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Open Thread 94.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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367 Responses to Open Thread 94.5

  1. Anonymous says:

    Anyone get the ancestry package done at 23andme? How precise is that in nailing down one’s ethnic origins?

    • Loquat says:

      My husband and I got it done about a year ago – iirc it broke us down into varying mixtures of:
      -Great Britain (excluding Ireland)
      -Ireland
      -Northwest Europe (Germany, France, etc)
      -Spain/Portugal
      -Eastern Europe
      -Scandinavia
      But since neither of us has any nonwhite ancestry we can’t speak for how precise it is outside Europe.

    • Elisha says:

      My uncle did a DNA test, possibly 23andme. The results were very different from what he expected (0% ashkenzi Jew), so he started digging a bit into his past, and discovered he was adopted! – this was a family secret for more than 55 years… Every year the people who knew would feel just a little worse about telling him, and obviously it wasn’t getting and easier…
      Anyway, if I recall correctly, he got results that identified his genes to be characteristic of Irish, Dutch, and a few more I can’t recall.
      He’s not related to me by blood, but obviously everyone was really shocked by this. He had some crisis of self identity, and eventually even managed to find his biological parents using social media!

    • Nornagest says:

      Its categories are fairly broad — the top-level breakdown can’t distinguish French from German or Russian from Polish, for example. It does track much more specific markers but you have to do some digging to find them, and they don’t come as convenient percentages.

      There are also a few oddities. It reclassified me between Y-chromosomal haplogroups once, which is not encouraging.

    • a reader says:

      I didn’t do the test yet but I’ve read a lot about it.

      Some identical triplets obtained a bit different percents from each other:

      http://www.kiwireport.com/identical-triplets-take-dna-test-just-discover-worrying-truth/

      “For example, Erica was found to be 16% Irish and British, whereas Nicole was 2% MORE Irish and British. […] The 23andMe test showed that all three of the triplets had completely different percentages of French and German heritage; Nicole at 11%, Jaclyn at 18% and Erica 22.3%. How could three siblings, with identical DNA, suddenly have different ancestry? […] When it came to the Scandinavian part of the test, there were yet even more discrepancies. The triplets and experts were shocked to learn that while Erica and Jaclyn both had exactly the same percentage (7.4%), it was Nicole that had a different result. According to the test, Nicole was 11.4% Scandinavian, almost 4% more than her younger sisters.”

      On the other hand, I’ve read about a case quite similar to that of Elisha’s uncle: a Jewish woman discovered that she had too little Ashkenazi ancestry and some unexpected British & Irish ancestry. Another woman discovered that she had an unexplained procent of Ashkenazi. When the two communicated (after one discovered that she was genetically related to the other’s supposed cousin), they discovered that one’s father and other’s grandfather had the same day and place of birth, so they were probably switched in the hospital after birth and the Irish boy grew as a Jew and the Jew as Irish and both died without knowing it:

      https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-customer-stories/jesss-story/

      They have just a category for Eastern Europeans – that meaning most Slavic nations, but also Hungarians. But some Slavic nations – for example Bulgarians – seem to have also a big percent of Balkan ancestry. Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry has its own category.

      • JulieK says:

        Maybe the “identical triplets” were actually two identical and one fraternal (and similar looking, which can happen even with ordinary siblings)? I’ve read that this used to be the most common type of triplets. (Nowadays 3 fraternals is probably more common, due to fertility treatments.)

        • a reader says:

          No, the DNA test confirmed that the triplets were really identical.

          That TV program, Inside Edition, tested 3 sets of identical triplets and 1 set of identical quadruplets, each triplet set with a different DNA test:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyfWZZ7uPuE

          23andMe
          Nicole 11% Fr/Germ
          Erica 22.3% Fr/Germ
          Jacklyn 18% Fr/Germ

          Family Tree DNA
          Erin 59% Brit 0% Scand
          Mandy 66% Brit 6% Scand
          Melissa 70% Brit 0% Scand

          Ancestry DNA
          Carolyn 45% Brit 25% It/Gr
          Cynthia 46% Brit 25% It/Gr
          Christine 47% Brit 25% It/Gr

          23andMe
          Christina 49% Eur 46% WestAfr
          Janelle 49% Eur 46% WestAfr
          Jodi 49% Eur 46% WestAfr
          Catherine 49% Eur 46% WestAfr

          According to this, Ancestry DNA seems the most reliable – but it would have been more relevant if they tested all 4 sets with all 3 tests.

          • quaelegit says:

            This lines up well with the second Razib Kahn post linked above.

            Basically sometimes ethnic groups line up with clear genetically distinct populations (e.g. “Finns are a relatively homogeneous ethnic group who seem to have undergone a recent population bottleneck.”) and sometimes they really don’t (look at his charts and discussion on “Scandinavians”.) Khan gave Germans and Scandinavians as two examples of the latter — exactly the same ethnicities giving squirrely results in your comment. It’s not surprising that the less (genetically) well-defined groups have more variation in the results of a genetic analysis.

            (Also Khan’s software, ADMIXTURE, has several features that can cause it to report different results on the same data: random seed input, and I think it determines the K groups itself based on the input data. I have no idea if the numbers above come from similar software that might have similar properties, but Khan often compares his results to 23andMe’s so he seems to think so.)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            No, this does not at all match what Razib said. It is extremely damning. In fact, it is so far off the charts, I don’t believe it.

    • Matt M says:

      Snopes says it’s only one unsourced person, but there’s also some suspicion that they are faking results to promote diversity and whatnot…

      • John Schilling says:

        The specific claim is that on a small number of occasions someone deliberately reported 0% African DNA as “<1% African DNA", as a minimal-risk, minimal-consequence feel-good exercise, the genomic equivalent of spitting in an obnoxious customer's hamburger.

        Anything much more than that is implausible; you'd get too many people bragging about it on twitter, and you'd eventually target people who have independent genealogical evidence against such a claim and the resources to pursue the matter A: through alternate testing suppliers and then B: in court.

      • a reader says:

        Snopes’s source was an article on Cracked.com, a testimony by an employee from an unnamed DNA company, “a company like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, or Living DNA”.

        http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2522-inside-shady-world-dna-testing-companies.html

        But that unnamed company with employees so eager to modify results to satisfy or irritate the customers doesn’t seem to be 23andme, who displays ancestries under 1% in tenths of percents and sometimes has some percents Broadly European or even Unassigned, is involved in scientific research. offers the raw DNA data to download and can display ancestry results according to variable levels of precision chosen by the customer, from speculative (50%) to conservative (90%), so that process must be fully automated.

      • Nornagest says:

        n=1, but there is no significant recent African DNA in my 23andMe results.

  2. bean says:

    Naval Gazing: Amphibious Warfare Part 1
    dndnrsn requested this one when I gave him a choice of topics as thanks for his proofreading work.

  3. keranih says:

    (Hoping to talk about the non-culture war parts of this in this thread. If people think I should delete and hold to the next thread please say so.)

    So the New Yorker just published an article about Jahi McMath. Aside from the obvious lesson – which is that hard cases are hard – I am again struck by how modern technology makes life more complicated by delaying or modifying the finality of consequences, not to mention making it possible to have gradations of “being dead.” (Insert Princess Bride joke of questionable taste.)

    I also wonder how this would relate to the status of an AI – once one has achieved some degree of independent thought, what responsibility do we as humans have to keep the power on, and to correct corruption in the stack? Would there be an obligation? What would be the equivalent of a family member or guardian? Could an amputation of a skill set or capability or sensory set be done without consent?

    (Pardon if these questions have been asked before – I generally skim straight past the AI discussions because I find the speculation about simulations and the rise of skynet to be boring as all get out. But surprise! here’s a part of AI possibilities that I hadn’t considered, and which I find interesting.)

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’ll never understand what is and isn’t considered culture war but at the very least, the subject matter is not obviously so.

      I think the utilitarian answer is the right one here. Dead or not, it costs 150k to keep this girl’s heart beating and deny her organs for people who really need it and for what? So that the girl can squeeze someone’s arms? However we define death, declaring brain dead people dead does a lot of good and it seems so pointless to let countless other people die so we can keep some edge cases who will never come back around.

      • Evan Þ says:

        But by that argument, shouldn’t we let someone with a complicated heart condition die to use resources elsewhere, even if she were inarguably alive?

        You seem to have a valid utilitarian argument, but utilitarianism is IMO flatly wrong and immoral here.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Sure. But I’m not really a utilitarian, I just think it unquestionably is the appropriate moral framework in this case. The best argument against it is the slippery slope, leading to situations like you described. But this exception is so remote that I don’t think it will spill over in to other medical issues.

          The biggest thing to me is that the girl’s situation is hopeless. This isn’t like a come patient who may wake up 20 years later. This girl is barely more functional than a corpse and she will be like this until her heart gives out. It’s taking a toll on her mother who doesn’t seem to ever leave her side and all the people who have to take time out of their day to keep her functioning. With basically no upside to keeping her alive and its extreme costs, the right thing to do would be to take her off the ventilator.

          Also, there is reason for skepticism about if the girl is actually moving her fingers in any way conscious manner or if the family is just interpreting random movements to mean something so it’s still an open question to what extent this girl is even conscious.

          • Evan Þ says:

            This isn’t like a come patient who may wake up 20 years later. This girl is barely more functional than a corpse and she will be like this until her heart gives out.

            How do we know that for sure? If we accept she is actually moving her fingers consciously, she’s already gone far beyond what doctors predicted.

          • keranih says:

            @wrong species –

            But I’m not really a utilitarian, I just think it unquestionably is the appropriate moral framework in this case.

            Is picking a moral framework because it gets you the right outcome you prefer *this time* the most appropriate thing?

            I’m not a utilitarian, either, so I am more torn. I think that “when to give up” can come in different places for different people, and that the world is built on people who kept on trying after most everyone else gave up. But I also think there’s a world of difference between continuing to sink your own resources into something, and going about insisting other people provide material support to your stubbornness.

            Also, there is reason for skepticism about if the girl is actually moving her fingers in any way conscious manner or if the family is just interpreting random movements to mean something so it’s still an open question to what extent this girl is even conscious.

            What I found really interesting about the article is the evidence that there had been some repair (or at least, not the expected degradation) of her forebrain. Which might be medically quite rare, but still a hopeful finding that might, some day, be replicated with better effect in some other patient.

            Not claiming that this makes the financial math work, but so much of what we do to save other humans from near-term death doesn’t make financial sense. It is still, in my framework, the right thing to do.

          • The argument for letting her die is obvious. What I found disturbing about the story was the apparent unwillingness of the medical people to admit error. Faced with evidence that their interpretation of her status was mistaken–results inconsistent with their prediction–their response seems to have been to deny the evidence (as in the case of her starting to menstruate) rather than to concede error and revise their theory. There was a strong feel of “we are the doctors, so we are the experts, so shut up and believe what we tell you.” And in a context where it looked as though the original catastrophe was probably their fault.

            But that might be the result of how the author selects the evidence she presents in order to make it a good story.

          • Deiseach says:

            I know the story as written is probably heavily slanted, but I do get the impression that if the hospital had been a bit more tactful, the family would have gotten over their shock (your kid goes in to have her tonsils out and ends up declared dead), accepted the decision, and permitted her to be taken off life support.

            The alleged lack of concern about treating her while still alive, and the attitude afterwards (where there is a disconcerting impression of waiting impatiently to shove the family aside while the body was still warm so it could be stripped down for parts) doesn’t help them any and I’m going to stick my neck out here and believe the family over the doctors (family said they referred to the girl as a corpse and hammered the table about she’s “dead dead dead”, doctors deny this – yeah, right, I’ve had enough experience with consultants who think they’re God Almighty to believe the family on this).

            I know you need to move fast (literally while the body is warm) to get the organs harvested, but the unsettling imagery of circling vultures and ghouls viewing this not as a dead child (and very possibly their fault that she ended up that way) but as a job lot of spare parts comes through very strongly, so that even if the family do take the girl off the respirator, I imagine they’re highly unlikely to agree to organ donation (and I’d feel the same in their shoes).

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            If the girl is on a respirator, there is no reason to hurry with the organ donation, though.

          • toastengineer says:

            She may not be decaying, but the recipients are presumably going downhill pretty fast.

          • Aapje says:

            @toastengineer

            No. Potential recipients don’t forever keep doing worse until they get an organ, because the system doesn’t work like that (because potential recipients are rated on the expected success rate, they die while on the waiting list, etc).

            On average, potential recipients will keep being just as much in need.

      • quanta413 says:

        I think the utilitarian answer is the right one here. Dead or not, it costs 150k to keep this girl’s heart beating and deny her organs for people who really need it and for what

        Legally speaking even if everyone 100% agrees someone is dead, doctors can’t harvest organs just because it would save a person. Morally speaking, pretty much the same thing unless you buy into one of the most absolute forms of utilitarianism. This question is morally orthogonal to the question of keeping someone alive (I mean in the sense the body is alive) on a ventilator or not. It’s not clear to me it would be right to keep someone alive in this state even if it was free and regardless of possible uses for their body.

        But if you’re going to measure things in a utilitarian sense your number was only the cost per week. The cost spent by medicaid keeping her alive in the New Jersey ICU alone ($150,000 per week for six months i.e. ~3.9 million dollars) is already reaching roughly the marginal value of a life in economic terms.

      • Matt M says:

        No one else has a right to her organs.

        The “cost” is only relevant to the person paying it. Which should probably be the family (but probably isn’t)

        • albatross11 says:

          There’s an incentive issue here, too–I’m fine with donating my organs after I’m dead, unless I think that’s going to lead doctors to be unduly eager to declare me dead so they can get at my kidneys or corneas or whatever.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Yep. I signed up to be an organ donor years ago, and in all that time, this story is the one and only thing that’s made me reconsider that decision: what if doctors really are too hasty to declare people dead?

      • Deiseach says:

        Dead or not, it costs 150k to keep this girl’s heart beating and deny her organs for people who really need it and for what?

        Real life surgeon problem. And if the hospital really did screw up her treatment and caused a girl who would otherwise have lived to end up like this, it’s self-interested of them to go “Think of all the people who could be saved by her organs if only the family weren’t so stubborn and deluded!” I know all the experts called who are in favour of organ donation really are sincere, but it’s also unquestionable that they are not neutral in this: they (a) want more people to donate organs and probably would prefer an opt-out rather than opt-in system (b) are not inclined to look too closely at ‘hmm, have we ever chopped up a person for parts who might maybe technically not have been as dead as we said they were?’ (c) don’t want to make any changes to “brain death is death, now get outta the way so we can start slicin’ and dicin'”.

    • Drew says:

      The story makes it sound like the hospital’s CYA policies made them come off as super low credibility. Notably:

      She also recommended that they consider donating her organs. “We were, like, ‘Nah,’ ” Marvin said. “ ‘First, tell us what happened to her.’ ” The family asked for Jahi’s medical records, but they weren’t allowed to see them while she was still in the hospital.

      There are some HUGE perverse incentives here.

      At this point in the story, my thinking is that, if Jahi is dead, the hospital risks a large wrongful death settlement. If Jahi is alive, the hospital risks a truly massive settlement over decades of medical bills.

      Then, the hospital comes to the family and says, “It’s definitely the cheap-for-us outcome. Trust us. Also, you can’t see any medical records until after we’ve stopped her heart and destroyed as much evidence as possible. Oh, and we’re not going to have a feeding tube, or allow the body to be transferred.”

      Even if I’m 100% in agreement with the standard used to determine death, I wouldn’t want the hospital making the determination.

      The problem seems more about professional ethics than bioethics.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I imagine it’s not public because there’s courts involved – but the accounts at the beginning of how the family was treated immediately post-operation are really disturbing. If the family’s accounts are even within shouting distance of reality, what was going on at that hospital?

      • Deiseach says:

        If the family’s accounts are even within shouting distance of reality, what was going on at that hospital?

        Looks like a combination of bad communication during shift change-over (the child was, if I’m reading this right, operated on at night and when the surgeon finished he went home for the day, and whatever notes he made weren’t properly read), the medical staff thinking the family were making a fuss over nothing (from when my sister had her tonsils removed as a kid, there is a lot of post-operative bleeding), and then the staff getting their backs up over the granny who’s a nurse coming in and asking questions, all of which meant they ignored a problem until it was too late.

        That was bad enough, but then – and again, the reporter may be heavily slanting in favour of the mother here – they seem to have tried to rush the family into “your child is dead, can we strip her down for parts?” in what was at the least insensitive (and if you’re any way conspiracy-minded, sounds like trying to ‘bury the evidence’ literally).

        Both sides then dug themselves in – the hospital admitted no wrong-doing, insisted on brain death as the criterion, insisted the girl was dead, and got a bunch of experts in to testify ‘yup, she’s dead, take her organs’.

        I really do think if the bio-ethicists or whomever at the hospital was on alert for “we’ve got a fresh one, come get the parts!” had been more sensitive, let the family grieve, and were willing to acknowledge “okay we may have screwed up here” and most importantly had not treated the body as a corpse while it was still warm and breathing and alive to the family’s sense of things, then the whole thing would never have gotten this far.

        • dndnrsn says:

          All sounds reasonable. In my experience, handoffs from person to person are where trouble creeps in. And that’s not in a hospital, life-or-death, it’s-2am setting; this is my experience with administration in school, work, dealing with the government…

          I think the racial angle is, at a minimum, plausible. There are studies – the New Yorker article mentions them – showing that black people in the US get fewer, or worse, medical interventions than white people. I think I’ve seen stuff to that extent elsewhere. Of course, studies aren’t necessarily right – but “does group x get painkillers more or less than group y, controlling for blah blah blah” is harder to fudge accidentally (or on purpose) than some kind of psychology study.

          In general, my experience with hospitals (not an American, but still) is that the “customer service” element is the worst part. Nurses are often rude, people are late, nobody tells you what’s going on, and anyone trying to figure out what’s going on gets treated as a nuisance. If it’s like that for me, presumably it’s harder for a black person, someone lower SES than me, both…

          • Matt M says:

            Surely this will improve if you socialize the whole enterprise and make everyone involved a government employee working for mid-level bureaucrats 🙂

          • dndnrsn says:

            Either that or ancap-style, let everyone have all the painkillers they want, at a market price, as long as they don’t violate the NAP. No possible middle ground.

  4. Muro says:

    As a teenager in early senior school is it good to go to a prestigious university (ie MIT) or a local, reputable (ie #40 on topuniversities.com) university?

    I have the intelligence to, if I tried (like tried really really hard). I like math/cs and adjacent subjects, and would go to university to learn either maths or computer science.

    I live outside the US, does that change the response? Specifically, I live in Australia.

    Employability is a bonus. It’s easier to get a job and higher starting salaries, as well as being able to work at more prestigious companies. I would go to MIT to meet the kind of very smart people that MIT attracts, the kind that I wouldn’t meet otherwise.

    Furthermore, my parents are unenthusiastic about me going because they want me to stay near them :). And it’s very expensive but my family is rich enough to pay, even though doing so would still be a large cost. Lastly, I have absolutely no idea what I want to do after school. I wouldn’t be aversive to a math-heavy high paying valueless finance type job, though. Also, I wouldn’t mind doing research-level math/cs. But overall I don’t have any clear conception of what I want to do.

    To reiterate: I would go to MIT mostly to meet very smart people, although I would meet smart people at my local university I’m very sure they would be qualitatively different at MIT, probably substantially smarter.

    I really like the idea of developing good relationships with very smart people.

    Also, this is my first post to a forum, if you have any meta comments about my writing communication style or something wierd I’ve said I’d appreciate that too.

    • Anonymous says:

      You might consider that if you don’t know what you are going to do later in life, you should make choices that give you options later on. I don’t really have a specific opinion for your dichotomy, but I would suggest, whatever you do, STAY OUT OF DEBT. In fact, you should look to come out of tertiary education with more money and work experience than you had going in.

      • Muro says:

        Ok. Prestigious Australian universities are many times cheaper than their USA counterparts. However, my family is willing to pay for a prestigious overseas university, and then make me give them the money when I can afford it later in my life. Thanks for the response.

      • Chalid says:

        Sure, going deep into debt for a low-demand degree at a crappy university can lead to big problems. But this is not the OP’s situation. If he is at an MIT-caliber university, and he chooses his courses and career with an eye toward making money (and it sounds like he will, since he says he’s going to do math and computer science and is willing to work in finance), he will not have any problems paying off his loans.

        • Chalid says:

          Muro, you should think about doing a bit of research into US pay at various professions to put the debt you’re taking on in perspective. Do you think you’re likely to end up at a place like Google? Then look at what people at Google make out of college, and after 5 years of experience. Sketch out a few alternate career paths and think about how likely they each are.

        • Anonymous says:

          he will not have any problems paying off his loans.

