I guess maybe sometimes newcomers can show up and kind of screw things up for people who were there already. So perhaps whether or not new arrivals are responsible for a problem should be evaluated on a case by case basis, and neither taken on faith nor described as a “failure mode.”

          • albatross11 says:

            Thomas Sowell’s _Migration and Culture_ talks about a general pattern where you have immigrants from a poor, agrarian background coming to a richer urban environment for jobs, and how this often leads to all kinds of friction on things like acceptable standards of sanitation and cleanliness. I think Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine and blacks moving North after Reconstruction ended were among his examples.

            I gather people in neighborhoods that are gentrifying tend to see the new people moving in as causing a lot of problems (rising rents, affordable stores and restaurants being pushed out, changing neighborhood dynamics). I don’t know how much this is accurate, and how much the visible newcomers are just being blamed for larger impersonal social and economic forces that are making life harder.

            For that matter, I suspect that a lot of the current backlash against immigration has a lot to do with the immigrants being visible, whereas the larger social and economic forces (like increasing automation making it harder to make a good blue-collar living) are hard to see. But there certainly are places where the immigrants are bringing problems–for example, MS13 wasn’t always a gang that was causing problems in the US.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            For that matter, I suspect that a lot of the current backlash against immigration has a lot to do with the immigrants being visible, whereas the larger social and economic forces (like increasing automation making it harder to make a good blue-collar living) are hard to see.

            I think that this explanation is greatly overvalued among the (upper?) middle and upper classes though, because those people tend to have far better experiences with immigrants for various reasons. So they have a hard time imagining how the lives of the lower classes are negatively upended by migration, because they themselves tend to mainly see the upsides of migration.

            I think that in many cases, what people say is actually fairly close to what they mean* and not mere scapegoating.

            Your gentrification example is a good comparison. The upending of lower and middle class neighborhoods by gentrifiers is in some ways very similar to the upending caused by immigrants (like shops & entertainment options that support one subculture making way for those that support the new subculture, issues with affordable housing & clashes between people with incompatible desires).

            However, because the victims of gentrification are often black and the perpetrators often white, this tends to trigger the exact opposite blue tribe sympathies than for migration (and the opposite for the red tribe, I guess).

            * In so far that people, especially those who are less educated, are able to articulate well.

  11. theodidactus says:

    Hello SSC community.
    I wrote another short story:
    http://www.theodidactus.com/only-one-world/

    You guys seem to like my stuff so I’ll post it here.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I have not read your other stories, but I really liked this one. Thanks !

      ETA: It reminds me of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, though of course the protagonist of that story makes a different choice…

      • theodidactus says:

        Dream-quest has been an inspiration of mine for a long time. I realize as like, fiction, it’s quite flawed, but there is something elemental that lovecraft seized on there.

        My short stuff is all here:
        http://www.theodidactus.com/shorter-stuff/

        • Bugmaster says:

          I rarely make “me too” posts, but I just wanted to say that I agree with your analysis of Dream-quest 100%. I think the same can be applied to most of Lovecraftian Mythos.

  12. stucchio says:

    I would be open to an adversarial collaboration. But I don’t think Ilya and I actually disagree on much beyond mood affiliation. I think we agree to the following points:

    1) COMPAS (the main algo we were discussing) treats blacks and whites the same. I.e. a black person with 2 priors who has a job lined up when they get out of jail and is friends with drug addicts is treated the same as a white person with 2 priors and etc.

    2) The algorithm makes no egregiously incorrect inferences – i.e. a bunch of people the algo says have a 30% chance of recidivism do roughly have a 30% chance, regardless of race. The algorithm is not biased against blacks, in the sense of systematically making wrong decisions with a consistent direction.

    3) If we used an alternate algorithm, this algorithm would need to directly discriminate – to punish a white person more harshly for the same behavior. Said algorithm would also lead to more more murders/rapes/other violent crimes by blacks and/or leave more harmless white people in jail.

    4) One can come up with scenarios where regression does not prove causality. This point is unrelated at the object level to COMPAS or any other specific algorithm discussed in the other thread.

    I think we disagree that:

    a) the article is misleading. I proposed several times an experiment to measure this, but Ilya was not willing to gamble. I’m open to other proposed experiment designs.

    b) The misleading nature is deliberate, and probably done for clickbait. I can’t think of an experiment to measure this.

    c) Selection bias somewhere in the data collection is somehow driving the predictions of COMPAS. I only have a rough idea of what Ilya is hinting at here, but I propose to resolve this by looking for direct evidence of this selection bias. (He’ll need to clearly state what the bias is that he thinks exists, of course.)

    E.g., if “cops lov[e] to hassle African Americans even if they are doing nothing wrong”, then this should show up in encounter rates. Blacks should have police encounter rates that are disproportionately high relative to other proxies for their involvement in crime (e.g. NCVS, crime reports, arrests).

    d) I find fewer rapes/murders and reducing the prison population more important than equal false positive rates across certain subgroups of humans, and a number of other fairness definitions. I think Ilya disagrees with this.

    This last point is normative, so nothing much can prove one of us right or wrong.

    Ilya, do you want to confirm these points of agreement/disagreement, and more carefully flesh out experiments that can help us use data to resolve (a) and (c)?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If Ilya agrees that this is an accurate summary of your positions, I consider your adversarial collaboration done.

      • Briefling says:

        This whole Chris Stucchio/Ilya Shpitser thing is 100% about semantics, which would normally keep me from weighing in…

        But, Jesus, Chris’s semantics are WRONG.

        If you’re an innocent person facing judgment by COMPAS — “innocent” in the sense that you won’t commit any future crimes — would you prefer to be black or white? Obviously you would prefer to be white.

        An algorithm that treats innocent black people different than innocent white people is biased.

        Chris’s entire argument is aimed at making the reader forget this single, unassailable point.

        Now, Chris is correct that fixing this bias would substantially reduce efficacy. But… it’s still a “bias” as English speakers use that word. Journalists who say that the algorithm is biased are correct.

        In the conception of these authors, “bias” refers to an algorithm providing correct predictions that simply fail to reflect the reality the authors wish existed.

        No, bias refers to an algorithm that treats innocent black people different than innocent white people.

        EDIT: To clarify, I am largely not trying to argue for or against COMPAS here. Any predictive algorithm is going to be “biased” in this sense against some group.

        What I object to is the idea that journalists who call the algorithm “biased” are being misleading. They are not, at least not intrinsically.

        EDIT 2: Some groups have a high base rate of undesirable behavior. Any predictive system like COMPAS will disproportionately hurt innocents who belong to those groups. (Unless great pains are taken to avoid such outcomes.)

        That is a valid reason to oppose such predictive systems, and should not be treated as stupid by Chris Stucchio. Such outcomes are at odds with many American ideals.

        I guess that’s my real point.

        • Aapje says:

          If you’re an innocent person facing judgment by COMPAS — “innocent” in the sense that you won’t commit any future crimes — would you prefer to be black or white? Obviously you would prefer to be white.

          My understanding is that COMPAS is worse for innocent black people because their circumstances are (on average) different from those of innocent white people. So merely flipping the race wouldn’t help a person*.

          I think that the better objection to COMPAS is that it is punishes people for living in conditions that make more people criminal. So basically, the innocent person who lives in a high crime area gets punished for what his neighbors do, which is a form of collective punishment.

          Meanwhile, the criminal who lives in a low crime area gets rewarded for what his neighbors do not do.

          * In fact, I consider it likely that certain subsets of innocent whites, like Appalachia trailer park residents have an increased risk of being judged as having a very high risk of recidivism.

          • Briefling says:

            My understanding is that COMPAS is worse for innocent black people because their circumstances are (on average) different from those of innocent white people. So merely flipping the race wouldn’t help a person.

            You’re arguing that as long as the mechanism doesn’t explicitly depend on skin color, things are okay — even if the mechanism implicitly depends on skin color.

            In my opinion this is sophistry.

            If I can predict your race with 99% accuracy from the rest of your data, is it really better for me to discriminate based on that prediction, versus discriminating directly on race?

            But to be honest, I think it’s a bit silly to look at the mechanism at all. Look at the net effect. COMPAS hurts innocent blacks far more than innocent whites.

            EDIT 3: I can no longer edit my earlier post.

            The key point in all of this is that COMPAS is part of our criminal justice system, and in justice we expect equal treatment for all citizens, especially along certain protected dimensions including race.

            That’s why it’s a big deal that COMPAS hurts innocent blacks more than innocent whites. It’s fine for most government programs to have different impact across different groups. But for our justice system we demand equality, as much as possible.

          • Aapje says:

            No, that’s not what I’m arguing at all.

            Imagine Bob McTrailer, who was born and grew up in a trailer park with a lot of crime. Imagine Robert McMansion, who was born and grew up in a very wealthy and safe neighborhood.

            Neither of these two people is black.

            COMPAS will now predict a higher chance of recidivism for Bob McTrailer, than for Robert McMansion, because the system sees that environment affects recidivism. However, this also means that people from the criminal environment are presumed to be more criminal, which is a double whammy if McTrailer actually wants to reform his ways (or if he was wrongly convicted). It was already harder for him to avoid becoming a criminal because he was born into a criminal environment and it is now (probably) harder for him to reform his ways because it is assumed he will return to a life of crime.

            This is the exact same mechanism that is now called racist by some, but it works regardless of race.

            The racial element comes in because black Americans more often grow up/live in a criminal environment, but this is only a truth on the aggregate level. If you zoom in, you almost certainly have white subgroups that get the kind of worse treatment that some assume only affect black people. Furthermore, you almost certainly have black subgroups that get the better treatment that some assume only white people benefit from.

            Of course, even if the way that people are prejudged is not racist, it can still be wrong. You need more sophisticated arguments, though. One such argument is that we might not want to punish people for their environment, but only for how their personal traits contribute. Perhaps we want to grade on a curve, as it were, if we want to punish personal responsibility, rather than hold people responsible for the environment they are from.

            However, the entire discussion ignores the question that really makes the difference: how to get rid of these criminal environments and/or reduce the negative effect of the environment on turning people into criminals/increasing recidivism? The data strongly suggests that this is where there is potential to make significant gains, not by tampering with COMPAS a bit.

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            If we want to use statistics to predict whether you will reoffend, we are inevitably basing that decision on what other people like you (in terms of the variables measured) did. There is no way around that.

            Suppose we have the simplest model we can get–we estimate everyone’s rate of reoffending based on the population rate of reoffending. You are up for parole, and I now estimate your probability of reoffending based on that population rate. You’re being judged by the behavior of everyone else in the population.

            Suppose we make this model better by incorporating what crime you’re in prison for. Now you are being judged (and punished) based on how often *other* armed robbers reoffended.

            This happens as you add new things–prior convictions, age, sex, race, religion, whatever. It’s an inevitable consequence of what we’re trying to do, which is estimate how likely it is that *you* will reoffend based on what *other people* have done in the past in similar situations.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            Once you use the prediction to intervene, it’s no longer just about the accuracy of the prediction, but it’s about the actual effects of the intervention. The prediction model can’t accurately describe this, especially the second order effects.

            For example, if you use variables that people cannot change and that they didn’t choose, this logically will tend to increase the belief in destiny to some extent. Such a belief may then make people decide that they cannot fight their destiny and thus decide to just live a high risk, high reward criminal life, rather than trying to slowly build something up (why do that if this cannot end well due to destiny?).

            Ironically, this could then make the prediction model more accurate, if people start to behave more like how the model predicts they will.

            If one of the major causes of recidivism is that people tend to overestimate destiny (and that society is setup in a way that causes high volatility for the lower class, decreasing their sense of agency), then reinforcing this can be very bad.

            What is the actual real benefit to predicting recidivism well anyway? Reducing short term crime a bit by keeping some people in prison longer, right? Of course, prison time has been found to increase recidivism, so your gain is compromised. Fixing criminal subcultures reduces crime a lot, in the long term and makes many more people productive citizens.

          • You’re arguing that as long as the mechanism doesn’t explicitly depend on skin color, things are okay — even if the mechanism implicitly depends on skin color.

            More precisely, the mechanism depends on things that in part depend on skin color.

            To see the problem with your argument, consider an extreme case–rape defined as forcible PIV intercourse. It can only be committed by males. There is some legal mechanism for deciding who, on what evidence, is to be convicted of rape. This mechanism results in some males and no females being convicted. Hence an innocent male has a greater chance of being convicted–I assume the mechanism produces some false positives–than an innocent female. Is this bias? Unjust?

            The legal rule doesn’t depend on gender. It merely depends on something that depends on gender–the ability to commit PIV intercourse. Is the innocent male being penalized via guilt by association–his similarity in one respect to guilty males?

            I am ignoring the important issue of whether rape should be defined that way, since I think it is irrelevant to my point.

          • vV_Vv says:

            What is the actual real benefit to predicting recidivism well anyway? Reducing short term crime a bit by keeping some people in prison longer, right? Of course, prison time has been found to increase recidivism, so your gain is compromised.

            Does prison time causally increase recidivism, or is merely correlated with it?

            Fixing criminal subcultures reduces crime a lot, in the long term and makes many more people productive citizens.

            Is it possible to fix it without being “tough on crime”, i.e. by longer prison terms, more draconian punishment, etc?

            Anyway, it is possible to argue that criminal justice system should be merely retributive: it should exist only to deter potential criminals, assumed to be self-interested rational agents, from committing crimes, therefore it should consider only the severity of the offense that has been committed and the probability of being caught for such types of offenses, but not the statistical likelihood of reoffending in the future.

            However, many criminals are low-IQ, highly impulsive people, who can’t be trusted to respond to incentives the same way an average person does, therefore in practice the criminal justice system is to a large extent preventive: it keeps people who have a high risk of committing crimes in a controlled environment isolated from the overall society where they have a lower chance of abusing other people (they may abuse each other, but non-criminals generally don’t care). In this perspective, estimating the likelihood of reoffending in the future is paramount.

            A purely retributive system is arguably fairer, but not as effective in maintaining social order. A preventive system will be always be unfair no matter how it estimates reoffense likelihood, barring exact accuracy.

            Suppose you have a model to estimate reoffense probability that is completely blind to race and any proxies for race. This model will be unfair to white people, as it will overestimate their reoffense probability because there were black people in the training set. It will be also unfair to certain class of black people: e.g. a wealthy black engineer without prior convictions living in a low-crime neighbor who was caught once with a small quantity of LSD will be estimated to have the same probability of reoffense as an unemployed drug dealer with multiple prior convictions living in a high-crime neighbor who was caught with 10 kg of cocaine, since any of these things is a proxy for race thus the model can’t consider them.

          • Iain says:

            Does prison time causally increase recidivism, or is merely correlated with it?

            David Roodman of the Open Philanthropy Project did an extensive literature review. He concluded (section 9.14):

            The preponderance of the evidence says that incarceration in the US increases crime post-release, and enough over the long run to offset incapacitation.

          • Aapje says:

            @vV_Vv

            This model will be unfair to white people, as it will overestimate their reoffense probability because there were black people in the training set.

            It is unfair in some ways, but that unfairness stems in part from the average white person having a less criminogenic environment. So you can argue it is not unfair to weigh the external criminogenic factors less or even negatively, if we want to reward people for trying more than reward them for their circumstances.

            As I said, it may be better in the long term to grade on a curve a bit, to weaken the belief in destiny.

            Ultimately, the parole lever seems like it is fairly ineffective to achieve substantial direct effects. If you look at the finding in the paper that Iain linked, it seems like the various effects mostly cancel each other out at the end of the day, so putting people in prison longer mainly costs more money for no net benefit.

            That money might be far better spent on cost-effective interventions that do have a net benefit.

          • Controls Freak says:

            David Roodman of the Open Philanthropy Project did an extensive literature review.

            For any onlookers, I recommend reading the details of this one. Last time this was posted, I noted that it appeared to acknowledge serious potential defects in methodological assumptions and then proceeded to rely on non-statistically-significant results with very low effect sizes.

        • stucchio says:

          If you’re an innocent person facing judgment by COMPAS — “innocent” in the sense that you won’t commit any future crimes — would you prefer to be black or white?

          If you’re an individual criminal (most of us are), it’s completely irrelevant. COMPAS will treat me with my zero priors, job lined up, and no drug addict friends the same regardless of my race. I.e., if my race is chosen from behind a veil of ignorance, then COMPAS treats me identically.

          However, if I’m a randomly chosen black criminal, I’m more likely than a randomly chosen white criminal to have multiple priors (the primary drivers of COMPAS are age, gender and criminal history, see [1]).

          Ultimately your comparison is asking me to choose my actions from behind the veil of ignorance. But that’s pretty silly – if I, as an individual, do not wish to be treated badly by COMPAS, all I need to do is not engage in multiple violent crimes.

          I don’t think very many readers of the ProPublica article really understand that point, and most will actually think it’s unfair to individuals. If someone disagrees with me on this specific claim, I propose settling our disagreement via an experiment like the one Scott and Noah Smith discussed here [2].

          [1] http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/1/eaao5580.full

          [2] http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/12/31/addendum-to-economists-on-education/

        • gbdub says:

          COMPAS is not “biased by race”. It is “biased by a bunch of things that correlate to varying degrees with race, with a net result that a randomly selected black subject is more likely to get a negative judgement than a randomly selected white subject”.

          If you say “COMPAS is biased against black people”, readers are going to take that as “all else being equal, COMPAS would be more unfavorable to a black person”. But that’s not true! “All else being equal”, COMPAS treats a black and white person exactly the same – it’s just that, in the real world that COMPAS is drawing data from, there are things other than race that correlate with race, and COMPAS has found that these other things correlate with recidivism, and judges accordingly.

          If those “things that correlate with race” are really just noise, rather than useful information that correlates to the thing being predicted (recidivism) then yeah, that could be bad. But that’s a strong claim that requires stronger evidence than the mere existence of a face-value disparate outcome.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems to me that this is a subtlety that needs to be surfaced. I’m not sure I’ve understood this myself, but what it seems like you all are saying is that we have a bunch of variables which could be used to predict whether someone will reoffend. These variables are useful–incorporating them into your model does, in fact, improve your predictions.

            If I understand correctly, we’ve got this situation where we can optimize the model for accuracy of

            P(reoffend | variables)

            And this model can be shown to be about equally good at predicting whether you will reoffend whether you’re black or white. (Assuming away any bias in the data–if the police re-arrest black ex-cons more than white ex-cons our model will look great against the data, but wrong against reality.)

            Is this right?

            And I think the issue Briefing is raising is that by optimizing the predictive model in this way, we end up with a situation where

            P( predict | not going to reoffend)

            is higher for blacks than whites. (That is, if you’re a black armed robber up for parole who wasn’t going to reoffend, the model is more likely to predict you will reoffend than a white armed robber who wasn’t going to reoffend.)

            This isn’t due to the model explicitly taking race into account, it’s due to many variables being associated with both race and rate of reoffending. Some of those might be plausibly relevant (like how many prior convictions you have), others might be effectively stand-ins for race (like what neighborhood you grew up in).

            Now, I think this is where we come to a values/policy question. Because if the model is optimized for correct predictions, we can tweak the parameters to make the probability of predicting someone will reoffend when they wouldn’t have reoffended equal across races, but then we will have to make the model less accurate overall, and probably also break the property that the model is about equally accurate across races.

            Am I understanding your positions (and the actual situation)?

          • stucchio says:

            (That is, if you’re a black armed robber up for parole who wasn’t going to reoffend, the model is more likely to predict you will reoffend than a white armed robber who wasn’t going to reoffend.)

            Albatross, this is a misconception. The algo will give two armed robbers, both of whom are the same age and gender, and who both have drug addict friends, the exact same score.

            It will give two one time shoplifters with a job lined up when they get out the same score also, regardless of race.

            The issue is that more black people fall into the first category, and more white people fall into the second.

          • gbdub says:

            And I think the issue Briefing is raising is that by optimizing the predictive model in this way, we end up with a situation where

            P( predict | not going to reoffend)

            is higher for blacks than whites.

            But this is trivially true if, for whatever reasons, blacks have an overall recidivism rate higher than whites and the algorithm accurately reflects this.

            NOTE: the following is not what COMPAS does and uses totally made up numbers.

            Let’s say that I have a dumb racist algorithm (DRA) that, for each member in the dataset, knows only two things: the race of the subject, and whether they reoffended after release.

            Let’s say that in this dataset, 60% of black subjects reoffended, compared to 40% of white subjects.

            We ask DRA to make a prediction of probability of reoffense on a new batch of subjects.

            DRA will assign every black candidate a 60% chance of re-offense, and every white candidate 40%.

            Now, there will be a population of black candidates who will not reoffend – each of them will have been scored at 60% likelihood of re-offense. And there will be a population of white candidates who will not reoffend, each scored at 40%.

            Aha! The DRA has found that P( predict | not going to reoffend) is higher for blacks than whites!

            But of course, this ignores that the population of black non-reoffenders is proportionally smaller – only 40% vs. 60% of the scored candidates within each race. So that’s exactly as it should be, given the limited data DRA was given.

            DRA has discovered nothing except that blacks reoffend at a higher rate, which is either true, or it isn’t. But if it is true, there is no way to make an accurate algorithm without the result that black non-reoffenders will have been scored higher.

            EDIT: Ninja’d by Freddie deBoer – this is basically Berkson’s paradox.

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          If you restrict yourself to just people who are actually innocent of future crimes you’re gonna get Berkson’s paradox popping up somewhere.

    • quanta413 says:

      3) If we used an alternate algorithm, this algorithm would need to directly discriminate – to punish a white person more harshly for the same behavior. Said algorithm would also lead to more more murders/rapes/other violent crimes by blacks and/or leave more harmless white people in jail.

      I’m not Ilya, but I disagree with that and he probably would too. We don’t know what Northpointe’s algorithm is or how easy it is to improve. It’s also possible that if we stripped out any possible proxies for “black” in the data (like family structure), and worked with a small subset of the features, we’d still have almost all of the predictive power because the rest is just noise. Maybe the things distinguishing the black and white subpopulations are causal and obviously fair, but we don’t know that because we don’t know what the algorithm applied was.

      It’s not just progressives who find the black box legal approach highly questionable. Kent Scheidegger who is pretty much as tough on crime as it comes says “I believe that government should not be making decisions about people’s lives using proprietary algorithms whose makers refuse to disclose the inner workings.

      The paper linked in that post tests both crowdsourcing and a simple logistic regression on single digit number of features. Both methods obtains very similar results to COMPAS in overall accuracy, disparities between whites and blacks, etc. To me this indicates the disparities are unlikely to be due to any accidental proxies for race in the algorithm so that Northpointe probably didn’t make any accidental mistakes or accidentally use proxies for race in an unfair manner. However, the fact that a linear classifier with 2 features does as well as COMPAS would seem to indicate that COMPAS is ridiculously overcomplicated and not of much value.

      I find fewer rapes/murders and reducing the prison population more important than equal false positive rates across certain subgroups of humans, and a number of other fairness definitions. I think Ilya disagrees with this.

      That is not how I interpreted Ilya although he can speak for himself. Judging by his work, he doesn’t think you can define fairness well without having a causal model in mind. This could lead to more or less disparity between groups depending on the causes. It’s more work to determine anything this way of course, but if the causal model is well chosen I think it should be more robust than any purely correlative approach.

      • stucchio says:

        almost all of the predictive power

        By definition, “almost all of the predictive power” means less predictive power. Less predictive power means more recidivism (i.e. more violent crime) and/or more harmless people remaining in jail.

        You just agreed with me.

        I agree that simple models can often reproduce most of the predictive power of something more complicated, and they are often easier to understand. This is hardly surprising and helps us understand the primary drivers of the more complicated one. (Not that COMPAS is particularly complicated.)

        In this case, as you note, it indicates COMPAS is driven primarily by age, gender and criminal history.

      • albatross11 says:

        As an aside, I 100% agree that these algorithms need to be public. That seems to me to be separate from the issue of how to balance goals of accurate predictions, not violating civil rights laws, etc.

      • quanta413 says:

        By definition, “almost all of the predictive power” means less predictive power. Less predictive power means more recidivism (i.e. more violent crime) and/or more harmless people remaining in jail.

        You just agreed with me.

        No, I mean “almost all” more in a more lazy sense than that. I thought it would do slightly worse because it would be incompetence to not get a better fit with more free parameters. This wouldn’t mean you’d actually get more predictive power that is meaningful. Adding irrelevant free parameters (let’s say the person’s favorite animal or the day of the week they were born on) will make the algorithm fit the training data a little better, but it’s just overfitting. I meant “almost all” in the sense that it would be within the range of noise.

        Turns out if you read the linked paper I mentioned (the one in Scheidegger’s post), a linear classifier on two variables does slightly better on the test data. Although this is probably just noise. It appears the only thing Northpointe is guilty of is bilking the government with a ridiculously overcomplicated algorithm (or possibly just a linear classifier on 137 variables, ~130-135 of which add nothing) and failing to be transparent.

        I agree that simple models can often reproduce most of the predictive power of something more complicated, and they are often easier to understand. This is hardly surprising and helps us understand the primary drivers of the more complicated one. (Not that COMPAS is particularly complicated.)

        In this case, as you note, it indicates COMPAS is driven primarily by age, gender and criminal history.

        In this case it turns out that a simpler model has all of the predictive power of the bigger one. Or even just asking random schmoes has the same predictive power. But for the algorithmic approach, we can see that those three factors are all that’s currently contributing. At which point it would be crazy to use the more complicated algorithm which may break down in silly ways when applied to more real data because it may be overfit (but who knows because we don’t know what it was).

        EDIT:

        Just to be clear, given that asking random schmoes, using a linear classifier on two variables (age and # of past convictions), and using a linear classifier on seven variables all give basically identical population-level results and accuracy as Northpointe’s algorithm, I think it’s pretty safe to say that their algorithm merely reflects real differences between different subgroups. Any possible problems come from other points in the system.

        I think the ProPublica article was poorly researched or the journalist didn’t understand things very well, although there are interesting questions about how to do these things in principle.

        • stucchio says:

          I agree that overfitting is dangerous, and agree that Northepoint’s model might not be needed to get good predictions.

          I have no objection whatsoever to writing articles like “Resume Driven Development: Some Data Scientists build an overcomplicated model when they should have used linear regression.” In fact, one of my most popular blog posts ever is exactly that article, albeit dating back to the “big data hadoop all the things” craze.

          I haven’t looked closely enough to determine whether those percentage points are noise or signal. If those percentage points are signal, then the result might change on both fairness and accuracy. If they are noise, then the model hasn’t become any fairer by simplifying it. It’s just become more understandable.

          I think we are in more or less complete agreement?

          • matthewravery says:

            I have no objection whatsoever to writing articles like “Resume Driven Development: Some Data Scientists build an overcomplicated model when they should have used linear regression.” In fact, one of my most popular blog posts ever is exactly that article, albeit dating back to the “big data hadoop all the things” craze.

            No it’s not. That article is about a completely different “people who don’t understand big data but want to use big data” problem. Overfitting isn’t something that happens because people use hadoop. Perhaps you meant to link something different?

          • stucchio says:

            I meant the article was about resume driven development, using overpowered tools that aren’t a good fit for the problem at hand because they are cool. I didn’t mean it was literally about overfitting specifically.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think we are in more or less complete agreement?

            Yes, I think so. It looks pretty unlikely Northpointe’s model engages in any discrimination that I would view as unfair. If it’s possible to proxy for black, that doesn’t look like it affects the results except through acceptable ways, since a regression analysis on (age, # of past convictions) has similar results.

            I wouldn’t expect regressions on this sort of social behavior to hold up exactly over decades, so I think that there are good arguments for avoiding overfitting to make updating the model more sensible. Separately, there are legal reasons the model should be understandable.

    • outis says:

      I read the previous thread, and now I’d like to shit things up with some poorly-considered oversimplifications. So, the problem is that blacks are more likely to go to jail than whites; I think we can all agree that this is why ProPublica was even looking at COMPAS in the first place. So what we want to do is to decrease the proportion of probable-recidivists-according-to-COMPAS who are black. The question is A) how to do it, B) what the new proportion should be.

      That’s where Ilya’s work comes in. Its purpose is to allow people to inject their convictions about biases in the data into the process, and obtain an algorithm that “corrects” for those biases. So, for instance, they can say “we know that cops arrest blacks disproportionately”, and get an algorithm that follows what would happen in a world where they didn’t. I assume that it’s nothing as crude as simply saying “…and the correct proportion should be X”, but instead the “correct proportion” comes out algorithmically, which must feel less arbitrary.

      However, what may be missed is that the “expert intuitions” about where racism lurks are themselves driven by the fact that blacks are more likely to go to jail than whites. It seems clear to me that, if we implemented Ilya’s system and it still did not give us an acceptable proportion of blacks in jail, we would discover new “bad paths” to add to Ilya’s system and nudge it in the right direction.

      In other words, when the proportion of blacks going to jail is too high, people are unhappy, schools teach about structural racism, journalists investigate, academics come up with better models, and eventually, maybe, we end up with a system that lowers the proportion of blacks, and if it’s not enough the cycle repeats. But it takes forever. So why don’t we just let the government explicitly set a target proportion of blacks (racial quotas – if they are legal for employment, why not for convictions)? Then the electoral process will naturally guide the target proportion to the correct complaint-minimizing level, and this will be much faster than going through the whole concern/activism/thinkpiece/research cycle, which eventually needs to go through the political process anyway to get implemented.

      Is this a correct use of conflict theory?

      • Deiseach says:

        an acceptable proportion of blacks in jail

        What is “an acceptable proportion”? We’re treading in very dangerous territory here, because even “there is a higher rate of crime amongst black people than white people” is controversial and invites accusations of racism.

        Suppose more black people than white people are genuinely criminal; then if “an acceptable proportion” is “the same rates as white people”, you are going to have to let some black criminals go unpunished.

        Conversely, if black people are only criminals at the same or lower rates, then “the same rate” is at best barely equal, at worst punishing the innocent.

        The real problem is not “Billy-Bob committed one crime and DeShawn committed four, therefore DeShawn is more likely to be a recidivist”, it’s “DeShawn only committed one crime but since black criminality rate is higher we’re assuming he’s more likely to be a recidivist than Billy-Bob” which is where it could be unfair to DeShawn, and that’s where algorithms get the accusations of “the bias is put in by the programmers”.

        Human parole officers should have a better idea if DeShawn is likely to re-offend (given that they have a personal relationship with him); the argument is that algorithms are going to be quicker, cheaper, and more accurate and cut out biases (the particular parole officer or judge or whomever dealing with DeShawn may be a racist or an alarmist over black crime and thus more likely to dump him into the ‘potential re-offender’ bin). I think the push towards automation of this process may be well-meant but my fear is that for any government it will be considered on a basis of “this is cheaper than hiring and training and investing in more parole officers and a better rehabilitation system, plus we can sell it to the public as we’re doing this for reasons of being fair and impartial because SCIENCE not because we’re looking to do it on the cheap”, on top of the entire “so what is the real rate of criminality and is it All Society’s Fault?” question.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I may be misunderstanding the problem statement, but still, it sounds like you’re talking about two different algorithms.

          Algorithm A answers the question, “given all this aggregate data, what percentage of black people should we expect to see in this specific jail ?”. Algorithm B answers the question, “Given this specific black person, what is the chance that he personally will re-offend ?”.

          Assuming that the means of criminality in white vs. black humans are pretty close together, and the distributions are wide, Algorithm B would perform very poorly if all it did was “return (race == black) ? criminal : innocent”. On the other hand, if such an algorithm could routinely outperform human parole officers — that is, if it could predict an individual’s chance to re-offend better than they could — it would actually be a boon to society.

          I understand your concerns: perhaps current algorithms do not outperform human parole officers (although I’m not sure whether that’s true), and perhaps there are lots of hucksters selling simple hacks as though they were omniscient oracles (this has got to be true, given human nature). However, these reasons are not good enough to forego statistics altogether, and just go with your gut from now until eternity. Especially not when lives are on the line.

        • stucchio says:

          …it’s “DeShawn only committed one crime but since black criminality rate is higher we’re assuming he’s more likely to be a recidivist than Billy-Bob” which is where it could be unfair to DeShawn, and that’s where algorithms get the accusations of “the bias is put in by the programmers”.

          Perhaps, but COMPAS specifically does not do this. Neither do any lending algos in the US.

          However it’s widely believed that blackbox algorithms we don’t understand, which happen to be implemented on human wetware, do exactly this. They also cost more and are nearly impossible to audit.

        • Murphy says:

          ““DeShawn only committed one crime but since black criminality rate is higher we’re assuming he’s more likely to be a recidivist than Billy-Bob” “

          actually I think it hinges on a different position. (but this looks sort of like one of the misapprehensions that stucchio was arguing that people would come to reading the original article)

          By that metric it doesn’t actually fall down.

          “COMPAS (the main algo we were discussing) treats blacks and whites the same. I.e. a black person with 2 priors who has a job lined up when they get out of jail and is friends with drug addicts is treated the same as a white person with 2 priors and etc.”

          I think , but cannot guarantee that I’ve 100% understood but I think David Friedman’s post covers the point of contention fairly well.

          “Take a simple case which I think, although I might be mistaken, is the sort of thing you are thinking of. The legal system in a jurisdiction is more willing to arrest and convict a black than a white on the same probability of guilt. Probability of reoffending is estimated using an algorithm whose input is number of past convictions. The result is that a black and a white who have both committed ten burglaries and are both equally likely to commit another get recorded as having different past convictions, the white having been convicted for five of his, the black for six. So the algorithm predicts the black is more likely to offend. And it appears to be correct, if we measure offenses by convictions, because when both of them reoffend the black is more likely to be arrested and convicted. Is this the sort of thing you are thinking of?”

          However stucchio also argues that there are a bunch of metrics you can use to try to assess claims of bias in the source data set to potentially make certain claims of bias like that falsifiable.

          For example, if you think (as Ilya seems to) that police are biased in arrest rates against blacks, you should look for crime measurements that exclude the police. For example, the NCVS or crime *reports*.

          but Ilya…. does not seem keen on that and outlines their prefered method:

          Our take is we should think about things people intuitively think shouldn’t happen — like directly using race in a decision (because what one’s race is, directly, is not relevant for recidivism prediction or loan decision). Then we say, ok if these things shouldn’t happen in data generated from a hypothetical “fair world” where above biases are not built in to data generation, let’s try to find a world close to ours where those things people intuitively think shouldn’t happen in fact do not happen.

          So not to put too fine a point on it but this seems like explicitly doing this with the angel emoji included:

          https://i2.wp.com/jacobitemag.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Capture5.png?w=753&ssl=1

          • Brad says:

            For example, if you think (as Ilya seems to) that police are biased in arrest rates against blacks, you should look for crime measurements that exclude the police. For example, the NCVS or crime *reports*.

            but Ilya…. does not seem keen on that and outlines their prefered method:

            I haven’t dug into the data myself, but just the other day on the radio I heard mention of pots arrests in NYC. Apparently surveys show that different races smoke pot at roughly same proportions but black people are much more likely to be arrested for pot crimes than people of other races.

          • gbdub says:

            On the other hand, while “recidivism” means, in theory, rate of reoffense, it practice it is measured by rate of reconviction. So a algorithm perfectly predicting “reconviction” would precisely reflect the bias in conviction rates.

            If you want to remove that bias, a) I think it would be better to deal with the biased convictions rather than try to Kentucky windage the recidivism algorithm, and b) I think you need to be very clear that “the algorithm is accurately reflecting a biased reality” rather than claiming “the algorithm is biased”.

          • Murphy says:

            @Brad

            Problem is, layers withing layers:

            http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/25/race-and-justice-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know/

            Comparisons of several different surveys of drug use find that “nonreporting of drug use is twice as common among blacks and Hispanics as among whites” (Mensch and Kandel). Since much of the “contraband” these surveys were asking about was, in fact, drugs, this seems pretty relevant. Overall different studies find different black-white reporting gaps (from the very small one in the traffic ticket study to the very large one on the drug use surveys). Plausibly this is related to severity of offense. Also plausibly, it relates to differential levels of trust in the system and worry about being found out – for poor black people, the possibility of (probably white) researchers being stooges who are going to send their supposedly confidential surveys to the local police station and get them locked up might be much more salient.

            but also

            Anatole France famously said that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich as well as poor people from begging for bread and sleeping under bridges”, and in the same way that the laws France cites, be they enforced ever so fairly, would still disproportionately target poor people, so other laws can, even when fairly enforced, target black people. The classic example of this is crack cocaine – a predominantly black drug – carrying a higher sentence than other whiter drugs. Even if the police are scrupulously fair in giving the same sentence to black and white cokeheads, the law will still have a disproportionate effect.

          • Brad says:

            Comparisons of several different surveys of drug use find that “nonreporting of drug use is twice as common among blacks and Hispanics as among whites” (Mensch and Kandel).

            I’d love to know how you do a study on lying on statistical surveys.

            There’s no link to the study in the post, and googling “Mensch and Kandel” gets me a bunch of German links.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Brad,

            Black people are roughly ten times more likely than whites and twice as likely as Hispanics to lie about not having used drugs.

            That doesn’t mean that the true rate of drug use is ten times higher obviously. But it means that you can’t take self-report data at face value here.

            Edited, post-ninjaing:

            The way that they measured lying was by taking a survey and then comparing the answers with the results of a drug test.

        • albatross11 says:

          As an aside, there are plenty of smart, reasonably well-informed circles of people among whom the claim that blacks have a higher crime rate than whites is controversial, but I don’t think there’s any actual controversy among people who study the subject or, really, work in or near the criminal justice system. From official murder statistics, blacks had about seven times the rate of committing murders as whites had, and about six times the rate of being murder victims. There’s simply no way that’s coming from bias in law enforcement. Other crimes mostly have a less skewed black/white crime rate ratio, but they’re also less often solved and less often reported, so I don’t know how much we can infer from that.

          This is a really basic fact about crime in the US. A large fraction of people don’t know it, and a large fraction of respectable media coverage of issues of crime, race, bias, etc., omit this fact and leave their readers ignorant, by choice. And that makes it very difficult to have sensible discussions about race and crime in the US, even among the kind of people who stay reasonably informed and read newspaper articles and such.

          • Deiseach says:

            blacks had about seven times the rate of committing murders as whites had, and about six times the rate of being murder victims

            And you can claim that this is the result of poverty and systemic discrimination and the rest of it. Saying “black people commit more murders” is going to get you in trouble, because someone will pick up from that “black people are inherently murderous” and someone else will pick up from that “so you are saying black people are inherently murderous, you bigot?”

            And it still doesn’t solve the problem of: is DeShawn more likely to be a recidivist than Billy-Bob? Maybe DeShawn is the one honest guy in his neighbourhood of gangmembers committing drive-by shootings. Maybe Billy-Bob is the scion of the one criminal and violent family terrorising an otherwise law-abiding community.

            Let me make it clear: I am not saying “ahhhh, racist algorithms!” or “to get this kind of result, there must have been unconscious prejudice on the part of the programmers”.

            I am saying if you have any kind of system that is going to select out the DeShawns over the Billy-Bobs as more likely to be criminals/more likely to re-offend, you have one hell of an uphill struggle to demonstrate that this is based on the numbers and nothing else.

            And even then, there will be people who say “I don’t care about the numbers, these numbers are caused by a racist society, we should deliberately tinker with the mechanism to get an equal treatment result where all the DeShawns get treated the same when it comes to arrest/conviction/sentencing/parole as all the Billy-Bobs for the numbers resulting”. And that may mean real criminal DeShawns (and not unfairly targetted DeShawns) getting out early or never being convicted in the first place.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Deiseach:

            And even then, there will be people who say…

            At some point though, you’ve got to start looking at the numbers, and stop listening to such people. We live in an age where pretty much anything is guaranteed to be perceived as offensive in some way — including things like frogs, milk, soap, Boolean logic, the entire body of English-language literature, and probably the very concept of language itself. At some point, you’ve got to just shrug and try to get some useful work done.

          • albatross11 says:

            I very strongly oppose the idea that some facts should be hidden from the public or not discussed on the “You want the truth?
            You can’t handle the truth!” theory. One reason is that we can look at something like the difference in crime rates between blacks and whites–a really fundamental fact for understanding race and crime in the US–and a lot of otherwise well-informed people don’t know it. Those are people who vote, and their votes are happening in ignorance of basic facts that are necessary to even have a halfway accurate picture of reality.

            I’m 100% in favor of trying to understand why the crime statistics look like they do. But we need to start by actually knowing what reality looks like. This is something we should be getting from mainstream, respectable news sources.

            Noble lies can sound like a fine idea when considered in the abstract, but when you see how our society actually implements them, they’re a disaster. Try to have a sensible discussion about race and crime with people who don’t know that there’s a big difference in crime rates across race, and you will fail. Try to have a sensible discussion about race and success in school and the performance gap with people who don’t know about the difference in IQ scores (and basically all other standardized test scores) across races, and again, you’re not going to have a very fruitful discussion, because you don’t have the most basic facts at hand to start understanding the issue.

            This applies to many non-CW or non-h.bd issues, too. For example, most Americans don’t know anything about the breakdown of the federal budget, or what our foreign policy looks like, or whatever. But imposing ignorance of basic facts as a strategy for managing public discussions looks like a complete disaster to me.

          • Deiseach says:

            At some point, you’ve got to just shrug and try to get some useful work done.

            Which you will only be permitted to do if it fits the narrative of the administration in power, and which will be decried as discrimination and politically motivated hackwork by the party out of power.

            Bugmaster, you tell me if you think a Democratic presidency is going to be one under which “use racially-motivated algorithms for prison regulation” is something likely to happen, or whether that is the exact language that would be used about it: racially-motivated?

            And before anyone thinks I’m shilling for Trump, no, I believe the Republicans might like it on the basis of “great, we can now prove that locking up higher numbers of black offenders is justified by science and that there is nothing rotten in the system at all!” and that those with legitimate qualms are only trying to stir up racial resentment to stump for votes for the “we’re the party that is on the side of minorities”.

            Nobody will look at this as a matter of “what do the numbers say and how can we best interpret them”.

          • outis says:

            Deiseach:

            And you can claim that this is the result of poverty and systemic discrimination and the rest of it.

            Yes, this is a (perhaps extreme, but not impossible) example of what I was saying. Ilya will start by saying that blacks get arrested more often because of racism, and their model simulates a world where that doesn’t happen. But if that’s not enough, they’ll add more “intuitively unfair” things to simulate away, and there’s no principled reason not to get to “poverty is the result of racism, let’s correct for SES”. Or to stop there.

            That’s why I’m suggesting that we short-circuit the process. It’s just adding incredibly inefficient epicycles (have you seen how much universities cost?) to the process of nudging the system in the desired direction until people are satisfied.

    • J Milne says:

      Can I confirm that this is another worry people have when they talk about bias and AI:

      There’s a difference in groups A and B due to some upstream factors, e.g. group A tends to have lower socio-economic status; and instead of learning to discriminate using the (useful) socio-economic status variable, the AI learns to simply distinguish using the (also useful, but more obviously unfair) labels A and B.

      So that even if you hand an AI some race-blind data and want to learn about risk of committing a crime, it’s possible that it would find some way of inferring blackness through other things, and use that the discriminate.

      • stucchio says:

        This is a worry. But it’s an unfounded worry unless you believe in race realism.

        An algo will not randomly learn an intermediate representation simply because humans find it perceptually useful. An AI will only learn an intermediate representation if it improves predictive accuracy.

        I.e., an algo will learn race if race specifically is predictive. If race is merely correlated to something else (e.g. socioeconomic status) which is the primary driver, then the algo will instead learn that other thing. The algo always strives towards predictive accuracy, and will not take the same computational shortcuts that evolution/culture drive humans to take.

        https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2016/alien_intelligences_and_discriminatory_algorithms.html

        • gbdub says:

          Or to put another way, the algorithm may assemble some pile of data that would allow you, a human, to infer with high accuracy the race of a subject.

          But the algorithm cannot and does not make an inference of race because race is not a feature in its database. It is truly colorblind. That it spits out results that correlate with race is an uncomfortable reflection of our world, but that’s our problem, not the algorithm’s.

          • albatross11 says:

            My guess, as an interested amateur, is that if I want to predict whether you will get arrested for a crime in the next year, knowing your race, sex, and age probably tell me more than I’d get by incorporating most other data you could offer me. So if my predictive model is not given race, sex, or age, but it’s given a bunch of otherwise-irrelevant stuff that allows it to construct a proxy for race, then it will do so and use that to make better predictions.

            And that’s fine in most cases. But we may also have a public policy that says we don’t make some decisions on the basis of race. In that case, we may want to remove those otherwise-irrelevant variables that let the model infer your race. That’s accepting a less-accurate predictive model in order to accomplish this public policy goal.

            In that case, I think the critical thing is to surface that decision–let the judges, politicians, and voters see that we’re making this tradeoff, and let them decide whether it’s reasonable.

            ETA: The full tradeoff there is not just the impact on (say) black would-be-parolees, but also on nonblack would-be parolees who become less likely to get parole, and on society as there are more parolees reoffending.

          • gbdub says:

            I mean, if race is strongly correlated to whatever it is you are trying to measure, then it is basically impossible to construct an algorithm that has output that is both accurate and not correlated to race. I would think that is a tautology.

            As you note, that’s a tradeoff. If you really, really don’t want results correlated to race, then you will sacrifice exactly as much accuracy as there is correlation to race. I too would prefer to “surface” that tradeoff rather than to try to shame algorithm makers into secretly pre-crippling their algorithm so it gives the result we want.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, if race is strongly correlated to whatever it is you are trying to measure, then it is basically impossible to construct an algorithm that has output that is both accurate and not correlated to race.

            I feel like this should immediately end the debate.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            So, tomorrow we discover a gene that makes a person who has it 100x more likely to commit murder than someone who doesn’t. We could decrease murders overall by pre-emptively locking people with that gene up. However, since the murder rate is around 5/100,000, even a person with this gene has a very low probability of committing murder–very roughly around 0.005 per year.

            It would be more efficient in some sense to lock all the murder-gene-carriers up. But I don’t think it would be a good policy, and I’m certain it wouldn’t be crazy to decide not to pre-emptively lock people up for having that gene.

            The point of all this: I think there are cases where simply because we have information that lets us predict who will commit a crime doesn’t mean we should use it. That means accepting a tradeoff between less crime and other goals, and I think we should make those clear, but I think it’s still sometimes reasonable to do so. For that matter, the way we try to keep the police from beating confessions out of people or illegally wiretapping their phones is mainly to throw out cases where they got evidence in those ways, even when the evidence they got pretty-much proves the accused guilty. We want fewer criminals on the streets, but also fewer people getting the rubber-hose-in-the-dark-room treatment from the cops, so we make a tradeoff.

          • Matt M says:

            The point of all this: I think there are cases where simply because we have information that lets us predict who will commit a crime doesn’t mean we should use it.

            OK – it’s fine to say “Do not use predictive information AT ALL.” I mean, I disagree with that approach, but that strikes me as a fair argument to have.

            I think the broader point here is, that if we’re going to make any attempts to use predictive information at all, they would inevitably correlate with that gene. You can pass a law saying “the algorithm cannot test for the gene,” fine. But so long as people with the gene have any other common traits besides “propensity to murder,” then those traits will pop up on the algorithm and you’ll still end up mainly locking up people with the gene. It will still be discriminatory, just also less accurate than testing for the gene itself.

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt:

            Yeah, I agree that when there’s an actual correlation, that will show up in a good predictive model, as well as in the normal consequences of having a justice system or whatever. If there were a murder gene that was at all common in the population, I’d expect a large fraction of the people locked up in prison to have it, and the only way to avoid that would be to let a lot of murderers keep walking the streets.

            This kind of issue comes up a lot in CW race/gender issues. And in general, I think the way we should deal with it is to surface the tradeoff. And in general, I think we’re better off with relatively simple transparent rules than with complicated ones with a lot of hidden parameters and assumptions, because it’s easy to hide a lot of rent-seeking or corruption or other bad behavior in those hidden bits. A good example of where I think we, as a society, get this wrong is in university admissions[1]–in order to avoid saying out loud exactly what we’re doing w.r.t. getting the racial numbers right, we end uo with extra-complicated decision processes with lots of opportunities for various kinds of bias and special favors. We’d probably be better off if universities made an explicit up-front announcement that they were filling 5% of their incoming class with the top black applicants, 30% with the best Asian applicants, etc.

            [1] I’ll admit up front I don’t know enough about university admissions to be certain of this, but it sure looks this way to me!