          That’s what a lot of people with loan problems thought, I bet.

          • Chalid says:

            Sure, but MIT CS is possibly the most employable undergraduate degree on the planet.

            A quick google turns up MIT’s survey of graduates and says the median salary for the first job out of school is $110k. I’d guess that a good fraction of the ones earning much less are doing so voluntarily, e.g. people joining startups.

          • gbdub says:

            A quick google turns up MIT’s survey of graduates and says the median salary for the first job out of school is $110k.

            So if you land that job you’ll be able to pay off your loans. Then again, what’s your likely job prospect at your other option?

            $10k of loans with a $100k salary is still better than $100k of loans with a $110k salary.

          • quanta413 says:

            @gbdub

            Whether or not that’s true depends on how long the loan’s terms are doesn’t it? And how long the salary bump lasts. If the salary increase is forever, and if you only have to pay 8k a year to pay off the 100k of loans, then you’re a little better off with 100k of loans and 110k salary.

          • Chalid says:

            If your salary growth is high and you keep the same ratio, you are much better off with the 10% bump. Or if interest rates on the loan are low.

            Anyway my point wasn’t that he should definitely go to MIT, rather, that debt should only be a minor consideration. If he is as talented as he thinks, and if he is going to go into lucrative fields, then the present value of his future earnings is probably multiple millions of dollars.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Debt should only be a minor concern if it is a small amount of debt and at a favorable interest rate. You do not want to be paying down a mountain of debt unnecessarily in your 20s, when you should be saving for your retirement, dating and travelling somewhat, spending money on a big wedding for all your friends and family, and buying a house.

            A $100k loan set for a 10 year repayment period at market rate 4.5% interest comes out to a bit over $1,000 monthly.

            Also, your valuable skills might be useless 10 years from now, or your market scarcity might become market abundance in 5 years. Of course, if you have wealthy parents, you are likely to have better business connections that will help you land on your feet or keep you relevant.

          • Anonymous says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            spending money on a big wedding for all your friends and family,

            Spending a lot of money on a wedding is a big mistake. So far as I know, it’s a gigantic divorce risk. OTOH, low amount of people at the wedding is also a big divorce risk.

          • gbdub says:

            It would be interesting to compare salaries down the road – I kind of doubt the MIT salary bump lasts in perpetuity, or at the very least, by 10 years on, what you’ve done in the interim will matter more than where you went to school.

            I probably picked poor numbers to illustrate it, I’ll give you that. But in any case, not having $100k in loan debt to worry about will make your 20s much more pleasant, and will probably set you up better to be saving for retirement or kids or a house down payment or what have you.

            Plus I wonder if the median salary for MIT is skewed by anything like the law school job market, where on the one hand if you want one of the fancy high paying Big Law jobs you more or less must go to a top 10 school, but if you do anything other than that, your top 10 degree just nets you the same job with more debt.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Spending a lot of money on a wedding is a big mistake. So far as I know, it’s a gigantic divorce risk. OTOH, low amount of people at the wedding is also a big divorce risk.

            If anything requires as “correlation=/=causation” warning, this is it.

            If you are a social elite that graduates from MIT straight into a six figure job, your parents are rich, and you live in a high-income place like NYC, you will probably have an expensive wedding. In fact, your wedding will probably cost something like six figures, when you factor in your honeymoon, engagement party costs, bachelor and bachelorrette parties, engagement rings, etc.

            Note that I wouldn’t recommend this, but I’m a self-admitted weirdo and come from a weird family, which is why I post on this website. But you need to plan accordingly if there are social expectations and constraints.

          • Matt M says:

            It would be interesting to compare salaries down the road – I kind of doubt the MIT salary bump lasts in perpetuity, or at the very least, by 10 years on, what you’ve done in the interim will matter more than where you went to school.

            Really?

            I don’t know much about science or engineering, but in the business school universe, it’s usually the opposite. In your first few years out of school, the top 10-20 schools aren’t that far behind Harvard, Stanford, etc. But the gap tends to widen as you get more experience. The trajectory for Harvard grads is higher than for anyone else. It becomes more “worth it” over time, not less…

          • Brad says:

            An important wrinkle here is that you aren’t comparing MIT to University of Michigan. You are comparing MIT to whatever the best school in Australia is.

            It is certainly possible to get a job in the United States having graduated from BAU, but it is certainly more likely from MIT. There are fields, not all of them maybe, but certainly some where US salaries are at a different level than even the rest of the first world.

            According to this random site I just googled, payscale.com, a senior software engineer in Melbourne earns a median salary of AU$98,539/year. In Denver, which is not the most expensive city in the US, someone with that same title earns a median salary of $105,315. After doing the currency conversion that’s about 35% more.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            In software engineering, it’s definitely the first job which the top school helps with the most. Graduate from one of the feeder schools for the big tech companies and you’ve got a much better shot than anyone else at getting into them. Once you’ve been in the industry a while, it matters much less.

            But getting into big tech as a college hire is probably the easiest way to get into big tech. And once you’ve had a job with AmaFaceGoog, it’s easier to get a job with another company that’s either big tech or thinks it is and pays accordingly. If you start off with e.g. a business programming job and keep doing that, your trajectory is going to be much lower. Not because your school is hurting you directly later in your career, but because you never got on the top-paying track to begin with.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t know much about science or engineering, but in the business school universe, it’s usually the opposite. In your first few years out of school, the top 10-20 schools aren’t that far behind Harvard, Stanford, etc.

            In engineering, nobody much cares where you got your undergraduate degree unless you are applying for your first job right out of college. Otherwise, it’s where you went to grad school and/or where you have been working that matters. Likewise, it is the grad school and professional contacts that form your network going forward, more than undergraduate classmates.

          • Matt M says:

            But getting into big tech as a college hire is probably the easiest way to get into big tech. And once you’ve had a job with AmaFaceGoog, it’s easier to get a job with another company that’s either big tech or thinks it is and pays accordingly.

            I think this is the same logic with business schools, though.

            Basically, the issue isn’t that Amazon pays brand new undergrad hires so much more than a smaller local software company. It’s that working for Amazon will unlock a lot of doors leading to much higher paying opportunities in the future that local software company will not.

            So the small school graduate can say “Hey, I paid half as much for my education, and these elite school guys only make 10% more than I do right now!” Which makes small school look like a great deal. But the guy making 10% more now is liable to be making 50% more 10 years from now, and it’ll be 50% off of a much higher base.

          • Chalid says:

            Since OP mentioned finance jobs, my sense is that it’s essentially impossible to get an investment banking analyst job if you’re not from the top few colleges, and that’s the traditional path to a whole lot of extremely well-paying careers.

            Brad’s point about the economic advantages of being in the US is a good one. Probably the more ambitious you are, the better it is to be in the US relative to Australia.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Since OP mentioned finance jobs, my sense is that it’s essentially impossible to get an investment banking analyst job if you’re not from the top few colleges, and that’s the traditional path to a whole lot of extremely well-paying careers.

            This is 100% my experience, but I also have to add that working corporate really isn’t that bad. Good performance reviews, promotions, and timely company changes can get you pretty well-compensated within a decade post graduation.

            You won’t be deep into six figures or anything, but you+spouse making $70k-$80k a year is a comfortable existence, especially if you do not have to pay off expensive cars or expensive student debt.

    • a reader says:

      You should ask Scott Aaronson, he was professor at MIT not long ago. He comments sometimes on SlateStarCodex, but I don’t think that he reads the hidden open threads, so you’d better ask him on his blog, here:

      https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3597

    • Incurian says:

      Take the hard option, practice being conscientious.

    • John Schilling says:

      If you don’t have a specific plan, and if going to the top-40 university would leave you with $100K or more in debt, that would be a strong argument for staying local and cheap. If your rich family will pay your way but you will owe them in some less formal sense, you’ll have to evaluate how that compares. But heavy debt plus no high-paying job (or one you hate but can’t afford to quit) can be a serious burden.

      Otherwise, you’ll have a better pool of smart people to interact with at a top university, probably better professors to work with (and you’d better not just be sitting in lectures and taking exams), and as Incurian notes you’ll get a solid lesson in not slacking off just because you’re smart enough to get away with it. These are serious advantages.

    • Michael Handy says:

      My cousin had this very problem (USYD/ANU/UNSW vs Oxford.)

      In the end, she took Oxford.

      The real issue came down with her plans after Uni. If you want to go into Academia, ANU or another top rank Australian uni is fine. You’ll get most of your contacts in postgrad-postdoc. I’d recommend trying for a postdoc at one of the top overseas univerisities, though. That said, MIT or Stanford will have a broader array of exciting projects to do.

      Also, you have to remember University culture. US universities treat uni as a bit of a coming-of-age experience, and are less focused that British or especially Australian universities, where you are mostly there to study.

      If you’re looking to get a job at Google etc, well, it’s not too hard to get a job here in Sydney/Melbourne, and transfer over to the main campus in Silicon Valley later.

      However, If your goal is law, public administration, NGO’s, politics, or the civil service. The Oxbridge/Ivy League/Ecole/Heidelberg groups are going to give you a significant boost.

    • I have the intelligence to, if I tried (like tried really really hard).

      I think the biggest advantage to going to a top school is being surrounded by people many of whom are as smart as you are. If your “really, really hard” means that you think you are at the lower edge of the ability range for Harvard or MIT students then you are probably better off at a good but not absolutely top level school.

      • dodrian says:

        I disagree slightly with this.

        My observations were that the top university students were divided into two roughly equal in size groups. There were those who worked incredibly hard to get in, and those with natural talent who breezed through their teenage education without ever being challenged by the coursework. The first group found university challenging, some questioned whether they were right to be there and a few transferred out in the first term, but they had practice with managing a heavy workload and tended to do well once on their feat. The second group got blindsided by a difficult workload that they’d never experienced before and spent the first term floundering. They eventually pulled themselves together, though some transferred at the end of the first year.

        Those from the second group who learned to work really hard ended up being the top 5% of the graduation list, but otherwise the hard-workers and innately-talented ended up on par.

        • You may well be correct. But the question is whether the hard workers are better off at the top school, which is more expensive and where classes may be targeted at people smarter than they are, or at a very good school in the layer below that, where their ability is about the average.

          And it isn’t just the classes. My guess is that a student is better off socially in a context where the other students are at about their level of ability than in one where a sizable fraction are substantially smarter than they are. Or where they are smarter than most of the other, to take the case that does justify going to the top school.

          But I can’t claim to have good statistical evidence for that guess.

      • Muro says:

        David Friedman: When I said ‘try really really hard’ I meant put most-to-all of my energy into one or two pursuits, (eg robotics, maths) in order to win a big competition (or do something equivalently prestigious) to get my ‘foot in the door’, ie, an interview, at a prestigious university. If I understand correctly, on your application to a prestigious university you must have one or two supremely impressive things which require a lot of effort. Also, it means get extremely good grades. Very good grades come naturally but extremely good grades (within the top 1%) would need much more effort than I am currently expending.

        In my current state, I am not naturally directing my attention to something that would give me the prestige needed to get an interview. That’s why I said ‘try really really hard’.

        About the intelligence of MIT students relative to myself: I’m very confident I wouldn’t be in the lower edge. Anyway, thanks for the reply.

        • christhenottopher says:

          Just a heads up, MIT has an incredibly high 6 year graduation rate.

          Top levels schools in the US actually tend to have way lower drop out rates than lower level schools. Part of this is probably that the people going to these schools are generally going to be better students. But part of it is probably that the schools are deliberately easier to get through. This is normally argued as a reason not to go to a high level school, but considering that higher education is likely largely signaling (see Bryan Caplan’s recent The Case Against Education for a break down of the estimates on signaling) the high pass rates should be considered a MAJOR plus for these schools.

          If you can get into MIT, there’s a 90%+ chance you’ll graduate with at most a 2 year delay. Given that most of the financial benefit of college comes from graduating, consider this a huge plus.

          • Protagoras says:

            I was a grad student at a high level school (not MIT, but pretty high level). My sense of the undergraduates, compared to lower tier schools (like where I did my undergrad), is that the best of the lower tier students were easily competitive with the best of the higher tier students, but the lower tier school also had a lot of mediocre or outright poor students that were almost completely absent from the higher tier school. So I’m not surprised that a high tier school would have a high graduation rate; most of those who would have trouble graduating don’t make it into the school in the first place.

          • christhenottopher says:

            To the first commenter, I would just note you may want to try and examine carefully the evidence for whether Protagoras is right and basically all the high completion rates are a form of ability bias (aka people smart enough to get in would almost nevertheless drop out from anywhere) or whether there is an effect of the school make sure your staying in the program easier than other programs do. I’ve never been to a school as high level as MIT so I have little to say on those probabilities.

            But, if ability bias causes MIT to have high graduation rates, then you’ll do fine anywhere so such rates should mean little to you. However if these schools are enabling easier degree earning, then that is another benefit of MIT.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Protagoras, it seems like he was specifically citing a high 6-year graduation rate. I assume that means that they were in a program that usually takes 4 or 5 years, but can go to 6 if you have issues; in other words, poor students get passed along. Don’t know if I’m right about any of that, but it seems likely.

          • Chalid says:

            I TAed a 101-level science course at MIT which was required for graduation, and we did have an extremely small number of students (less than 5) who had failed after repeated tries and were due to graduate. They received a lot of extra support (personalized tutoring and the like) to try to get them through.

            A couple of them failed anyway – one just couldn’t understand the material no matter how it was presented, and the other simply had somehow given up and wouldn’t do the homework or attend the extra sessions that had been organized for him. There might have been mental health issues involved in both cases (that is pure speculation on my part though). AFAIK they both got yet another try the following summer.

            So it was, I think, easier to “get through” in the sense that someone who was having severe problems got a lot of support, whereas at a generic state school they would have just washed out. That said, for the typical student trying to get good grades, it was much harder than a “normal” school, in that the material was presented with more sophistication and at a faster pace and that greater understanding was required for a decent grade. (I base this on conversations with other grad students, who came from a variety of schools.)

          • quaelegit says:

            @AnonYEmous — Graduation rates are usually reported as 6yr graduation rates for colleges in the US (sometimes they give both 6 and 4 year rates). My impression is that 6 and 4 years rates are usually very similar for top schools, more different for lower-tier schools (especially mid- and lower-tier state schools), BUT I haven’t looked at these numbers in years so grain of salt.

            [Edit: and if I am remembering the above correctly, this makes a lot of sense — mid/lower tier schools tend to be less expensive so it might be more feasible to stick around longer, and you might also have people intentionally going part-time and taking longer]

    • dndnrsn says:

      What are your marks or standardized tests or whatever like? Would you want to be somewhere that you are average in that regard, above average, below average? With US schools you can see this fairly easily through the SATs. Other places do it differently.

      dodrian’s observation is correct. I went to a good school, and I was one of the “got through high school by being smart, but only hardworking when I liked the subject” people. Relative to everyone else there I was probably average or a touch above in terms of intelligence, or at least ability to simulate intelligence, but I was certainly below average in my conscientiousness with regard to work, for the first three years or so. My entry marks were probably a teeny bit below the entry average. I did very well when I developed a work ethic later on.

      If money is an issue, consider that there are schools in Canada (not sure about Britain; don’t know how their pay structure works with foreign students) and presumably other places where a foreign student will get a better quality-to-price deal than a fair number of US universities. McGill and the University of Toronto (who are locked in a neverending war to be noticed by foreign university rankings; other Canadian universities are good but those are the only ones that really have an international reputation) are not as good as MIT or Harvard or whatever, but they’re much better than a lot of American schools you would pay the same or more to go to. You say your family has money, but it would be a large cost. See if you can finagle them into giving you a chunk of the money saved if you choose to go somewhere affordable. Having a nest egg (don’t spend it on intoxicants or clothes or whatever) is a good thing.

      Do you want to be apart from your family? Would you do well in a new place with no established friends, etc? Would you be neutral? Would you go to pieces?

      Your observation that meeting people is important is a good one. Who you know is often as important as what you know, as the saying goes. To put it a bit more crassly, you might gain more from drinking heavily with the right people than from going to the class you will skip due to the hangover.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Muro:

      Broadly speaking, I would say that you should only go to MIT if you want, as something near a top level goal, to open the doors that an MIT degree opens preferentially.

      Those doors are many and varied, but they are limited in number.

      If you are the kind of person who wants very much to go on to top flight, cutting edge research, go to MIT. If you find yourself bored or disconsolate when not challenged by the most difficult schoolwork or not surrounded by peers who are at the very end of the intelligence curve, go to MIT. If you are ambitious enough to very much want the imprimatur of an MIT degree, go to MIT.

      If you want a good satisfying education that challenges you without crushing you and a good satisfying job and some good friends and companions and simply want to live your life as best you can, stay and attend a great local university.

      (Note: I applied to MIT, and got far enough to be interviewed, but did not get in. I’ve long thought that was for best.)

      • gbdub says:

        (Note: I applied to MIT, and got far enough to be interviewed, but did not get in. I’ve long thought that was for best.)

        I had a similar experience and reached the same conclusion.

        FWIW, having worked with a few MIT grads, and a few managers who’ve had to manage MIT grads, in the setting of a relatively mature med-large defense contractor… MIT grads don’t always translate super well to working with “normies” (where “normies” here are rocket scientists that are merely 2sigma instead of 3sigma high on IQ). Not sure if that is universal or not, but it’s probably fair to say that MIT opens certain doors that would otherwise be closed, but doesn’t necessarily help you (and might hurt you) if your career goals don’t align with those doors.

    • Yair says:

      You have to remember that not only going to university in Australia is much cheaper but also the Australian government gives all Australians an interest-free loan which you only have to pay back once you get a job by paying more tax until your loan is paid. The rate at which you have to pay back depends on how high is your income (if it is 50k or less you don’t have to pay at all).

      You did not mention which Australian university you would be going to, I imagine something like ANU or Melbourne? If so, you probably should consider doing ugrad in Australia and then go overseas for postgrad.

  5. Joan222 says:

    A friend had his test done at 23 and me and at ancestry.com, 3-4 years ago.
    23 and me said he is 59% West African.
    Ancestry.com said he is 24% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 10% Nigerian, 8% Cameroon/Congo and 8% Benin/Togo.

    I don’t know how accurate either test is, but the Ancestry results were surely more detailed.

  6. Anatoly says:

    What kind of a thing is “systems theory”? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory

    Is it something like “a useful discipline which generalizes lessons learned by many sciences and arrives at wise and important thoughts”, or is it more like “a bunch of pseudo-scientific generalities that ape profundity but aren’t useful for anything real”? Are there examples of specific interesting truths arrived at through systems theory?

    • buntchaot says:

      I have worked with sociological systems theory. it allows macro sociology with considerable complexity, which is not a thing that works well in many frameworks.
      I think overall it was a fad in the 70s/80s that caught on nowhere but in sociology because specialised respective theoretical frameworks were superior (sociological frameworks just were between patchy and nonexistent) I think there is a branch in systemic psychotherapy heavily related to the same concepts but dont know anything about that.
      You may get an impression in this paper
      I do think that especially Luhmann’s autopoiesis concept is a useful tool to have when looking at things, that i havent encountered anywhere else yet. General “this is the humanities” disclaimers apply.

    • Björn says:

      The problem is that systems theory is such a general theory that you can model everything with system theory. Because of this you can not get any non-trivial statements about systems out of systems theory. But it gives you a language that can describe things as systems (as a collection of objects plus relations between those objects).

      I read Luhmann’s Social Systems over the winter holiday, and I came to the conclusion that at least in Luhmann’s application, systems theory is not very useful. It is quite well-defined for a humanities theory, which is an advantage over earlier sociological theories, but it does not make any meaningful predictions. Social systems just are there, unless they fail to reproduce, in which case they won’t be there anymore. I think it’s overkill to have such a elaborate theory that then does nothing.

      Also, I found his autopoiesis stuff quite disappointing. He basically finds that you have some Goedelian constrictions in sociology also, but does not really conclude anything interesting. That selfreproducing systems are self referential in some way is not surprising, and he never goes deep into computability theory or anything like that. He quotes a Turing paper once, but I’m not sure he understood it. But as many humanties people he’s fascinated by self reference.

  7. Evan Þ says:

    I was recently reminded of the Dragon Army intentional group house, and last summer’s controversy in the rationalist community about its charter. I haven’t come across any updates since it actually started – is anyone here involved in it, or has anyone heard how it’s going?

    • mingyuan says:

      Dragon Army is in the last month of its six-month experiment. From the little I’ve heard, it’s mostly turned out to be a normal group house, with somewhat more social cohesion and commitment to the house than other houses have. Basically you probably haven’t heard anything because nothing of note has happened – I get this impression because I know several of the people who live there and even when asked directly they haven’t had very much to say, e.g. when I asked one of them how it was going in November he was like, “we did daily exercise together for a while and then that kind of fell apart.”

      I recognize that this is not a very good answer because I just don’t have that much information, and I apologize, but I didn’t want your question to go totally unanswered.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Huh. If that’s it, I’m glad that none of the prophesied Horrible Things happened, but I’m also disappointed the experiment doesn’t sound like it was able to actually test what it was supposed to test.

        • azhdahak says:

          That sounds like a valuable but unsurprising result — coordination is really, really hard.

          But we’re all probably lower third on conscientiousness, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.

          • ThinkingWithWords says:

            Really? I had no idea rationalism was correlated with low conscientiousness.
            I’m so high on conscientiousness I run off the page on most tests.
            Now I feel bad for messing with the expected relationships between conscientiousness and rationalists.
            Maybe I’d better just slink off over here and practice being less conscientious…

          • carvenvisage says:

            I’d guess they were referring to (hidden) open thread commenters, or perhaps blog commentors more generally, not “””rationalists””” as in fans of lesswrong or its offshoots.

            triple airquotes because ‘rationalist’ had and has a perfectly good meaning other than ‘follower of the prophet yudkowsky’, plus said prophet warned people against such vanity http://lesswrong.com/lw/m1/guardians_of_ayn_rand/

            I doubt it actually correlates with low conscientiousness, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it correlates with a lower sense of purpose. Refusing to commit to a convenient prepacked sense of purpose is one of the highest forms of scrupolosity, but means doing without a potentially-useful motivational crutch at some stage.

            But in any case, the lack of a weakness obviously doesn’t disqualify you from a group where it might or might not show up more often.

          • azhdahak says:

            Communities based on goofing off on the internet probably select for low conscientiousness.

            edit: Analyzed survey results, looks like average conscientiousness is 41. There are plausible confounders in both directions, but the effect is probably real and small.

  8. David Speyer says:

    A lot of people I talk to are very excited about proportional representation. People who live in PR systems, what do you like and hate about it?

    Brainstorming on my own, here are things I could imagine as problems:

    * In a party list system, it seems like the people who order the list have an immense amount of power. But I’ve seen very little about who gets to make this decision. Is there some sort of primary-like process, or is it simply party officials in a back room?

    * What happens when a politician is disgraced in a way which doesn’t reflect on the rest of his party? If he maintains the loyalty of senior party officials, is there any good way to vote against him?

    * Israel has PR and has a lot of single issue parties. Is this something I should expect in a PR system?

    • outis says:

      Pure PR allows the existence of many small parties. This tends to make it difficult to form coalitions and get difficult things done. Things get even worse if the executive requires the legislature’s approval. For example, Italy has (had?) this system, and no administration ever managed to remain in charge for a full term under it.

      The two common fixes for this issue are:
      – A threshold that each party needs to cross before they are allowed seats in the legislature. For instance, if the threshold is 5% and your party gets 4%, they get no seats.
      – A majority bonus, where if a party (or coalition) gets more than a certain % of seats, they gain an extra %.

      These adjustments address pure PR’s issues with low stability, without going all the way to the ossified two-party system you get with FPTP.

      Speaking of which, one supposed advantage of FPTP (and therefore a disadvantage of PR) is that each member of the legislature directly represents some specific piece of territory, and can make their concerns heard. In practice I don’t think it really matters, especially in a system like the US, where you already have the senate to represent individual states.

      Yes, fixed party lists give extra power to the party. There are various things that can be done about that, such as allowing/requiring voters to select a specific candidate (instead of following a fixed order).

      You can also adjust the knobs further by assigning a fraction of seats with a different system. Nobody said it has to be simple.

      • Brad says:

        Speaking of which, one supposed advantage of FPTP (and therefore a disadvantage of PR) is that each member of the legislature directly represents some specific piece of territory, and can make their concerns heard. In practice I don’t think it really matters, especially in a system like the US, where you already have the senate to represent individual states.

        The German MMPR very cleverly fixes this problem. Everyone makes two votes: one for a person and one for a party. All the people elected take their seats and then additional seats are created and filled by party list to match the overall party percentages based on the second vote.

        • albatross11 says:

          Are there any proportional representation systems that also have a president and congress style government (US style) rather than a parliamentary system? It seems like the dynamics would be quite different there. I could imagine the Greens and Socialists caucusing with the Democrats, and the Libertarians and Constitution Party caucusing with the Republicans, but I’m not really clear how that would play out.

          In some sense, US political parties are already somewhat-unstable coalitions, but without a formal recognition. Intuitively, a more formal recognition, Imagine if Rand Paul was formally a Libertarian, but his party was in coalition with the Republicans–you can imagine that making him less powerful in some ways (he’d probably be even less likely to end up as president), but more powerful in others (he’d be in a position to lead the Libertarians out of the coalition government and deny the Republicans power, in a formal way).

          • Brad says:

            Cyprus has a unicameral legislature with proportional representation in several constituencies (number of seats fixed by law) and a strong President.

            Brazil likewise has a strong President, but only its lower house is elected proportionally (each state is a constituency with a number of seats based on population).

            Mexico has a strong President and it’s lower house is comprised of a fixed number of single member seats and party lists seats. This isn’t quite as elegant as the German system, but it arrives at a similar result.

            Taiwan has a semi-Presidential system, but one that has a very powerful President within that group of countries (not as powerful as in the US but more powerful than France) and a unicameral legislature that is comprised of a fixed number of single member seats and party seats (like mexico’s lower house).

          • One possible advantage of a FPTP system, such as the present U.S. one, is that it pushes both candidates to nominate centrist candidates, at least if preferences are sufficiently one dimensional so that the center is well defined. This is Hotelling’s old argument as applied to politics.

            That means that when one candidate wins, the losers don’t feel as though their candidate losing is the end of the world–or at least feel less that way than if each candidate represented the median of only his own coalition.

            The current U.S. situation shows the problems that arise when that logic breaks down and you get a candidate who about half the population views as not only inferior to their candidate but horrible.

          • Matt M says:

            The current U.S. situation shows the problems that arise when that logic breaks down and you get a candidate who about half the population views as not only inferior to their candidate but horrible.

            It’s hard to tell, because the other party has a huge incentive to claim this about their opponent, whether it’s true or not.

            Consider the media reaction to John McCain and Mitt Romney when they were running against Democrats vs when they were publicly opposing Trump (and conversely, that nobody seemed to think Trump was that horrible back when he was a minor celebrity who was a registered Democrat)

          • John Schilling says:

            One possible advantage of a FPTP system, such as the present U.S. one, is that it pushes both candidates to nominate centrist candidates

            I assume you mean “pushes both parties to nominate”, in which case the reasoning is sound. The problem is, at least in the United States, parties don’t nominate candidates any more, partisan voters do. And regardless of the collective interest of a set of partisan voters, most individual partisan voters will prefer to cast their primary ballot for someone at least a standard deviation away from the center.

            There are things parties can do to maybe force a more centrist-ish candidate down their voters’ throats, but look how well that worked for the DNC when they managed to scotch the possibility of a Sanders nomination.

          • Controls Freak says:

            The problem is, at least in the United States, parties don’t nominate candidates any more, partisan voters do.

            It used to be that the penalty for a party being unable to control its partisans in order to nominate a candidate who could pivot to the center was that they lost the election. 2016 was a weird year.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            When you have more extremist politicians who have to compromise to gain power, or who are kept out of power, it is more obvious that you are not getting the most extreme thing that the other side has to offer. It seems to me that a few people thought they were getting Hitler 2.0 with Trump, just like quite a few people thought they were getting Stalin 2.0 with Obama. So I don’t see this benefit that you claim might exist (anymore).

            The US system also strongly plays into outgroup homogeneity bias, because both sides are highly incentivized from keeping their most extremist elements within the flock. This looks to the other side like they approve of the most extremist opinions. Those extremist opinions are not the most extreme opinions that you would have in a proportional system, but they are also not centrist.

          • outis says:

            @DavidFriedman: it’s not quite clear if you’re talking about electing the legislature or the executive.

            For electing the legislature, the issue of the losers feeling “as though their candidate losing is the end of the world” doesn’t occur under PR because there is no “their candidate” or “their representative” for their district. It’s just not a thing.

            For electing the executive, if you have a presidential system with direct election then you inherently have an incentive to choose a guy who can get >50% of the vote. But in a PR system where the executive gets elected by the legislature, you still get a moderating influence from the legislature itself (where you often need support from multiple parties). In fact, the result may actually be more centrist than what you get with direct election.

      • JulieK says:

        – A threshold that each party needs to cross before they are allowed seats in the legislature. For instance, if the threshold is 5% and your party gets 4%, they get no seats.

        Israel uses a threshold for that reason, but it hasn’t had the hoped-for effect. Things have just gotten more splintered. In the first Knesset, the largest party had 46 seats (out of 120), and now the largest party has 30.

    • Deiseach says:

      Like:

      (1) You the voter can fine-tune your vote by the “I’ll give my number one to the candidate from party X because overall I think they would do a better job in government, but I’ll give my number two vote to the candidate from party Y because they’ll keep an eye on party X who are a shower of cute hoors and chancers that would cut their grannies’ throats for a sixpence, and I’ll give my third preference to party Z who best represent my values but haven’t a snowball in hell’s chance of actually getting into power”.

      (2) We’re not stuck with the same two-party system as in the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK. Okay, in practice it has often been “FF are in, FG are out, next election switch places” but it does open the door to coalitions and it does let smaller parties have meaningful representation in parliament.

      (3) As you can see from this section of the Wikipedia article, we have representatives of ten different parties/alliances in our current Dáil. That gives a broad (in the mostly jostling for the centre sense of “broad”: you can have centre-right, slightly more to the right centre-right, centre-left, a bit more left centre-left and two flavours of mild socialism more or less) range of parties to choose from when voting.

      (4) Election night (the day after, in reality) counts are great fun to watch, speculate about, make guesses as to how many seats any party will win/lose/gain/retain, who will get turfed out, and are a popular Irish blood sport 🙂

      (5) Parties do try parachuting in candidates assigned by headquarters to ‘safe seats’ in order to give a rising star the requisite start in politics, and if the local party don’t like it they can lump it. PR gives the public a range of candidates, which mitigates this.

      (6) You’re not stuck with one guy representing your district/area/constituency who may be from the opposition party or have nothing in common with the locals – the various instances in Britain of “by the regulations you have to live here, so I rent a flat but spend all my time in London/my real base of interest”.

      Don’t like:

      (1) Realistically, we’re such a small country that it mostly is a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee

      (2) Small(er) parties who go into coalition with large(r) parties tend to get the thin edge of the wedge; Labour, the Greens, and the Progressive Democrats (now defunct) have all demonstrated this, as have the Lib Dems in Britain – all too often the rush of getting into power means ‘pragmatism’ takes over, principles get jettisoned, worst comes to worst this means a split in the party, and basically the junior party ends up as a puppet for the senior one and often gets lumped with “okay, you can announce the hairshirt policies” role in the joint government. Voters tend not to like “we promised we’d keep an eye on them but it turns out they can walk all over us” and punish the smaller party in the next election, while the larger party gets away with it.

      (3) A lot of tiny parties/single issue candidates who get elected and achieve little or nothing (unless they’re the Kerry dynasty of the Healy-Raes, who make a good thing out of looking out for their own patch of territory and don’t pretend to be statesmen or anything more than interested in the pork barrel).

      (4) Having a couple of representatives for an area means (a) a lot of internal rivalry where candidates of the same party carve out ‘this is my turf’ and will fight each other over perceived incursions, often weakening the overall vote for their party.

      (5) Appealing to constituents for their vote means that the locals can go to TD Matty Murphy of the All-Night Party and TD Seanie Power of the Party Party Party for the same requests on the basis of “if I don’t get it from one, I might get it from the other”. This means a lot of wasted time (raising questions about Mrs Murphy’s planning permission in the Dáil, meaning the civil servants have to dig out info so the Minister can then get up and say “We are processing all requests according to the blah blah blah,and by the way our party has overseen a raise of 15% in successful applications for such”), a lot of parish pump politics rather than addressing national issues, and the often ludicrous spectacle of three local representatives from three different parties all claiming “It was I got the new box factory located in town” (when in reality it had damn-all to do with any of them).

      • fion says:

        From your point (1) it sounds like you’re talking about something like STV or AV, which both aim to make votes more proportional but are not actually PR. My understanding of PR was that you normally just get one vote.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, the version in Ireland is Proportional Representation by Single Transferable Vote. I’d be interested to hear how other places that have PR do it!

          • fion says:

            I don’t actually know very much about this, but this (and the links therein) might be of interest.

            (It seems I had the mistaken belief that STV was not a type of PR. I thought “PR” exclusively referred to party list PR.)

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            In The Netherlands, the candidates who get enough votes for a seat get one, then the rest of the seats go to the remaining of the candidates on the list, in order.

            So let’s say that you have the Example Party with this candidate list (name-vote):
            – John – 1000
            – Mary – 5
            – Bob – 5
            – Jane – 1000

            To make the example work, the number of votes required to get a seat is 600. Then John and Jane get a seat because 1000 > 600. However, the total number of seats for the party is 2010/600 = 3.35. So they get one more seat, which goes to Mary.

            Note that remainders are handled by giving the parties with the biggest remainder an extra seat, unless parties ‘link’ their lists, in which case they share the remainder. So two (or more) parties with similar politics can use this to increase the chance that the extra seat goes to one of them.

            For example:
            – Love Cats Party got votes for 3.25 seats
            – Love Dogs Party got votes for 2.35 seats
            – Hate Pets Party got votes for 4.4 seats

            Now the additional seat goes to the Hate Pets Party, because .4 > .35; unless Love Cats and Love Dogs linked their lists. In that case, the linked list gets the seat, because .35 + .25 = .6, which is greater than .4. Because the Love Dogs Party has got the largest remainder within the linked list, they get the additional seat.

    • Aapje says:

      @David Speyer

      First of all, the way that PR actually works out in practice seems to differ by country, presumably based on the culture of the country, how the history of the country shaped their traditions and the ‘natural’ groups within that society. A society that has two large antagonistic groups is probably going to result in two major parties even under PR (seems like this is the case in Japan). A much more fragmented society is going to result in many parties (Israel).

      I see this as one of the nice features of PR. It tends to mimic the natural divisions in society, while a winner takes all system forces voters into a system that may not match their natural divisions. I see the political system as the device by which democratic societies deal with their internal divisions openly and based on good rules. If congress doesn’t mimic this, you simply tend to get informal and generally rather shitty kludges (like the US primary system).

      The following is based on a society where PR results in more than 2 decently sized parties:

      An upside is that it encourages a level of respect and willingness to cooperate with others, because parties cannot generally expect to have a majority on their own. Nor is there generally a fixed coalition that they can expect to depend on. So it is wise to not take things too personally. This can also be a downside, when politicians are antagonistic during the campaign and then make up and kiss afterwards. Quite a few voters interpret this as politicians faking antagonism during the campaign and not really fighting for what they claim they fight for.

      A related issue is that minority parties logically have to compromise more (since they logically get catered to about as much as the seats they bring to the coalition), so their input to the coalition is often disliked by voters. So what often happens is that minority parties that enter the coalition get punished during the next election, which is unfortunate, also because it makes politicians reticent to govern.

      An upside is that it empowers minorities with strong concerns. I think that single issue parties or parties that concern themselves strongly with the well-being of a subgroup are very useful. Voters can make the decision to give up their ability to support a broad platform if they feel that one specific cause is more important. In the US, those who care about climate change/environmentalism can vote for the Green party, which puts pressure on mostly the Democrats to prevent defectors. However, those votes are otherwise useless. In a PR system, the Green party can be part of a coalition, so the spoiler effect is less. The downside of this is that is can be harder to govern if there are many minority parties.

      A downside of PR is that you don’t necessarily know what coalition you are going to get. So even after the election, the actual outcome may not be clear yet.

      I think that a big advantage of having coalitions, rather than two parties that take turns, is that there is less problem of an eternal stalemate on some issues.

      Coalition building can take a lot of time, during which the previous administration generally goes into caretaker mode. This can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage, depending on whether you think that such a break is beneficial or not (I think it is, in my country).

      You are correct that PR gives a lot of power to those who create the party list. Ordering is less of an issue, because my country has a rule where people with enough votes to personally have earned a seat will get a seat. They will bump people higher on the list without enough personal votes. A bigger issue is to simply be kept off of the list. Of course, a PR system makes it much easier (still hard) for the politician to start his own party.

      A strongly related and bigger issue is that the party may enforce party discipline by implicitly or explicitly threatening to leave dissidents of the list for the next election. However, they can’t go too far with this, because the dissident can leave the party, while retaining his seat.

      Furthermore, I don’t see how the situation is better in a majority system like the US. You also need cooperation by the Republicans or Democrats to get to run for them, so I don’t see how the situation in a PR system is worse.

      As for how parties in a PR system decide who goes on the list and how to order it, this depends on whether the party is democratic itself and to what extent. Most Dutch parties are democratic. The party proposes a list and then a congress of party members convenes to vote on it and possibly demand changes. Non-democratic parties can just decide on their own. In the Dutch system, non-democratic parties get substantially less subsidy though (which is why Wilders goes to the US to beg for money), so parties are strongly encouraged to be democratic.

      I don’t really understand your ‘disgraced politician’ question. If the party puts a politician that you greatly dislike on their list, then I don’t see how this doesn’t reflect the rest of the party. If you mean specifically the case where a politician is disgraced after the list of candidates has been accepted by the central polling station, but before the election, then you are out of luck. The political party can decide to pressure the disgraced politician not to take the seat or kick the disgraced politician out of the party, but the disgraced politician can just choose to fill the seat.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Pros:

      * The political offer is more varied.

      * The political environment is more flexible, the government is effectively contestable by multiple parties, even young ones, you don’t have the two entrenched big parties of first-past-the-post systems.

      Cons:

      * Grand coalition governments formed after the elections, sometimes by parties that presented themselves as fierce opponents before the elections. It can be very difficult for the voter to predict what kind of government majority, and therefore government policies, their vote is going to support.

      * Small parties, especially the “centrist” ones that can easily switch sides, have a disproportionate influence on government policy compared to their voting base.

      Is there some sort of primary-like process, or is it simply party officials in a back room?

      It depends.

      Generally the lists are decided by the parties before the election, some parties do primaries to form the lists and other make the lists in a back room. In some systems the voter can just vote for the list, then the seats are allocated to the candidates in a predefined order, in other systems the voters can optionally specify a preference for a specific candidate, which is taken into account according to some formula.

      What happens when a politician is disgraced in a way which doesn’t reflect on the rest of his party? If he maintains the loyalty of senior party officials, is there any good way to vote against him?

      Other than not voting for his party, no. In a preference system you can not give him the preference, but if he’s high enough in the list he may be re-elected anyway.

      Israel has PR and has a lot of single issue parties. Is this something I should expect in a PR system?

      Israel is somewhat unusual in that it has a single electoral constituency, while most other PR countries have multiple regional constituencies that each allocate a predefined number of seats (usually roughly proportional to the population, but sometimes with exceptions for areas with ethnic minorities which are allocated super-proportional representation).

      But in general yes, single issue parties are common in PR systems.

  9. BBA says:

    This is related to culture war issues, but I mean it as more of an observation and a question than as a topic of debate. I’m posting it here in an effort to steer it away from the object level.

    Here in America, our founding myths are deeply entangled with the adoption of the Constitution, which results in appeals to the Founding Fathers being common in discussion of active legal issues. To use an uncontroversial example, holding elections on Tuesdays is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution. Yet someone in favor of Tuesday elections might assert that it is, or when presented with the fact that it isn’t, argue that it’s still the “intent of the framers” or the “spirit of the Constitution” that we have Tuesday elections. Conversely, an opponent of Tuesday elections might use their absence in the Constitution as evidence that the framers were against voting on Tuesdays, and therefore it’s normatively wrong for us to do so.

    I mention this not to pass judgment on the practice (though I’ve made my opinion of it clear elsewhere), but to ask: does any other country do this? France, for instance, has its founding myths about the Revolution and the 1789 Declaration of Rights is still part of the French constitution. But most of the French constitution dates to much later, and even regarding the Declaration of Rights I highly doubt that anyone asks what Robespierre or Talleyrand would think of the constitutionality of a proposed law. (At least, I certainly hope not!) In Britain, there’s the Magna Carta, which has retained its symbolic importance even as legally it has become almost completely irrelevant. Other countries have much younger constitutions and not as much national mythology wrapped up in them. So is this uniquely American, or what?

    • christhenottopher says:

      The oldness of the US Constitution probably means the intentions of the framers are a more pressing question than most other countries, but also it’s relatively short length. Less length can mean less specificity in the language, which can mean authorial intent becomes more important in interpretation.