          • Matt M says:

            We’d probably be better off if universities made an explicit up-front announcement that they were filling 5% of their incoming class with the top black applicants, 30% with the best Asian applicants, etc.

            Heh, when I went to business school, they broke us up into teams of five for the first semester, and every team had exactly one Indian student on it.

            Makes it nice and easy to figure out that they have a quota such that Indians get to compose exactly 20% of every oncoming class.

          • gbdub says:

            Universities used to do exactly and explicitly that, but Regents of the University of California v. Bakke ruled explicit quotas unconstitutional while allowing for other forms of affirmative action.

            In other words exactly the opposite of what you propose – affirmative action schools are almost certainly working toward some sort of target, but need to make sure they never quite say so out loud.

        • The Nybbler says:

          On the other hand, if you play the sorts of games that “algorithmic fairness” people advocate for — such as training the algorithm with the constraint that different races get equal outcomes, while still not making race itself available to the algorithm — then the algorithm will indeed find proxies for race, if they’re available in the data.

        • J Milne says:

          I.e., an algo will learn race if race specifically is predictive. If race is merely correlated to something else (e.g. socioeconomic status) which is the primary driver, then the algo will instead learn that other thing.

          Only if it’s given that other thing in the first place.

          Suppose there’s some factor that the algorithm is not given that (i) has an effect on propensity to criminality and (ii) correlates strongly with being black. Say, for the sake of building a picture, this factor is ‘presence of father in the home during childhood’, and it’s just not something that the justice system collects data on. Suppose the algorithm is given any other variable that correlates strongly with being black, but which doesn’t actually have an causal effect on criminality. Say ‘#hiphop songs on their iPod’. An algorithm that looks only to reduce the statistical definition of bias will then learn to weight the hiphop variable, because it’s the only way of getting at the hidden variable that actually matters.

          So you’ll arrive at a situation where people are being penalised for something that doesn’t actually have any effect on criminality, and is basically a proxy for blackness.

          Journalists are correct in saying that any such algorithm would be a radical departure from how we currently do things, no matter how good it is about reducing statistical bias. Currently the insurance market is ‘biased’ because laws prevent companies from using proxies like the above to infer race, but most people see that as a good thing that should be continued.

          • stucchio says:

            Only if it’s given that other thing in the first place.

            We’re discussing a situation where a model is given neither factor.

            Assuming you believe socioeconomic status is more important than crime, why do you believe the algo will learn (as a hidden layer) race rather than socioeconomic status, or some weird intermediate representation that humans can’t even understand?

            The only similar situation where I’d have a similar level of confidence is a study of IQ. Given a lot of specific mental tests, I’d expect an AI to learn IQ. That’s because I already know AI exists and is highly predictive. Or in an electronics example, I know of someone who started with a neural network and discovered that the neural network predicted statistical mechanics.

            For some reason you seem to believe that basically any statistical technique will converge to the fact that race -> crime. It’s almost as if you believe “race -> crime” even after controlling for socioeconomic status and everything else is an extremely strong result that will replicate under any reasonably good experiment design. That is, as I understand it, race realism.

            Suppose the algorithm is given any other variable that correlates strongly with being black, but which doesn’t actually have an causal effect on criminality. Say ‘#hiphop songs on their iPod’.

            This is an exceedingly unrealistic situation. Algorithms like COMPAS tend to know things like family history and criminal record, not listening history.

            Journalists are correct in saying that any such algorithm would be a radical departure from how we currently do things, no matter how good it is about reducing statistical bias.

            Yes, they would be.

          • J Milne says:

            We’re discussing a situation where a model is given neither factor.

            Assuming you believe socioeconomic status is more important than crime, why do you believe the algo will learn (as a hidden layer) race rather than socioeconomic status, or some weird intermediate representation that humans can’t even understand?

            The algorithm can only weight on whatever information it’s given. If it’s not given socioeconomic status, it can’t assign a weight to it. If it’s given some factors that correlate with SES, it can assign weights to those to improve its predictive capabilities. But it is not ‘learning’ SES.

            Suppose the only important matter in criminality is SES, but the algorithm isn’t given SES, and it’s instead given Zip Code. The algorithm might learn to rate people worse if they come from poorer Zip Codes. Again, supposing that criminality is only influenced by SES, someone with a high SES who happens to live in a poorer Zip Code would be treated unfairly by the algorithm. The algorithm hasn’t learned SES, it can’t. But it’s learned to make decisions based on Zip Codes. Which might give it an overall better success rate, but hopefully it’s obvious that this still is a problem; people won’t be happy if they think that they’ll be treated differently based on their Zip Code.

            You seem to think that it’s fair to use any information that has predictive power. But I think that clashes with most people’s idea of a justice system treating people fairly.

            This is an exceedingly unrealistic situation. Algorithms like COMPAS tend to know things like family history and criminal record, not listening history.

            It’s a toy example. The point is that it’s very difficult to ‘blind’ algorithms in the same way that we can ask judges/banks/insurance companies to put aside certain facts about people when making judgements.

          • stucchio says:

            J Milne,

            The algorithm hasn’t learned SES, it can’t. But it’s learned to make decisions based on Zip Codes.

            Assuming the weights it has put on zip codes are primarily a proxy for SES, then it has, in fact, learned SES as an intermediate representation. The weights will be proportional to the SES of people in that zip code.

            In the case of COMPAS, the main thing it seems to be using as a proxy for race is criminal history.

            You seem to think that it’s fair to use any information that has predictive power.

            I made no such claim. Rather, I claim that journalists should:
            a) stop misleading the public into thinking algorithms are biased (getting systematically wrong answers) when they aren’t.
            b) explicitly make it clear that making the algo more “fair” (in terms of outcomes such as false positive rate or disparate impact) will have utilitarian consequences such as more murders and rapes.

            I do not have a strong opinion on whether demographic prior information should be used. My claim is that if you want to argue it should not be, you need to explicitly tell me how many extra violent crimes and how many harmless people stuck in prison you are willing to tolerate in order to avoid using that info.

            I.e., explicitly say “I’m willing to have 100 women raped in order to reduce the false positive rate disparity to 3% or less.”

          • J Milne says:

            Maybe some adversarial collaboration could end this? Do you find any of the following palatable:

            1. There is a statistical definition of bias that is at odds with how most people use the word ‘biased’ in every day language, and which is at odds with how journalists use the word ‘biased’ when discussing bias in AI.

            2. Using AI to aid decision-making in areas where it’s currently not allowed to consider things like race or gender may lead to situations where race and gender are implicitly a factor in how the AI reaches decisions. This could occur even if the AI is blinded to things like race and gender. With recent advances in AI it can be difficult to understand how decisions are reached, to the point where it might be impossible to clearly describe how the AI arrives at its decisions.

            3. The quality of reporting on bias and AI needs to improve, but there’s definitely important issues to be discussed.

            4. An AI trained to make decision about e.g. recidivism rates would almost certainly do a ‘better’ job than a human judge in that it would make more accurate predictions about who would re-offend. But the fact that the AI may be influenced by the race of the defendant could lead to unforeseen consequences regarding public trust in the justice system.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @J Milne,

            Obviously I’m not Chris but that framing sounds exactly like what he was complaining about journalists doing.

            The view that taking prior convictions / arrest record into account means that “race […] is implicitly a factor in how the AI reaches decisions” is completely unreasonable and profoundly unfair. It would be like saying that lenders can’t consider credit history because black people on average tend to have worse credit.

            An AI trained to make decision about e.g. recidivism rates would almost certainly do a ‘better’ job than a human judge in that it would make more accurate predictions about who would re-offend. But the fact that the AI may be influenced by the race of the defendant could lead to unforeseen consequences regarding public trust in the justice system.

            If they’re concerned about public trust in the justice system, maybe they shouldn’t write misleading articles saying that the system is discriminating against black people when it isn’t.

            If the criminal justice system treats two people who have behaved identically the same way regardless of race, then you’ve won. The goal isn’t to have exactly 12% black prisoners any more than it is to have exactly 51% women prisoners. The goal is that everyone who commits a crime, regardless of race or sex, is punished appropriately.

          • Matt M says:

            It would be like saying that lenders can’t consider credit history because black people on average tend to have worse credit.

            I don’t think we’re very far off from people arguing this.

            We already have things like “Employers cannot ask about criminal history because black people on average tend to have criminal histories more often.” And not just arguments, laws!

          • albatross11 says:

            More fundamentally, there are several plausible ways to define bias in this situation, and maybe none of them will track particularly well with what the public will take away from the article.

          • stucchio says:

            J Milne, here’s my attempt to work with your adversarial collaboration.

            On (1), I believe that most people believe “bias” roughly corresponds to what statisticians mean: systematically incorrect decisions, in this case motivated by stereotypes or animus.

            I believe this could be resolved with a suitable worded poll. As evidence for this belief, note how many people commented here (and in the other thread) telling me how wrong I am, and then incorrectly argued that COMPAS somehow treated blacks differently.

            On (2) and (4), I think the main place we disagree is how to define “implicitly a factor”. For example, in COMPAS, “race and gender are implicitly a factor” primarily by being strongly correlated with criminal history. I would generally consider any definition of “implicitly a factor” which included this case to be flawed, and suspect most readers would as well.

            (This actually destroys most outcome-based definitions of algo fairness.)

            I also suspect that most readers would be mislead if a journalist described “race and gender are implicitly a factor” to refer to this case.

            The other policy related point (5) where we might differ is that non-AI decisions suffer this exact same problem, but far worse. You can at best hire actors and run a small number of synthetic experiments on a human judge, nor can you derive mathematical conclusions about a judge’s behavior. In contrast you can run as many experiments on an AI as you want, and there are theorems you can apply.

            So any critique you make about black box AIs being used in XXX is a much stronger critique of using a human.

          • J Milne says:

            The view that taking prior convictions / arrest record into account means that “race […] is implicitly a factor in how the AI reaches decisions” is completely unreasonable and profoundly unfair.

            That’s not what I said. I specifically talked about factors that have no bearing on recidivism.

            If the criminal justice system treats two people who have behaved identically the same way regardless of race, then you’ve won. The goal isn’t to have exactly 12% black prisoners any more than it is to have exactly 51% women prisoners. The goal is that everyone who commits a crime, regardless of race or sex, is punished appropriately.

            Man is not for the justice system. It fails if people don’t trust it to treat them fairly.

          • The Nybbler says:

            We already have things like “Employers cannot ask about criminal history because black people on average tend to have criminal histories more often.” And not just arguments, laws!

            Which, the Urban Institute (certainly not a right-wing source!) notes, results in people using race as a proxy for criminal history.

            But recent research has concluded that ban the box also reduces the likelihood that employers call back or hire young black and Latino men (Agan and Starr 2016; Doleac and Hansen 2016). These findings suggest that when information about a person’s criminal history is not present, employers may make hiring decisions based on their perception of the likelihood that the applicant has a criminal history. Racism, harmful stereotypes, and disparities in contact with the justice system may heavily skew perceptions against young men of color

            So, winners: white people and criminals. Losers: blacks and latinos without a record. Law of unintended consequences strikes again.

          • Aapje says:

            @J Milne

            Man is not for the justice system. It fails if people don’t trust it to treat them fairly.

            That goes both ways though. More and more white people believe that white people are discriminated against.

            If one group demands equal outcomes for the individual (based on his personal traits/behaviors) and another group demands equal outcomes at the group level, then these may conflict.

            It becomes even more complex if people are not consistent in their demands, demanding equal outcomes at the group level in some situations or for some groups, but not for others.

          • J Milne says:

            On (1), I believe that most people believe “bias” roughly corresponds to what statisticians mean: systematically incorrect decisions, in this case motivated by stereotypes or animus.

            I believe this could be resolved with a suitable worded poll.

            I don’t believe this. The statistical definition doesn’t have anything at all to do with animus, which I’d say is key to how people usually use the word.

            And I don’t think you can tell them ‘Oh you’re just using the word wrong, it actually has this mathematical definition’. They are two different concepts which unfortunately share the same word.

            Consider the following situation:

            16.6% of white defendants and 33.3% of black defendants are guilty on average. There are two lazy judges, neither listen to arguments made during the case, instead they both roll a dice to decide. Neither know the average guilty rates. One convicts if he rolls a one. The other convicts whites if he rolls a one, and convicts blacks if he rolls a one or a two. Which judge is more biased?

            I would imagine most people think the second judge is, even if he’s less biased according to the statistical definition.

            Is there any weakened formulation of (1) you think we could both agree on?

            On (2) and (4), I think the main place we disagree is how to define “implicitly a factor”. For example, in COMPAS, “race and gender are implicitly a factor” primarily by being strongly correlated with criminal history. I would generally consider any definition of “implicitly a factor” which included this case to be flawed, and suspect most readers would as well.

            (This actually destroys most outcome-based definitions of algo fairness.)

            I’d like to make clear I think there’s a difference between using the number of past convictions as a factor and using Zip Code, even if they both correlate with being black. I’d happily rephrase (2) and (4) to only talk about situations where a factor gets weighted when it “shouldn’t”. But I imagine the number of factors that we can be certain should be weighted are quite small.

            The other policy related point (5) where we might differ is that non-AI decisions suffer this exact same problem, but far worse. You can at best hire actors and run a small number of synthetic experiments on a human judge, nor can you derive mathematical conclusions about a judge’s behavior. In contrast you can run as many experiments on an AI as you want, and there are theorems you can apply.

            So any critique you make about black box AIs being used in XXX is a much stronger critique of using a human.

            My point is judges being less ‘provably biased’ is more a feature than a bug. Part of the justice system is punishing criminals. Another part is being an impartial arena where people agree to have their grievances judged, rather than taking retribution into their own hands. And I worry that that aspect would be damaged by an AI that treats people differently based on race, whether directly or indirectly.

          • blumenko says:

            Sorry if this is the wrong subthread, but it seems the most recently active. Most of the discussion seems to revolve around the original ProPublica piece, but I found this line in a followup by the same authors on ProPublica “Conversely, white defendants labeled low risk were far more likely to end up being charged with new offenses than blacks with comparably low COMPAS risk scores.” . This seems to be exactly what the original article is accused of misleading readers to think, but which isn’t actually true and the authors don’t think. So do the authors think that, and what evidence is there for it?

    • gbdub says:

      I think Ilya’s position uses too broad a definition of “proxy” (and treats all proxies as suspicious).

      As I’m reading it, “proxy for race” is being used to describe essentially anything that correlates with race. But I think “proxy” (which after all by dictionary definition is more like “an equivalent substitute”) ought to be defined more narrowly.

      I would propose that X is a proxy for Y if:
      1) X strongly correlates with Y in the relevant direction for whatever is being studied
      2) X provides little or no relevant/causal information, except that it reveals Y (in other words, using X to predict Z only works because X predicts Y, and Y predicts Z).

      Let’s say I am doing a study of race and sickle cell disease in America (which we know to be strongly correlated with race). I mention direction in point 1) – by that I mean, for example, that if you tell me you have sickle cell disease I can predict with high likelihood you are black. But I can’t predict your race if you tell me you don’t have sickle cell disease (since most black Americans do not have sickle cell disease). And “you are black” is a fairly weak basis on which to make a prediction of whether you have the disease (since it is rare even among black Americans). In other words, “has sickle cell disease” might be a good proxy for “black”, but “black” is a poor proxy for “has sickle cell disease”, and “doesn’t have sickle cell” is a poor proxy for race in general.

      Continuing with this example, let’s say I know your name but not your race. Maybe my algorithm works out that people named “DeShawn” are more likely to have sickle cell disease than those named “Liam”. In this case, it is clear that “name” is functioning as a proxy for race. There is no reason that your name ought to be causal for a genetic disease, and using the name gives us no relevant information other than a clue as to race.

      “Zip Code” was labeled a “proxy for race” because certain zipcodes are disproportionally populated by one race. But let’s consider two zip codes, A and B. A is 90% black, 10% white. B is the reverse. On the one hand, race and zip code are pretty strongly correlated in this dataset – I can predict one from the other, in either direction, with high confidence. On the other hand, for whatever it is we are studying, are the 10% whites in A more like their black neighbors, or more like the white people in B?

      If what we are studying is “what is their annual income” it may well be true that the white people in A are more like their neighbors. In that case, it would be wrong to say that zip code is acting as a proxy for race, because it is revealing useful, causal information (homes close to each other are likely to be similarly priced and populated by people with similar incomes).

      • albatross11 says:

        But then how do we determine which variables are actually relevant, when we don’t have a complete understanding of the world. For example, suppose zip codes that are majority black also have higher lead exposure, and lead exposure is the causal agent leading to higher criminality from this zip code. If we decide that zip code is clearly an irrelevent proxy for race, we throw away actual useful information.

        • gbdub says:

          Well yes, that’s precisely the problem, and I think it’s made worse if you automatically look askance at anything that correlates with race.

          I would argue it’s generally better to design an algorithm that accurately reflects reality, warts and all, and then apply correctives after the fact, as opposed to trying to throw out any inputs that might give us an awkward output.

          Racism is a human problem, and trying to make an algorithm to correct it for us (while we wash our hands and say we just did what the algorithm told us to) is probably a recipe for failure.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A proxy for race can be more complex than a single variable. For instance, perhaps given current zip code, income, age, place of birth, and number of siblings, an algorithm can predict race with very high accuracy even if any given such variable isn’t very predictive.

        But why would the algorithm be seeking such a proxy? We can imagine that Judge Racist Whitey is prejudiced against blacks and will be harsher on them. We can imagine further that if our racist judge is only looking at race-blinded defendant profiles, he might think “Aha, this guy’s from 07019, must be one of them [racial slur]s” and again be harsher on them. But why would an algorithm trained only for predictive value do so? We could deliberately train it that way (at least, a neural net can be trained that way, I’m not sure about a regression model), but only the algorithmic fairness people are suggesting that.

    • DavidS says:

      I’m probably missing something pretty obvious.. But it feels to me like if the premise is that outright racial profiling is wrong (even if predictive) the relevant thing is whether a marker for criminality only relates to it as a proxy for race.

      Say some job filtered applicants algorithmically – women on average did better at this job than men but using that as a factor was banned. Using proxies like being short, higher fat ratio alongside general health or to take to absurdity ‘number of breasts’ or ‘do you own any skirts’ would be blatant attempts to dodge the restriction.

      It feels like the question is whether e.g. neighbourhood is really just a way of indirectly controlling for race. If you don’t knw the factors used its hard to say. And presumably if there is a race-crime correlation which doesn’t just disappear when controlled for, a neutral AI seeking data will find racial proxies if not allowed to refer directly to race.

      This alongside other questions that have been raised below of course.

    • alef says:

      The original article says these scores are ‘used’ by judges in sentencing and parole hearings. How does that even work? If the final decision is any composite and the score and the judge’s opinion, the judge would have to be scrupulous in not double counting anything. And how could she be without knowing the algorithm? (It’s probably humanly impossible even so.)

      If we admit (which I think we should do under maximum duress, but different argument) that group statistics can play a role in these decisions, we need to be sure the judge interacts with the algorithm nicely. If they algorithms gives someone bonus (good) points for being a regular churchgoer, the judge needs to offset how much weight he gives to the character witness the suspect’s priest just submitted. Or a (let us suppose statistically ‘valld’) correlation with being male or X-race shows up in the algorithm, directly or via proxy, how do we tell the judge ‘yes, society has decided ‘we’ can use this, but the algorithm has taken care of this and all other group statistics; please restrict your own attention to very particularized facets of the decision (whatever that may mean?)’.

      It’s like going to a jury and saying: this is a young male and the crime is violent, the prior that he is guilty is 4x greater than baseline (or whatever the right number is), please reduce your threshold for guilt appropriately. But we don’t need to get anywhere near the question of whether this is moral, since it is statistically, technically, unworkable. The jurors will not have enough of a causal model to know what evidence screens off this baseline and to what degree.

    • Morgan says:

      A higher arrest rate isn’t independent of a higher encounter rate.

      If 10% of people of every race are carrying contraband, and you stop and search a randomly selected 50% of black people and 10% of white people, then you’re going to end up arresting 5% of all black people and 1% of all white people.

      If you then conclude that because your arrest rate for black people is 5x higher, the higher stop-and-search rate is justified, then you have a self-reinforcing cycle of bias.

      (The control is presumably to do a test period where you actively go out of your way to hassle white people at the same rate as black people, and see if shaking the white population makes more previously-undetected crimes fall out…)

      NCVS and crime reports are potentially better proxies, but there is still a social bias argument that perceptions of black criminality can influence reporting (especially since there’s evidence that witnesses in general are pretty awful at accurately describing suspects, and memory is often flawed and easily influenced).

      • stucchio says:

        In fact, whites are slightly more likely than blacks to have contact with the police (20.7%/year vs 17.5% year).

        An individual black person is somewhat more likely (1.5% vs 1.2%) to have 3 more more police contacts in a given year, but that’s hardly something that would explain the huge disparities in crime.

        https://necpluribusimpar.net/reality-police-violence-us/

        The narrative that blacks are disproportionately hassled by police does not appear to explain very much in the way of statistical outcomes.

  13. toastengineer says:

    So as long as folks are bringing up online games… would anyone be interested in an online play-by-forum sci-fi adventure GURPS game? Now, I’ll be upfront; I’m not a very good GM, and I’m very light on preparation, but everyone always seems to have significantly net positive fun at least for a few months. Long story short the PCs would be crew of a small independent cargo starship in an original semi-hard sci-fi setting, and adventures would happen and it’d probably all get tied in to some overarching mega-plot about intergalactic war.

    • Incurian says:

      I am interested.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I’d be willing to try it, but I’ve got virtually no experience with GURPS 🙁

    • RDNinja says:

      I’d be up for it.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Creating a GURPS character is difficult and time-consuming. Given this, how do you mitigate its “realistic” lethality?

      • toastengineer says:

        I find GURPS combat is pretty un-fun in a play-by-post situation anyway, so I try to avoid formal combat in the first place. I may end up turning on cinematic combat rules, which makes combat a lot more survivable for the heroes. I do want to experiment with scheduling a time when all of us can get on Discord or IRC or something and do combat live but that may not even happen at all.

        I also highly recommend GURPS Character Sheet, which is a computer program that simplifies the process immensely. Shouldn’t take more than like an hour even if you’re taking your time and it does all the intricate math and looking stuff up for you.

      • bean says:

        Gurps Character Assistant is the best thing.

    • bean says:

      Sounds interesting. I should probably warn you that I’m likely to pick as many holes as possible in the setting. No problem at all with using GURPS.

      • toastengineer says:

        I should probably warn you that I’m likely to pick as many holes as possible in the setting.

        So long as you precommit to mentioning any important plot holes to me in private first that’s good. Might also want to bias yourself in favor of mentioning contradictions in-character ‘cos that tends to lead to fun role-playing (and there’s a chance the contradiction was in fact intentional.)

        I look forward to you horribly embarrassing me with your superior cultural knowledge every time a character who is supposed to be in a military shows up. 😛

    • Randy M says:

      I think preparation is much less important for on-line (pbp, not chat) games, where in you should have a fair amount of time to consider player actions and make whatever content you need, proof-read as much as you want, etc.

    • Nornagest says:

      Never played GURPS, but I might be interested.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I’m interested. Next-to-no familiarity with GURPS, but plenty of other roleplaying experience as both player and GM. I like your setting sketch, and I’m an easy-going gamer. Email is drewflicker at gmail dot com.

    • toastengineer says:

      Alright, I suppose I’ll spend some time getting prepared and then post a link to where we’ll be doing the game in the next open thread.

  14. Is there any interesting internet hangouts for moderate/rational/scientific conservationists (as in environment issues)? I’m keen to avoid the highly politicised (far-left) or banner-waving end of things, but also worried about landing in some astroturfed community that’s taking money to tell everyone black is white and so forth. Had a bit of a search, didn’t have much luck, was wondering if anyone here had any ideas or suggestions?

    Additionally, I was wondering has anyone encountered any information on opinion on environment topics within the rationalist community? It wasn’t really present in the SSC survey and doesn’t seem to be discussed a whole lot on LW or SSC apart from the whole tedious left and right trying to use it as a club to hit eachother with.

    • Nornagest says:

      On environmental issues, the only things I’d call for a consensus on SSC are that GMOs are a non-issue and that we should be building a hell of a lot more nuclear reactors. Conveniently, I agree with both.