      Nonetheless, I have to imagine that all countries that actually care about the rule of law must care about authorial intent to some extent. Otherwise, a law is vulnerable to being changed by means other than the pre-established law making process. Just consider the potential of how language changes over time could change the meaning of a law without any action of a legislature. Say a legislature passes a law that says “all homes must include a means to make the home cool in the summer.” Then the language changes where “cool” now primarily means fashionable rather than lower in temperature. Thus without any act of the legislature the air conditioning police have turned into a fashion police, fining builders who don’t include sufficiently trendy architectural features to a house. How do we avoid such changes in law by linguistic drift? By referring to the original intent of the law makers.

      But of course then there’s the issue of social changes. When social beliefs change, people may be tempted to re-interpret an old law. For instance, say a law says that “on the third Wōdnesdæg every other month, every family must sacrifice a goat to Woden.” Now almost no one believes in Woden and thinks the sacrifice is dumb, but rather than repealing the law and upsetting a small hardcore pro-Woden group, lawyers just note we only have “Wednesday” in our calendar and therefore no one has to sacrifice on “Wōdnesdæg”. This is cheating however once the intent of the lawmakers is considered because they still wanted to enforce a bi-monthly sacrifice. By using changing social mores and language drift rather than law making authority to change laws, you’ve introduce at best lawyers/judges as a new legislature and at worst completely arbitrary law making.

      So does authorial intent matter in the rest of the world? Maybe, I can’t say for certain and I’d be surprised if it matters rhetorically as much as it does in the US. But I would be very surprised if it carried no weight in other countries.

      • Aapje says:

        From my non-US perspective, the reason why there is a push to ‘creatively’ interpret the American Constitution is exactly because it has such a mythical standing. The result is that it is very hard to update it and much easier to instead pretend that it says what you want it to say, because changing the Constitution clearly makes one a horrible person who hates what America is and was and has always stood for. I think that most Americans would rationally agree that the founding fathers and their works were not perfect, but many of those same people would have a disgust reaction on a non-rational level when proposing to make changes. That’s the cost of linking nationalism so strongly to the constitution, I would say.

        In my country, there is also no supreme court, but instead politicians are expected to uphold the constitution (in practice, the Dutch Senate has informally tasked itself with this, while the Dutch House of Representatives are a bit more concerned with doing what the voters want). This also means that the interpretation of the constitution is not an issue that people go to court over and get all antagonistic about.

        As outis argues, the US system has a constitution of men that pretends to be a constitution of strict law, while The Netherlands seems to recognize that it has to be a bit of both.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I don’t have a disgust reaction to amending the Constitution at all. I do have a disgust reaction to “organic document” hooey in which people try to read whatever they want into the “penumbra.” The Constitution says what the plain text of the Constitution says. If you want it to say something else, fine, propose an amendment and we’ll talk about it and vote on it.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, it sure seems to me that there are a lot of supreme court / federal appeals court decisions that amount to doing an end-run around Congress and just changing the law to what the judges think it ought to be. I object to this even when I think the result is good policy, because it subverts the system.

            One way to see this: every presidential election, both parties urge people who don’t like their candidate to go ahead and vote for him anyway, because at least he will appoint the right supreme court justices. This isn’t something you’d see in a system where court decisions weren’t routinely used to decide policy issues.

            Ultimately, this becomes a way to make decisions that nobody who had to stand for re-election could afford to make. This is our version of the EU’s democracy deficit.

          • Randy M says:

            I would agree that people are hesitant to change the constitution because it is seen as permanent, rather than sacred. Only one amendment has been repealed, correct?
            Ironically, that makes it all the harder to alter.

            Rule of law would prefer having plain, common language there for any fundamental federal laws, rather than relying on traditions of interpretation by nominally impartial experts.

          • Nornagest says:

            Only one amendment has been repealed, correct?

            Yeah, but big chunks of the original text have been superseded, mostly stuff having to do either with slavery or with election procedure. If you’re interested in this stuff it’s worth tracking down an annotated copy that shows what’s been invalidated and by what. Some of it isn’t obvious.

          • Lillian says:

            I don’t have a disgust reaction to amending the Constitution at all. I do have a disgust reaction to “organic document” hooey in which people try to read whatever they want into the “penumbra.” The Constitution says what the plain text of the Constitution says. If you want it to say something else, fine, propose an amendment and we’ll talk about it and vote on it.

            Umbral emanations are how common law works. This has been a feature of the system since very beginning, and it’s the entire reason why the US Constitution gets away with being so short, it doesn’t have to be longer because it rests on an auxiliary body of common law. Reminder that the power of judicial review is not actually enumerated in the Constitution, it is itself an umbral emanation that the Supreme Court decided into existence over 200 years ago in Marbury v Madison.

            The plain text of the Constitution has never meant what the plain text of the Constitution says, or else the people who wrote it would have thrown a fit when the Supreme Court gave itself a power that had not be enumerated for it. Instead it seems that most of them had assumed judicial review as a matter of course, which in turn must mean that they had expected the Constitution would be an organic document greater than its plain text.

            Notably, President Jefferson did not agree with Marbury v Madison. He wrote to Chief Justice Marshall, “You seem to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy.” However Jefferson was also not present at the Constitutional Convention, so he cannot claim any authorship authority.

            The real problem here is not the fact of judicial review, nor even how judicial review is practised. The problem is that after more than two centuries of it, the penumbra has grown incredibly large. That is why it seems that rulings seem far more divorced from the text of the Constitution than they’ve ever been, because they have always grown so, and they will continue to indefinitely. There cannot be any going back either, as even the originalist judges constantly find themselves having to cite precedent built on precedent. The system just flat out does not work otherwise, so at best they can only slow the process. The only real solution to this is to call a new Constitutional Convention and start over from scratch, but that comes with its own nasty can of worms.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nornagest & Lilian

            In programming, there is a concept called ‘technical debt,’ which basically means that changing software to meet new business requirements has a tendency to increase complexity in various ways. So the code becomes harder and harder to maintain, unless there is a specific effort for no direct functional gain, to make it easier to maintain. So you need to clean up your room code to keep it maintainable.

            I would argue that an amendment process is inherently problematic in this sense, because there is a strong tendency to make the minimal amount of changes that make the law meet the new requirement, usually at the cost of having not having the most clear statement. Furthermore, you can’t read it easily anymore without knowing which parts have been superseded. So more and more, it becomes something that only specialists can understand (or not understand), based on memorizing lots of it and knowledge of the jurisprudence.

            In The Netherlands, we had a general cleanup in 1983, where the language was updated to be more modern, superfluous parts were scrapped and a bunch of relatively small additions/changes were made with broad support.

        • skef says:

          The hypocrisy surrounding the U.S. constitution comes from the extreme difficulty of amending it. We’re largely stuck with the text as is and we make the best of it.

          Which is not to say that all changes of interpretation are the result of hypocrisy. The bill of rights includes many abstract terms, and it’s perfectly normal to arrive at different (and at least sometimes better) understandings of the scope of such terms.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Is it that difficult to amend, though? At least for the first 200 years of the nation’s existence amendments were passed with regularity – usually in little clusters every 3 or 4 decades:

            1-10: 1791
            11: 1795
            12: 1804

            A notable period of stability, then the Civil War amendments:
            13: 1865
            14: 1868
            15: 1870

            Another pause, only about 40 years this time, then:

            16 & 17: 1913
            18: 1919
            19: 1920
            20 & 21: 1933

            A 2-decade pause, then:

            22: 1951
            23: 1961
            24: 1964
            25: 1967
            26: 1971

            A two-decade pause, then 27 comes in 1992.

            I’d say it looks like we can expect another amendment or flurry of amendments sometime in the next 10-20 years, going by historical patterns.

          • Matt M says:

            A notable period of stability, then the Civil War amendments:
            13: 1865
            14: 1868
            15: 1870

            A major caveat in that these were basically ratified at the point of a gun… and that without them, you’d observe a 100+ year span between amendments leading up to the progressive era…

          • skef says:

            I wouldn’t count the boring tune-up amendments: 12, 20, and 25. 27 was weird because it wasn’t written with a time limit like more recent amendment attempts. 22 was pique about a violation of “unwritten law”.

            The rest seem valid to count. Of those, 15, 17, 19, 23, 24 and 26 are voting-related and constitute any kind of structural change. (I guess we could argue about 17).

            That leaves:

            11 sovereign immunity
            13 abolition of slavery
            14 More civil war clean-up
            16 Income tax
            18 Prohibition
            21 -Prohibition

            So I would say it’s tenable to a) pass tune-ups that people don’t much care about and b) extend the franchise in various ways. Other than that, it’s quite difficult, which makes sense given the super-majorities required.

    • outis says:

      Actually, what surprises me about America is how little they care about the intent of the law, and how much latitude the Supreme Court has in changing the interpretation, and in choosing between completely different approaches in different matters. Fittingly, the power of judicial review itself is not even in the US constitution, it’s just something that the SC grabbed for itself, and everyone went along with it.

      From a continental point of view, it’s frankly hard to say that the US actually operates under the rule of law. It’s more a system of established practices which everyone follows until suddenly they decide not to because the spirit of the times has changed. It was probably the only way for the US to continue operating under its original constitution without periodic deep revisions; the downside is that they had to bend the notion of written law to the point that it’s unrecognizable.

      I think the notion of a “living constitution” is the only one that correctly describes how the US system works, but it needs to be taken much more literally than usual; the US constitution is not just metaphorically living, it is literally incarnate in nine living and breathing men and women. In spite of John Adams, it is exactly a government of men, not of laws. The quaint notion of separation of powers has also fallen by the wayside, as the Supreme Court essentially acts as the supreme legislative organ. Basically, the way the US system actually works is strikingly distant from how it traditionally describes itself.

      • Evan Þ says:

        How, practically speaking, would you restrict the Supreme Court? I’d love to do that, but all I can think of is things like “tell the judges to show more restraint,” or “let their rulings be overruled or justices removed by Congress.” The first would be ineffective, and the second would almost certainly be abused.

        • outis says:

          You cannot do it. The constitution as written is just not enough; the system relies on too many things that are based solely on SC jurisprudence. You would have to sit down and write a new constitution, but to get there you would have to have a huge crisis first (e.g. a revolution).

          • Evan Þ says:

            Even with that, what means would you use to restrict a future Supreme Court?

          • Brad says:

            You pick a different set of trade-offs. In your grandparent post you say “the second would almost certainly be abused”. So you’d get abuse by the legislature or executive instead of the judiciary. But you’d have restricted the future Supreme Court.

            I don’t think there’s any way to have a strong and effective check on the executive and legislative branches to protect civil liberties, which doesn’t at least sometimes overstep and constrain the elected branches in illegitimate ways.

            It’s kind-of like the idea that if you never miss a flight you are spending too much time in airports.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If the SC says “you do not have a right to X under the Constitution” you pass an amendment to the Constitution that says “you have a right to X.” We don’t do that very often but there are certainly ways around SC decisions you disagree with. If we passed an amendment banning gay marriage, there would just be no gay marriage anymore. You can’t appeal the amendment to the SC saying the constitutional amendment is unconstitutional. If you wanted gay marriage again, you’d need to repeal the amendment.

          • Matt M says:

            If we passed an amendment banning gay marriage, there would just be no gay marriage anymore. You can’t appeal the amendment to the SC saying the constitutional amendment is unconstitutional.

            Didn’t they try exactly this in California?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What was the grounds for throwing out the California amendment? Was it that it violated the US Constitution?

          • Nornagest says:

            Didn’t they try exactly this in California?

            There it was the California Constitution being overridden by the US Constitution. The federal interpretation is maybe a little sketchy but the mechanism by which it’s overriding California is just basic supremacy doctrine.

            California is also kind of a special case in that editing its constitution is way, way easier than amending the federal one — all it takes is a simple majority at referendum, so there are usually several changes to the CA constitution every year, often covering minutiae of policy that you’d never find in a constitution worth the name. This is one of the reasons its state politics are a mess, though not the most important one.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            You can’t appeal the amendment to the SC saying the constitutional amendment is unconstitutional.

            Why not? I understand the supreme court of India overturned a constitutional amendment as unconstitutional, because it ‘ran counter to the purpose of the constitution’ (or something like that). I also recall reading a legal paper arguing that, since the Constitution needs to be internally self-consistent, any amendment which makes the Constitution self-inconsistent, contradictory, or incoherent can and must be found unconstitutional. (As I recall, these were both linked by someone arguing that a constitutional amendment to provide a procedure for a state to seceed would be unconstitutional and could and should be overturned by SCOTUS as such, on the grounds that the preamble lays out as a core purpose of the constitution the formation of “a more perfect union” — which means a perpetual, indissoluble, irreversible one — and thus any “secession amendment,” by being counter to that purpose, would render the entire document inconsistent, and thus, by the above arguments, be unconstitutional.)

        • johan_larson says:

          Checks and balances are a good thing. A branch of government trying to do something that the other branches pointedly reject is almost certainly doing something wrong. But there are no real checks and balances that apply to the supreme court; the justices serve for life, cannot realistically be removed, and the only way to override their judgments is to change the constitution, which is improbably difficult.

          I think it would be useful if the executive and legislative branches could overrule the supreme court. The bar for doing so should be high, but not impossibly high. Requiring, say, two thirds of the senate and the president to void a supreme court judgement seems about right.

          • beleester says:

            I’m not sure any recent supreme court judgements could or would have been overturned under your conditions. A party basically never gets a full two-thirds majority (even 60 votes is rare), and I can’t think of any cases where both parties agreed that the law should be one way and the Court thought it should go another way. I suppose it feels nice to close the loop of checks and balances, but I don’t think it would ever come up.

            Also, a supreme court’s judgement doesn’t just decide a case, but generally directs lower courts on how to decide similar cases. For instance, Terry vs. Ohio created a test for “What counts as an unreasonable search in a stop-and-frisk situation?”, which lower courts now apply whenever a similar search is conducted. If Congress overturns their ruling, what precedent does that set? Will Congress have to include a new standard for what makes a search illegal, or does it create a narrowly-tailored, “Fuck Terry in particular” judgement? Is it an enduring rule, or can the Court consider a similar case a few months later and repeat their earlier decision?

            (And does making a “Fuck Terry in particular” bill count as a bill of attainder?)

          • LewisT says:

            @beleester

            The RFRA comes to mind. That passed unanimously in the House and nearly unanimously in the Senate.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Ignore their rulings. The Supreme Court has no enforcement mechanisms and controls none of the budget.

          Additionally, the size of the Supreme Court is governed by statute, not by Constitutional law. If Congress and the President do not like the current composition, they can pack the court with new judges.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Ignore their rulings. The Supreme Court has no enforcement mechanisms and controls none of the budget.

            What about the U.S. Marshals Service?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Marshals are apparently under the ultimate jurisdiction of the President, as they are a branch of the DOJ.

            The Marshals also cannot operate if Congress refuses to fund them.

            There also aren’t enough Marshals to act a law enforcement body against determined civil resistance.

            Third Branch depends on the other two to really do anything (which was the intention).

          • Matt M says:

            There also aren’t enough Marshals to act a law enforcement body against determined civil resistance.

            There aren’t enough government employees period to act as a law enforcement body against determined civil resistance.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            There don’t have to be. Just enough government employees to break such determination. Doesn’t even take that much. Beat a few dissidents to death here, throw a couple of others into PMITA federal prison there, take away other dissident’s children on a pretext, maybe hold a nursery school hostage for back taxes, etc.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Nybbler –

            Well, that is an excellent approach to ending civil disobedience, if you don’t mind an outright rebellion replacing it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Courts can in theory issue warrants to be enforced by concerned citizens directly, e.g. authorizing the LGBT activists of Colorado to march in and seize the property of any recalcitrant bakers in the state, which would be a way around the executive branch’s refusal to implement a ruling but which seems implausible in practice.

            Perhaps slightly less unthinkable would be, in cases with a Federalist or State’s Rights angle, calling on the State’s executive branch to block an unconstitutional action by the Federal executive. Since we’ve already got “sanctuary cities” and even States trying to figure out how actively obstructionist they can be to Federal immigration authorities, that could have real teeth. But it would be maybe two steps removed from a literal Civil War, so I don’t think the Supremes are likely to go there.

      • Matt M says:

        I think the notion of a “living constitution” is the only one that correctly describes how the US system works, but it needs to be taken much more literally than usual; the US constitution is not just metaphorically living, it is literally incarnate in nine living and breathing men and women.

        See, I think the problem here is that this metaphor is often used to confuse two outcomes that, practically speaking, are very different.

        1. The constitution is “living” in the sense that it can be amended through a specific (and very difficult) legal process.

        2. The constitution is “living” in the sense that the Supreme Court can randomly decide that it means something completely different than what it supposedly meant yesterday.

        And I think there’s almost a motte and bailey going on. 1 is uncontroversial and everyone agrees, but a whole lot of people seem to point to 1 as justification for 2.

        • Brad says:

          I’ve never (much less often) heard anyone use the phase “living constitution” to refer to the fact that there’s an amendment procedure. Every constitution has an amendment procedure.

          Also, only the most bitter and cynical among us think that the Supreme Court decides things randomly.

          • Matt M says:

            Cynical?

            I feel like “randomly” is a more charitable phrase than what I’d use if I spent a few minutes thinking about how I honestly perceive what motivates them…

          • Brad says:

            Based on what? Your extensive knowledge of constitutional law? Your many thousands of hours spent reading the papers of Supreme Court justices? Your personal interviews with clerks to get a behind the scenes look at how the Court works?

          • Matt M says:

            Wow Brad – you really got me there. You totally exposed me for not having read every SC opinion under the sun, AND for not having intimate personal knowledge of their day to day operations.

            Which, you know, are things I totally claimed when I said “My perception is X…”

            You’re free to discount my personal opinions if you’d like, and even to encourage others to do the same – but your schtick of trying to appear all high and mighty by pointing out how I don’t have a 100% encyclopedic knowledge of every single event under the sun is getting pretty tired.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, only the most bitter and cynical among us think that the Supreme Court decides things randomly.

            I’d need to be a lot more optimistic to think that the decisions are made randomly; my perception (from the hair-pulling over nomination procedures) is that since selecting a Supreme Court judge is a heavily political and politicised procedure, even a ‘moderate’ will have an agenda to make decisions according to what they believe the Constitution should say, rather than on the law and precedent.

          • albatross11 says:

            My favorite bit of this is that there were supreme court decisions:

            a. Upholding the constitutionality of antisodomy laws.

            b. Abolishing antisodomy laws as unconstitutional.

            within a few years of each other, and with no change at all in any relevant bit of the constitution, or for that matter in any understanding of the intent of the original writers/ratifiers of the constitution.

            The set of justices making the decision changed, so what the constitution required changed, as well. [Edited to remove some CW content.]

            ETA: It’s pretty-much impossible to see this as interpreting the constitution, to my mind. They decided on a policy issue, and the two different courts had different policy preferences. Presumably, depending on who gets appointed in the future, they could change the interpretation of the constitution to permit or even require antisodomy laws in the future.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yeah, the sodomy cases strike me as a bunch of bologna, though perhaps that is uncharitable towards O’Connor.

          • Lillian says:

            The reversal of Bowers v. Hardwic by Lawrence v. Texas happened with a gap of 17 years. The fastest Supreme Court reversal on a significant case is probably West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette overruling Minersville School District v. Gobitis after only three years in the early 1940s.

            The question was whether a public school could force student to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In Minersville the Court ruled 8-1 that students could be so forced, whereas in West Virginia it ruled 6-3 that they could not. Stone, the sole dissenting judge in Minersville, had become Chief Justice in the intervening time and retained his free speech position. Black, Douglas, and Murphy all reversed themselves; while Frankfurter, Roberts, and Reed did not. It was Frankfurter who authored the previous decision. The two new judges, Jackson and Rutledge, joined the majority with Jackson authoring the new decision.

            It’s interesting that the court managed such a powerful defence of free speech while in the middle of the Second World War. A distinct difference from the court’s behaviour during and after the First World War, which gave us the absolutely terrible Schenck v. United States whence we get the (good but ill used) analogy of “shouting fire in a crowded theatre”. Since the Minersville decision precipitated significant violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were painted as subversive and unpatriotic, this may have played a role in three of the judges reconsidering their position. It also helped that the matter had been reframed from one of religious exemptions to one of free speech. Context matters!

          • azhdahak says:

            My impression is that belief in a “living constitution” feels like belief in the idea that the Constitution was written deliberately vaguely to allow for value drift, which is assumed to be in a positive direction. It’d be something like saying that, while “cruel and unusual punishment” didn’t exclude the death penalty in 1787, it does now because morality has improved with time.