      • albatross11 says:

        Whether we should build more nuclear plants depends partly on whether you trust the industry and regulatory regimes to do a decent job on safety. It’s a little like vaccine safety there–the positive claim is not that nuclear plants or vaccines are inherently safe, it’s that we as a society can manage both, through a combination of private industry and regulation, so that they’re a large net positive. If you think the regulators are all on the take and the industry guys are all either shortsighted immoral bastards or incompetent, then both vaccines and nuclear plants look kinda scary.

        Now, in a US/EU context, it sure looks to me like vaccines are a huge win. Nuclear plants are probably a smaller win, because while we can probably run them safely, they cost a lot of money even without being drowned in red tape. (And some of that red tape is necessary to have proper safety regulation.)

        • orangecat says:

          Whether we should build more nuclear plants depends partly on whether you trust the industry and regulatory regimes to do a decent job on safety.

          Partly, but not that much. I haven’t tried to compute this with realistic numbers, but my intuition is that replacing all coal plants with nuclear would be a large benefit even if there were a Fukushima-class incident every 5 years.

          Nuclear plants are probably a smaller win, because while we can probably run them safely, they cost a lot of money even without being drowned in red tape. (And some of that red tape is necessary to have proper safety regulation.)

          One question I have is how we were able to build them in the 70s without bankrupting ourselves. Did we have inadequate safety standards and just get really lucky that nothing terrible happened? It seems more likely that the much higher price tag today is just another instance of cost disease.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            It seems more likely that the much higher price tag today is just another instance of cost disease.

            Does knowing that really help us though? The whole point of cost disease is that we can’t really point to any one thing that’s the cause of inflated costs, and there’s no easy thing we can cut to reduce those costs. You can’t hand-wave it away by naming it.

            It’s nice to know that a solution to cost disease would get us good nuclear power as well as good schools and good healthcare, but the latter two are a good enough incentive to have already fixed cost disease if there was a good solution.

      • and that we should be building a hell of a lot more nuclear reactors.

        That’s not clear. If you don’t believe that global warming has net negative effects, clean fossil fuel, which I think natural gas mostly is, may be a less expensive source of energy than nuclear reactors.

        • 1soru1 says:

          > That’s not clear. If you don’t believe that global warming has net negative effects

          Also not clear if you believe the normal operation of a nuclear power plant trebles common cancers, or a meltdown would end life on earth, or the Earth Goddess would be offended, or …

        • veeloxtrox says:

          If you don’t believe that global warming has net negative effects

          I have seen you mention something like this a couple times now. Would you be willing to outline the argument that global warming is either a) net neutral or b) net positive?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Not David, but the argument as I understand it basically comes down to “Historically, warmer periods were better for humans, and we have no particular reason to expect the next one to be any different”.

            There is also a side order of things like green house warming affecting lows more than highs, such that weather should get less chaotic rather than more, and more deaths from cold than heat.

            The counter-argument, for reference, is that human society is largely built on what we have now – and even if things might be better if it was warmer if we started building civilization now, we have already built civilization around the existing conditions, and adaptation will be more expensive than the benefits will be. (I/e, flooding coastal cities)

            The counter-counter-argument is that it would be even more expensive to change our energy supply over.

            The next argument back is that we are going to have to anyways, since the fuels we are using now will run out.

            The next argument is that we should bootstrap as far as we can on the existing fuels before switching over.

            The next argument is that society will be too slow/is already being too slow to adapt, and fuels will run out before we finish – or start to any significant degree – switching over.

            As I understand it, anyways.

          • yodelyak says:

            Seconded. I think I may be sometimes unfair to people who vocally disagree agree with my views on climate, and specifically may have been kind of sharpish in disagreeing with you elsewhere on this site, on this issue. You’re publishing under your own name, and I’m not, so that’s not very kind of me.

            But I’m dying to know what you’re reading, or how you get to thinking climate isn’t pretty scary bad. From my mindset, it’s tempting to view people who downplay the risks I perceive as part of a paid disinformation effort which my experience suggests to me is large and real.

            Maybe a good way to hash out the difference, since I’m being anonymous, is if you volunteer some writer or source that you think does a good job of saying “climate… meh” with reasons, and then I can have a whack at responding to that, and see if you’re persuaded?

          • keranih says:

            From my mindset, it’s tempting to view people who downplay the risks I perceive as part of a paid disinformation effort which my experience suggests to me is large and real.

            I keep coming up against this from left-leaning people – “oh, you disagree with me on a point of fact/validity of opinion, ergo you must be a liar who is paid to lie on the internet.” It never stops puzzling me, because I don’t assume that of the people who hold the-opposite-of-me opinions – I think they’re wrong, and maybe ignoring evidence of their wrongness in a deliberate fashion, but not deliberately mis-representing facts in a mercenary manner.

            I mean, I’ve never actually met anyone who was paid to lie like that.(*) So I don’t think they exist.

            Who do you know, who does that (and who you trust to not be lying about that as well) so that you believe this class of people exists?

            (*) Okay, so I do know *some* lawyers. I think that’s not quite the same thing.

          • 1soru1 says:

            > It never stops puzzling me, because I don’t assume that of the people who hold the-opposite-of-me opinions

            Maybe that’s because if the global poor pooled their resources to pay internet commentators by the word, they probably couldn’t afford a complete

          • keranih says:

            Yeah, but the yahoos who make their living shilling out images of the world’s poor in order to collect donations from the unsuspecting sure as shooting could, and proof-reading besides.

          • yodelyak says:

            @keranih…

            Hm. I think the well-known example of the tobacco industry spending a few million here and there to distort the science of whether cigarettes kill, in order to protect their multiple billions of dollars of annual profits–I think that example means there’s nothing whatever even remotely implausible about fossil fuel companies doing the same re: climate change. There’s even more money on the line, so maybe it’s more fair for me to shift the burden to you, and ask why would it be different this time?

            That’s not to say I think most of the regular people I’ve talked about climate change with are themselves paid disinformers (nor that David Friedman or you are. Of course I didn’t mean to suggest anything like that). What I do mean to claim is that every time I have this discussion, which I’ve been doing for years, I usually end up finally persuading the person I’m talking to. Not because my facts are right, although they are, to my knowledge, but because my sources have integrity, and their sources do not, and eventually I’m able to show them that.

            Here’s the pattern I’ve seen. I post something on Facebook, or a friend of mine does, or in another space (like here). Someone with red-team sympathies, or once or twice a libertarian, sees the post, and “counters” it with a link of their own. We end up in a multi-post argument, conducted in writing, over a few days, on a facebook wall or similar semi-public forum–where about halfway through I stop and point out that my interlocutor has relied entirely on multiple different places funded by the fossil fuel industry and severely discredited. E.g. I talked to someone who cycled through citing to “whatsupwiththat” The Heartland Institute, and then some Australian think tank also funded significantly by Exxon/bircher billionaires. At this point, the person I’m talking to may gracefully concede they’ve come off looking ill-informed, or they may go full sophist and switch to something like how since the future’s uncertain there’s no point trying to know things, or they may start in on attacking scientists’ motivations in researching climate change (or that may have been their starting argument. It’s infuriatingly really common.)

            This happened about a dozen times, with different people, between 2006 and 2013 (when I went to law school and stopped wading into fights online under my own name, for professional reasons or just cause I was too busy). A lot of these ended with concessions, but some ended with mutual friends stepping in and telling the person I’m talking with to back down, they’re no longer making sense. I recall at least one acquaintance-from-high-school who unfriended me after I satired one of his arguments, drawing some comments that just said, “wow.”

            So, although maybe it’s a little bit pointed, I’m fishing for what people are leaning on when they suggest climate ain’t a bad problem, or one of the main horsemen of the anthropocene.

            Maybe what’ll happen is that arguing with a higher-class set, I’ll learn something.

          • yodelyak says:

            @Thegnskld, thanks for your thoughts. If I don’t hear from others, I’ll do an effort post responding to that framework sometime in the next few weeks, and post it in the Open Thread.

            As a teaser, here’s a fun example of someone with a straightforward, multi-(hundred?)-million-dollar incentive to delay climate action handpicking the scientist for a Smithsonian exhibit, which I’ve visited, and which argues that since climate oscillation played a role in human evolution (back in Africa, on a 20k year oscillation meaning we regularly had to adapt to effectively permanent swings from wet to dry and back), so if climate changes again (never mind that this time it’ll be on a few hundred years, and with modern agricultural societies, and etc.), we’ll just evolve to deal with it, and no need to worry, complete with an exhibit where we can imagine future humans with long necks or fins.

            http://humanorigins.si.edu/exhibit/exhibit-floorplan/exhibit-floorplan-interactive

            https://thinkprogress.org/smithsonian-stands-by-wildly-misleading-climate-change-exhibit-paid-for-by-kochs-bd3105ef354b/

            https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/21/david-koch-american-museum-of-natural-history-climate-change-fossil-fuel-money

          • quanta413 says:

            As a teaser, here’s a fun example of someone with a straightforward, multi-(hundred?)-million-dollar incentive…

            I find the “But the Koch brothers!” or “But George Soros!” arguments terribly unconvincing at best. It’s almost always a bad sign when someone resorts to those.

          • Aapje says:

            My experience is very similar to yodelyak’s.

            Only on SSC have I actually found critics of ‘global warming exists and is bad’ who use decent sources.

            For example, David Friedman heavily leans on the IPCC reports and mainly disagrees with the narrative on the more unpredictable elements, which is rational.

          • keranih says:

            @yodelyak –

            I am…struggling against the urge to (uncharitably) mock someone who comes into SSC confident in their righteousness based on winning Facebook squabbles and waving the flag of those-oh-so-corrupt-Koch brothers.

            (As a prior point – you certainly gave off the very strong impression that you thought DF (and I, and everyone else who disagreed with you on global warming climate change) was a liar in the pay of people who paid liars. You might want to look at your mental models and at how you express this in order to avoid giving off this impression.)

            And no, the flip side of “yodel explains why there are real reasons for suspecting climate skeptics are paid liars” should be “yodel explains why its not rational to suspect yodel is a paid liar for climate change activist interests.”

            Whether or not you are a paid liar, I am interested in seeing you attempt to prove something regarding climate change. Please, do start by stating your thesis.

          • yodelyak says:

            Keranih

            Three things: apology, trust, starting-point.

            1. Apology.
            Thanks for being candid about how my approach came across to you. First, let me apologize. I regret the phrase, “part of a paid disinformation campaign” where what I really meant was “repeating opinions that I’ve encountered before, and which so far have turned out to have been received from professional disinformers.”

            Sorry about that.

            II. Trust
            I like the saying “bad faith thrives on a discourse on trust.” We’re not going to get anywhere going ’round and ’round saying “trust me” unless one of us reaches MsScribe levels, and the other falls for it. All we need to do to build trust is to actually talk about what we’re talking about. I really, really didn’t mean to directly tell anyone I think they’re untrustworthy, but I won’t ask you to trust me or spend more time talking about trust if I can help it.

            III. A Framework for Talking About Climate Change
            I’ve generally found it is very hard to talk about climate successfully on the object level only, because it is so big, and science literacy varies so much. I’ve had a few conversations that were successful at that level only… but relatively few.

            To give you a simple example of what I’ve found works much better than pure object-level debate (how many different individual facts would be involved!)… my first week in college, a gal on my floor referenced something she’d learned re: climate/environment from an Ann Coulter book. Not even knowing which Coulter book it was, I made her a bet, on the spot, that I could find 10 patent falsehoods in the book (which she had in her dorm) and that at least one would be so bad it’d be clear it was an intentional distortion. (I had read a couple books on what a liar Ann Coulter was, it seemed a safe bet.) I won my bet without needing a referee, and only needed to read about 10 pages. We didn’t argue about climate change facts *at all*, and we trusted each other much more afterward than before. Something like this has happened between me and friends, via facebook, several times more, to the point where I have a strong high prior that nearly nobody I know who doesn’t think climate change is real and bad would continue to think so if I had two or three hours to wade through their favorite source and follow their reasoning.

            David Friedman has sprinkled comments to the effect that “climate change is not net negative” in the last several open threads. I think that’s a surprising claim based on my object-level understanding of climate change as a so-far mostly unsolved tragedy of the commons, with few good prospects for coordination… we all know how those end in economics textbooks. He seems to be spoiling for a conversation about it. As a starting point for identifying where we disagree, I asked what he’s been reading.

            If he’s mostly relying on the IPCC, as am I in significant part, then maybe our disagreement is mostly ideological or etc., and won’t be very interesting. But maybe not–I’m curious to give it a go, and since Thegnskald gave me something to work with, unless someone else takes a more detailed run at it, I’ll take a run at filling in his argument/counter-argument/counter-counter-argument schema with some facts, and see where I get… at some point in the next week or so.

          • @yodelyak

            You can find quite a lot of my arguments on global warming on my blog, including a summary of why I don’t think it is clear whether the net effect is negative.

            I generally accept the IPCC on the climate science. My one reservation is that, in the past, they have projected high–actual warming has been either below the bottom of their projected range (the first report) or near the bottom. As you probably know, there is a lot of uncertainty in the science, with estimates of sensitivity ranging over about a factor of two, and I suspect their incentives tend to be to make judgement calls on the high end.

            But that isn’t the basis of my criticism. That goes back to my involvement with the population controversy forty-five years ago. Everyone, with the notable exception of Julian Simon, took it for granted that population increases had large net negative effects. I was asked by the Population Council to write a piece on the subject from a generally pro-market point of view, since that wasn’t the position the argument was mostly being argued from.

            The standard argument for the desirability of government intervention is that individual choices impose costs on others–externalities. It occurred to me that the decision to have a child produced both costs and benefits for others, positive and negative externalities, so I tried to list them and estimate their size. I concluded that I could not sign the sum–there was too much uncertainty. Events since then, with actual changes going in precisely the opposite direction to that predicted by the orthodoxy–instead of mass famine, calories per capita in poor countries rising, global poverty sharply declining–provided some support for my conclusion.

            The same approach applies to climate change. It will produce both costs and benefits. The size of both is very uncertain, depending both on an uncertain future and on uncertain science, climate effects coming out of a very complicated system.

            We were not designed for the current climate, nor was it designed for us, so there is no a priori reason to think that a climate a few degrees warmer or colder would be worse (or better) for us. We have, however, born various sunk costs in optimizing against our current environment, such as where buildings are, what crops we grow, how well insulated our houses are; any change will mean that those decisions are no longer optimal.

            That is a cost, but it is a cost that very much depends on the speed of the change. Warming so far has averaged a bit over a tenth of a degree C per decade, which is very slow in human terms–plenty of time for farmers to change crop varieties, houses to be replaced by new houses, and the like.

            Seen from the other side, human land use at present is constrained by cold, not heat–the equator is populated, the poles are not–which suggests some a priori advantage to warming. And the physics of the greenhouse effect implies that it tends to be greater in cold times and places than in hot, which is a bias in our favor–as a rule, hotter is good when it is cold, bad when it is hot.

            If we don’t have good a priori reasons to think warming is on net bad, the next step is to look at positive and negative effects and try to estimate their size. Doing that I see one large and unambiguous positive effect–CO2 fertilization increasing crop yields. Reduced ocean pH, on the other hand, is almost certainly a negative, one whose size is very hard to estimate.

            Sea level rise is a negative, temperature contours shifting towards the poles and making more land available for human use is a positive. More deaths from hot summers is a negative, fewer deaths due to milder winters a positive. My conclusion is that we do not know, probably cannot know, whether the sum is positive or negative.

            Beyond that, I have my mirror image of your experience talking to people on the other side. If you search my blog for AGW or warming you will see multiple examples of arguments in support of the alarmist view which are either deliberately dishonest or pretty close.

            You find that people critical of the consensus are often ignorant, which I expect is true. So are people supporting it. Most of them do not understand the physics of the greenhouse effect, most of them wildly exaggerate the size of the effects the IPCC projects.

            To take one distinguished example, Obama’s account of Cook et. al. 2013 was “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” If you read the paper you discover that it said nothing at all about beliefs on whether it was dangerous. What it found was that, of abstracts that took a position on the causes of warming, 97% held that humans were at least one of the causes–in the language of one example in the paper, ‘contributed to.'”

            I think that’s a surprising claim based on my object-level understanding of climate change as a so-far mostly unsolved tragedy of the commons, with few good prospects for coordination…

            It does indeed have the structure of a tragedy of the commons. That tells us that there is no good reason to expect individual uncoordinated action to produce the optimal outcome but it doesn’t tell us whether the outcome it produces will be too much global warming or too little. That depends on the sort of issues I discussed above–whether the net externality is negative or positive.

            The public good/tragedy of the commons problem is, however, an argument for adaptation over prevention, assuming that net effects are negative and prevention therefor a good thing. Holding down CO2 output faces, as you observe, a public good problem–if one nation pays the cost of using expensive renewables instead of cheap fossil fuels, most of the benefits go to other nations.

            Adapting to change faces much less of that problem. If one country dikes against SLR it gets most of the benefit. If one farmer switches to a crop suited to a slightly warmer climate, he gets the benefit. It’s much easier to produce private goods than public goods.

            Adaptation has a further advantage–it lets us keep the benefits while reducing the costs.

            This is already a very long post, but I’ll be happy to continue the discussion if you like or point you at particular blog posts that explored parts of it.

          • @DavidFriedman

            You’ve mounted an argument indicating you think that calculating the net positive/negative of climate change is extremely complex and does not yield a clear answer. I’m not sure I’m in agreement but I think I follow your logic and like how you put forward your position.

            What I am a little confused about is that while (if my memory is correct) you eloquently oppose many leftist ideas that involve massive re-engineering of such a complex system as human society, especially when the results are at best unclear and at worst disasterous, you don’t feel the same about massive re-engineering of the complex natural systems we live within, when the results are at best unclear (in your argument) and at worst disasterous (according to many others)?

            It sometimes feels a little like conservatives/libertarians might have a tendancy to overlook Chesterton’s Fences when they’re green coloured? I acknowledge I’m speaking as an outsider, but it seems to me conservationism is not in automatic opposition to either libertarianism or conservatism, and that it would be possible to uphold those values while taking a different position on climate change.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Thank you for the explanation and the link to the blog post. That is exactly what I was hoping.

          • @Citizensearth:

            I think you are confusing “reengineering” with “permitting change.” If I proposed that we should deliberately warm things in some places and cool them in others, raise sea levels in some places and lower them in others, supposing those to be possible, that would be reengineering. I’m not.

            What I am arguing is that we ought not to bear large costs now in order to prevent a future change whose net effects might turn out to be good or bad.

            My view is that the future is much more uncertain than most people imagine (for details see my Future Imperfect). Rather than trying to figure out what the effects of our actions are going to be a hundred years from now and changing what we do now to get good effects then, we should observe what is happening and change what we do according to what happens.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Our current behavior is an intervention in the climate system. That it is a side effect, rather than purposeful, is a good reason to be extra wary, because it means that it is far less controlled.

          • I was responding to the claim that by failing to act to slow AGW I was supporting reengineering human society.

            “Engineering” is an attempt to do controlled things. Allowing human society to change, not because you want it to or don’t want it to but because preventing the change is costly and you don’t know if the effects are good or bad, isn’t reengineering society.

          • @DavidFriedman

            I certainly don’t mean to imply you’re advocating major changes to the atmosphere as an end goal. But “letting it happen” doesn’t seem at all accurate if we agree human activity is a major factor in the changes. It’s not clear to me that, if leftists were taking actions that were known to radically re-engineer society, the fact that re-engineering was not their primary goal but simply a side effect of some other goal (say wanting to be at the head of a big government) would have any bearing on whether those changes were harmful or not. Doesn’t the same rule of caution apply when we’re talking about knowingly changing the climate?

          • The objection to reengineering society is that we don’t know enough to know how to do it, what changes are good or bad. That is also an argument against bearing costs in order to prevent a change that would otherwise occur, when we don’t know if the effect of those changes would be good or bad.

            Following policies designed to increase warming at some cost on the theory that the net effects would be good would justify your argument, but that isn’t what I am advocating.

            The reason to continue burning fossil fuels isn’t in order to put more CO2 in the atmosphere. It’s because fossil fuels, at present, provide power at a lower cost than the alternatives.

          • Aapje says:

            …with the known side effect of changing climate.

            If you count the cost of preventing that externality, fossil fuels are suddenly not that low cost.

      • Thanks Nornagest. I never really understood why both the opponents and the supporters of nuclear power focus on radiation but completly ignore what seems like the obvious main issue – proliferation. I’m no expert on it, but I’m pretty sure a big chunk of the nations with nukes now got them by first developing a civilian power industry, and in some cases they successfully pinched scientists from foreign countries programs. In a globalized marketplace its pretty hard to restrict the flow of equipment and especially expertise, so I always imagined if we had a reactor on every corner we’d basically be ensuring that we’re knee-deep in materials, equipment and people that were capable of turning into something a lot more dangerous… which doesn’t seem like a very good idea. If you could solve that, if end to end emission remain low, your waste disposal is long-term secure, and you don’t do something stupid like build it on a fault line, I don’t have a major problem with the underlying tech either. It’s definintely lower emission that most and we can’t make energy decisions based on stuff being intuitively ‘yucky’.

        • Aapje says:

          Thorium reactors are supposedly much more harder to create nuclear weapons with.

          It’s still very much in the R&D phase now, though.

        • Protagoras says:

          This is one of the reasons I’m not one of the enthusiastic nuclear power proponents. It seems to be true that nuclear power could be a lot cheaper and safer with different approaches and different regulations. However, the proliferation issue seems to guarantee that there will be a lot of regulations focused on that (unless, implausibly and wrongly, we suddenly decide proliferation isn’t a problem). While in principle it might be possible to design ideal anti-proliferation regulations that don’t hugely increase costs and hinder efficiency, in practice I don’t expect it to happen. So I don’t expect that anybody will actually succeed at making nuclear power much cheaper (it is probably adequately safe with the present status quo; I also concede that to nuclear proponents) despite the technical reasons why it ought to be possible. And so with rival technologies like solar steadily finding ways to cut their costs, nuclear doesn’t look to me like the superior choice from a long term cost perspective.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m no expert on it, but I’m pretty sure a big chunk of the nations with nukes now got them by first developing a civilian power industry,

          No, this is just wrong. Of the nations which are known or generally believed to have developed nuclear weapons, all but India and Pakistan built their first atom bombs years ahead of their first nuclear power plants. And in Pakistan’s case, the one early nuclear plant they bought from the Canadians was closely monitored and played no significant role in their later nuclear weapons program.

          and in some cases they successfully pinched scientists from foreign countries programs.

          In one case that matters, and too late to worry about that now. A.Q. Khan worked for the Dutch nuclear power industry when he developed/pilfered the gas centrifuge technology that he later sold to anyone with the cash to pay for it.

          And that changed everything.

          Through the 1980s, it was generally believed that uranium enrichment was so very very hard that only the Great Powers could afford to do it and so the only practical way for anyone else to make atom bombs was to buy a nuclear reactor and the uranium to fuel it from a Great Power and then use it to breed plutonium for atom bombs. This was probably done by Israel and North Korea, and was attempted by Iraq and maybe Syria before Israel blew up their reactors. But in all actual cases those involved small “scientific” reactors, not power plants.

          Now, nuclear proliferation is about having a warehouse or cave full of machinery that even a modestly industrialized nation like Iran or North Korea can build in quantity, and good luck stopping that.

          Meanwhile, there is no known case of a nuclear power plant operating under IAEA safeguards being diverted to nuclear arms production – probably because nobody ever bothers trying that any more, with the Khan centrifuge design being so widely known.

      • shakeddown says:

        Another criticism I’d have for nuclear is that unsubsidized solar/wind
        +storage is already competitive with nuclear (and estimated to pass coal by 2020). It takes about a decade to build a nuclear power plant, by which time solar+storage will be a fraction of the price they are now. Doesn’t seem worth it (though keeping the nuclear power we have now is a no-brainer).

        • keranih says:

          Truely? Who’s putting in unsubsidized solar? Where is this wind plant that is outperforming nuclear?

          (I scoff, but this is quite a change, and would be quite nice, if true.)

          • Aapje says:

            @keranih

            Lazard puts utility-scale solar with storage at ~$82/MWh, wind with no storage at $30 – $60 and nuclear at $112-$183.

            If coal is required to fix its worst externality by implementing 90% carbon capture and compression, then solar and wind are already cost competitive with it.

          • gbdub says:

            Not sure how you can compare the costs of storage, given that commercial scale storage doesn’t actually exist yet.

            Also from the footnotes:
            “Analysis excludes integration (e.g., grid and conventional generation investment to overcome system intermittency) costs for intermittent technologies.”

            And, regarding PV with storage:
            “Illustrative system located in Southwest U.S.”

            That is, a best case scenario.

            The analysis also does not include decommissioning costs, which will be very high for nuclear, but also high for any storage system reliant on chemical batteries.

        • gbdub says:

          Perhaps on a cost-per-peak-kW basis, but you can’t run an entire grid on just solar and wind (which are intermittent) with current technology (no good mass storage).

          You need some sort of base power production, which is either going to be nuclear or fossil fuel based (right now, natural gas is the best option for the latter).

          How much of that cost (cost of extra fossil fuel plants plus their associated pollution and carbon output) is factored into the calculation of cost for solar / wind power?

          • Rob K says:

            Vox ran an article recently on the bids Colorado received for a recent RFP on new generation, which show an extremely rapid decline in storage costs. Withholding judgement until the stuff actually gets built, but the numbers are pretty eye-popping.

            The rapid innovation curve on solar and now, possibly, batteries has changed the economic context for evaluating global warming response by a bunch. (Creating something like this was an explicit aim of many of the policies implemented to address climate change in the 2000s, but the scale of the success is greater than any analyst I’m familiar with expected at that point.)

    • shakeddown says:

      I had a longer reply, but it got eaten by the spam filter. Short version: look for a community trying to solve a specific problem (as opposed to those arguing about toxoplasma), and giving what we can has a decent page (though I think they lowball the benefits, since they undercount it as an x risk).

  15. Rachael says:

    Are there any people anywhere who read the conflict/mistake post and thought “yes, that makes sense, and I’m a conflict theorist”?

    I ask because I, like everyone else, read it and thought “yes, that makes sense, and I’m a mistake theorist”, but I felt it was written in quite a “boo outgroup” way, casting mistake theory as the obviously superior option, so I can’t imagine anyone reading it and identifying as a conflict theorist. I’m also not sure to what extent this was deliberate on Scott’s part.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Aye. At least in the sense of “yes, irresolvable conflicts actually exist in the world that can’t be solved through reason, negotiation, the market, ect.”

      My position is that viewing human interactions strictly through either lens is an error. Strict-conflict is plainly incorrect. But Scott and many commentators have gone strict-mistake, and I don’t think that will age well.

      I see it as somewhat symptomatic of a broader trend among the commentariet here: people who are so good at designing air-tight solutions, that they eventually convince themselves that conflict itself can be eliminated, and anyone who resorts to defecting against the system is wrong. You would think that the existence of say, human slavery, would be an effective counter-argument, but what do I know.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I think conflict theory is a bad way of resolving our differences in most cases, but an excellent model for understanding how our differences are often resolved in practice.

        ETA: And there are disagreements where there’s no resolving them with mistake-theory methods, or the time for that has passed and it’s a f–king war. We should try to minimize the number of those in our society, but at some point, the debate about whether to end slavery has stopped being about who has the best arguments and started being about what Atlanta looks like when it’s burning down.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I agree with this. While I think a lot of problems are due to what could be broadly called “mistakes” – people setting up and reacting to bad incentives, for example – there obviously are cases where “conflict” is the correct answer to the question “what is going on here?”

        • Jiro says:

          This is also related to 1) Geek Social Fallacy #1, and 2) the observation that autists tend to not understand malice and interpret it as irrationality (which may be extended to rationalists even when they don’t actually have autism).

    • Aapje says:

      I thought it was too dismissive of conflict theory as well and that only a mixed theory makes sense. Mistake/conflict theory can be used usefully as as part of an analytical model, but choosing one as an ideology is bad.

      Ultimately, I think that strict conflict theory assumes zero sum and strict mistake theory assumes maximum positive sum (so that everyone can have all their desires met, because none are in conflict). Both are wrong, because we live in neither a strictly zero sum, nor a maximally positive sum world (because humans do not have the same needs/wants, but neither are their needs/wants completely random).

      • Nornagest says:

        I have an effortpost on this percolating, but I keep getting distracted. tl;dr is that it’s more of a spectrum than a binary, and that the spectrum is delimited by trust.

    • Deiseach says:

      Are there any people anywhere who read the conflict/mistake post and thought “yes, that makes sense, and I’m a conflict theorist”?

      Yes, I did; I know, you are all asking yourselves right now “What, sweet-natured moderate civil never gets into any arguments Deiseach? How can this be?” 😉

      Mostly it’s “if its technocrats versus the rest of us, I’m with the rest of us” because as I said, the guy with the urban planning solution always puts himself in the role of calm, rational, impartial, educated/informed planner imposing his will upon us, not us getting to make him do things he may dislike/disagree with/find inconvenient/turn his life upside-down ‘for the greater good’.

      I’m not opposed to the greater good, I am opposed to “we will always be the ones asking you to make the sacrifices for the greater good but never sacrifice anything ourselves because it just so happens that the solutions we propose and the things we recommend harmonise with the things we like and want”.

      To quote a certain person:

      It’s terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged today.

      The men that worked for England
      They have their graves at home:
      And birds and bees of England
      About the cross can roam.

      But they that fought for England,
      Following a falling star,
      Alas, alas for England
      They have their graves afar.

      And they that rule in England,
      In stately conclave met,
      Alas, alas for England
      They have no graves as yet.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I hear what you’re saying, but on the other hand: imagine that you’re considering buying a new car. You have two choices before you: Funkmobile and Squaredrive; these cost roughly the same. Squaredrive was designed and built by a team of automotive engineers; people who have dedicated their careers, and much of their lives, to building cars. Funkmobile was designed by a poetess from Ireland with no engineering experience. Which car do you think would offer better value for the money ?

        • Deiseach says:

          I have no complaint about car engineers building cars. Indeed, I agree that cars should be built by car engineers and not simply anybody deciding to throw together something in their shed… er… ignore the history of the automobile, yes?

          Where I do start to dig my heels in is car engineers thinking their area of expertise applies to large systems of human beings. The basic question is, what is the function of an economy? Is the Sabbath made for man, or man made for the Sabbath? A smoothly working machine oiled by the blood of those crushed in the gears is not an appealing solution to everyone.

          • Bugmaster says:

            er… ignore the history of the automobile, yes?

            Yeah, I wouldn’t want to drive one of those as part of my daily commute… Still, I would want to drive something designed by a poet even less. Unless the poet was also an engineer, of course.

            car engineers thinking their area of expertise applies to large systems of human beings.

            Cars are tools that are meant to be used by human beings. So are airplanes. So are roads. So are cities. It is possible to design a car badly; but a competent engineer would not do so. Instead, he would design his car in such a way that humans would find it easy and comfortable to use — or as easy to use as cars can conceivably be, given the laws of physics and our level of technology.

            There’s nothing magical about roads or cities or any other piece of human engineering. There are a relatively few ways to design them well, and infinitely many ways to design them badly. And, as is the case with cars, not everyone possesses the skills to design them well — because it takes a bit more than just good will and the love toward all mankind to navigate the rough waters of design-space.

          • Deiseach says:

            There’s nothing magical about roads or cities or any other piece of human engineering.

            Mmmm – I seem to recall something on here about someone using “plain old practical build-a-road engineering” for purposes of social engineering, and that’s the attitude I’m arguing with.

            Yes, build roads and bridges and work out the best way to do so and how to move large volumes of traffic efficiently! But do not be seduced into thinking that moving cars with humans in them mean you are now capable of moving those same humans about as efficiently when it comes to “ways of living” and not “ways to get to and from work”!

        • The poem Deiseach quoted was not written by an Irish poetess but by an English essayist/novelist/poet/public speaker … .

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I can’t help but notice that people who approached human society as if it were an engineering problem have historically tended to fail, and to cause rather a lot of misery along the way. So, just as a matter of empirical observation, it doesn’t look as if your analogy is a valid one.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Are we talking about planning human society, or planning the layout of a city ? These things are related, of course, but they are not the same.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Insofar as society is affected by the physical environment in which people can live, I don’t think you can do the latter without to some degree doing the former.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Well, the same applies to cars, or spoons even. That was part of my point.

      • e will always be the ones asking you to make the sacrifices for the greater good but never sacrifice anything ourselves

        Except that they will be paying more of their income in taxes. Some see *that* as the main problem…what is it? … redistributing from the competent to the needy?

    • skef says:

      but I felt it was written in quite a “boo outgroup” way, casting mistake theory as the obviously superior option

      I think this understates the problem he faced. The views aren’t really commensurable, and much of his description focused on the temptation of a mistake theorist to decide that conflict theory is just a kind of mistake.

      [Note that your take-away from the article is basically “there must be some better way of relating conflict theory to a mistake theorist such that I would have more sympathy towards it.” Which implies “there must be some way for me to at least partly integrate this different view into my own.” Which is more mistake theory.]

    • DocKaon says:

      I definitely thought I’m a conflict theorist or at least my interpretation of conflict theory since many people seem to identify mistake theory as good and conflict theory as evil. My interpretation is mistake theory says fundamentally our interests and values are aligned and given the correct empirical and rational arguments we come to the correct decision. Conflict theory says that interests and values do differ and this isn’t something is subject to rational and empirical arguments, because our interests really do differ and core values aren’t based on reason.

      Obviously, there are cases when mistake theory is true and one shouldn’t leap to a conflict theory model without good reason. However, I think it’s incredibly arrogant to think that people don’t understand their own values and interests. That isn’t to say that these conflicts can only be resolved by shouting and violence. The point of a pluralistic democratic system is to handle these political conflicts in a way that allows us to avoid civil violence.

    • Rob K says:

      I tend to think that there are some policy problems that are caused mostly by mistakes, and some policy problems caused mostly by conflicts. In particular, issues where a large, wealthy, and well organized or highly centralized industry or other interest block has a stake are likely to have conflict-driven problems.

      There’s a certain sort of writing in the center-left (Scott, Ezra Klein back when I read him, etc) that seems to have a theory of change about most problems being mistake problems, which can be solved by spreading accurate understanding of the facts. I think this is a good approach for some issues, but falls short in cases where what really matters is the balance of power between two sides, each of which correctly understands their own interest.

    • emlinne says:

      This is a little half formed but I feel like there is also a Values Theory (or maybe that fits under conflict theory after all?)… Like, I think many conflicts involve people or groups with different values which might or might not be compatible in various situations, but that doesn’t require “bad” people although I suppose they probably mutually consider each other bad people, but it also doesn’t require either group to have power which it seemed was an element of conflict theory but perhaps not essential?

      • Error says:

        “Bad” seems to require unpacking. Perhaps: “Genuine values conflicts exist, and cannot be resolved through mistake-correction. However, divergent values do not imply malice or willful ignorance, which is what we seem to usually mean by “bad people.”

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      As a communist I am a conflict theorist in that I believe history is the story of competing class interests and not people misunderstanding each other. On the psychological side, I’m apathetic, as Marxism is indifferent towards people’s interior motives.

      • Aapje says:

        You probably misinterpret history. 😛

        On the psychological side, I’m apathetic, as Marxism is indifferent towards people’s interior motives.

        It seems rather relevant why people value their class interests above those of other classes. If it is pure selfishness, that can only be remedied by using power. If it is (partially) a lack of understanding, then you can (partially) remedy it by spreading knowledge.

        I don’t see how you can find an optimal solution without caring about motives.

    • cuke says:

      I find the dichotomy as it’s been laid out so far to be incoherent.

      I may just be drowning in the volume of comments and to have lost the original argument, in which case I apologize.

      Conflict theory is sounding to me like “ways of approaching disagreement that don’t rely mainly on evidence and/or reason.” In other words, it’s being defined as “stuff that is NOT mistake theory thinking.” In the discussion, this negative space is being characterized variously as “people who argue about things they don’t know a lot about” or “people who have deeply held moral priors that they weigh up against the evidence” or “people who dismiss evidence because they’re frightened of where it’s headed for them personally” or “people who have a sophisticated understanding of how power dynamics complicate the implementation of processes that start out with good evidence.” I think it’s problematic to talk about this in terms of types of people at all, but even as “ways of thinking” or “approaches to disagreements” or “ways of understanding sources of disagreement” it seems incoherent so far.

      Our conversations about significant human problems are stories we construct that are a mix of “facts” and “other stuff we bring to the party.” Conflict theory seems to be serving as waste bucket for the “other stuff we bring to the party.” But that stuff is quite varied and complex: considered ethical stances, deeply held beliefs, white hot feelings, interpretations of prior experience, personal and group history, knee-jerk biases, tribal affiliations, and more.

      In that sense, this dichotomy seems to be both not illuminating reality that well and tendentiously lop-sided, in that one end is about a particular kind of “real” “truth” and the other end is a mash up of undefined human qualities, good and bad.

      This conversation seems to be at the intersection of philosophy and psychology (also rhetoric?) — in having to do with what kinds of arguments people make when they disagree about things that matter and what kinds of support they draw on to make their arguments and what’s the epistemological and ontological status of those forms of support. Above my pay grade but I’m hoping someone can step in and beautifully elucidate all of it!

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Like many posts grappling with tendencies on the far left here I thought it was a bit uncharitable, but I definitely recognized “conflict theorist” as being my “pole”

    • BBA says:

      I’m a mistake theorist by nature, but I have a constant nasty suspicion in the back of my mind that the conflict theorists are right. I always want to work out a nice, optimal, mutually beneficial solution, but all the while part of my subconscious wonders if maybe they’re just EVIL and need to be CRUSHED. What’s worse is when my belief and alief switch places.

    • cassander says:

      I asked the same question, got several conflict theorists. For my money, though, I think the mistake is people forgetting that there are real conflicts that need to be resolved.

    • outis says:

      I thought both sides sounded like stupid outgroups.

    • Rachael says:

      OK, cool, I’m reassured. Maybe the pro-mistake-theory bias I perceived was more in my reading than in the post itself.

  16. meh says:

    Does anyone else feel like bluetooth is being forced on us?

    • Bugmaster says:

      I don’t know about “forced”, but I do think that Bluetooth is kind of the worst of both worlds. It is a fairly complex protocol, requiring a fairly complex controller. The problem is, you don’t get much value for the money. If you just need to hook up a bunch of simple low-bandwidth devices, then something like I2C over RF would be way cheaper (both in terms of complexity and power consumption), while offering the same benefits. On the other hand, if you need high bandwidth and have energy to spare, then you might as well use WiFi — which does not require pairing, and is generally easier to use.

      The advantage of Bluetooth is that it can sort of do everything; the disadvantage is that it does it all really poorly, while forcing people to jump through hoops that are useless 90% of the time.

      • meh says:

        Also in terms of replacing a wired solution. I tried buying a speaker dock a few days ago, and found they don’t exist anymore.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I know this sounds stupid, but what is a “speaker dock” ? How is it different from, like, a pair of speakers and an audio cable ?

          • Brad says:

            If you wanted to connect a cell phone portable mp3 player to a pair of speakers it was a pain in the neck. The mobile devices weren’t strong enough to drive speakers directly, but it also didn’t have the kind of connectors (RCA) a traditional amplifier would expect. So you had these nice little docks that connected to the data port of the mobile device, held it in place, charged while listening, and either had built in powered speakers or RCA out or both.

            I imagine they died not so much because of bluetooth, but because people can’t stand to have their phones in a dock on the other side of the room.

          • meh says:

            @Bugmaster: For example: https://www.amazon.com/Bose-SoundDock-Portable-30-Pin-Speaker/dp/B000V2FJAS

            I guess I’m a dinosaur, but I have a device that is only for playing music, and is not also my phone (they used to call these ‘ipods’). bluetooth drains its batteries at least 3x as fast, so I have to plug it in to charge anyway. There is also 3 extra clicks to turn on the bluetooth, and then 3 extra to turn it off so it doesn’t continue to drain battery when using headphones.

            People still need to charge their phones, no? Why not just add bluetooth to the speaker docks instead of completely removing the docking?

            On a side note, if anyone knows of speaker docks currently being manufactured, please recommend one.

          • Lambert says:

            Get a 3.5mm-RCA adapter and an amp?
            Be a bored engineering student and get a 3.5mm terminal, an RCA terminal and a load of MOSFETs?

    • ilikekittycat says:

      It feels like honestly the majority of features in any given year of consumer electronics refreshes are about matching the checkboxes on the back of major competitors’ products instead of responding to consumer desire

      Even little things that no one is specifically buying a product for, like the super bright blue and white LEDs that signify “high tech” in the last decade, seem like obnoxious trendy mistakes

      • Matt M says:

        matching the checkboxes on the back of major competitors’ products instead of responding to consumer desire

        Well someone had to do it first… presumably to respond to a consumer desire, right?

        • meh says:

          I feel like apple was responding to consumer desire, and then also included bright flashing lights (i don’t think the lights was ever the main desire). Then other companies did their poison frog mimicry and started adding them.

      • CatCube says:

        super bright blue and white LEDs

        Urrrgh, I hate whatever idiot designer decided to spooge these things over all electronics. If I don’t either turn off whatever it is, or cover it somehow if the item is in my bedroom (like a laptop in a hotel room) the bright higher-frequency light keeps me from getting good sleep.

        It’s hard to even purchase a good digital alarm clock anymore, because the designers are so entranced by the rainbow of expensive LED colors that will keep you up at night so fewer people produce clocks with good old red LED displays that don’t destroy night vision or affect your sleep. And the red ones are the cheapest to produce!

        • Evan Þ says:

          I tend to wear an impromptu eyeshade when I go to sleep, generally a (clean) sock.

        • Nornagest says:

          I just use my phone as an alarm clock.

        • quaelegit says:

          I used to have this problem, but then I moved to an apartment with a window looking onto a pool which is lit up all night. Turns out phone LEDs are still not nearly as bright as several square meters of white concrete 😛

          (Like Evan Þ, I’ve started relying on eyeshades, though I have a couple free airliner-eyeshades which stay on better than a sock :P)

          ====

          On the other hand, ubiquitous superbright LEDs have been a boon for status indicators in hobbyist PCBs (though tbf I have no idea if its the same components… just that I’m pretty sure superbright LEDs have been getting cheaper and easier to find over the last five years)

  17. fortaleza84 says:

    Since this is is not a CW-free thread, I wanted to take a stab at codifying the unwritten rules
    of political correctness for modern movies. I’m not saying that all movies follow all these rules, but if you break enough of them, you can expect complaints from Social Justice Warriors.

    1. There must be at least 1 non-white in a role that is prominent and sympathetic; this character must be intelligent and competent.

    2. If the movie has a “village idiot” character, the village idiot can be a woman only if the main character is a woman. Similarly, the “village idiot” can be non-white only if the main character is non-white.

    3. The female lead must be at least as intelligent and competent as the male lead. Also, she cannot be substantially more emotional than the male lead.

    4. No serious violence can happen to the female lead, e.g. she cannot get beaten half to death, lose a body part, get raped, etc. With respect to non-lead female characters, serious violence can happen to them if the point is to horrify the audience (i.e. in a horror movie) or if far more violence is inflicted on male characters.

    5. If a male character mistreats a female character (or a white character mistreats a non-white character), it must be portrayed in an unsympathetic light.

    6. If a female character mistreats a male character (or a non-white character mistreats a white character), it cannot be portrayed in a wholly unsympathetic light.

    • Fahundo says:

      If a male character mistreats a female character (or a white character mistreats a non-white character), it must be portrayed in an unsympathetic light.

      Upon reading this my first thought was “Isn’t the mistreatment of someone tautologically unsympathetic?” But after reading number 6, I guess not. Maybe my understanding of the word “mistreat” is different from yours.

      Also, how many movies have to follow these rules, or how many people have to be upset if they aren’t followed, for you to be right?

      • Notsocrazy says:

        I thought of “mistreat” as “willfully harm the other person regardless of plot justification” and “sympathetic” to mean “justified by the plot”.

        E.g. *Susy slaps James (which does harm him, although not much) but this is okay because he cheated on her and is a loser* is okay because the plot requires that we not like James. *Susy slaps James because she’s abusive and he didn’t do some trivial task properly because of plot reasons* is not okay because it is wholly unsympathetic to Susy, and we are required to like James.

      • Randy M says:

        Isn’t the mistreatment of someone tautologically unsympathetic?

        Only etymologically. It’s basically a synonym for harm in common parlance.

    • skef says:

      7. If you have enough characters for a gay and lesbian couple, make it interracial. You’re not putting them in for the tiny gay audience, they’re there as diversity tokens. So it’s irrelevant if doing so interferes with gay people identifying with the relationship, and you might as well double-up. Straight interracial coupling will definitely interfere with identification, so avoid or minimize that so as not to lose most of your audience. Bonus: Gay interracial relationships don’t raise icky questions about mixed-race children.

      • Randy M says:

        Straight interracial coupling will definitely interfere with identification, so avoid or minimize that so as not to lose most of your audience.

        This might be true for major motion pictures, but doesn’t seem the case for television or advertising.
        Actually, it’s not true for movies either, (and certainly not as a “rule for political correctness”); there was a recent rom-com about an Indian man and a white woman, for example.

        • skef says:

          None of these rules are going to be universal. The OP’s 6 precludes outright female villains, which haven’t disappeared from popular culture, including movies.

          Think about it this way: What fraction of straight couples are interracial in contemporary media? And what fraction of gay couples?

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t consume all that much contemporary media, especially movies. But it does seem above baseline in advertising. Bear in mind interracial marriage are only 10% of US marriages

            I was going to go through 2017 movies in an attempt to figure out which had romance and what the genders and ethnicity of the parties involved were and how it compares to baseline… but that’s not always obvious, and as evidenced by my not having seen any of them, I don’t really care enough to dig into it. I’ll accept the testimony of whatever experts want to weigh in.

            (I’ll go ahead and concede that it didn’t seem like there was a lot of interracial romance. Actually there wasn’t a lot of romance in general. Is everything superhero, now?)

          • Matt M says:

            female villains, which haven’t disappeared from popular culture, including movies.

            Way way way less than 51% of villains are female tho

    • sty_silver says:

      I don’t really notice when there’s a lot of complaining most of the time, but it seems to me that a majority of movies fail this test, if not a vast majority.

      • Anonymous Bosch says:

        I mean I’m sure there’s some standard by which a majority of movies get “complaints from Social Justice Warriors,” which isn’t quantified at all so someone bitching on Tumblr/Twitter while the movie makes eleventy billion dollars would satisfy that.

        OP seems like pretty low-effort stuff by ordinary comment standards regardless of CW-free status.

    • Matt M says:

      4. No serious violence can happen to the female lead, e.g. she cannot get beaten half to death, lose a body part, get raped, etc. With respect to non-lead female characters, serious violence can happen to them if the point is to horrify the audience (i.e. in a horror movie) or if far more violence is inflicted on male characters.

      Man, Sons of Anarchy went against this hard.

      • gbdub says:

        Yeah I don’t actually buy that rule (hell, Game of Thrones turns it up to 11, though it did get criticized for precisely that).

        Female leads pretty frequently get abused / damaged / etc. which is generally given a pass so long as it is seen as a critical part of her arc (e.g. Jessica Jones) What does seem much more rare is female mooks. Imagine if the countless waves of nameless goons being punched by Captain America were women!

        • In WoW there are contexts where the equivalent are.

          • Matt M says:

            WoW regularly asks you to commit egregiously terrible acts and the game basically shrugs at them.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            WoW also has a fair number of quests that may actually be genocide by most people’s definitions.

            There are a lot of “smash the eggs/burn the nests so they won’t overwhelm us” where “they” are thinking beings with at least some semblance of culture. One of the Broken Shore harpy world quests has Khadgar (a fairly beloved character) saying something like “now their filthy kind won’t encroach further upon our lands” at the end. Dude, not cool.

          • Matt M says:

            I personally liked how you had various “hunting” quests with a particular hunting party throughout the original game and the first expansion.

            Then in the next expansion, you join up with the WoW equivalent of PETA to start murdering hunters, including one of the ones you happily hunted alongside previously.

            And then you go right back to the hunting party and hunt alongside them several more times. Apparently they don’t hold it against you that you just killed a bunch of their friends.

          • Vorkon says:

            WoW regularly asks you to commit egregiously terrible acts and the game basically shrugs at them.

            Speaking of which, how many other people are there here for whom the whole dickwolves controversy was the first time they started to realize that, “hey, maybe this whole Social Justice thing is getting a little crazy?”