          • Brad says:

            @Lillian
            What about Morehead v. New York ex rel. Tipaldo to West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (the switch in time that saved nine)?

      • BBA says:

        That’s more of a common law/civil law distinction, though. (Roughly, Anglophone countries versus the rest of the world.) Precedent and judge-made law are central features of England-descended legal systems. Canada, for instance, had a notion of an “Implied Bill of Rights” in its constitutional practice until it adopted its explicit Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. Australia, which still has no bill of rights in its constitution, has something similar as I understand it.

        (And I was really hoping this discussion wouldn’t descend into sniping over the Supreme Court. Goddammit you people, this is the non-culture war thread!)

  10. secret_tunnel says:

    Would you believe me if I told you I predicted the outcome of the Super Bowl yesterday morning?

    • yodelyak says:

      But your other 2000 twitter bots probably predicted 2000 other things, so *of course* you got it right. Oh wait, you seem to have a human-looking tweet-thing handle with many followers and active tweets going back a long time.

      In that case, I guess it’s cause mother nature has you and 2000 (bajillion) other twitter bots that made confident predictions, and of course one of them is right today.

      I mean, none of us are cynical here. Okay, maybe a little.

      But hey, that’s neat. If you could do that reliably, I feel pretty certain there’s a way to monetize that kind of thing…

      • Anatoly says:

        Znqr gubhfnaqf bs gjrrgf cerqvpgvat nyy ernfbanoyr pbzovangvbaf, gura ergjrrgrq gur evtug bar cbfg-tnzr. Gur bguref nera’g frra ol qrsnhyg orpnhfr gurl fgneg jvgu n zragvba.

        (sorry, secret_tunnel)

    • arabaga says:

      Jung Nangbyl fnvq: uggcf://gjvggre.pbz/Frperg_Ghaary/jvgu_ercyvrf

      Nygreangviryl, pbhyqa’g lbh qryrgr gur gjrrgf gung unir gur jebat cerqvpgvba?

      • secret_tunnel says:

        V’Z GUVAXVAT NOBHG VG! QBVAT VG ZNAHNYYL JBHYQ GNXR UBHEF, OHG VS V PBHYQ JEVGR N FPEVCG GUNG V JNF PBASVQRAG QVQA’G UNIR N OHT GUNG’Q QRYRGR NYY BS ZL GJRRGF HCBA RKRPHGVBA, GUNG PBHYQ OR JBEGU VG.

        (Sorry for all caps, do you guys just use an in-browser encrypter thing? Which one?)

    • baconbits9 says:

      I would congratulate you on winning an enormous amount of money!

      You did bet on your ‘certainty’, right?

  11. dodrian says:

    I’m visiting Baltimore/DC for a few days in two weeks time, apart from the B&O Railway Museum and the obvious DC tourist stuff (Capitol, Mall, Smithsonians, etc) is there anything unusual or off the beaten trail people would recommend seeing?

    • cassander says:

      The Air and Space museum hangar at Dulles is excellent. Bit of a drive to get there, but worth it.

      • Nornagest says:

        Seconded. It’s where they put all the stuff too big or too weird to fit in the museum on the Mall, which ends up being most of the really interesting stuff unless all you care about is aviation “first”s.

        • gbdub says:

          Thirded.

          Also, I appreciate that the Dulles facility has a bare minimum of “exhibits”, compared to the Mall museum. It’s basically just a huge building stuffed to the rafters with flying machines, with a bare minimum of explanatory text on placards.

          • dodrian says:

            Superb tip – I see it’s also got the Space Shuttle Discovery. It looks difficult to get to if I’m based near BWI though (and I wasn’t planning on renting a car), is there anything else interesting on that side of town?

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah. I’d seen the Shuttles or parts of them a few times before, but it’s somehow got more presence in the Udvar-Hazy, where you can see it from several angles all surrounded by stuff to compare it to. The thing’s a brick; I was struck by how easily you could curl up and take a nap inside its main engines.

          • gbdub says:

            If you’re coming from the BWI side, unfortunately not much else around there that I’m aware of other than the usual suburban DC stuff. It would cost you most of a day of your trip. It’s certainly worth it if you’re into that sort of thing, but on a short trip you might be looking for more variety.

          • cassander says:

            It’s worth mentioning that while there aren’t exhibits, there are excellent tours if you want more explanation than you get from plaques.

        • Controls Freak says:

          unless all you care about is aviation “first”s

          I have to say that, even at Dulles, most of the vehicles have some “first” aspect to them. At the very least, they were all influential, but normally, when I go through (giving a tour to my friends), I find myself saying, “This was the first time we figured out how to do _____,” a lot.

          • Nornagest says:

            True, but those are usually achievements on a technical or operational level, whereas the ones on the Mall usually represent more of an strategic or social achievement — where the Udvar Hazy’s got a Redstone rocket, for example, the Mall’s got SpaceShipOne.

            Or to put it another way, the Mall’s optimized for showing off the kind of achievements you can explain to an enthralled eight-year-old. The best example might be the Dash 80 at Dulles, which was an enormous milestone in civil aviation but takes a lot of explaining and looks totally unimpressive to anyone that’s seen a modern jet airliner.

          • gbdub says:

            To be pedantic, the Mall also has a Redstone, in the form of the first stage of Jupiter-C (used to launch the Explorer satellite).

            But yes this is the general thrust of the two collections (the other one being size – Discovery, the Dash 80, and the Concorde are all as significant as many of the artifacts on the Mall, but just too big to fit without a major remodel (and displacing a lot of other artifacts)

    • gbdub says:

      DC has a pretty good restaurant scene, would be worth seeking out and splurging if you’re in town for an evening.

      I rather enjoyed a couple late nights in the Dupont Circle / Adams Morgan area (inebriation and a Final Four win for my team that night helped, but seriously Adams Morgan seems to have a bar for every proclivity, and also jumbo slices).

    • The Walters Gallery in Baltimore has a very good collection of historical (medieval, renaissance, probably classical as well) jewelry.

      I visited a market in Baltimore, rather like the ones I have seen in various other countries but rarely in the U.S.–a big building with lots of tiny stores selling cheese, meat, … .

      If you happen to be an H.L. Mencken fan, Baltimore was his home town. I’m not sure if you can actually tour the house he lived in but you can at least look at it. And eat some sea food from “the vast protein factory of Chesapeake Bay” in his memory.

      • Nornagest says:

        I visited a market in Baltimore, rather like the ones I have seen in various other countries but rarely in the U.S.–a big building with lots of tiny stores selling cheese, meat

        DC proper has a similar one: the Eastern Market, near the eponymous metro stop.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          In Philadelphia, you could check out The Reading Terminal Market, but be warned– the quality is wildly varied from not very good to high end.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Dunno if Nancy would agree, but I found Tony Dinic’s to be superb. (I would recommend a pork sub with sweet peppers and horseradish if they have it.)

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I was pretty unimpressed with Dinic’s. It was my first time trying a roast pork in Philly, and I walked away unconvinced that it was even a food worth eating: just not that much flavor or texture or anything. Much better to spend time finding the perfect cheesesteak (which you won’t find at the RTM). Maybe the choice of toppings is really important, as the setup Paul recommends isn’t stuff I’d normally eat.

            I don’t go into the city much, but my plan for the next time I visited the RTM was the dedicated grilled cheese place.

            The Pennsylvania Dutch maintain a few stalls there too, and produce some absolutely fantastic looking baked goods.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I haven’t really explored the Reading Terminal Market, partly because it’s not really handy for me and partly because it is a sort of a crapshoot.

            Most recently, I’ve had mediocre food from Hong Kong Gourmet (?) and excellent food from Down Home Diner, in particular their Cherokee chicken soup. I don’t know if it was actually Cherokee, but it was a nice soup with dark and light chicken. Their mac and cheese is excellent.

            What might be damning about the Market is that I was there recently because I was called for jury duty (they threw me back) near there. The juror wrangler was chatty and there was some extra time, so she asked us if we enjoyed our lunches, and no one said yes. The crowd looked so sad.

            They do have some upscale cheese shops at the Market, I’ve just got other places where I usually buy good cheese.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            I’m kind of surprised there’s any Asian food at all in the RTM, since it’s like a block and a half away from Chinatown.

            I’m tempted to spend some time sampling the various places the next time I’m in the city, but it’s generally pretty crowded and it would detract from my search for the best cheesesteak.

            There’s always a good food reason to go into Philly, but I never come up with anything else I want to do.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Baltimore has quite a good aquarium.

      • dodrian says:

        Thanks, the more I think about it the more interesting the Walters Gallery sounds. And I’m always up for buying artisanal cheeses (one thing I really miss since moving from the UK to Texas).

        • Thegnskald says:

          What part of Texas?

          There is artisinal cheese in the US, particularly in large cities, you just have to know where to look for it.

          • dodrian says:

            I know, but I’m an hour’s drive from anything actually called a city, and at least three hours from a city I’d actually want to visit.

            Going to HEB in San Antonio just before Christmas was amazing. So much cheese!

          • Incurian says:

            I know, but I’m an hour’s drive from anything actually called a city, and at least three hours from a city I’d actually want to visit.

            Why?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dodrian –

            Check specialty markets, as well; any store with “whole”, “organic” or “natural” in its name is a good candidate. They tend to have a selection of interesting cheeses.

            Brookshires has opened a couple of specialty stores as well, I forget the name; “Fresh”, maybe? They have good cheese selections if there is one nearby.

          • Nornagest says:

            Farmers’ markets often have local cheese (for some value of local). Dunno if your part of Texas is into that, though.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      If you do go to Lexington Market, that big indoor market in Baltimore, check out Faidley’s Seafood’s crabcakes. The restaurant has no chairs, but you’ll be floating after one bite of maybe the best crabcakes out there.

      Also perhaps worth checking out is the dental museum. It’s moderately disturbing, but quite interesting, and traces the history of the field back through the eras of alarmingly large and spiky metal objects. Plus it has a ton of good information about teeth.

      In DC, Eastern Market is very nice, with lots of good bookshops and nice indoor shops. I second the recommendation of the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum — it’s way better than the one downtown.

  12. maintain says:

    Do people really need to get their wisdom teeth taken out? Tonsils?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      RE wisdom teeth: The NY Times recently published an article about this. The suggested conclusion is “no.”

      Britain’s National Health Service stopped paying for the procedure if there was no good reason for it after an analysis by its Center for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York concluded in 1998 that there was no solid scientific evidence to support it. Also that year, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said that for patients who do not have a condition related to third molars or whose teeth would probably grow in successfully, removal is “not advisable.”

      This refers to the routine extraction of teeth that show no obvious signs of problem. Wisdom teeth can crowd your other teeth, which screws up your bite-plane. Also, wisdom teeth are hard to clean, so they frequently become infected. In those cases, probably a good idea to remove them. They rarely are useful for chewing anyways because they are rarely aligned.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I didn’t particularly want to have mine removed, mostly just because it would be interesting to have more teeth, but they were severely impacted and wouldn’t have come in normally.

      I don’t have anything against orthodontia, so if you decide that you’d prefer to have then out for cosmetic reasons then whatever. But if they’re going to come in normally it seems a bit pointless to remove then. I’m assuming that even if they pushed your other teeth it could be corrected with clear braces.

    • pontifex says:

      Do yourself a favor and have them removed before your late 20s. They’re much easier to remove then before the cartilage is replaced by bone. If you leave them, and then you turn out to be one of the people who must have them removed, you will regret it. A lot. And they’re useless anyway

      • Thegnskald says:

        Note: If you have native American ancestry, this may be terrible advice, as the roots may be wrapped around the jawbone and require major surgery regardless of how young you are when the surgery is performed (also, they are significantly less likely to cause you issues in that case).

        • pontifex says:

          Wow, interesting. I didn’t know that.

          I still think that for people without Native American ancestry, just getting rid of wisdom teeth while you’re a teenager is the best thing to do.

          I actually wonder how people in the past handled this. Did people routinely die from dental cysts caused by impacted wisdom teeth? Or did the local wise man smash them out with a rock or something?

          • johan_larson says:

            A lot of primitive dentistry consisted of simply pulling rotten teeth, which created spaces that gave the wisdom teeth room to come in when they were ready.

      • ThinkingWithWords says:

        The earlier the better.
        If xray evidence shows issues with the tooth buds (size, shape, orientation) get them removed in your mid to late teens if possible.
        Prior to proper root development is ideal, as they are easy to remove surgically, and recovery time is quick.
        And yes they are largely useless.

    • ThinkingWithWords says:

      Re tonsils, only get them removed if they are problematic.
      If, however, you are one of the minority of people who suffer recurrent tonsillitis, it is totally worth having them removed as they can act as a continuing reservoir of low-grade infection.
      Again, removing them as young as feasible is best if that is your situation. Having them removed as an adult is briefly but intensely unpleasant, and post-operative bleeding is a frequent side-effect – especially for smokers.

  13. Well... says:

    Can anyone point me to some reviews of Jared Diamond’s “Guns Germs and Steel” written by people who professionally study human intelligence?

    • Well... says:

      …or by anyone with a strongly defended competing theory?

      • yodelyak says:

        I tried entering this string into Google…
        site:slatestarcodex.com “Jared Diamond”

        and got back a bunch of links. If I were more disciplined I’d go ahead and use some kind of control group (maybe “The Bible”?) before saying that our host and our commentariat reference Jared Diamond by name a good amount. But I’m going to just go ahead and say it, our host and commentariat reference Jared Diamond a good bit by name.

        Without further ado, the the best real SSC engagements with GGaS seem to be:

        By our host, the planet-sized reactionary injection here

        By the commentariat, maybe the weird nugget from the beginning of GGaS, here.
        or this weird comment here which suggests we can extrapolate from the statistics for population density pre- / post- industrial revolution, to infer the likely population statistics (for non-Em populations, anyway) after the Age of Ems is in full swing.
        or this nugget where our host draws fire for something a bit to culture-war-y for this thread here and hiernonymousbosch waxes effusive about epistemic modesty being a two-way street.

      • quaelegit says:

        I’m pretty sure this isn’t what you want, but there’s a lot of in-depth discussion and criticism of GG&S (and maybe some of Diamond’s other work) on AskHistorians — by historians and anthropologists. I tried to wade through a bunch of the posts about a year ago to get a sense of their criticisms, and it seemed like besides details (e.g. arguing that GG&S history of infectious diseases didn’t reflect then-current research understandings) they think he took an overly-deterministic approach in arguing how much of history was due to geography. See e.g. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/timi4/the_askhistorians_master_book_list/c4n6lg6/

        The posters tended to recommend Ecological Imperialism by Alfred Crosby and 1491 by Horace Mann over GG&S.

        EDIT: I linked a concise summary; if you are interested in more detail/the actual criticism try looking in their “FAQ” for Jared Diamond/GGS, or I can try to find the posts I found interesting.

    • Anon. says:

      Greg Cochran recently wrote a thing on GGS, search his blog.

    • For what it is worth, my opinion of Diamond went down when I read something he wrote about a subject I actually knew something about–a “review” of three books on saga period Iceland. He managed not to mention that one of his claims was the exact opposite of the claim in one of the books. He didn’t mention that a particular “failure of the system,” a successful pirate raid, happened after the end of the period, when Iceland was under the rule of the king of Norway.

      Perhaps most serious, his explanation of what went wrong, which may for all I know have been correct, had nothing to do with the political system he was criticizing. By his account the Icelandic environment looked like the Norwegian environment but was much more fragile, the settlers treated it as they would have treated the Norwegian environment, with unfortunate consequences. The same problem would have occurred if Iceland had been under the Norwegian crown from the beginning.

      Guns, Germs and Steel struck me as an interesting book, but I had some reservations about the argument.

  14. AnthonyC says:

    I was reading the news this morning and realized that Newtonian Ethicscan be extended to spaces with non-zero curvature.

    I was reading the news this morning and thought, for the infinith time, “Wow, everything the president does is hyperbole and projection.”

    This time it was followed by, “Huh, I wonder what it would be like to live in a hyperbolic projection.” Well, everything beyond yourself or your immediate local environment would be distorted, vast, hard to reach, and big. It would probably be a good idea to focus almost exclusively on what’s right near you, because the rest fades into an almost Lovecraftian incomprehensibility. That…actually explains quite a lot of conservative thought and behavior. Trump behavior in particular, but also phenomena like “I was against gay rights until my own child was gay!” and “America First” and strong support for local community building organizations.

    In contrast, a world with positive curvature is spherical and closed. You can view it from all sides, hold it in your mind as a unified whole. Nothing is so far away you can’t relate to it or affect it. Everything is inescapably bound together. That…actually explains quite a lot of liberal thought, from support for foreign aid and wealth redistribution to atomization in cities and among younger generations to Communism.

    So yeah. After a year of hand-wringing on the left about “Let’s try to understand Trump voters and how they see the world,” my conclusion is that they perceive themselves as living in hyperbolic space, and are behaving accordingly. Those of us living in Euclidean or spherical space look at them and assume it’s just projection. The Euclideans, as always, are in the middle – they see the world as too big to try to affect in its entirety, but they care about things much farther away than the hyperbolics do.

    • Thegnskald says:

      So… conservatives see ethics as horribly complex, and liberals see ethics as painfully simple?

      Setting aside the culture war content, and the odd rhetorical device you are using to arrive at this conclusion, that is pretty much what surveys already tell us, in that conservatives tend to have a wider array of ethical values; this would naturally lead to a more complex view of ethics, as ethical optimization difficulty would increase exponentially with the number of variables.

      So you are right, although I don’t know about your means of arriving at the conclusion.

      • AnthonyC says:

        I’m not pretending to say anything new, I just thought it was a silly pun taken to its (il)logical conclusion. And I do apologize for the culture war content. I was attempting to avoid making one perspective look “good” and one “bad,” even though it’s clear what my own biases are.

        Sadly, I don’t have the writing skill to do it justice. I have SSC for that.

        • Thegnskald says:

          It is a useful metaphor, or I wouldn’t have responded; to many on the right, ethics is an unsolvable multivariate problem, which can be expressed roughly as “You can’t know the mind of God” (the mind of God being “the good”).

          Which is a large part of why conservatives are conservative – because you can’t known in advance what you are trading away. Chesterton’s fence is a common way of expressing this, but I think Cthulu-like hyperbolic complexity might be a better way of conveying what it looks like from the inside to somebody who doesn’t quite get it. Chesterton’s fence has the issue that people “find” a reason for the fence, so they can justify tearing it down.

          There is a humility in the hyperbolic complexity perspective I think most ethical theorists could use a heavy dose of.

  15. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Given the recent stock market correction and continuing collapse of bitcoin, it’s time for another “how do regular people do finance” update:

    -One friend is smarter than the average bear. She saw bitcoin was a huge bubble and refused to invest…then she decided she was smart enough to time the drop, and bought in on Friday, when it was still $8,000. It is now below $6,000: 25% of her investment has disappeared in half a week.

    -No one else talks about bitcoin anymore….wonder why that is?

    -Given the recent market drop, one colleague remarked: “so good news means a stock market drop?” He doesn’t get it. An astute young man! I don’t get it either. I only have guesses.

    -One colleague was prepared to buy today, as he expected another dip. You see, the market drop continued in Europe and Japan, therefore American markets MUST drop as well. As I write this, the Dow Jones is up .5%. He started the day sending me a headline showing an immediate 500 point drop, to demonstrate how right he was. I do wonder if this incident will cause him to re-evaluate any of his other investment decisions.

    -Trying to dodge the culture-war, but still needs to be mentioned: one co-worker said this is all Trump’s fault. The market was falling while he was speaking, you see. The rally since Jan 2017 is all Obama’s doing, though.

    -One co-worker took all of his retirement money (incurring the 401k early withdrawal penalty) to invest in a major insurance’s company index annuity package. He heard about it a seminar (these things are heavily marketed, like timeshares). Apparently it is “guaranteed” to yield at least 4% per year. Based on what I can read, these are only backed the issuing insurance company, so this is essentially betting that all insurance companies will be considered “Too Big to Fail” for the next 70-80 years.
    Not sure what the returns are compared to a standard index fund….

    -One co-worker doesn’t trust government inflation or GDP stats, so he has all his money invested in gold. Yup. I apparently work with Ron Swanson.

    • John Schilling says:

      One co-worker doesn’t trust government inflation or GDP stats, so he has all his money invested in gold. Yup. I apparently work with Ron Swanson.

      Gold is up 1.7% so far this year, and it is an obvious place for some of the bitcoin money to flee, so I’m not going to ridicule the gold bugs right this moment. People who have all their money in any one asset, OTOH, should be ridiculed at any opportunity.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, there’s a time and a place to make fun of gold bugs, but it sure as hell isn’t right now…

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          No problem, I have a long time horizon. The last time people were telling me to invest in gold were the libertarians I ran with back in 2010 and 2011, because the Federal Reserve stimulus was about to unleash hyper-inflation. Assuming they all sold before it dropped in 2013, hey, good on them.