            (Well, technically for me that might not have been the first time; there was one incident before that in which a friend of mine took some shit over their Drow cosplay supposedly being blackface, but I always just thought that was one random weirdo who took it too far. Dickwolves was the point where I realized “huh, it seems there’s an entire growing movement here, and it’s a little disturbing…” )

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Then in the next expansion, you join up with the WoW equivalent of PETA to start murdering hunters, including one of the ones you happily hunted alongside previously.

            And if you killed an animal in Borean Tundra, you’d have to hop in a lake to wash the blood off before you went back to the DEHTA questgiver, or they’d go hostile.

            I never realized that we were supposed to be fighting Nesingwary’s people, but indeed the final boss of the questline was Harold Lane from the original BC encampment.

            My impression of that line was that the hunters in Borean Tundra had gone a little crazy with the economic aspects of it, getting obsessed with the loot (which lampshades player farming). Harold Lane ended up getting the title “Fur Baron” before you kill him.

            Nesingwary just wants the adventure aspect of it, shooting cool animals in foreign lands. He’s not as concerned with making a profit, so he probably broke with Harold over that before you started the Tundra questline, and thus may no longer care what happens to him (after all, you’re Nesingwary’s friend too)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Female mooks are an interesting issue. On the one hand, I think people viscerally get that they’re unrealistic in a premodern setting (though this didn’t stop Amazon mooks from showing up in the myths of Theseus and in the Trojan War). OTOH, God made mankind and Samuel Colt made us equal, so why do we never see waves of henchwomen in modern or sci-fi action sequences?
          Yeah, I never thought about it before, but there is something unseemly going on in the treatment of action girls.

          • gbdub says:

            Well in a world where skilled but not superpowered Black Widow can reliably beat the bejeesus out of waves of armed professional dudes twice her mass, I think we’ve thrown realism out the window. So it’s weird that we have lots of “action girl” heroines but few female mooks. There’s no real justification for it other than that we viscerally don’t like seeing waves of nameless women getting mowed down the way were are okay with if they are male.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @gbdub: That’s the unseemly thing. We are required to assume for our movie or series to be socially acceptable that any woman who takes up violence is so much better at it than men that she won’t die or otherwise be catastrophically harmed?
            There are Action Men who are just that good, like Batman, but Batman is assumed to be a one-in-a-hundred-million outlier among men who take up violence, while that level of skill/plot armor is treated as mandatory if one is female. Huh???

          • albatross11 says:

            Action movies (especially superhero movies) are a really bad place to go to look for realistic portrayal of real violence or the consequences thereof. Having 100-lb women kick the hell out of 200-lb men who are actually in good shape and pretty good at violence themselves is only one of the more-or-less unlimited number of ways those movies are unrealistic.

            Almost nothing about the portrayal of violence in those movies is anywhere close to reality.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s the unseemly thing. We are required to assume for our movie or series to be socially acceptable that any woman who takes up violence is so much better at it than men that she won’t die or otherwise be catastrophically harmed?

            I don’t think this is quite right. Black Widow has a “justified” backstory the same way Batman does, they just don’t really bother to dive into it and explain it very well in the movies. But she’s not just “some random girl who decided to try fighting”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: I guess that’s the problem, then. Was she given a Soviet knockoff of the Super-Soldier Serum and then put through training from Hell in an Action Girl orphanage? I remember them touching on something like that.
            IIRC in the comics she’s a WW2 relic like Captain America I, Bucky, Wolverine, and Nick Fury Sr, but the movies don’t want to touch that.

          • DavidS says:

            Part of it might be the ‘male is the default gender’ thing. Mooks often have minimum characterisation and if you made mools in most films female that woulld be hugely the most distinctive thinbg about them.

            I think a hefty part of it is because lots of films/TV mooks are armies etc. So its a bit more historical or if fantasy/SciFi echoing historical.

            My memory is that in buffy most vampire mooks were men which seems surprising. Part of it may be self-fulfilling with more or the minor actors/extrS/s/stunt people with martial aryts experience being men?

          • Matt M says:

            Was she given a Soviet knockoff of the Super-Soldier Serum and then put through training from Hell in an Action Girl orphanage?

            Yes, but without the serum, just a whole lot of evil assassin training.

            Which is why she’s typically depicted as pretty powerful, but still less powerful than the actual superheroes. There’s really not any sort of implication that if she fought Cap, she wouldn’t get destroyed…

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I think that’s it was fairly covered in the Captain America movies that:
            * If Captain America and Black Widow ever had a fair fight, her peak-human physique and arduous training would allow her to last about as long as that guy from the boat, at most.

            * There is no circumstance, including dropping the two of them into a white-room combat scenario, in which Widow would let it be a fair fight.

          • Barely matters says:

            I did like the way they played it in Deadpool where he takes down the two female mooks, and then has that moral dilemma:

            “Aww man, this is hard. I’ve killed everyone else so far, but is it sexist if I kill you? Or is it sexist if I don’t kill you? I don’t…” and then abruptly cuts to the next scene.

        • Nornagest says:

          You see female mooks or monsters in video games fairly often. Historically this was often pretty clearly meant as titillation — whatshername in the Final Fight games and their imitators, the SS elite guard in Return to Castle Wolfenstein — but lately it’s more common to see them treated as basically equivalent to male ones. About half the bandits you’ll end up arrowing in the face in Skyrim are women, for example, and they’re dressed and equipped just like the men. Ditto for the Columbian security forces in Bioshock Infinite.

          I don’t know why you rarely see it in movies or TV.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I don’t know why you rarely see it in movies or TV.

            That’s the interesting question, isn’t it?

          • gbdub says:

            Right. They are in plenty of games, at least recently (are there any FPS where that’s true though? Seems mostly like RPGs. Overwatch doesn’t count, those are all heroes, not mooks.)

            “Why not TV/Movie” is the real question.

          • Nornagest says:

            I can think of some rationalizations — most of the video games I mentioned are SF or fantasy war stories, which are rare in TV and movies, and women mooks don’t fit into the biggest exceptions either because of the formula or because of the franchise’s history. But they don’t really satisfy me.

            I think it’s most plausible as a cultural difference. Video games (and especially RPGs) are basically products of nerd culture, which, while not without its own sexual politics, tends to take egalitarian rhetoric at face value: my old D&D sourcebooks were playing pronoun games as early as the Eighties, for example. I doubt there’s much pressure to do this sort of thing in the industry, but if the devs want to work in some stuff about gender equality, it’s a logical place to go, particularly since the format lends itself to “show” over “tell”.

            Hollywood is a very different culture, and its take on feminism is influenced more by critical theory. So when a Hollywood writer wants to do a feminist story, you get something like Jessica Jones, where the hero’s a literal strong female protagonist and the villain is basically embodied patriarchy theory.

          • Matt M says:

            There were female mooks in Kill Bill, although Tarantino basically made a career out of being the exception to rules in general…

          • lvlln says:

            I remember being struck by the presence of female elite-mooks when I played Half-Life way back in 1999. Now, they were elite-level and fairly uncommon – IIRC, they only appeared in one brief section of the game – but they also were closer to mooks than to mini-bosses. Naturally, their whole deal was that they were very small and quick, allowing them to keep hiding after attacking you, despite their relatively low health.

          • Matt M says:

            I’d also suggest that video games are less realistic looking than movies, and therefore less likely to trigger a serious emotional response.

            Seeing a video game character beat up another video game character won’t trigger the same emotional response in people that seeing an actual man beat up an actual woman would.

          • Nornagest says:

            True, but wouldn’t that predict that as video games get more realistic-looking, they’d be less likely to feature female opponents?

            Because it looks like the opposite is true.

          • Matt M says:

            True, but wouldn’t that predict that as video games get more realistic-looking, they’d be less likely to feature female opponents?

            Because it looks like the opposite is true.

            Okay, but that’s not the only pressure working here. There is also a pressure towards greater equality in video games in general. In the latest version of Call of Duty, you can play in multiplayer as a black, female, Nazi soldier.

            I also think that due to uncanny valley effects, there will still be an order of magnitude difference between even the most realistic video game and actual movies/TV.

          • Nornagest says:

            In the latest version of Call of Duty, you can play in multiplayer as a black, female, Nazi soldier.

            I’m not really a Call of Duty guy, but now I’m tempted to download a copy specifically to do that.

            Probably not worth $60, though. And the giggles would throw off my aim.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            There is also a pressure towards greater equality in video games in general. In the latest version of Call of Duty, you can play in multiplayer as a black, female, Nazi soldier.

            ! I did not see that coming! I understand why they opened up every possible sex/skin color combination for every military, but wow.

          • DeWitt says:

            I think the proper joke is to say that you did Nazi that coming, ma’am.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            whatshername in the Final Fight games

            Poison / Roxy.

            Fun fact: Capcom anticipated so much blowback from putting a female mook in the game that they advertised Poison as being transsexual. Another example of how, in popular culture, Japan makes everything extra weird.

        • Barely matters says:

          You definitely see a difference in in how sympathetically GoT treats damage to each gender though.

          Dude gets his dick hacked off and is tortured until he’s stripped of his identity, everyone has a good laugh at what a dickless chump he is as they bring it up roughly every time he’s onscreen.

          Sanza breathily intones “I… Was… Violated…” and suddenly everyone’s all serious and sombre over what a terrible thing she had to endure.

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah that bugged me a bit (well, more than a bit – a couple people I know stopped watching because of what happened to Sansa and I’m like wtf, what show have you been watching for 5 seasons?)

            Seriously, what happens to Sansa is awful, but it’s not even the worst thing Ramsay does in that episode.

    • Jiro says:

      #4 should be qualified: It applies when the result of that violence is something that would seriously harm the character. (Emotional harm does count with rape, torture, etc.) For instance, it doesn’t count if you lose an arm in a sci-fi setting where cyborg arms exist. It also doesn’t count if you lose an arm fifteen minutes before you die heroically anyway.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      I think the majority of Social Justice Warriors shitstorms over popular media have nothing to do with concrete rules that could have predicted the problem before it happened. Before they became flashpoints, could anyone have reckoned, just from the text, that Fury Road, Ghostbusters 2016, or the Last Jedi would become culture wars?

      I think the majority of these things are inspired at the right place and time by a particularly poignant bit of emotive rhetoric which would often have not appeared to be something you would have known would be a big problem before it became one, or sometimes even a thing you would not have expected to be a Social Justice Warrior position, thus making attempts to codify the “rules” futile. Things like “cultural appropriation,” to use one example, are wildly incoherent year to year

      • The Nybbler says:

        Before they became flashpoints, could anyone have reckoned, just from the text, that Fury Road, Ghostbusters 2016, or the Last Jedi would become culture wars?

        All three were explicitly promoted as culture war material.

      • Nornagest says:

        Fury Road caused a culture war shitstorm? I must have missed that one. Overt feminist themes, yes. Shitstorm, no.

        For that matter, The Last Jedi‘s culture-war valence seemed pretty weaksauce compared to its immediate predecessor.

        I’ll give you Ghostbusters.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Fury Road caused a culture war shitstorm?

          Yeah, most of it fake. The usual “horrible internet trolls saying bad things about the movie because it stars a STRONG WOMAN” type of thing. Mostly based on one guy on Return of Kings.

          Of course the Ghostbusters 2016 and The Last Jedi shitstorms were mostly fake, too, framing any criticism of the films as pure misogyny.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Disney Star Culture Wars stuff is just sad. Apropos of the Action Girls/mooks thread, Lucas put a lot of thought into just what it takes to be a supernatural warrior monk (apparently lots of mitochondria plus many years of full-time training that must start before age 9 unless the inborn element is OVER 9000!), and Rey gets to contradict all that worldbuilding because GIRL POWER, which you’re a misogynist for questioning.
          Note that if you consider Jedi who only get named in the ancillary material elite mooks, a significant number of elite mooks in the prequels were women.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve never seen it myself, but I’ve heard good things about Ahsoka Tano, the star of some of the animated interquels. Apparently she has weakness and an actual character arc, while remaining as badass as Jedi are now expected to be.

          • quaelegit says:

            Ancillary material meaning the extended universe? If so this might be related to Nornagest’s observations above on video games vs. movies and (for lack of a better word off the top of my head) “nerd culture” vs. “hollywood”. If you’re talking about something else, then nvm, I’m not very knowledgeable about Star Wars.

            As for Rey, I’ve seen a lot of complaints that she’s OP but most of them don’t seem to tie into “GIRL POWER” as you put it. Or at least, for me it’s indistinguishable from sequel power creep: “meet our new protagonist, MORE AWESOME than the old protagonist”, which seems orthogonal to gender.

            Midichlorians specifically are from the prequels, and I’ve been told the current writers are trying to distance the new movies from those, so that’s probably why they’ve been ellided. Luke is also missing all of qualifications you’ve mentioned (at least in A New Hope, haven’t watched ESB or RotJ in over a decade), so my guess is the new series is just trying to tie into the Original Trilogy Jedi development model more.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Luke loses every lightsaber battle he’s in.

          • Matt M says:

            Mitichlorians is easily explained as no one currently living knows anything about them. Neither Obi-Wan nor Yoda ever had the occasion to test Luke for them – they knew who he was and didn’t need to. Therefore, they never had any need to explain them to him.

            And since he’s the, well, “last Jedi,” if he doesn’t know about them – that means nobody else does either.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Luke beats Vader in a light saber fight, and then refuses to kill him and tosses his away.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Matt M — (from a Watsonian viewpoint) would there be any info about midichlorians in the sacred books in The Last Jedi?

            I haven’t seen the prequels so I’m not sure who beyond Obiwan, Yoda, and Anikin would know about them… perhaps Palpatine? (But then, from the force choke scene, it seems like Vader and the Emperor aren’t spreading knowledge about the force around…)

            [EDIT: from a Doylist perspective, I expect the new movies will continue to not mention midichlorians — they are one of the most mocked things from the prequels.]
            ——-

            Re: lightsaber duels — I can’t remember the circumstances and results of most of the duels in the movies I have seen, but I agree with baconbit’s comment that Luke must have won that fight otherwise the whole “give into your anger and join the dark side” thing wouldn’t make sense. So a little while training with Yoda was enough to get him up to speed?

          • albatross11 says:

            We know from Luke’s conversation with ghost-Yoda that he hadn’t read any of those texts, so even if the first page was “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Midichlorians,” Luke wouldn’t have been able to pass that knowledge on.

            ETA: Darth Vader and the Emperor knew about them though, so they could have set up programs to test everyone’s midichlorian levels and take anyone with high levels off for special training (aka a blaster bolt to the back of the head).

          • quaelegit says:

            @albatross11 — true, but I think the books are in the Millenium Falcon now, so any of the rebels could theoretically read it. Ghost yoda also said they are incredibly dry reading, and everyone has more immediate concerns, so maybe no one will 😛

    • outis says:

      Man, if we’re going to have a culture war, let’s have it over something fun, none of this anodyne bullshit.

      7. If you’re going to have a black/white interracial couple, the man will be black and the woman will be white.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The Star Trek reboot had the woman be black and the man a white Vulcan.
        Bond and black Moneypenny were a thing in the Daniel Craig reboot, though he obviously wouldn’t commit.

        • outis says:

          I think Vulcans would count as a racial minority. Plus, IIRC all-American white boy Kirk liked the black lady, but she ended up choosing Spock instead.

      • Barely matters says:

        In a case of life imitating art in the culture war, try googling “White Couple” and looking at the image results. I’m not even sure how much of it is a weird tagging quirk and how much is google trolling anymore.

      • albatross11 says:

        Holden and Naomi in The Expanse don’t fit with that claim.

        Also, the father and mother of Peter Parker’s love interest in the most recent Spiderman movie were a white man and a black woman. Though this may also involve some of the other PC rules w.r.t villains.

  18. JoeCool says:

    I just want a second (third fourth and 100th) opinion on this fascinating youtube video of Karl Hart. He’s a drug specialist PH.D that seems to disagree about the degree of the negative effects of basically all illegal drugs, especially meth. Except lessons to his talk its less he disagrees with the current literature than he points out aspect of the literature that agree with him, and point out the flaws in methodology in a lot of the early drug studies.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o97xuEtbkKg&t=3178s

    • Cheese says:

      From a brief skim and a disclaimer that i’ve not really done anything involving pharmacology (I note he’s not actually a pharmacologist either) for a long time despite having a background in it, it seems mostly a semantics argument. I mean yeah sure if you’re looking at raw chemical structure there isn’t much difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine – small changes can mean big things in chemistry though. And yeah he’s correct in that it’s used as a medication. But meth illicitly is typically consumed in forms (smoked, injected) that allow for larger doses to reach the brain far quicker and on a population level appears to cause a lot more problems. I’ve done both – smoked quite a lot of methamphetamine recreationally in my younger days and i’ve had my fair share of dexamphetamine as well. They are fundamentally different in all the ways that actually matter – how people typically take them, the magnitude and rapidity of effect, the culture that surrounds them, the impact it has on you after. If he thinks that can be safely ignored then that’s just a ridiculous position.

      The extra attention on methamphetamine as ice vs. methamphetamine as ADHD medication isn’t there because the pharmacology is wildly different – it’s there because of the results of having the drug out in the community. The pharmacological similarity is meaningless in terms of policy if the result to society is wildly different.

      He also kind of positions himself as a maverick – pointing out flaws in early drug studies is hardly controversial in the field. For MDMA research (which is where I know a bit more) it’s the norm. There are papers and reviews aplenty on the topic. But despite that, there is still good data around metabolite toxicity (which does lead to a lot of similar semantic claims like ‘MDMA isn’t neurotoxic at recreational doses’ – yeah probably but it’s hard to nail down and the metabolites) and a lot of pretty reasonable data suggesting quite mild behavioural impacts like memory deficits in regular users (I still take it on occasion though – risk reward and all that). I’m not sure it’s really useful to position yourself like he does – it’s no great controversy in the pharmacology community that for many individual users the direct harmful side effects are extremely mild or almost non existent. That’s not where the problem comes in.

      I do agree with a lot of his positions around the treatment of addiction and drug policy. Some of the tool of the oppressors stuff is a bit off and probably invents a grand conspiracy when it can be more explained by simple decisions made in an attempt to prevent a perceived threat to society having unintended consequences.

      To me it seems that a lot of his speeches and non-research output seems to be more aimed at policymakers or laypeople in an attempt to debunk some more common misconceptions. Maybe as I only skimmed it I didn’t notice, but I don’t see him arguing against the notion that these drugs can be and often are quite harmful. I can see a lot of people taking it that way based on editorialised titles and his mode of delivery. I certainly don’t think the core message there is that he actually disagrees with the potential for harm from methamphetamine. More it seems to be concerned with dispelling a few myths (not everyone gets addicted, not a great deal of evidence for massive harm at low use levels) at a policy level. I can see a lot of internet people taking that as ‘methamphetamine isn’t bad for you’, no offence to yourself.

      I feel like i’ve worded that quite badly, but yeah while I agree with a lot of his ideas around treatment and the way we should approach drug addiction, if he’s at all saying methamphetamine doesn’t have a great harm potential then he’s a bit wrong. But a lot of it is semantics.

      • albatross11 says:

        I always wonder about cases where you see the same drug have very different impact in different communities/social contexts. Think cocaine vs crack, or beer vs gin.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I don’t think it is really fair to consider them ‘the same drug’ if they exist in preparations that affect the user in significantly different ways. I understand that snorted powder cocaine’s effects are a lot slower to peak, and a lot slower to fade, than crack, which gives crack much stronger addictive potential (and that although they have become the same thing by time they cross the blood-brain barrier, crack is actually a differently shaped molecule which is capable of being vapourised for inhalation, unlike powder cocaine which would just burn at that sort of temperature). Coca tea or chewed coca leaves are very different again in their effects even though they are bracketed as the same drug.

          To a lesser extent, that would also apply to beer vs strong spirits, assuming that someone wanting maximum drunkenness now is going to choose neat gin over a weak drink that takes a bit more time to consume.

          • Cheese says:

            Exactly. You just can’t ignore route of administration, especially when it’s an inhaled substance. The spirits vs, say, regular strength beer is a really good analogy. Similarly that’s why I don’t really like Hart drawing equivalence between crystal methamphetamine which is smoked or injected and the medical form, which is ingested.

            A lot of the differing effects can be explained by social factors when you take into account the pricing differences for the same level of effect – it’s easy to understand that crack would be more attractive to those of lower wealth and socio-economic status.

      • JoeCool says:

        It is interesting to me that what is pharmacology community is wildly different than what people are taught about drugs.

        Considering what I’ve been taught in high school health class, and from what I’m told about in news reports, it appears that the scientific consensus is radical compared to what most people think.

        Certainly his policy prescription (legalize all drugs, only treat the 30 percent of drug users he believes are addicts) is radical.

        • albatross11 says:

          Where would I go to get a short layman’s understanding of what the pharmacology community widely understands or believes about various illegal drugs? (I’m not so interested in outlier opinions among experts, but rather a sense of the difference between mainstream opinion among pharmacologists vs among the general educated public, or newsroom editors, etc.

          • Cheese says:

            In all honesty for MDMA the Wiki is a good place to start.

            Where it gets difficult in terms of looking at the research papers and looking at the commonly listed adverse effects is the question – which of these are rare events (and deaths directly attributable to MDMA are indeed extremely rare) and which long term effects are going to be actually clinically noticeable in typical recreational users. For MDMA it’s pretty much verbal memory recall differences and that’s it, and even then probably only at the moderate end of the spectrum up to heavy use.

            If you want a more scientifically heavy run down, MAPS publishes a ~60 page MDMA review which is not quite at the level of research paper but basic chemistry and neuroscience understanding wouldn’t go astray: http://www.maps.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5374

            Leaving aside government agendas and the stuff Hart likes to go on about; the cliff notes regarding how the mismatch between the pharmacological community and the general community with respect to MDMA are mainly centred around some of the early studies. The scientific justification for the scheduling of MDMA was largely based on some studies which have since turned out to be a bit faulty (from outright wrong drug to just really improper routes of administration and relation to recreational use in humans). Similarly, a lot of early animal studies which showed clear neurological harms (pre ~2006ish? probably) used a scaling method (i.e. normalising a rat dose to a human dose) that we now think dramatically overestimated the adverse effects of a recreational human dose (section 6.2.1 in the MAPS review).

            I’m talking only about MDMA here because again that’s what i’m more familiar with. Along with Cannabis, LSD and Psilocybin, it represents the real mismatches between policy and actual evidence of neurological harm to users. Those others also suffered from a few early studies that weren’t done so well – which is where a lot of the popular fear comes from, and I have a lot of sympathy with the view that these were scheduled more for moral reasons than scientific ones. This is of course not to say that they all do not have well evidenced detrimental effects with long term heavy use – IMO MDMA and Cannabis both absolutely do. The kicker is that mild to moderate recreational doses probably don’t.

            Methamphetamine and Cocaine are different kettles of fish really (methamphetamine especially) in terms of neurotoxicity, in that we’re pretty sure that regular or long term recreational use does produce clinically detectable deficits as a result of their greater neurotoxic potential. However this is straying outside my area of knowledge and I don’t have many good resources for you.

            Broadly, MAPS is probably the best place to start.

    • Freddie deBoer says:

      His book High Price is really good, and I recommend it.

  19. johan_larson says:

    Has anyone here lived in Africa?

    Conditions in Africa vary a lot. Some places, like Somalia, are war-torn middens, while other places, like Botswana, are pretty decent middle-income countries. If one wants to live a life pretty much like the first-world middle class, where is that actually possible in Africa? And what things are unavoidably different?

    For example, as I understand it, one can live a recognizably middle-class life in Brazil. But unless you have a lot of money, it’s hard to get away from the crime. The same goes for Russia, but there it’s apparently hard to get away from a certain casual corruption.

    • Doug says:

      This property has to do more with political stability than level of economic development. For example Nairobi’s probably one of the best African cities for the ability to live a very normal, middle-class lifestyle. But at about $1000 GDP/capita, Kenya’s probably below the sub-Saharan average.

      Around the world, GDP variation is mostly driven by institutional capital. Countries with good institutions have higher GDP. So a high GDP country, like Denmark, is probably better run and a nicer place to live than a low GDP country like Bangladesh. But Africa is an extremely natural resource dependent economy. So most GDP variation has to do with the value of underlying natural resources.