          This guy is giving up 401k company matches to buy a store of value, because he doesn’t think the stock market is based on anything real….it’s pretty silly, IMO.

          Also, if you think the whole system is about to collapse, gold is too optimistic! Put your money in rice and ammunition! 🙂

          • Randy M says:

            I assume he at least has physical gold, rather than stocks of companies that sell gold?

          • Nornagest says:

            These days you don’t need to buy stock to invest in gold without lugging around a bunch of Krugerrands — there are gold ETFs available through most brokers. And commodity futures, but those at least theoretically involve taking delivery of physical gold if you’re holding onto them at maturity. (I had a coworker a while back that traded futures; I’ve always wondered if he ever forgot about a contract and ended up with a truck unloading six tons of frozen pork bellies onto his front lawn.)

            A gold ETF probably presents enough systemic risk that a real goldbug wouldn’t go for it, though.

    • baconbits9 says:

      A month ago (?) there was a new poster who showed up with his proposal for riding the bitcoin bubble- buying and selling half every time it doubled. He reacted not so well when I asked what his exit strategy was.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Assuming your colleague is in his 30s or 40s, does he expect to live past 100?

      Financial products seem to be like beer, though: the more they’re marketed, the worse they are.

    • Protagoras says:

      On the insurance company thing, it seems like there are a decent amount of government protections for customers of bankrupt insurance companies in general. No idea how or if they apply to this particular product, and as a lot of them seem to be state level it’s presumably going to vary from state to state, but this one might not be quite as foolish as it looks. I wouldn’t do it, though (at least not without thoroughly investigating the protections, and even then there’s always the concern that the rules might change). Especially not taking an early withdrawal penalty to do it; I find it hard to imagine that any investment would be good enough to justify that.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Didn’t realize there were some additional guaranties by state. Unfortunately, we live in IL, so I am not sure how these SGAs might change….

        I can’t tell much, but in IL it says that your actual annuity value is capped at $250,000 for withdrawal? http://www.ilhiga.org/faq

        Not 100% sure how to interpret that, but if the company goes bankrupt when I am, say, 60, I could be losing a LOT of money if I am only guaranteed $250,000. The guy DID move his ENTIRE nest egg.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Annuities – I am assuming that is what your coworker purchased from an insurance company – are decent deals with an important caveat: Generally, the insurance company gets away with paying higher interest rates by keeping whatever is left over after you die.

      So, if you are not concerned with leaving an inheritance behind, you may be able to have a slightly nicer or earlier retirement.

      Pay attention to the small print, however, as they may have a lifetime limit – that is, they may stop paying you at some point in the future, if you live that long.

      • Brad says:

        Vanilla annuities are a competitive market and, though quite conservative, are reasonably good products. They also aren’t heavily makered, you generally have to go seek them out yourself.

        Exotic annuities are cesspits. While they aren’t outright scams in the sense of swamp land in Florida they have very high embedded costs that make them perform terribly on a risk reward basis. They are extremely profitable and marketed by up to an including sending a salesman to people’s houses to sign them up.

        See also: term vs non-term life insurance.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I haven’t investigated exotic term life policies, but a quick scan suggests they are as you suggest, generally terrible.

          Whole life (and related products, like universal life) can be okay, but is a much more specific kind of product than most people think; unless you have a specific reason for getting it, you shouldn’t.

          (On this note, most people with families should have two term life policies, one shorter and probably larger; so maybe one 30-year plan, and another larger 10 or 15 year plan; once your mortgage is paid off, your beneficiaries will have much lower costs of living. An equivalent 30 year policy will be more expensive because it will be pricing in increasing risk.)

          • Brad says:

            I think we are in agreement on life insurance, but to make it even more explicit, unless you have a tax attorney actively working on estate tax avoidance strategies your probably don’t want a whole life policy.

            Given that most people that buy them, and that they are heavily marketed to, aren’t in that group I feel comfortable putting whole life in the category of almost-a-scam along with variable annuities.

        • Alphonse says:

          For anyone seriously considering annuities, I’d recommend taking a VERY careful look at the impact of inflation on long-term returns. A 2% inflation rate will chop the real return on the annuity after 35 years. A 3.5% inflation rate will halve the real return on the annuity after 20 years. That’s even ignoring the potential for a high-inflation period like the 1970s to essentially wipe out the value of the annuity payments.

          Of course, you can buy an inflation-adjusted annuities, although then you get paid less on the front-end.

          I suppose annuities can make sense for EXTREMELY risk-averse people, those unwilling to create and manage even a fairly basic portfolio for themselves, or those in genuinely unique tax/portfolio situations. But I think that characterizing annuities as a reasonable purchase for a typical retail investor is a bad idea given the alternatives.

          • Brad says:

            Vanilla annuities are generally fairly priced for what they are. There aren’t large profit margins built into the structure that allow for extravagant commissions paid to salesmen that peddle them aggressively. Whether they are often, sometimes, or rarely a good idea for someone’s particular financial situation is a separate question.

    • Brad says:

      Given the recent market drop, one colleague remarked: “so good news means a stock market drop?” He doesn’t get it. An astute young man! I don’t get it either. I only have guesses.

      The standard explanation is that a tightening labor market, including wage increases is good news. But it also increases the likelihood you of inflation which in turn means rising interest rates, both “naturally” and because of central bank tightening. In turn, higher expected interest rates both make current bonds less attractive and make expected future bonds more attractive as compared to equities which gets reflected in the multiples of earnings investors are willing to pay for equities.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yup, that’s what I told them, but I’m still making a guess. For all I know the S&P is going to be 10% higher next month. There might also be a 1987 style crash and the whole market collapses 20%.

        I’m just going to keep trucking along.

        My only change is that my one co-worker has irritated me enough with his prognostications that I’ve replaced all references to “markets” with “dragons.” The Dragons demand interest rate decreases! The Dragons are upset the dollar fell! The Dragons love the oil price decline!

    • Iain says:

      Trying to dodge the culture-war, but still needs to be mentioned: one co-worker said this is all Trump’s fault. The market was falling while he was speaking, you see. The rally since Jan 2017 is all Obama’s doing, though.

      Realistically, who is president has little effect on the day to day vagaries of the stock market. Most presidents have enough foresight to not claim otherwise. If you want to take credit for every little step on the way up, be prepared to take your lumps on the way down.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Totally agree that it’s a rooster-claiming-credit-for-the-sunrise thing– but my impression is that the only presidents who don’t do that are the ones who don’t have rising stock markets to brag about.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah – on the one hand – it’s almost certain that the President taking credit for the stock market is pretty dumb.

          On the other hand, if this is the biggest criticism of Trump you have at the moment, well, maybe things are looking better for him than I thought!

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            There’s another thing that doesn’t change between administrations: when the other team’s guy is in office, the only principle is “any weapon to hand”.

          • Iain says:

            On the other hand, if this is the biggest criticism of Trump you have at the moment,

            Nobody said that, Matt.

            @Paul:

            Yeah, sure. Everybody toots their own horn to some extent. It seems pretty clear to me that Trump does it more aggressively and claims more agency in the matter than other presidents, but then I would think that, wouldn’t I?

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s another thing that doesn’t change between administrations: when the other team’s guy is in office, the only principle is “any weapon to hand”.

            Definitely bipartisan, but too new to be treated as a universal constant — I’d trace it no further back than Clinton’s second term.

          • outis says:

            To be fair, Obama enjoyed an unusually high and broad level of worship support by the media, while Trump’s is unusually low. So Obama simply did not need to get his hands dirty, while Trump basically has to act as his own press.

          • albatross11 says:

            Obama had good press from a big chunk of the media, but the right end of it was consistently very hostile to him.

          • Matt M says:

            “the right end” consisting of one single television channel and AM radio

        • Controls Freak says:

          I usually say, “Whether the president controls the economy is a XNOR function with inputs, ‘Is my guy in office,’ and, ‘Is the economy doing well?'”

    • Randy M says:

      Question to you or anyone knowledgeable here about financial preparation. Feel free to use this as a jumping off point for any related discussions.

      I have at least 3 retirement accounts; cal-something (calpers?) from when I was a teacher, which probably as a very small amount. Something bigger from when I was employed for 8 years at one company and invested in the 401K managed by Fidelity; it’s in some fund named after the year I expect to retire (Vanguard2045 or something); they send me somewhat impenetrable mail every year. And a fund through my current employer into which I pay about 6%, slightly more than the maximum that gets matched, I believe. Day to day (okay, year to year) I pay very little attention to these funds.

      I will hold no one here liable for any advice, no disclaimers necessary.

      To what extent should I be actively managing any of this?
      How important is it to have all the information at hand in case of my sudden demise–should a reasonably competent accountant or lawyer be able to find it all for my family?
      Should I attempt to consolidate it (edit: consolidate the funds into one account, I mean)
      At the moment, I am putting about $500 per month (outside of the 6% deducted from my paycheck into the 401K) into our savings account to rebuild some liquidity after paying off a car loan last year. I want to have a comfortable margin of, say, 4 months living expenses. I assume the best strategy after that, given I have no particular investment insights, is to apply as much as possible to the 401K.

      Right now we rent, at a reasonable amount per month. Assuming in a few years we could save up a down payment on something livable, or borrow from a 401K or something, are we losing a lot on not buying a home? Consider the case where we aren’t sure if we want to live in this state beyond, say, 5 years. I know equity in a home is better than “throwing money away” but we also don’t pay property taxes or maintenance and have a nice neighborhood.

      • Thegnskald says:

        You should have the documents available, and consolidated; at worst your family should be able to figure out who owes them money, even if they don’t know exactly how much, in a difficult time.

        For house purchasing, if you aren’t planning to stay, the value of buying a house is questionable. In that situation, consider a 10 or 15 year mortgage on a property that is significantly less expensive than you can afford; you will lose money on a longer mortgage if you sell within five years. (This depends on how important school districts and such are to you, mind.)

        • Randy M says:

          You should have the documents available, and consolidated

          I assume “documents” is slang for websites and passwords?

          This depends on how important school districts and such are to you, mind.

          Right now, they are only important to the extent they are a proxy for being able to have children play outdoors in a friendly, safe, clean neighborhood.

      • Brad says:

        To what extent should I be actively managing any of this?

        You probably have no choices in the CalPERS part, the fidelity part is probably find to leave as is indefinitely. It’s worth making sure your current employer’s 401k is setup decently. I helped someone several years back after a random conversation at a dinner party. She had her 401k set up in the default allocation which was very conservative. The changes we made probably netted her tens of thousands of dollars since then.

        How important is it to have all the information at hand in case of my sudden demise–should a reasonably competent accountant or lawyer be able to find it all for my family?

        It’s a good idea to have a folder. Not that huge a deal though, it’s something a lawyer can help your wife figure out if you were to die. But what is pretty important is if any of them were established before you were married, check the beneficiary designation. Also, if you don’t have a will consider writing one / having one drafted. Living will too.

        I assume the best strategy after that, given I have no particular investment insights, is to apply as much as possible to the 401K

        The standard advice is:
        e-fund, 401k matching (ESPP may be here too), high interest debt, HSA (if eligible), IRA, 401k non-matched

        The last two can be switched around depending on circumstances. The Bogleheads wiki is the place to go if you want a deep dive on this stuff.

        Consider the case where we aren’t sure if we want to live in this state beyond, say, 5 years.

        Houses have really high transaction costs (>5%). In general you only want to buy if you are going to be staying there for a decade. That said, you could miss out on the next bubble. No way to know.

      • Thegnskald says:

        (Unrelated to question directly, but relevant to general topic):

        Incidentally, housing may currently be underpriced, given that in many areas of the country apartment rent now exceeds mortgage payments. Do your own research, and plan accordingly.

        • Randy M says:

          I apparently do not live in one of those areas.

        • Matt M says:

          Is this not the norm?

          And shouldn’t it be the norm – shouldn’t the homeowner (who has more risk) be compensated in some way for owning the capital?

          If rents were below mortgage payments, why would anyone bother to buy?

          • Iain says:

            Because after twenty years of mortgage payments you get to stop paying.

            The compensation for home ownership is owning a home.

          • Thegnskald says:

            As Iain says, at the end of it, you own a house.

            You should consider the maintenance costs of the house when considering the decision, but ultimately, after you have paid down around 10% of the principal, you can sell your house and recoup some of your money. At the end of a lease, you have nothing.

            If you are buying a house for financial reasons, buy something cheaper than you can afford, and get a shorter mortgage.

            Investment advice varies on paying it off early – overall, I think tax incentives push the equation towards investing over paying it off early. But this also varies based on your credit rating and hence interest rates. And inflation is a major variable here which can eat away at the principal, as well.

          • Matt M says:

            “At the end of it” is usually 30+ years. I wonder what percentage of homebuyers end up paying off their mortgage in full, rather than selling early. I’d guess less than 50% but I honestly have no idea. It certainly doesn’t seem like most people say, under age 35, are in a good place to assume they’ll never move again in their life. And if you’re, say, over 40, there’s a decent chance you’ll be dead before you pay it off.

            So, it’s just as reasonable to say “At the end, you’ll re-sell it for a profit” which I guess is usually true, but didn’t work out so well for a whole lot of people I knew in 07-09 (many of which weren’t greedy speculators – but were military people who had to move around a lot and had been given advice like “buying is cheaper than renting” and who had good credit so they bought without thinking twice)

          • Chalid says:

            So, it’s just as reasonable to say “At the end, you’ll re-sell it for a profit” which I guess is usually true, but didn’t work out so well for a whole lot of people I knew in 07-09

            No. The way to put it is “you’ll resell for more than zero” since renters get zero when they leave their property.

            Think of the mortgage payment as forced savings.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Not even savings.

            Think of the sale of the house as a rebate – you get some of your money back.

            Don’t expect to get more money back than you put in.

            And don’t sign a 30 year lease. It doesn’t reduce the payment by that much, since it comes with a slightly higher interest rate.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No. The way to put it is “you’ll resell for more than zero” since renters get zero when they leave their property.

            But you pay far more than renters do.

          • AnthonyC says:

            This exactly. I bought my house 4 years ago. My P+I+insurance+taxes (maintenance has been effectively 0 so far, other than changes I chose to make for my own benefit) are about $600/month less than I was paying at my previous apartment (in the same town, with 30% less square footage and no basement storage and no land but with some amenities). Also, the house is an asset that grows in value around 3% (nominal) a year which I was able to buy at 20-times leverage. So each year I gain hundreds of dollars a month in savings *and* $10-20k in equity (which I can also think of as “avoided future rent increases).

          • Thegnskald says:

            BaconBits –

            I pay less, actually, including maintenance. Rent where I live is absurd; apparently this is an increasing trend throughout the country, as an apparent overreaction to the housing bubble.

            (I am comparing the house I live in to an equivalent apartment/house, not the cheapest apartment/house; I am actually paying the same amount for a 15 year mortgage as I was for an apartment which was less than half the size.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            I pay less, actually, including maintenance. Rent where I live is absurd; apparently this is an increasing trend throughout the country, as an apparent overreaction to the housing bubble.

            (I am comparing the house I live in to an equivalent apartment/house, not the cheapest apartment/house; I am actually paying the same amount for a 15 year mortgage as I was for an apartment which was less than half the size.)

            Become a landlord then? I don’t doubt that there are places where this is true from time to time, but it sounds like an extreme situation where you ought to be able to become borderline rich with some effort.

          • Thegnskald says:

            BaconBits –

            Done that before, not doing it again. 80-some odd hours of repair work later, plus material costs, and my conclusion is that renters suck.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you live in an area where this is the norm then that would explain the rent/buy discrepancy. Everyone has different experiences renting, we have gone through 3 tenants in 8 years with the 2 bedroom house we rent, and have 1 8 year long tenant for the 2 car garage on the property. The worst things we have had to do is pay to move a piano and fill holes in the walls/repaint from multiple TV hangings.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Incidentally, housing may currently be underpriced, given that in many areas of the country apartment rent now exceeds mortgage payments. Do your own research, and plan accordingly.

          Rent vs mortgage payments is a meaningless metric. Cost of home ownership with a mortgage includes principle+interest+insurance+taxes+maintenance, this is what needs to be compared to rent, not P+I payment, as the latter two vary greatly and can easily exceed the first two in terms of average monthly costs.

          • Matt M says:

            +risk

            sometimes, home values go down

          • Randy M says:

            I’m tracking with you there. A realtor friend has been talking up how great it is to build equity, but there’s a bit of a conflict of interest bias at work, I suspect.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Functionally you should expect them to go down in real terms. Same home sales prices (Case Shiller) over long periods of time are flat when inflation adjusted, but most houses are updated during their lives (new windows, AC, new kitchens).

          • Thegnskald says:

            Matt M –

            Wrong way to view risk.

            The risk of homeownership is that your house might be worth less; you could go from owning a $150,000 house to owning a $80,000 house. This is true.

            Your equivalent risk in renting is that you could go from owning $0 to $0.

            Arguing against homeownership because house values aren’t stable isn’t that great of an argument. If it is actually cheaper to rent – yes. If it isn’t? No.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think the general advice that you should buy if you plan to live in one place for 10+ years is good barring some other unusual circumstance. You really need to think about the 10+ years part, and how the house will work for you with both your planned life and how it could work for you if things don’t go as planned.

            I think to few people rent these days because they get caught up in the ‘build equity’ mindset, but I think you should look at your house more like a consumption good. You could well live there for 50 years after all, it should be the type of place you want to live. If you never rent early then you are limited in your ability to learn what you actually value in a home. Spending the last year looking at homes with my wife we finally decided not to move (we have owned together for 8 years currently) because looking at a variety of different places eventually let us realize what we really wanted in a house, and that our house already had most of that. Instead now we are committing money to altering what we can about this house, rather than move.

          • Matt M says:

            The risk of homeownership is that your house might be worth less; you could go from owning a $150,000 house to owning a $80,000 house. This is true.

            Your equivalent risk in renting is that you could go from owning $0 to $0.

            Uh…. exactly.

            You don’t “own” the house until you’ve paid it off, and as I’ve said, a whole lot of people sell before that point.

            If you buy a $150k house and sell it five years later for $80k, you’re definitely going to wish you owned $0 worth of house instead.

          • Matt M says:

            I should also clarify that I am in no way against home ownership.

            I am under 35 and own a house that has appreciated in value significantly.

            That said, the main reason I chose to buy is because buying was a lot cheaper than renting. Had that not been the case, there’s no way I would have done so.

            I’ve moved since then, and kept the house. I’ve thought about buying another in my new city, but renting is so relaxing and stress-free and requires no down payment and poses no risk other than “slightly higher prices next year”. I’d rather put my savings into equities and just rent for housing.

      • SamChevre says:

        Opinions–with considerations; note that I’m not a personal finance professional.

        I would not actively manage any of your money. The Vanguard target-date funds are cheap, well-diversified, and an excellent default choice.

        Having all the information somewhere easy to find–it could be as simple as printing this comment and sticking it in the “if I die” file–can be valuable, and is easy.

        If the CALPERS account is just a 401(k) or equivalent, you are likely to gain simplicity with little cost by consolidating with another account. It may have an earnings guarantee or a payout guarantee, or provide some benefit if you are rehired in a California pension system: those are valuable and I wouldn’t consolidate without professional advice (from someone you are paying, not someone paid by selling you stuff). Consolidating into the Fidelity plan would probably be easy. I wouldn’t consolidate into your employer’s plan, because the mutual funds available are more limited and often higher in cost.

        Key question for saving in a 401(k) vs outside, once you’ve contributed enough to get the full employer match (free money! Always contribute the maximum matched amount): you are trading a tax deferral for flexibility–which is more valuable? You can put the investment at the same provider, in a non-retirement account, and put it in the same fund if you want–but you can spend it on a car, or a down payment, or to cover expenses if you are laid off, much more easily if it isn’t in a 401(k).

        I wouldn’t think of renting as throwing money away; homes are expensive to buy, sell, and maintain. The key question I’d ask is what’s the difference between the base cost of owning and renting? When we bought our house, we went from a $1500 rent to a $1000 mortgage, tax, and insurance payment. (We bought the house we’d been renting). In a different city, we might have gone from a $1500 rent to a $2500 payment. Rule of thumb: a house costs 1%-2% of its value per year to maintain. So take your proposed mortgage, add taxes and insurance, and add 1% of your house value per year. If that’s significantly less than your rent, then buying a house makes short-term financial sense. Otherwise, the reasons for buying are longer-term and less financial (stability of residence/predictability of costs, you want to do more modifications than a rental allows…)

      • Alphonse says:

        For what purpose are you saving money? What is your time horizon? How interested are you in learning about and managing your own finances?

        If you want to learn more, the r/personalfinance subreddit and Bogleheads wiki and forums are good starting sources. If you want a single stop resource to explain the stock market, investment accounts, and retirement models, this series is an excellent resource.

        I’ll assume you’re saving for retirement in your 401(k) / IRA (rather than to, say, buy a new truck). Leaving aside saving up for a house down payment, you should DEFINITELY use tax-advantaged accounts — 401(k) or IRA. The benefits of tax-advantaged accounts are significant. Unless you’re saving more than the contribution limits for both combined ($18500 for a 401(k) and $5500 for an IRA in 2018) annually, there’s really no reason for you not to put the entirety of your savings into tax-advantaged vehicles.*
        *Unless you want access to the money for a house down payment.

        Once you have money in your 401(k) / IRA, you have to choose how to invest it. Typically, this means selecting some combination of stocks / bonds, and then buying mutual funds that give you that allocation.

        As a practical matter, selecting the target date fund that matches your anticipated retirement date is a reasonable choice. If you aren’t sure on a provider, Vanguard and Fidelity both have excellent options. You can optimize further if you want to put the time in, but that’s a reasonable first step.

        A major priority at this stage is making sure you don’t buy products with high fees involved. Even small fees can have a MASSIVE impact on your final portfolio value when compounded over years or decades. I wouldn’t buy any target date fund with an expense ratio above 0.20%.

        If you decide to aim for a slightly more complicated approach and build a two-fund portfolio (i.e. purchase a total stock market index and a total bond fund index), you can have an expense ratio of around 0.05%.

        Please, please, please don’t fall for products with expense ratios at the 1% mark or above. Focusing on buying funds with low fees is one of the few ironclad ways of improving your returns.

        Okay, should you buy a house? That’s really complicated, and there’s no right answer. Lots of people are discussing rules of thumb, and often those are more helpful than the formal analysis, but I’ll provide what I think is a good model anyway.

        When you buy a house, you are buying an investment — the house returns an in-kind dividend rather than a return denominated in dollars, but it still has a yield just like any other investment. The value of the in-kind dividend from the house is the value of the rent for a comparable apartment (plus any non-monetary benefits, like painting your walls or whatever), less any carrying costs (real estate taxes, maintenance, utilities that would have been included in your rent).

        This tells you that, to a first approximation, the return on your home is the inverse of the rent to price ratio. If the cost to buy a home is 20 times its annual rent in your area, the return on investment is 5% (setting aside tax advantages, maintenance, real estate taxes, etc.). If homes cost 30 times annual rent in your area, the return on investment is 3.3%. As you can see, this makes the price to rent ratio VERY important, and that’s also a figure that varies dramatically by market. Per a cursory Google search, San Francisco’s ratio is 45. DC is 32. Denver is 26. Houston is 15. The economics of buying a house is quite different as between some of those ratios.

        As a brief aside, the US tax system doesn’t collect revenue from imputed rental income from houses, which provides a tax benefit for home ownership (e.g. if a $100k house would cost $4k annually to rent, and you are in a 20% marginal tax bracket, you’d need to buy an asset returning 5% annual returns to break-even with the house, since you’d pay 20% of those gains on the investment and end up with $4k left over) — this means that home ownership can be more favorable at higher marginal tax rates (even leaving aside the now diminished value of the mortgage interest tax deduction).

        Houses also have high transaction costs to buy and sell. Selling a house can take months (during which the capital remains tied up) and realtor’s fees can be a significant percentage of the sale price.

        Houses are also typically bought with leverage (i.e. a mortgage), which increases the risk (and the returns!). If you get a nonrecourse mortgage that potential downside is decreased, but it’s worth realizing that leverage is involved. Leverage is why declines in the value of the house can wipe out all of your equity in the home quickly (and put you in debt if you don’t have a nonrecourse loan). If you put 20% down on a house and the value of the home declines by 25%, you don’t have 15% equity — you are underwater.

        It’s also worth noting that over the long-term (since 1871), on average, home prices in the US have increased at approximately the rate of inflation. Sure, sometimes you buy in SF in 1970, but sometimes you buy in Detroit in 1980. The lack of diversification is NOT a plus, and the expected real returns (leaving aside the in-kind dividend, which is a genuine return) are essentially zero (and that’s before real estate taxes and maintenance . . .).

        So, should you buy a home? I’d recommend thinking carefully about your lifestyle. Geographic mobility can be helpful professionally. Geographic stability can be nice if you have kids (or so I hear). Are you confident you’ll remain in one area long enough to recoup the transaction costs for buying and selling a house? Are price to rent ratios in your city at a point where buying makes sense? Is the ability to make changes to your living space substantially valuable to you on a personal level?

        All that said, there’s really nothing wrong with continuing to rent if that’s what your lifestyle or the financial factors for your area align with. The stock market has had far, far better historical returns, and if you invest the excess money you save by renting (in a market where buying is more expensive), you will likely come out ahead over the long term (30 years or more).

        • Randy M says:

          I wouldn’t buy any target date fund with an expense ratio above 0.20%.

          Interesting, looking at the dozen or so offering through my company, it looks like 0.4 % is about average, with a max at .6%, and a minimum at 0.07%–which is from what I understand largely company stock.
          The latter fund also shows a (too good to be true?) 10 year return of 11%, so I have rebalanced a bit to favor it.

          All that said, there’s really nothing wrong with continuing to rent if that’s what your lifestyle or the financial factors for your area align with.

          Seems to be the case. Ya’ll have been helpful in checking for blind spots, though.

          • Brad says:

            It’s a bad idea to invest in that fund. One because it is a bad idea to invest in any fund that largely consists of one company’s stock and two because it is especially a bad idea to be heavily exposed to the company you work for. If the company does poorly not only will your job be at risk but your retirement savings will also suffer. Think Enron.

            One exception to the above is if your company allows you buy company stock at a discount, that may be worth doing notwithstanding the exposure risk depending on the holding period.

            Regarding expense ratios, it is a good idea to minimize them as much as possible, but they’ve unfortunately become something of a fetish in certain corners of the internet. At very low ratios (sub 10 bps) tracking error based on trading quality becomes as or more important than reported expense ratios. But since they aren’t easy to look up, no one seems to care. Likewise, chasing the very lowest expense ratios ends up pulling a lot of people into S&P 500 funds (e.g. VOO ER 4 bps) instead of the much more diversified all global equities (e.g. VT ER 11 bps).

          • Randy M says:

            It’s a bad idea to invest in that fund. One because it is a bad idea to invest in any fund that largely consists of one company’s stock and two because it is especially a bad idea to be heavily exposed to the company you work for. If the company does poorly not only will your job be at risk but your retirement savings will also suffer. Think Enron.

            In a realm of numbers, surely bad can be quantified is relative to the upside.

            If I have some risk tolerance (being far from retirement, and having another more stable fund) and this is looking twice as good as the alternative at every interval… still bad?

            Eh, you’re probably right. You aren’t the first to point out that diversification is critical.

            Edit: Will bow to the experts.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Oh hell no, don’t buy the company fund. Brad is right, putting all your eggs in one basket.

            Employee Stock Purchase Plans are a different beast, but I’m not even a fan of those. For all I know the CFO is doing lines off a prostitute right now and we’re going bankrupt tomorrow.

          • Nornagest says:

            (too good to be true?) 10 year return of 11%

            Probably true, but probably also not something to bet the house on. It’s perfectly reasonable for a company or even a whole market segment to post returns in that range for a decade if it’s doing well — there are even times when you could get returns in that range from the S&P, although 10 years ago is just before the financial crisis hit so that’s probably not what’s going on here. But the longer you keep up a run like that, the harder it is to sustain.

            On the other hand, it’s often a good idea to invest in an ESPP if your company offers one — shares bought through one are usually offered at highly favorable prices, so it’s basically free money if you can handle the wait. But the standard advice is to sell those shares as soon as possible to minimize volatility risk. And definitely read the fine print.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yeah, my ESPP is 15% discount off the lower of the prices at the start and end of the purchase period (which I believe is typical), so that’s basically free money; if I played it safe the only way I could lose it is if the company tanked within a few days of the purchase date. That’s regular money, though, not tax-advantaged (I’m already maxing out my 401k).

          • Alphonse says:

            Chiming in with some further thoughts . . . .

            I’ll second the concerns about (disproportionately) holding company stock. If you have access to an ESPP that gives you a discount, by all means utilize the discount, but the usually recommended practice is to liquidate the company stock as soon as permitted while retaining the discount. You’re already over-exposed to your company’s stock since you work there — if you hold an S&P 500 index fund and some random company on the S&P 500 goes bankrupt suddenly, you lose a bit of your stock holdings. If you hold a bunch of your company’s stock and it suddenly goes bankrupt (like many people at Enron / Lehman / etc.), then you lose both some of your stock holdings AND your job.

            As Brad said, fees aren’t the final determiner of what you should buy, even if they are an important consideration. I mostly emphasize them when talking with people because when talking with less financially savvy friends / family, I not infrequently discover that they are unknowingly paying fees amounting 1% (or more) of assets under management (worst I’ve seen was a loading fee of 5.75% and an AUM of ~0.6%).

            Generally, you want to look for the fund(s) that provide you the best combination of total stock market coverage and low fees. Usually those align (e.g. VTSAX, Vanguard’s total stock market index fund, has an expense ratio of 0.04%).

            As an aside regarding returns, I find it’s always helpful to do a quick sanity check by looking to the performance of a broad index fund for the same time period. VTSAX’s trailing total returns are 9.59% for the last 10 years. Obviously 11% is better, but past returns aren’t a guarantee of future performance, so I’d typically side with the structural concerns and be hesitant to invest in a fund that was heavy on your employer’s stock.
            (Similarly, AMZN’s 10-year trailing returns are 28.86% — doesn’t mean that you should tilt your asset allocation toward Amazon stock unless you’re a professional stock trader who thinks he has an excellent reason that the rest of the stock market is systematically undervaluing Amazon. That goes double if your paycheck comes from Amazon.)

            Continuing to use your 401(k) or IRA for the tax-shielding for your investments almost certainly remains a good idea. It is possible for an employer’s 401(k) options to be sufficiently bad so as to negate the tax advantages, but it doesn’t sound like your options are anywhere near that level. Investing dollars beyond those necessary to obtain a 401(k) match into an IRA that you control can be a superior option though (and then continuing to invest in the 401(k) if/when you have maxed out the IRA contribution limit for the year).

        • zoozoc says:

          I just want to note that investing in a ROTH IRA (as opposed to a traditional IRA) allows one to still withdrawn the money for any reason. This is because the money invested into a ROTH IRA has already been taxed. The difference between a ROTH and traditional IRA is that any gains in the ROTH IRA are tax-free and any principle can be withdrawn at any time. A traditional IRA is merely a tax-deferred account (principle is not taxed when it is put in, but everything is taxed when it is taken out at retirement).

          Since a ROTH IRA is extremely flexible, I prefer it to a traditional IRA. If the OP decides later down the road to buy a house, he can (if it makes sense from a financial perspective) take any principle out of his ROTH IRA and put it towards his house. Obviously the point of a ROTH IRA is to have it grow, but the flexibility is nice.

          • Nornagest says:

            This is true, with the caveat that you’re still on the hook for taxes (as ordinary income!) and a 10% penalty on any gains, though not on your principal. There are exceptions for various major-life-event type things, including up to $10,000 for a first-time home payment, though if the account is less than five years old you usually still need to pay taxes.

            The standard advice is to invest in Roth funds if you expect you’ll be in a higher tax bracket when you retire, and in traditional funds if you expect to be in a lower one. Most of us here are pretty young but in high-paying jobs, so that’s not as clear-cut a question as it might be for a more traditional career path.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The ability to withdraw contributions penalty-free does mean that a Roth is generally an excellent place to keep the emergency fund. This might not apply so much in the case of the OP, who sounds like he’s got a bit more complexity than he wants to deal with already.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Mostly good advice has been posted to this already. Only things to add:

        1. Renting a house is not throwing money away. Repairs to homes can take a crap-ton of money. Someone mentioned the 1% rule, which is a good rule of thumb, but keep in mind this is HIGHLY variable: I might be paying $5000 to replace the AC and Furnace, or I could be paying $30,000 to replace the whole sewer line. Returns to homes across the entire nation basically track inflation.
        2. Related to the above, you mentioned you are in the OC, and it looks like the price to rent ratio is close to 40. So buying is insanely expensive. The rule-of-thumb on that, I believe, is that you shouldn’t buy when it is over 30.
        3. Closing costs on home purchases really suck. I wouldn’t buy a home unless you are planning to spend at least 5 years there. Since it sounds like you are on the fence on buying in CA at all, I wouldn’t buy at all.
        4. The target-date retirement funds are generally fine. I am not sure how diversified they are internationally, though….they might be under-exposed. Also, you might want to check if that target date is ACTUALLY your target retirement date. I plan to retire at about 55. The fund automatically balances more to bonds as you get closer to retirement age, so the retirement fund assuming I will retire at 65 will be over-exposed to stocks (IE too risky) compared to my actual desired retirement age.
        5. I do not recommend active investing except as a slightly better form of gambling.
        6. If you are saving up for a down payment, you might consider putting your money into a higher yield savings account, rather than your checking account. Some people on the bogleheads forums said they put their funds in investment-grade muni bonds, but that sounds like a risky option for the Emergency Fund. I actually don’t think it’d be that bad of an idea to put some non-emergency money into a high-yield muni fund….you might lose some money, but I don’t think the principal losses will be THAT high. I am not wedded to that advice, though!
        Just some ideas to beat the .05% interest or whatever that you get at Chase/BoA/whatever.

        I’m really lazy, though. I’m like you, I am sometimes up on the year-to-year performance of my retirement accounts. I hate budgeting, so I generally just use rule-of-thumb to control spending and keep an eye on the bank account (which is at a Big Bank in a shit-yield account for convenience purposes).

        Once a year I take excess money and I throw it at the highest interest loan, which is currently the 6.5% interest due to Uncle Sam. That fucker sure is getting a good deal on this student debt. S/B paid off this year, though, and then we can start throwing more money into that adjustable-rate student loan that I was told was fixed.

        I’m definitely not optimized. Probably need to commit some time to optimizing that this year. I have some risk-free treasuries from when I was younger that are still yielding like 6% the last time I checked, but I don’t need them as an emergency fund right now, so I can throw them at the student debt and get that paid off.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      As an update to this:

      One colleague was prepared to buy today, as he expected another dip. You see, the market drop continued in Europe and Japan, therefore American markets MUST drop as well. As I write this, the Dow Jones is up .5%. He started the day sending me a headline showing an immediate 500 point drop, to demonstrate how right he was. I do wonder if this incident will cause him to re-evaluate any of his other investment decisions.

      The S&P is now up to 1.7%.

      My colleague resolved his cognitive dissonance by saying of course the stock market went up, and this was exactly what he was expecting.

      I now hope the stock market collapses 40% in the next 10 minutes.

    • Anon. says:

      >Apparently it is “guaranteed” to yield at least 4% per year.

      The way these work is that the insurance company sells you an option. The problem is that the option is massively overpriced.

  16. DunnoWhatToDo says:

    Yo. Thanks for all the help in the last two OTs; I’m feeling a lot better now.

    Still, life is life and now I got another problem: I got an interview to a job I really wanted, was asked if next week’s fine, but was told I’ll only get an answer this weekend. So this is gonna be a whole big week of anxiety, and I’ll apply to other jobs in the meanwhile. but anything I can do to increase my chance of getting a yes?

    I’ll access my mental model of HPMOR!Harry here:

    Idea 1 would use the reciprocation principle and offer a motivation from within the team, rather than the guy who hires me. Would a drink do? I’ll might need to be a little Slytherin here and make up a lie because offering a drink out of nowhere might seem strange.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Wait, explain. Your chance of getting a yes to what? Chances are they probably have the information they’re going on already and it’s just not the first thing they’re dealing with. If you’re going in for an interview, that’s a whole different thing, but trying to sneakily maximize things could blow up in your face. Save your drink-buying money for befriending coworkers when you’re hired somewhere.

    • Randy M says:

      Are you already employed? If not, I’d agree to start next week if accepted. If you are employed, I’d tell them you have to give two weeks to your current employer, but you could come in prior to that to sign papers.

      You might assume they want you to say yes to anything, but they’ll assume you’ll treat them like you now treat your current employer.

  17. Mark says:

    Jordan Peterson’s lifestyle advice.

    I haven’t read Peterson’s book, but I’ve gathered from watching interviews that he recommends fixing everyday mundane problems first.
    He also recommends focusing on individual actualisation, engagement with social games, having a career, having a family. You should only engage in criticism of social structures once you are established as a successful individual within that society.

    The problem I have with this advice is that the mundane details of my life don’t interest me. It’s not obvious to me that emotional/intellectual disengagement from the boring details of life is a bad policy – I have to endure 6 hours a day of unpleasantness, I will never be happy in that time, I see no way to improve things, the only thing I can do is endure.

    I kind of feel like he makes too much of an individual’s ability to affect their own real world. If you’re forced to play a game you have no interest in, with no prize that appeals to you, the best strategy is disengagement, as far as possible. (Or anti-social behaviour.)

    I would be interested to hear what advice he would give to a person living in Stalin’s Russia about how best to order their life. Is there a stage at which resentment against the society in which you live becomes useful?

    • Anonymous says:

      I would be interested to hear what advice he would give to a person living in Stalin’s Russia about how best to order their life.

      IANJP, but – probably exactly the same.

      • Mark says:

        In his interview with Joe Rogan, he gave the example of a mother gathering seeds for her starving children being shot for not giving the product of this extra work to the Soviet Authorities.

        I don’t see how you could follow his practical advice in such circumstances, without simply abandoning individual ethics.

        Part of being an individual moral agent is rejecting society – working your way up to a position of success (join the NKVD?) before you can do that is an implicit acceptance of whatever society is saying, and a rejection of individualism.

        Basically, with his “don’t think about politics until you’ve sorted yourself out” stuff, I think he’s trying to tell annoying students to shut up. But I don’t think that really fits in with his broader points about individualism.

        Maybe his advice is just very specific to the society we happen to live in.

        • Anonymous says:

          In his interview with Joe Rogan, he gave the example of a mother gathering seeds for her starving children being shot for not giving the product of this extra work to the Soviet Authorities.

          What would you have her do? Just because she had failed, through little to no fault of her own, doesn’t mean that what she did was wrong.

          I don’t see how you could follow his practical advice in such circumstances, without simply abandoning individual ethics.

          I have no idea what you mean.

          Basically, with his “don’t think about politics until you’ve sorted yourself out” stuff, I think he’s trying to tell annoying students to shut up. But I don’t think that really fits in with his broader points about individualism.

          Anything that makes communists shut up and stop trying to revolutionize things is a good thing. Perhaps the advice is especially meant for their like – personally chaotic, but nonetheless wishing to impose an insane order on everything.

          • Mark says:

            I think I’d say it’s alright to be bitter and vindictive against society if you are that mother.

            And probably alright to lie, cheat and kill in order to save your family.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Reminder that this is a .5, culture-war-free thread.

    • skef says:

      The problem I have with this advice is that the mundane details of my life don’t interest me.

      Wouldn’t that just make you a crappy man in his thinking? He seems pretty confident about what norms adult males are called on to meet, and it doesn’t sound very optional.

      • Mark says:

        Yeah, he’s also quite strong on the need to have a family.

        I guess, he would say that in current circumstances more people get themselves into trouble by thinking that family/career/direction are unimportant than the other way around.

        But, personally, I would say that most working class men (and women!) just turn up, and don’t particularly want to spend a lot of time after work planning out how best to advance to the next stage of bus driving.

        Just do it, and don’t think too much about it doesn’t seem like an obviously bad strategy.

    • dndnrsn says:

      You should only engage in criticism of social structures once you are established as a successful individual within that society.

      This is kind of the sticking point for me. Most interesting – eg, non-mainstream – criticism of social structures is from people who are often not successful individuals within their society, whatever that means. And who gets to decide what it means? I mean, if means socially accepted within one’s sphere – Peterson probably has fewer fans and friends on-campus than off, does that mean he is a failure as a campus academic? Etc.

      (My advice to someone in Stalin’s

    • christhenottopher says:

      To the point on criticizing the USSR, I think that example actually might help Peterson’s point. If you were not successful in the USSR and criticized the government, did that overturn the system? Nope you wound up in the gulag. Even with the Russian Revolution where relative societal failure did overthrow the government, the result wasn’t a better system, it was Lenin and Stalin. All you’ve done is made your own life worse.