      A place like the Ivory Coast is relatively rich by African standards, because it has some oil, good ports and good soil for cocoa crops. However its institutions are totally dysfunctional. In contrast a country like Rwanda, which is very well run under Paul Kigame, is land-locked and hardly has any good natural resources. So it’s poor, even by African standards. However Kigali is a very clean, safe city and you could definitely live a comfortable middle-class life. Abidjan… not so much.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      I spent a semester studying aboard at University of Cape Town in South Africa.

      I would say that a first world middle class life is possible there. You have to deal with the possibility of worse crime but it doesn’t really interact with your daily life that much more than if you were living in a not great part of a big city. I would say the biggest difference between being in a major city in some other part of the world is that you had to deal with periodic and announced power outages (called load shedding). You also have to be willing to live under the ruling government but that applies for all of Africa.

    • add_lhr says:

      I have lived in 3 African cities (one in SA, one in E. Afr, and one in W. Afr) and have traveled for work & leisure to 20-25 countries across the continent. Some observations:
      – If you can adapt emotionally to the risk of crime, and increase your situational awareness / not walk alone at night, etc (I don’t mean “adapt to being a victim”; I was never victimized while living in SA), South Africa is perhaps the cheapest place in the world to live a middle-class lifestyle. The weather is amazing, outdoor activities and domestic travel – both pedestrian and sensational / world-class – are popular and cheap, the full range of consumer goods are readily available, the music and art scene is vibrant and diverse, and going out to eat & drink is extremely affordable. Overall I loved it.
      – Most East African cities are well-set up for middle class expat life – you would likely be happy for quite a while in Kigali, Addis, Dar, Kampala, or Nairobi, depending on your tolerance for boredom vs crime. Boredom is a major risk in Kigali, crime in Nairobi; the others have some of both. But all have some sort of clean, leafy upper-class neighborhood with good shops & restaurants, good roads, leisure activities, and high-end schools and clinics. Nairobi has IME more mixing between expats and locals, due to a larger upper class, great tradition of high-end education, and booming start-up scene, although you’ll probably still feel like an expat (as opposed to SA).
      – Addis is a very popular family post for diplomats/etc, due to the climate, low cost of living, and general level of safety; exploring the history, culture, and natural wonders of Ethiopia is endlessly fascinating. The countryside can be politically unstable, the internet is terrible, and bureaucracy can be extreme, but life in the city is remarkably easy (although the air quality and traffic are bad, much like Mexico City). The scene will feel a bit small after a while, all the expats are transient (1-2Y max) and making friends with locals, even returnees in the diaspora, can be more difficult (big families in the countryside, own religion, own language(s), hundreds of years of doing things their own way and proud of it, etc). But again, I loved it.
      – West Africa is a different animal – the big cities are BIG and chaotic and the climate makes life quite difficult (and the fact that per capita GDP is higher than E Afr doesn’t help – more cars, more generators, more sprawling urbanization but without the effective governance to counteract this). There is a much larger local upper class in places like Lagos and Abidjan, so good ultra high-end options in some places if you like that, but I would not expect to live anything like a “normal” life anywhere except Dakar, which is wonderful (great music / art, nice climate, good food, welcoming & cosmopolitan if you speak French).
      – South Africa outside of SA is great to visit for the nature, and very pleasant to visit for work, but I would die of boredom if I lived in e.g. Lusaka, Gaborone, Windhoek, or Lilongwe. If you like eating at South African chain restaurants, driving endlessly down leafy pedestrian-free streets lined with blank compound walls from your office (a converted house on 10 acres of greenery) to a cafe (same) to your house (same), gawking at Chinese construction projects of indeterminate purpose, looking at murals / reading pamphlets advertising maize seed and day-old chicks, reading only Christian self-help books, and drinking Castle or Black Label at the same bar every week forever, you may enjoy it, though.

      Final note – while Somalia is probably terrible, Somaliland (Hargeisa and Berbera) is quite pleasant and safe to visit. It also has cave art, good food, and a nice coastline. Phenomenally boring, though.

      If you’re curious about specific countries, I’m always happy to share more details.

      • johan_larson says:

        Thanks, that’s exactly the sort of information I was hoping for.

        You mention “upper class” locals a couple of times. The people in major African cities with lifestyles an American or Brit would consider middle class are actually the local upper class? Is that a fair generalization?

        • add_lhr says:

          In general, yes, it’s a very narrow slice of the population that enjoys anything close to a Western middle-class lifestyle (1+ car, house / flat with approximately enough bedrooms, modern appliances / modern healthcare & education, etc). In South Africa the portion is much greater (at least 10-15%, so 5-7m+), but highly stratified by race. In the rest of the continent, you are looking at the top 10-100,000 max per country (more in Nigeria), I would say. Note though that someone in Africa with a similar lifestyle in most respects to someone in the US will have much more access to domestic help / drivers / cooks / gardeners, etc – that is a major difference in lifestyle.

          What the media frames as “Africa’s rising middle class” are those who are definitely living much better than their parents, with access to household appliances, better services, small luxuries like eating at chain restaurants sometimes, and smartphones, etc, but still not what US/Europe might consider middle-class.

          On the other hand, the true “upper class” in places like Nigeria are fabulously wealthy by any standard, with lifestyles to match. Check out some Nigerian music videos (e.g. P-Square or similar artists) some time, they are quite fun.

          • Brad says:

            Note though that someone in Africa with a similar lifestyle in most respects to someone in the US will have much more access to domestic help / drivers / cooks / gardeners, etc – that is a major difference in lifestyle.

            Out of curiosity do western ex-pats, especially Americans, have trouble utilizing and managing domestic help?

    • rlms says:

      Relevant link: quite a few of the most expensive cities in the world are apparently African.

  20. Doug says:

    Why does Nazism feel ickier than Stalinism/Maoism/hard-left communism? Even as a hard-core libertarian, who believes that Stalin and Mao are among the most evil humans to ever live. As are their respective systems and hanger-ons. Beria is just as evil as Himmler. But I can’t help but feel that a Nazi in contemporary America is a far more disgusting human being than an avowed Stalinist.

    Like, let’s say I had to pick a babysitter for my kids, and all I knew was that Alice is a neo-Nazi and Bob is a hard-left Marxist. I’d run to pick Bob and wouldn’t turn back. Or that I don’t mind listening to Rage Against the Machine, even if I disagree with their message because the music’s good. There’s no way I could get over that same feeling with a neo-Nazi band.

    Hell, the largest country in the world is run by people who at least give nominal lip service to Mao. This mostly seems “okay”, in a way that it wouldn’t be if the 21st century’s super-power was run by politicians who dressed up like the Waffen-SS and forced all high school students to spend hours a week carefully digesting Hitler, Rosenberg and Goebbels.

    Some possible hypotheses come to mind:

    1) While in practice both Nazism and hard-left Marxism are evil systems, Nazism is an inherently more hateful ideology. Almost all subscribers to the ideology are evil. Communism’s destructive is more an emergent property of its flawed design. Hence it’s possible to be a good, but naive person, and still be a Marxist/Leninist/Maoist.

    2) In 2018 America, Nazism is beyond the pale. The difference is more cladistic than morphological. Everyone is drilled about how evil Nazism is, so to defend it really means that you’ve gone off the rail. In contrast there’s plenty of “respectable” intellectual scaffolding that defends communism. This hypothesis would posit that there’s an alternative timeline, where hard-left Marxists are evil losers with ugly face tattoos and prison gangs, whereas many nice college professors are self-avowed Nazis.

    3) There’s a smooth intellectual gradient from Bernie Sanders to Joseph Stalin. There isn’t one from Ted Cruz to Adolf Hitler, at some point you choose to jump off a cliff at the right-edge of sanity. Notice that this is even evident in my above comment. I keep waffling on what to call communists, whereas I can very easily pinpoint “Nazis”. There’s not actually that many self-identified Stalinists. There are more Maoists and a lot more Leninists. But once you get to that point is Leninism really in the same league as Stalinism or Nazism?

    This begs the question though, why does Nazism drag Mussolinism into the vat of ickiness, whereas Stalinism does not do so (to the same extent) with Leninism? If someone self-described as an “race-blind Mussolini fascist”, I think most would probably just conclude that they’re neo-nazis trying to shroud their beliefs.

    • shakeddown says:

      (a) Communists generally have good intentions, and (b) communists generally need to be in control of the government (or at least organized as a militant group, which in practice hasn’t happened recently in the west) to be harmful, while Nazis can be pretty harmful even in small numbers.

      • cassander says:

        (a) Communists generally have good intentions,

        they want to build an earthy paradise on top of a mountain of corpses. By that definition, Nazis also have good intentions.

        and (b) communists generally need to be in control of the government (or at least organized as a militant group, which in practice hasn’t happened recently in the west) to be harmful, while Nazis can be pretty harmful even in small numbers.

        What harm have disorganized nazis caused lately?

        • dndnrsn says:

          The Nazis were quite open about what they wanted to build only being for some people, chosen on ethnic grounds. If everything had gone according to plan for communism, former enemies would, after a period of purging and so on, been allowed to share in the glorious future. This wasn’t the stated plan of national socialism.

    • Nornagest says:

      Why does Nazism feel ickier than Stalinism/Maoism/hard-left communism?

      Because we kicked down the doors on at least some of the concentration camps, and made some very concerted and deliberate efforts to document what we found there, while our knowledge of the gulags or the Holodomor or all the various different mountains of skulls produced by Maoism is mostly filtered through intermediaries. Not much less certain but a lot less visceral.

      I really do think that’s a lot of it. But you touched on one of the other main issues, which is that there are no respectable Nazi apologists but there are plenty of respectable Communist apologists. You could argue that this is a chicken-and-egg thing, and to some extent that’s probably true, but the appeal of fascism is all emotive, theatrical, Romantic: you can whip people up over it but you can’t sit them down and calmly explain it. It’s inherently hard to systematize, which makes it poorly suited to academia, which is about the only respectable vector for weird politics.

    • Anonymous says:

      Why does Nazism feel ickier than Stalinism/Maoism/hard-left communism?

      Winners write the official propaganda history books, and Communism won.

      • beleester says:

        That’s why the Mongols are universally regarded as good guys, right?

        • Matt M says:

          The Mongols didn’t win over the hearts and minds of their nominal enemies. The commies did.

          • beleester says:

            If by “History is written by the winners” you mean “History is written by the historians, and winners are people whom the historians liked,” then it’s tautologically true, but also means that it’s possible to be the “winner” without your country surviving or existing in any form besides a note in the history books. Which is, well… a non-central definition of winning.

        • Anonymous says:

          The Mongols aren’t anywhere near Nazi-level hated. Damn, if you look at central Asian in general, there’s no shortage of blokes who explicitly took up the mantle of recreating Temujin’s empire. Innumerable people claim descent from him with pride.

    • Levantine says:

      It strikes me as a historical vestige, stemming from the fact that you fought a real war against Nazis and had only indirect conflicts against Soviet communists.

      If what I said in the first paragraph is true, then we should look at FDR, and ask ourselves about the reasons for his choices. FDR chose to take a position to destroy the Nazis and to trust and support the USSR. That’s remarkable. It stands as an anomaly in the history of US politics toward the USSR, generally speaking.

      Perhaps I’m missing something.

      • shakeddown says:

        If you see a headline saying “political extremists kill three”, they’re a lot more likely to be pro-Hitler neonazis than pro-Stalin communists.

      • Protagoras says:

        The U.S. was already basically at war against Germany when Germany invaded the Soviet Union (read Wages of Destruction; U.S. support for the British was sufficiently enormous that Germany was on the path to losing the war of attrition with the UK even after the defeat of France. Barbarossa was necessary because the Germans absolutely needed more Russian resources than the Soviets were willing to give them to have any chance in the long run against the American-supported British). Prior to Barbarossa, the Soviet Union had been supporting Germany. When a supporter of your enemy switches sides, even if it is someone you always distrusted immensely, it is hardly remarkable to welcome that as an opportunity to defeat your enemy rather than using it as a chance to switch sides yourself.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      1) While in practice both Nazism and hard-left Marxism are evil systems, Nazism is an inherently more hateful ideology. Almost all subscribers to the ideology are evil. Communism’s destructive is more an emergent property of its flawed design. Hence it’s possible to be a good, but naive person, and still be a Marxist/Leninist/Maoist.

      I am reminded of the line from Gerhard Bronner, an Austrian Jewish composer whose family died in Dachau, at a commemorative event to mark the aniversary of the liberation of a different camp:

      “There are three things which cannot be combined: intelligence, decency and Nazism. It is possible to be intelligent and a Nazi, in which case you are not decent. It is possible to be decent and a Nazi, in which case you are not intelligent. Or it is possible to be intelligent and decent, in which case you are not a Nazi”.

      • Jiro says:

        This statement can be made about any cause one believes to be evil. So it amounts to saying “Naziism is evil”. It happens to be true, but it’s no special insight into Naziism.

    • Butlerian says:

      3) There’s a smooth intellectual gradient from Bernie Sanders to Joseph Stalin. There isn’t one from Ted Cruz to Adolf Hitler, at some point you choose to jump off a cliff at the right-edge of sanity.

      I think this is very much an artifact of your own books list. Read a random newspaper from any day in the 19th century and you’ll see casual hierarchical classification of races + visceral disgust at miscegenation which slides one ever so smoothly from jolly old flags-and-bunting White Man’s Burden imperialism all the way down to Ein Volk Ein Reich Ein Fuhrer.

      • The Nybbler says:

        In the 19th century there was no Nazism, so that’s not really relevant.

        • Butlerian says:

          I do not understand why you think it irrelevant.
          The fact that the National Socialist German Workers’ Party was actually active only from 1918-1945 does not prevent us from being able to identify ideological antecedants/ descendants thereof in other time periods.

      • jolly old flags-and-bunting White Man’s Burden imperialism

        At a slight tangent, it’s worth pointing out that Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden,” despite the title, is not about race. He has a couple of stories where the imperialists are the Romans and the equivalent of the Indians/Philippinos are the English.

      • Nornagest says:

        casual hierarchical classification of races + visceral disgust at miscegenation

        …is not central to fascism. Almost every other major fascist movement — the Italian Fascists, the Falangists, the Shōwa nationalists in Japan, maybe the Ba’aths if you want to look a little further afield — was not particularly racist by the (admittedly low) standards of its time; their deal was basically an attempt to find a nationalist totalitarian politics at a time when the cosmopolitan totalitarian politics represented by Communism looked like it was poised to crush democracy and aristocracy alike. It’s not really true, as some have said, that fascism is inherently a socialist ideology — the “socialist” in the NSDAP’s name was an artifact by the time Hitler got involved — but it’s absolutely true that it can’t be understood outside the context of the Russian Civil War and the interwar crisis of politics that it precipitated. Nazism melded this with some bizarre racial theories, sure enough, but if bizarre racial theories were enough to set you on the slippery slope, we’d have had Nazis in the 1600s at the latest.

        Neo-Nazis are probably motivated more by pure racism, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t think they’re significant, however often they’re in the news.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @Nornagest: the “Socialist” and “Workers” in NSDAP were by no means artifacts “By the time Hitler got involved.” Goebbels was a sincere socialist who got called into Hitler’s office to get a lecture on his boss’s “the rich are just the strong” ideology, and stayed til the end out of a combination of personal affection for der Fuehrer and mendacious careerism while the equally socialist Rohm and Strasser brothers got purged.
          So yeah, Hitlerism was not real socialism, but it took until the late 1930s for that to be so, precisely because Party members and NSDAP voters typically were sincere socialists.

          • Nornagest says:

            I called it an artifact not because there weren’t sincere socialists in the party at that time, but because the party’s ideology and aims had already diverged significantly from standard socialism. But I suppose you could make an argument that the Night of the Long Knives was the real turning point, mostly depending on how big a tent you think real socialism is.

    • albatross11 says:

      I suspect this has a lot to do with the kind of people in 2018 America who are drawn to the two ideologies, rather than the actual body count of the two ideologies. I mean, Catholics have killed more people than devil worshipers overall, but I’m not leaving my kid in the care of a guy with a “666” tattoo any more than a guy with a swastika tattoo. It’s current social context.

      Lots of Marxists are intellectuals who fell in love with a movement/ideology that, when implemented, led to lots of dead people, but they’re mostly pretty harmless in their daily lives. Bob in a position to implement his preferred policies might have you and your kid dying in a gulag, but without that power, he’s probably just a harmless crank. Alice in a position to implement her preferred policies might have you and your kid dying in a concentration camp, but even without power, she’s probably rather inclined toward violence and direct personal nastiness.

    • Incurian says:

      Hollywood.

    • Protagoras says:

      On why Mussolini is regarded as basically Hitler while Lenin is not regarded as basically Stalin, Mussolini was a shallow opportunist and a weak man who caved to Hitler’s every demand. As a result, I think those who know more about him hold him in contempt, and while being contemptible is not the same as being evil, it prevents very many from being at all invested in defending him. Since he is perceived as a bit of a loser, there may also be some element of people thinking he only did less damage than Hitler because he was too incompetent to do more (probably unfair, but who knows?) In any event, I think he gets tarred with the same brush primarily because nobody cares enough to not do so, not because people are heavily invested in doing so.

      • albatross11 says:

        Shouldn’t the control group here be Franco–a fascist dictator who prudently stayed out of WW2? Probably most Americans don’t know much about him, but he’s not a symbol of evil in US culture, despite a fair collection of torture chambers and mass graves. (Though as UI understand it, he’s nowhere in the class of a lot of the Communist dictators.)

      • Mussolini was a shallow opportunist and a weak man who caved to Hitler’s every demand.

        Mussolini was the person who blocked Hitler’s first attempt to annex Austria, announcing that Italy would not accept it and making his point by moving Italian divisions into the Brenner pass.

        It was only after the Abyssinian business convinced him that Italy’s WWI allies were not his friends and were not very dangerous enemies that he switched sides.

        • Protagoras says:

          Right, so he was willing to stand up to Hitler when Hitler was still in a very weak position and he thought he had France and England on his side. I don’t know that that counts as an impressive display of courage.

          • cassander says:

            Not objectively impressive, perhaps, but more impressive than that displayed by France and England.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I think you’re somewhat right on 1 and 2, not so much on 3.

      1. If you look at what Hitler said and wrote before and after getting into power, he more or less either did or tried to do everything he said he would. Invading Poland and the USSR was part of the plan, and the deaths of large numbers of Poles and Soviet citizens was part of the plan too – in some cases by murder (eg of the Polish intelligenstia) in other cases by starvation. The removal of the Jews from Europe was part of the plan; depending on which historians you listen to extermination was either the plan from early on or came about when expulsion to somewhere else became unfeasible (but the expulsion very likely would have killed large numbers anyway). Conquest, plunder, slave labour, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder are national socialism working as planned.

      In contrast, the worst things associated with communism can’t be traced to the core of it in the same way. I’m not a Marx scholar, but I’m pretty sure that having a paranoid in office whose choices almost lead to defeat by a foreign power isn’t part of the plan. I think a good argument can be made that revolutionary schemes featuring a vanguard party leads to dictators, and dictators are especially likely to do awful things. But you can imagine socialist, Marxist, whatever ideologies without the vanguard party bit, or without the revolution. If national socialism and communism were on trial, one trial would include charges of first-degree murder, and the other would be some combination of second-degree, manslaughter, negligent homicide, whatever.

      2. Yeah. Today’s nazis either deny that the crimes happened, or try to defend the crimes. A given communist is far more likely to have an explanation (in my experience, usually pretty unsatisfying) for how Stalin-types can be kept out of power next time, and even actual Stalinists tend to minimize and contextualize rather than deny. I don’t think this necessarily supports your alternate-timeline hypothesis, because the above still stands – a communist can say “well shit that stuff wasn’t supposed to happen!” while someone embracing an ideology that up-front says it’s all about horrendous crimes can hardly say they’re against horrendous crimes.

      3. No. Historically, social democrat types didn’t end up falling into the same buckets as the communists. Bernie only seems especially left by the standards of the US; in Canada he’d be a member of the NDP, in most European countries he’d be a member of the local social democratic party. In Weimar Germany, the communists considered the social democrats enemies, at some points considering them to be a greater threat than fascists. Conversely, in Weimar Germany, without the help of conservatives, the Nazis would not have entered power.

      Overall: compare the difference between someone who kills a person once, and a serial killer. The former might have been acting in self-defence, it might have been a fistfight that went too far, there might have been some other extenuating circumstance(s). There’s really only one way someone becomes a serial killer, and that’s by setting out to be a serial killer.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’m curious–are there overtly fascist movements that spend a lot of time on the “let’s avoid being taken over by Hitler in favor of a mere Franco or Pinochet next time” problem?

        • Thegnskald says:

          There was an argument on Less Wrong a while back about Pinochet; I think my major takeaway was that Pinochet may have been the lesser of two evils. (The South American countries that responded brutally to dissidents in that era had lower per-capita body counts than the countries that didn’t, and recovered Democratic institutions faster; a government anti-revolutionary force is bloody, but not as bloody as a grassroots anti-revolutionary force). Additionally, after the crisis, Pinochet rebuilt the institutions he tore down, and then stepped down.

          The relevant quote was something like “Pinochet created a society in which he could be tried for war crimes”

          I am not sure “fascist” correctly describes Pinochet, is the short of it. “Ruthless dictator who engaged in blatant war crimes”, yes.

          • albatross11 says:

            That seems plausible though I don’t really know enough to have an opinion. I’m just thinking if you favor a fascist style of government, you’d like to avoid getting Hitler as your leader (since he killed tons of people and got Germany into a catastrophic unwinnable war). But I don’t know anyone who’s actually a fascist, so I’m not entirely sure how they think about this kind of problem.

      • cassander says:

        In contrast, the worst things associated with communism can’t be traced to the core of it in the same way.

        Marx explicitly and repeatedly endorsed revolutionary terror on the model of the french revolution in his writings.

        To quote engels:

        A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.

        And Marx:

        We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.

        Marx envisioned something like Leninism from the start, Lenin merely refined Marx’s vocabulary.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The French Revolution, quick Googling suggests, saw maybe 25-30k people die in the Terror. The French population was around 28m in 1789. If all Marx or Engels intended was something in that neighbourhood, and that was all that happened, that’s not a big deal by the standards of human history. Marx didn’t say “respond to a famine by imagining a Vast Ukrainian Conspiracy” or “kill everyone with glasses.”

          Plus, the French Revolution appears to have caused qualitative improvements over the armies it was up against, at least at first, whereas Stalin’s purges of officers, again based on imaginary foes, led to a strategic footing which nearly lost the war in 1941.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Marx advocated using the same approach to revolution, not a numerical outcome. The Marxist revolution was supposed to be one that reached into all corners of life, that man would be recreated to be a perfect comrade to all, not simply a changing of the members of government. The amount of control needed for a communist revolution would be an order of magnitude large (at least) than what was held by the French Monarchy on the eve of the Revolution.

          • cassander says:

            baconbits9 has the right of it. Marx wanted to use the french revolution methods on a much larger scale.

            As for military effectiveness, that was mostly achieved (before napoleon took over) by taking what was already a pretty good army and dramatically increasing the size very rapidly through the levee en masse.

          • dndnrsn says:

            However, the stuff that Stalin or Pol Pot did, is not necessarily what someone less paranoid/murderous would do if they sat down and thought “I need to remake this society, and violence is totally acceptable.” That’s what Lenin’s rule looked like; Stalin’s was bizarre in a “stranger than fiction” way.

            As for the French army, my understanding was that the more national nature of it, and the playing down of aristocratic class divisions, made it more effective, beyond Napoleon’s leadership and the levee en masse.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            However, the stuff that Stalin or Pol Pot did, is not necessarily what someone less paranoid/murderous would do if they sat down and thought “I need to remake this society, and violence is totally acceptable.” That’s what Lenin’s rule looked like; Stalin’s was bizarre in a “stranger than fiction” way.

            It would be bizarre in most of the world. It isn’t bizarre in the context of communist regimes, which did the same sort of thing (on scale a that ranged from tens of thousands to tens of millions) every damn time they came to power, without exception. Again, I go to the point that communism persistently reproduced this same result, over and over again, without exception. Either something in the ideology encourages this, or it only attracts awful people who do this sort of thing. either way, it should be considered harmful.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Compare the USSR after Stalin to the USSR under Stalin. The USSR from the mid-50s to the fall was kind of crummy in many ways, and certainly sucked if you were a dissident, but it did not feature mass famines or campaigns of mass murder, and if you were a party member in good standing or just somebody who kept their head down and did their job, you were probably OK. Likewise, the Eastern European communist states were repressive and kind of crappy, but they weren’t nightmarish like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. In some places they were better than what came after – Tito was no saint, but it was after his tenure that the wars and ethnic cleansing happened.

            My argument is not that communism was good, or even not bad. I think communism’s a bad idea, based on historical experience. But there’s a good reason that the reaction to someone being a nazi is to get out before some methhead with sketchy tattoos tries to stab you, while the reaction to someone being a commie is to prepare for some tedious lecture about how dumb liberals just don’t get that next time it will totally work, for reasons, and really if you think about it the only reason tens of millions of people died was not enough communism.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn

            Compare the USSR after Stalin to the USSR under Stalin. The USSR from the mid-50s to the fall was kind of crummy in many ways, and certainly sucked if you were a dissident, but it did not feature mass famines or campaigns of mass murder, and if you were a party member in good standing or just somebody who kept their head down and did their job, you were probably OK.

            They stopped killing people and just ran the largest slave plantation in history is damning with very faint praise, but it’s also somewhat beside the point. Every communist regime went through a similar pattern and had a calmer second stage after the more enthusiastic initial bloodletting and disaster. that does not excuse them from the disasters they inevitably caused in the first stage.

            My argument is not that communism was good, or even not bad. I think communism’s a bad idea, based on historical experience. But there’s a good reason that the reaction to someone being a nazi is to get out before some methhead with sketchy tattoos tries to stab you, while the reaction to someone being a commie is to prepare for some tedious lecture

            Note how you conflate cultural factors here and have jumped passed ideology? I worry about the nazi meth head because he’s a meth head, not because he’s a nazi. And sure, in america, the communists attract, on average, a better class of follower. But that’s precisely why they are more dangerous. they aren’t going to stab you, but their disastrous ideas, in watered down form, get taken seriously and pass into policy. The skin head’s do not.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think that the stage of bloodletting was more due to who was in charge at that point. Some places clearly had it much, much worse than others. The failure of revolutionary communism is that it lets those people into power.

            As for the nazi vs communist, this is one of the other points of the OP. Someone is signalling something very different by describing themself as a nazi, than as a communist. I’m honestly not super worried about the communists today; they tend to be pretty ineffectual – I’m not sure what of their ideas are coming into policy in the US today.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Compare the USSR after Stalin to the USSR under Stalin. The USSR from the mid-50s to the fall was kind of crummy in many ways, and certainly sucked if you were a dissident, but it did not feature mass famines or campaigns of mass murder, and if you were a party member in good standing or just somebody who kept their head down and did their job, you were probably OK.

            Unless of course Stalin’s existence and the preceding decades of horror effected the political and cultural landscape in a way that allowed these “softer” regimes to exist.

            However, the stuff that Stalin or Pol Pot did, is not necessarily what someone less paranoid/murderous would do if they sat down and thought “I need to remake this society, and violence is totally acceptable.” That’s what Lenin’s rule looked like; Stalin’s was bizarre in a “stranger than fiction” way.

            Dictators tend to be paranoid. You could argue that paranoid people are likely to come out on top of the power struggle or that coming out on top will drive paranoia, or a mixture of the two but if either of those is true then it doesn’t count as stranger than fiction anymore. Just the fact that Communism is an extreme form of governance should lead you to expect extreme outcomes in leadership personalities.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think that the stage of bloodletting was more due to who was in charge at that point. Some places clearly had it much, much worse than others. The failure of revolutionary communism is that it lets those people into power.

            That depends on what you mean by ‘bloodletting’. Mao, who you leave out of your examples, caused mass starvation with his policies. Some people have argued that because these were ‘accidental’ deaths they don’t count the same way, but Mao was willing to use horrific levels of force to get those policies implemented. The specific levels that were actually needed varied across countries and time, but that is the common denominator.

            Further, I would argue, that the ‘soft’ Communist states were soft insofar as they stalled out on their road to Communism and stopped living by its doctrines. Perhaps the exact amount and type of violence that Stalin initiated wasn’t necessary and was influenced by personality traits, but it is arguably the case that the Soviet Union under Stalin and PROC under Mao came closer to the ideal Communist structure of the State controlling every aspect of life than any other Communist attempts and the conclusion that a psychotically violent head of state is a necessary condition for approaching that ideal shouldn’t be avoided.

          • cassander says:

            I think that the stage of bloodletting was more due to who was in charge at that point. Some places clearly had it much, much worse than others. The failure of revolutionary communism is that it lets those people into power.

            It doesn’t let those people into power, it produces those sorts of people in power every single time, without a single exception. You can’t just ignore this fact and chalk it all up to bad luck!

            I’m honestly not super worried about the communists today; they tend to be pretty ineffectual

            They’re a hell of a lot more effectual than the nazis are, they at least aren’t banned from polite society.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’ve mentioned Mao either here or elsewhere. Mao is a different case from Stalin. Hard to discuss though, because you can’t trust commie statistics, and if you can’t look at statistics, it’s hard to discuss… Again, I think communism is bad, and best avoided, but the initial question was “why are nazis despised more than communists” and I think there’s good reasons for that.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            It’s not bad luck, but I think it’s more inevitable than you’re making it seem, unless you think anyone who got into power following Lenin would have gone full paranoid.

            And, how are communists effectual? Capitalism is probably more well-seated today than it was a hundred years ago.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s not bad luck, but I think it’s more inevitable than you’re making it seem, unless you think anyone who got into power following Lenin would have gone full paranoid.

            Stalin didn’t just come into power after Lenin, he was a necessary part of Lenin getting the power that he did. To get to that point in the revolution you need a party filled with various different types of Psychopaths, which specific type gets into power is basically going to be the worst kind. The fact that Trotsky was more of a pragmatist and less of a lunatic than Stalin was a major reason for Stalin winning the power struggle, as he was undermining Trotsky something like 5 years prior to Lenin’s death.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            It’s not bad luck, but I think it’s more inevitable than you’re making it seem, unless you think anyone who got into power following Lenin would have gone full paranoid.

            Lenin had already gone full paranoid. He set up the cheka less than a month after taking power and they promptly started murdering kulaks and other class enemies. he had murdered hundreds of thousands by the time of his first stroke.

            I think communism is bad, and best avoided, but the initial question was “why are nazis despised more than communists” and I think there’s good reasons for that.

            the only reason you’ve offered is that communism isn’t inherently bad. I keep pointing out that, based on the empirical evidence, it’s worse.

            And, how are communists effectual? Capitalism is probably more well-seated today than it was a hundred years ago.

            Again, to start, just the fact that they aren’t banned from polite society is a pretty big step ahead of nazis. And marxism has had enormous intellectual effect for a century, seeping into the bones of modern western society in countless ways. A century ago states commanded 5-10% of GDP in advanced societies, today it’s 1/3 to 1/2. Communists and their fellow travelers have not caused overt revolution, but policy moves ever in the direction they have desired.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            The argument he’s making isn’t that it’s not harmful but that it’s not as evil as nazism

            And it probably isn’t, body count being equal or larger aside. As I learned from this blog, the Nazis wanted to mass-deport the Jews before they decided to kill them all, but a form of ethnic cleansing was absolutely what they were going for, and the same leader decided on both courses of actions. Soviet Russia’s deaths were mostly a result of…let’s call it intrinsic incompetence. That’s important to remember insofar as it tells you that communism tends to do that, but it wasn’t malicious in the same way.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbits9

            Stalin didn’t just come into power after Lenin, he was a necessary part of Lenin getting the power that he did. To get to that point in the revolution you need a party filled with various different types of Psychopaths, which specific type gets into power is basically going to be the worst kind. The fact that Trotsky was more of a pragmatist and less of a lunatic than Stalin was a major reason for Stalin winning the power struggle, as he was undermining Trotsky something like 5 years prior to Lenin’s death.

            This seems a wee bit deterministic for my tastes, although I will grant that Stalin played the system better than Trotsky; it may follow that Stalins are better suited to such systems than Trotskies (Trotskii?)

            @cassander

            Lenin had already gone full paranoid. He set up the cheka less than a month after taking power and they promptly started murdering kulaks and other class enemies. he had murdered hundreds of thousands by the time of his first stroke.

            Stalin is clearly worse than Lenin because Lenin was in a far more precarious situation – foreign powers were trying to bring the Bolsheviks down, and Russia was a complete shambles. Stalin was far better established, and did what he did out of pure paranoia.

            the only reason you’ve offered is that communism isn’t inherently bad. I keep pointing out that, based on the empirical evidence, it’s worse.

            Really? Communism vs national socialism, we only have one national socialist government in history. It lasted for 12 years and was responsible for an eight-figure body count, with the vast majority of that taking place in six years, and of that, most within 4.

            Again, to start, just the fact that they aren’t banned from polite society is a pretty big step ahead of nazis. And marxism has had enormous intellectual effect for a century, seeping into the bones of modern western society in countless ways. A century ago states commanded 5-10% of GDP in advanced societies, today it’s 1/3 to 1/2. Communists and their fellow travelers have not caused overt revolution, but policy moves ever in the direction they have desired.

            I think you should reconsider your model of what communists want. They don’t like “capitalism, but with social welfare” which is what the capitalist welfare states we have now are. Commies tend to be real “the good is the enemy of the perfect” types.

            EDIT: @anonYEmous

            That’s the functionalism vs intentionalism debate; some scholars do think that mass murder was the Nazi intention from early on. I find the moderate functionalist position of, say, Kershaw more compelling.

          • SamChevre says:

            @dndnrsn

            Part of the question is “how many national socialist governments have we had?”

            If we’re going to say “One” (nazi-ism is fundametnally different from fascism), then consistency means that Nazi crimes aren’t good evidence against fascist ideas.

            If, on the other hand, we’re counting “reluctant allies and ill-informed cheerleaders” (so Nazi crimes count against fascism), then I think it’s entirely fair to count Soviet crimes against the Fabian Socialists and the western Left.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Small sample size doesn’t really matter when they did exactly what they said they were gonna do, does it?

          • cassander says:

            @dndrsn

            Stalin is clearly worse than Lenin because Lenin was in a far more precarious situation – foreign powers were trying to bring the Bolsheviks down, and Russia was a complete shambles. Stalin was far better established, and did what he did out of pure paranoia.

            One, I didn’t say that stalin wasn’t worse than lenin. I said that lenin was already bad enough to make the USSR one of the worst places in history even before stalin took over. As for foreign intervention, A, lenin started murdering kulaks before any interventions, B, those interventions never seriously threatened the soviet state, and C, I fail to see how any intervention, even a more efficacious one, is justification for murdering kulaks en masse.
            .

            Really? Communism vs national socialism, we only have one national socialist government in history. It lasted for 12 years and was responsible for an eight-figure body count, with the vast majority of that taking place in six years, and of that, most within 4.

            just like most of the soviet body count was crammed into a few years. And the Maoist. And the Khmer. I fail to see your point.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Russia would have been an awful place regardless; it was far behind Europe proper for a variety of reasons, and had just seen its government collapse after a disastrous war. As for foreign intervention, it started pretty quickly; the Brits etc were worried the Reds were going to repudiate debts.

            As for the kulaks, indefensible. The whole “there are spies everywhere!” thing was paranoid, although less so than Stalin. The impression I get is that the commies were pretty good at penetrating other societies, and typical-minding, assumed that the same was happening to them.

            As for the comparison to national socialism, my point is that there was more time and space where communism was just grim and unpleasant instead of actively nightmarish, comparatively.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn says:

            As for foreign intervention, it started pretty quickly; the Brits etc were worried the Reds were going to repudiate debts.

            It took most of a year, and the first interventions were entirely defensive, and even after that changed the west never made a concerted effort to overthrow the bolsheviks, and they were gone in less than 2 years.

            As for the kulaks, indefensible.

            and yet you just defended it. The government didn’t just collapse, it collapsed because the bolsheviks destroyed it!

            As for the comparison to national socialism, my point is that there was more time and space where communism was just grim and unpleasant instead of actively nightmarish, comparatively.

            sure, because the allies invaded and crushed the germans with an actual foreign intervention.

          • Small sample size doesn’t really matter when they did exactly what they said they were gonna do, does it?

            Sure it does. For all we know, if there had been ten societies with National Socialist ideology only one of them would have actually murdered millions of people. We just happened to hit the jackpot.

            And if you put it in terms of fascism rather than Nazism we do have multiple examples and I don’t think any of the others were as bad as Nazism, although perhaps there are ones I am missing.

            If, in some alternate history, the only implementation of Communism was the Khmer Rouge, we could point out how moderate the Nazis were in comparison.

          • Matt M says:

            And if you put it in terms of fascism rather than Nazism we do have multiple examples and I don’t think any of the others were as bad as Nazism

            Which poses a question I’ve never really considered before – are there many significant ways in which Nazism was truly different from “regular” fascism?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander

            Defending and trying to explain are different things. Revolutionary, vanguard-y communism has turned out grim, with frequent forays into monstrous. But if someone says “oh hey I’m a communist” I’ll give them the chance to explain how they won’t have fifty Stalins before I start rolling my eyes. I don’t think that’s possible with national socialism.

            @DavidFriedman

            But if Marx had written a book about the necessity of killing everyone with glasses, and the Khmer Rouge was our only example of communism, surely that would mean something? I’m not sure how national socialism could have turned out not-horrible. The entire system was predicated on spending the 30s robbing Peter to pay Paul, then dealing with that problem through conquest and slave labour.

            @Matt M

            Well, Italian fascism was a lot less racial in its ideology, a lot less romantic/mystical. If Mussolini hadn’t tried to piggyback off of Hitler, he probably would have been remembered like Franco – not a nice guy, but Franco died in power instead of being humiliatingly executed by partisans, and there might even be one or two statues of the guy still up somewhere. (For what it’s worth, I think scholars might argue the extent to which Franco was a fascist instead of just calling himself that to get arms shipments, etc)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: Yes, there really was. Under Fascism, the Kingdom of Italy wracked up a body count of… the war on Ethiopia plus the execution of 26 Italian citizens. There was also some Blackshirt street violence where the typically tactic was grappling a political enemy and making him drink castor oil.
            I don’t want to minimize what was done to the Ethiopians in an unjust war, but seriously, that’s Boy Scout stuff. Some representative democracies have done worse.

          • Matt M says:

            Some representative democracies have done worse.

            … which would seem to imply that neither aggressive warmongering nor internal political repression is a unique aspect of fascism OR nazism.

          • cassander says:

            dndnrsn says

            Defending and trying to explain are different things. Revolutionary, vanguard-y communism has turned out grim, with frequent forays into monstrous. But if someone says “oh hey I’m a communist” I’ll give them the chance to explain how they won’t have fifty Stalins before I start rolling my eyes. I don’t think that’s possible with national socialism.

            Communism has been tried dozens of times and it has only produced vanguard-y communism and that has only produced extreme misery. Naziism has been tried once and it produced extreme misery. I don’t think we should be willing to try it again, and I am disinclined to listen to anyone’s plan to make sure we don’t get more hitlers. You do think we should have that attitude about communism despite the empirical evidence running entirely in the opposite direction. And, as others have pointed out, if you roll back to fascism, the argument gets much, much worse for you.

            All I can ask is why?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Because no nazi has a plan to not have more Hitlers. National socialism was designed from the beginning to do what it did. Communism is just, evidently, fatally flawed. I’m repeatedly stating that I see it as the difference between premeditated murder and a lesser, but still serious, charge; that’s not the same thing as zomg defending manslaughter.

            EDIT: And, go back to the original question. I’m explaining why my reaction to someone being a nazi is “holy shit!” and my reaction to someone being a commie is preparing to be condescended to by someone who doesn’t get that a hill of corpses is not, actually, the moral high ground. My model of communists is “probably clueless, possibly idiosyncratic; probably going to cherrypick hard”, my model of modern-day nazis is “this person hates minorities and has seized upon the ideology they most associate with hating minorities.”

            I also think that communists are clearly ineffectual and powerless in the modern west; I note you have neglected my point that communists aren’t fans of capitalism+welfare state, so the expansion of the welfare state isn’t a victory for communists. Further, in the US today, the far right has a larger body count than the far left – political extremists in general are a tiny chunk of the US homicide rate, but if you hear “a political extremist just shot somebody!” the smart money is on that political extremist being a member of the far right.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m repeatedly stating that I see it as the difference between premeditated murder and a lesser, but still serious, charge; that’s not the same thing as zomg defending manslaughter.

            The early Nazi attempts to solve the ‘Jewish problem’ focused on relocation, not mass murder, and there was support for an Israel like state where they could ship them all. The majority of the murders came after 1942 when they started losing the war. I don’t think I would want to be in the position to discuss mitigating (even when just compared to Nazis) circumstances for Communists in this way as it is at least somewhat applicable to Nazi behavior toward the Jews.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbits9

            The killings started in mid to late ’41, and the Einsatzgruppen were shooting women and children before it became clear they weren’t going to knock Russia out of the war before the winter. It cranked up in early to mid ’42 because that’s when the Aktion Reinhard camps went into operation, but they started putting Belzec together in late ’41. Into late ’42 it still looked as though the Germans might win in the East – and the various elements of the German leadership at least pretended they might win until the end.

            Regardless, mass deportation usually has a body count, and some of the deportation plans (eg to east of the Urals) would have been extremely costly in lives. Additionally, their plans for the Slavs were genocidal from the start.

          • baconbits9 says:

            How is this story materially different from Communism in the USSR? You have an increase in atrocities as power is centralized and consolidated. The Nazis tried other ‘solutions’, found them wanting and amped up their violence levels as they conquered geo political hurdles. The Communists tried to collectivize farming. When declarations didn’t work they sent armed groups into towns to strip the wealthy peasants of their land and possessions. When that didn’t work they broadened and deepened their attacks. When that didn’t work and there was fear of a Ukrainian revolt they starved them into submission/death. The only material difference that I can see between the Jewish concentration camps and the Ukranian famine is that the Germans built camps and shipped the Jews to them, where as the Communists just turned where the peasants lived into concentration camps, forcing them to work and intentionally starving them to prevent revolt, and making their existence a defacto crime by making trying to survive a crime.

          • dndnrsn says:

            First, the intentionalists would disagree – and they include some quite respectable historians. Second, the plan with regard to the Slavs involved lots of them dying and the remainder being reduced to more or less helot status, from the start. The attempt to eliminate the Polish intelligentsia and GPO were not attempts to make something unworkable work through increasing violence, as collectivization was.

            Imagine if Marx had said “I personally am going to starve a bunch of kulaks to death, because fuck those guys” and then had gone on to do just that. That’s more or less along the lines of what Hitler did. My point is, you can come up with versions of Marxism that don’t go as badly as communism historically have, and plenty of people who aren’t even really Marxists – social democrats aren’t really Marxists anymore, and Marx’s historiographical ideas are widely used by historians regardless of their politics – have a Marxist intellectual heritage. There’s nothing like that for Hitler.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Marx died before Kulaks became a thing, and Marx wasn’t writing much about specific countries. You are basically giving Marx a pass for not naming names, and instead condemning anyone who wasn’t of the lower class, or didn’t fight on their behalf. Marx advocated general violence against anyone standing in the way of any communist revolution, Lenin and Stalin advocated violence against specific Russians/Soviets/whoever was under their dominion. Hitler named names, but it wasn’t his first order of business, the first order was consolidation of power, then use of that power. Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky also consolidated power first and then coincidentally started using it against peripheral ethnic groups whose land was of strategic value to Russia who had briefly managed independence during WW1.

            But if someone says “oh hey I’m a communist” I’ll give them the chance to explain how they won’t have fifty Stalins before I start rolling my eyes. I don’t think that’s possible with national socialism.

            National Socialism isn’t an analog to Marxism/Communism, it is one poltical party under the Fascism umbrella, it is more like Bolshevism.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            The early Nazi attempts to solve the ‘Jewish problem’ focused on relocation, not mass murder, and there was support for an Israel like state where they could ship them all.

            The plan was a Nazi police state, not a self-governed country, which is dissimilar to Israel.

            Furthermore, the Nazis evaluated Madagascar and estimated that extremely few Jews (thousands) could be accommodated there, but they still planned to ship millions of Jews there, with no plans to ship in food. This strongly suggests that the actual intent was similar to what was done to the Herero (many of whom were driven into the desert to die of starvation and thirst).

            Note that the SS official responsible for the Aktion T4 euthanasia program (Philipp Bouhler) was being considered to govern Madagascar.

            In general, there is a lot of evidence that the Nazis tried very hard to hide the true nature of their plans from the public/inferiors as much as possible. With this in mind, it seems very difficult to see the the Madagascar plan as being in good faith, since the logical steps were not taken if that was the case.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Wait, who am I condemning?

            Additionally, another major difference is that Marxist ideologies had a lag time between coming about and gaining influence; fascism was largely theorized by the guys who were doing it just before or as they were doing it in the case of Italian fascism; national socialism even more so in both ways.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Wait, who am I condemning?

            Marx was condemning them, sorry for the unclear writing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            With this in mind, it seems very difficult to see the the Madagascar plan as being in good faith, since the logical steps were not taken if that was the case.

            I don’t take much or anything the Nazis did on good faith, but I also don’t extend that courtesy to the Bolsheviks. Marxism was supposed to be a revolution of the peasant class, but when the peasants wouldn’t rise up en masse against the Kulacks and even defended them at times the communists came out from the cities and enforced it.

            @dndnrsn

            Additionally, another major difference is that Marxist ideologies had a lag time between coming about and gaining influence; fascism was largely theorized by the guys who were doing it just before or as they were doing it in the case of Italian fascism; national socialism even more so in both ways.

            I’m not sure how this is a difference. The Communist revolution in Russia didn’t go as Marx theorized that it would,

          • Nornagest says:

            The Communist revolution in Russia didn’t go as Marx theorized that it would

            Marx didn’t theorize a communist revolution in Russia — he thought it would come from the most advanced, most industrialized nations in Europe (probably meaning Britain), mainly because he thought of revolution as an event inextricably tied to a nation’s level of economic and technological development, catalyzed by industrial workers whose relationship with labor was fundamentally different from previous models. Most of his logic only makes sense within this framework. It was Lenin et al. that came up with a theory of communism that would allow for revolution in an impoverished, mostly agricultural country that was a great power mainly because it was ten times the size of anything else in Europe.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @baconbits9

            For Marxism, there was a lot more space to be some theorist nowhere near power. For fascism and national socialism, the theorists were either the guys doing it, who were often (esp. the nazis) flying by the seat of their pants and retroactively justifying things on ideological bases, or guys who they brought in to write or ghostwrite stuff/guys who attached themselves to it.

            This also happened in communism – with pretty much every communist dictator presenting themself as some sort of leader-scholar – but this came after a stage of guys who were just scholars. Fascism and national socialism didn’t really have that, except maybe for the futurists.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        In contrast, the worst things associated with communism can’t be traced to the core of it in the same way. I’m not a Marx scholar, but I’m pretty sure that having a paranoid in office whose choices almost lead to defeat by a foreign power isn’t part of the plan. I think a good argument can be made that revolutionary schemes featuring a vanguard party leads to dictators, and dictators are especially likely to do awful things. But you can imagine socialist, Marxist, whatever ideologies without the vanguard party bit, or without the revolution.

        I don’t know about Marxists in general, but Marx himself was, as I recall, pretty open and blasé about the fact that a communist society could only come about after the killing of lots of reactionaries and bourgeois people.

        • dndnrsn says:

          The worst things associated with communism aren’t just “repression” or “civil war” or “secret police” – they’re stuff that would sound unbelievable in fiction, like “these starving people are clearly doing it on purpose to discredit communism”, or when secret policemen torture confessions of conspiracy out of people having the secret policemen purged for not finding the conspiracy earlier.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are acting as if these things are exclusive. The ‘unbelievable’ outgrowth of paranoia can also be viewed as the logical conclusion to Communism, when you accept certain axioms of Communism then the irrational level of accusations of sabotage are the only alternative to dismissing Communism as a viable system once the economic realities start setting in.

          • dndnrsn says:

            In the USSR, failures after Stalin, though, didn’t lead to cycles of purges, secret policemen executing their predecessors, etc.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Soviet leaders post Stalin were also accused of Revisionism and of abandoning Marxist ideology as they tried to adopt pragmatic strategies instead of ideological ones.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But that they tried to do that does show that adopting nutso, steal-for-your-Paranoia-campaign approaches (eg, your soldiers knowing how to do soldier stuff is less important than their knowing the latest interpretation of Marxist doctrine) isn’t dictated by the system.