      But what about the criticism from people successful in the USSR’s internal system? They caused real and positive change! Nikita Khrushchev under Stalin focused on being successful within the system so that when the possibility of taking power presented itself after Stalin’s death, Krushchev took it, stopped Stalinist-type purges, and brought serious criticism to such excesses that helped prevent their recurrence in the future. Then Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin both focused on success within the system, and then were able to reform it upon gaining power and opportunities. If the history of Russia teaches us any lesson, it’s that in totalitarian regimes, lower class revolution either fails before getting off the ground, or merely replaces one tyrant with another. But reform from the upper classes can create real and sustained improvements in functioning of a society.

      • Mark says:

        That’s true.

        I guess that’s basically saying that revolutionary change is bad.

        I still think there is a bit of a question about how far you can be an individual as an ordinary Joe Blow, and how far the good life requires actively engaging with and succeeding in society.

        • christhenottopher says:

          I think it’s a bit more than what people think on “revolutionary change is bad.” That just leads to why such change is bad. Because why such change fails may be related to broader critiques of people who complain about a system when they cannot order their own life.

          If revolutionary change is bad because violent change is bad, then Peterson is wrong to complain about those who are socially unsuccessful merely critiquing a system. The arguments of such people may be perfectly valid, we just want to be careful how we implement the ideas. But if revolutionary change is bad because revolutionary ideas are bad then we’re in a different situation. Peterson is really arguing the latter. These ideas fail regardless of violence because the people thinking them up have problems coming up with better ideas than the ones that currently run the dominance hierarchy. Why? First, he argues that intelligence and conscientiousness are generally useful traits in both organizing one’s own life and in organizing society (though he will note too much conscientiousness does lead to serious issues such as over attacking out groups, as with anything there’s nuance). People who can’t stabilize their own lives generally cannot do so due to failings in one or both of these areas. If you can’t hold down a job because you always show up an hour late everyday, you likely lack the discipline in his view to consider complex problems fully. Instead you’ll jump to the first nice sounding idea and never do the hard work to consider the counter-arguments. Ditto if you lack the intelligence to understand difficult concepts or arguments. In almost every society, the majority of the adult populace can hold a job and have a stable relationship with another person. Sorting your own life first is then a minimum bar to be able to jump over before being able to helpfully argue about how a country should be run.

          But then there’s also a metis to consider in how societies function. Stephen Hawking is both hyper intelligent and a conscientious worker. Nonetheless I’d rather a person with only slightly above average intellect and conscientiousness with 20 years of experience rising through the ranks be in charge of the company I work for than Hawking. Life is deeply complex and hard to read which means that it takes time, experience, and deliberate effort to really skilled at commanding a hierarchy. Taking the time to gradually rise through a status hierarchy gives you that metis that’s really needed to start seeing the difference between “societal rule that is actually dumb” and “societal rule that seems dumb, but is actually vital to producing good outcomes for reasons that are hard to see from the outside.”

          Now, my own stance is that a lot of the above should be considered to be generally correct. However, that some societies really can perpetuate harmful (in Petersonian language “pathological”) structures that don’t collapse in on themselves in short order (see the DPRK or the European-run system of slavery in the New World). So if trying to sort yourself out within your current society seems to be failing, I think there needs to be some other mechanism to try to see whether it really is a fault of your society or more of a personal failing. I think immigration can be an important sanity check. If you leave your country (or even just state or city) for another with a good reputation, and you can’t achieve even some basic stability there either, that is probably a decent sign there are personal rather than societal issues that need work. If you do succeed in the new environment however that is a better signal that the old location has potential structural problems. Any society that doesn’t even let you leave to try this should be a GIANT red flag.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It sounds like your frustration with your life comes from having an external locus of control.

      I don’t know what Jordan Peterson would say about that, since I’ve never read any of his work, but there’s a common sense answer:

      How is someone who isn’t even making decisions for himself supposed to wield political power over others? If you were right and your life will turn out the same way regardless of what choices you make, that just makes politics an even bigger waste of your effort. Politics is the arena with possibly the highest stakes in our society and you’re claiming that you can’t handle a regular job without dissociating.

      That said, I don’t believe that you don’t have the ability to improve your life. Consistently behaving in a manner conducive to success (virtue) is how you live the best possible version of your life. That probably won’t include private jets or nights in the Lincoln bedroom but it’ll probably be a lot happier and less stressful than your life today.

      • Mark says:

        As an individual, I have to have an opinion about the society I’m living in before I engage, or go along with it. As an individual I might have to become anti-social if I find society intolerable.
        It’s not just about political power, it’s about how social success and engagement isn’t morally neutral.

        Peterson’s advice is good, for someone living in our society, except that he probably takes a bit too narrow of a view of what constitutes a successful life.

        I think with regard to politics, morality, he puts too much emphasis on individualism as fundamental – we are only individuals to the extent that we live in an individualist society.
        If he doesn’t recognise that, his moral theories are too narrow, more like dogmatism than anything else, and will lack persuasive power. Don’t think he’ll be convincing too many Stalinists/Nazis, not morally anyway.

        • albatross11 says:

          A couple things worth thinking about here (I don’t know anything about Peterson’s teachings):

          a. Changing society or politics is incredibly hard. You can be part of a mass movement and maybe move politics or society a bit, but most of the time, all your efforts won’t move the needle in any noticeable way.

          b. Knowing how to change society or politics in a good direction is also incredibly hard. Lots of really smart, well-intentioned, humane people spent their lives trying to move society or politics in some direction which we now think is horrifying or crazy. (Think of the eugenics movement, or socialism of the “seize the means of production” kind, or taking up the white man’s burden and civilizing the natives via colonization.) So there’s a pretty good chance that you are pushing in the wrong direction.

          c. It’s enormously easier to have an impact locally than globally. The same amount of effort can have a big impact on your own quality of life, a lot of impact on the quality of life in your community or neighborhood or church or school, or a tiny bit of impact on the quality of life in the nation or world.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          As an individual, I have to have an opinion about the society I’m living in before I engage, or go along with it. As an individual I might have to become anti-social if I find society intolerable.

          I just don’t buy it.

          You’re not, AFAIK, a revolutionary plotting to overthrow society. You’re not a prepper living inna woods to escape society. You’re not exploring other parallel societies which exist, like Mennonites or Haredim. And, of course, you’re not trying to escape society by earning the Fuck You Money that would insulate you from its worst excesses.

          If society was really intolerable for you then it would be obvious because you’d be desperately trying to claw your way out. It sounds more like society is an excuse not to do the hard work to improve your life.

          we are only individuals to the extent that we live in an individualist society.

          I’m not sure what that means.

          • Mark says:

            Of course society isn’t intolerable, but there are many aspects of life that I don’t have a great deal of choice about that must simply be endured.

            I mean, let’s say I live in an area where the rent is 5 times higher compared to somewhere else. Whatever I do, whichever personal choices I make, I’m going to have to work harder for less because of my environment.
            I mean, spending all my time making plans about how I’m going to lower house prices might be pointless, but I think it’s fair enough to say “this sucks.” And think “this sucks.”

            I don’t think positivity is necessarily a good thing. It depends on where you’re going.

            I’m not sure what that means.

            Exactly what it says, dude.
            I’m an individual to exactly the same extent as the people around me are individuals. There is no meta-level individualism. We believe we have individual responsibility/pride to exactly the extent that we are told by those around us to believe those things.

          • Randy M says:

            We have reaped considerable dividend by my wife patiently waiting and watching for low rent in good neighborhoods over some years.
            Of course, there’s not a hidden gem waiting for everyone to find in every aspect of life, but there’s bound to be ways to improve some aspect.

          • Matt M says:

            Whatever I do, whichever personal choices I make, I’m going to have to work harder for less because of my environment.

            You could make the personal choice to move somewhere else?

          • baconbits9 says:

            So why do you live where you live?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Mark,

            I mean, let’s say I live in an area where the rent is 5 times higher compared to somewhere else. Whatever I do, whichever personal choices I make, I’m going to have to work harder for less because of my environment.

            Other people have brought this up, but it’s actually a good example of the point that I was trying to make about external versus internal loci of control.

            A man with an external locus of control doesn’t feel like he can choose where to live. If his neighborhood has high rent then that’s just a fact of life. The only way to fix things is for someone else to somehow change the entire neighborhood around him.

            A man with an internal locus of control knows that he has choice in where he lives. Not unlimited choice, even a billionaire can’t live anywhere, but he can make trade-offs between his available options. He might not decide to move at all in the end, maybe this really is the best place he can be at the moment, but he’ll keep his eye out for new opportunities.

            The second man won’t necessarily be able to solve every problem he encounters, he’s not a superman. But the first man won’t be able to solve any of those problems because he won’t even try.

            There is no meta-level individualism. We believe we have individual responsibility/pride to exactly the extent that we are told by those around us to believe those things.

            Ok, so the idea is that if you tell someone that they’re helpless enough, eventually they’ll start to believe it?

            That’s a real problem but the reason it’s a problem is because those beliefs are provably untrue. I’ve had people tell me that it’s impossible to do things that I’ve done myself or seen other people do with my own two eyes. The way to help them isn’t to humor those beliefs but to confront them with concrete evidence that they’re untrue.

          • albatross11 says:

            Speculation:

            If having an external vs internal locus of control is genetic, then Americans will have a *way* higher rate of internal locus of control than most other places, particularly than Europeans and Asians and Africans back home. Among Americans, blacks and American Indians will tend to have lower rates of internal locus of control than whites and Asians, since their ancestors are far less likely to have chosen to come here.

            Among white Americans, the ones whose ancestors were actual pioneers (say, homesteaded a farm in Kansas or North Dakota or something) will have an even higher rate of internal locus of control. Hispanics whose recent ancestors immigrated and Caribbean blacks will tend to have a higher rate of internal locus of control than descendants of hispanics who stayed in place while the border moved or descendants of slaves. In all cases, first-generation immigrants will have more of it than any other group, since their offspring will regress to the mean.

            To the extent this is life events or random developmental stuff, none of these predictions are likely to be true. To the extent it’s mostly upbringing, it seems like you’ll see immigrants and their kids and maybe grandkids with more of it, but it will fade out into a general background level in the society. And American society may well have more of it overall than other societies.

    • Randy M says:

      I think his advice in in general good. It’s certainly possible to take it too far or strawman (?*) it into a narrow focus on minutia.

      There’s nothing wrong about thinking about wider societal problems. But our society has a problem overestimating the effects of activism, advocacy, organization in effecting national or cultural changes. You can have more effect on your out of work neighbor than you can on a nationwide employment figures.

      Mundane details are by definition not terribly interesting. I’m not sure how much contemplation he advises giving to it, but making sure you are doing well at your job or social engagements is likely to have a greater impact on your well-being and peace of mind than fighting whatever zeitgiest leads you to having a low paid job or whatever.

      *Or, for all I know, he would recommend an extreme version that I’d disagree with. One of us would have to read the book to know for sure, I guess.

    • lvlln says:

      I would be interested to hear what advice he would give to a person living in Stalin’s Russia about how best to order their life. Is there a stage at which resentment against the society in which you live becomes useful?

      I don’t know what Peterson would say, but he often mentions Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who actually did live in Stalin’s Russia and spent years in the GULAG system, as if he’s a god, so I’d guess he’d suggest copying what he did. I don’t know enough about Solzhenitsyn to say what that would be, but one thing I’ve seen Peterson mention when talking about Solzhenitsyn and his life advice is that, when Solzhenitsyn looked at his life in the GULAG system and wondered about how he ended up there, he decided to look back at all the decisions he made in his life that led to him being imprisoned in the GULAG system, and to try to figure out what would happen if he took responsibility for all those decisions and corrected them going forward. Peterson seems to believe that this eventually led to his writing and publication of The GULAG Archipelago, which he also credits as being a major factor in discrediting Communism in Russia and helping to take down the USSR. So in Peterson’s mind, Solzhenitsyn, by not giving into resentment for society but rather taking responsibility for his own life, played a major role in taking down the repressive society that had enslaved him.

      I don’t know enough of the history or of Solzhenitsyn’s life to say if Peterson has a point here or if he’s just projecting his biases onto history. Also, one can’t help but wonder how many almost-Solzhenitsyns there were who made no political impact and are completely forgotten today. Also, how many people who did give into resentment against their society did end up creating good, who we remember and talk about to this day?

      • Mark says:

        Thomas Paine?

        (
        “when Solzhenitsyn looked at his life in the GULAG system and wondered about how he ended up there, he decided to look back at all the decisions he made in his life that led to him being imprisoned in the GULAG system, and to try to figure out what would happen if he took responsibility for all those decisions and corrected them going forward”

        That’s actually quite similar to what David Irvine said about Jewish people in the movie denial – I wonder if that was also the rationale behind Solzhenitsyn’s “Two Hundred Year’s Together”.
        )

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      You should only engage in criticism of social structures once you are established as a successful individual within that society.

      I think this is a weak version of Peterson’s argument. You’re using the relatively benign phrasing “engage in criticism of social structures” when he’s talking about the sort of campus activists who are interested in upending the entire social structure. People who haven’t really engaged with the world or their own lives yet and have already figured out that all of society and human history is wrong and needs to be reorganized according to their grand new plans. Meanwhile everything about their own lives is a disordered mess.

      Basically I think his advice is good for…the people his advice is good for. I can’t remember if it was one of Scott’s essays or just a discussion we had in an open thread once but there was an idea that maybe reading Ayn Rand is really good advice for someone who’s a complete doormat. “Selfishness is good!” could be a really useful way of thinking for that person so they don’t always feel like they have to be doing everything for everyone else. On the other hand it’s terrible advice for an asshole. That asshole maybe needs to pay a little better attention to A Christmas Carol.

      There is a set of lost, dejected young men in the west who could really benefit from Peterson’s message, but that’s obviously not everyone.

      • Mark says:

        I think this is a weak version of Peterson’s argument. You’re using the relatively benign phrasing “engage in criticism of social structures” when he’s talking about the sort of campus activists who are interested in upending the entire social structure.

        I agree with that, to an extent, but aren’t campus activists actually gaining experience of organising people through their activities?
        Why shouldn’t we view campus activism as a valid apprenticeship for politics? Politics isn’t just about technocratic management – it’s about understanding of institutions, argument, organisation.

        In the UK, you see a lot of career politicians. Is that the free market of politics in action? It’s not surprising that people who’ve focused on politics should be more successful. Maybe that’s a bad thing.

        • toastengineer says:

          Well, the organizers are gaining experience organizing. The people who run around in circles screaming and the people who go around stapling maxi pads to trees probably aren’t.

          • Matt M says:

            Do we know that these groups are mutually exclusive?

            I’d be willing to guess that someone who screams at Charles Murray is more likely to have experience in organizing political demonstrations than the average person.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s this model – I usually associate it with the right, particularly those with a Death Eater bent – where you’ve got the people who cry-scream in the faces of profs on Youtube, and you’ve got the scheming organizers, and these are different groups. That there’s the activists on the one hand, and the footsoldiers they got from somewhere on the other.

            However, left-wing campus activism is a sphere where the equivalent to getting a tattoo of your favourite punk band – the thing done to show investment and authenticity – is reducing your emotional defences. “Activist burnout” is a real thing and this is part of what causes it. Or, consider the statement “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” Someone who was a cold and calculating chessmaster would not really advance much, because they’d come off as not really caring. So they’d have to learn to care, at a minimum.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think the “scheming organizers” are imagined to be people in the left-wing campus activism scene. I don’t even think they’re imagined to be Studies professors and their friends (who sometimes show up to protests but have a different intellectual style); I think they’re talking people like mainstream politicians, campaign managers, editor-level journalists, and the like.

            And for what it’s worth I agree that people at that level are usually only invested in Occupy or the social justice movement inasmuch as it’s a stick to beat the right with. I don’t agree that they’re actually calling many of the shots for those movements: I think there’s a basic conservatism in people at that level, not in the sense of politics but in the sense of risk aversion, and so they’re a lagging rather than a leading indicator of their base’s sentiment.

    • Well... says:

      When Peterson says clean your room, I don’t think he means your room has to be ready to be photographed for an interior design magazine before you’re allowed to have an opinion about politics. I think he means that the act of cleaning your room (so to speak, or literally, whichever) will build up your character and make you see the world in a more practical way, which will necessarily have a humbling effect on your drive to opine about the world’s problems. Scale the room-cleaning experience up to house, job, and family levels, and you’ll eventually realize that the world’s problems are complicated, and that you don’t actually have the answers to them. But lo and behold, by then you will have some practical problem-solving experience to stand on when starting to scratch at the world’s problems, since the drive to do that will likely still be there. And then if you do like one of Peterson’s heroes, you’ll start a company that goes around scooping trash up off the ocean at a profit, or some metaphorical equivalent.

      • ThinkingWithWords says:

        Nicely put.
        It’s important to keep one eye on the pragmatic aspects of existence. Even more so if one is inclined to theoretical solutions for practical problems.

    • baconbits9 says:

      A few points about Peterson’s that haven’t been as explicitly stated in the replies as i think they should be.

      The bulk of his advice is paying attention to the parts of your life that you have control over, and emphasizing those. A lot of his experience is in dealing with college age students and patients from his practice, these two groups are going to be low (or feel like they are) control groups, and so his advice is often to fix the mundane as these are things clearly withing their power.

      Peterson doesn’t emphasize happiness, he emphasizes living a good life, this extends from the control aspect. If you define your life by the behaviors that you actually control then it is possible to be satisfied with who you are, if you define it by other measurements of success you will almost inevitably fail. If you weren’t born some combination of extremely handsome/smart/rich/talented you aren’t bedding supermodels like movie stars do, further down the line you also are unlikely to be at the top of whatever lower level hierarchy there is. Why? Because hierarchies are based on some people being at the top and some not at the top, with most people being ‘not on top’, so how about don’t start out with a definition that requires many, if not virtually all, people to fail. Instead he emphasizes being better than you were yesterday, which will push you towards your potential without requiring failure.

      I kind of feel like he makes too much of an individual’s ability to affect their own real world. If you’re forced to play a game you have no interest in, with no prize that appeals to you, the best strategy is disengagement, as far as possible. (Or anti-social behaviour.)

      One of his major points is that you have no idea how much you can affect your own world until you try. The outcomes of your behaviors are incomprehensible to you, and the actions and intentions of others are inscrutable.

      • toastengineer says:

        One of his major points is that you have no idea how much you can affect your own world until you try.

        Which reminds me a lot of Yudkowsky with all his “everyone seems to think they’re an NPC / don’t be humble” stuff.

        • ThinkingWithWords says:

          I’ve observed that the sole credential of a lot of people who reach managerial positions is simply that they want to reach those positions.
          They simply want to be managers more than any of the other people around them do. They are manifestly affecting their own worlds purely through their own mindset. Often their degree of ‘want’ isn’t even all that strong – it only needs to be stronger than that of the person they are standing next to.
          This was a genuine revelation to me.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The problem I have with this advice is that the mundane details of my life don’t interest me. It’s not obvious to me that emotional/intellectual disengagement from the boring details of life is a bad policy

      That’s a good way for those boring details to end up screwing up your life.

      • keranih says:

        This.

        Paying your light bill on time is boring and dull. So is ironing your work clothes. So is checking the oil on your car (or checking that your bus pass has money on it.)

        Life is what happens while you’re making plans and waiting for that next big thing.

        • John Schilling says:

          Paying electric bill on time, boring. Paying late fee on electric bill, aggravating at best. Coming home to an apartment with no electricity, now that’s interesting and will engage your critical thinking and problem solving abilities. Your choice.

    • ThinkingWithWords says:

      The problem I have with this advice is that the mundane details of my life don’t interest me.

      Yes but that’s because they are, in fact, mundane. The mundane details of anyone’s life tend to be uninteresting – but what is considered mundane may vary from person to person. So you are not alone in shouldering this burden. We all have to come to terms with this. Even revolutionaries need to change their socks.
      However whatever course of action you are electing to take – revolutionary or otherwise – needs to have solid foundations. Addressing the foundations of your own life, as Peterson suggests, is fair advice in that case.
      In your case you may also want to revisit the six hours you spend ‘enduring’. To reference the Bard, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Viewing those six hours differently may give you back a significant chunk of your life, and a valuable life skill in re-framing to boot.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t know.

        Let’s say I work as a check-out assistant. And, let’s say I don’t particularly like people. It’s no fun. I think the best way to frame that is that this is a waste of time that I must endure because society wants me to. Take some pleasure in my ability to endure pointless hardship.

        Well, I guess you’d say, “get a new job”. I’ve done many jobs, and I’ve found them all to be bad. So, now I just endure.

        That’s fine, but I think the idea that somehow this pointless activity has a point, kind of spoils my frame. I can accept it in the abstract, but in practical terms it seems laughable.

        Or, the idea that if I strive harder and harder, take up ever more of my free time trying to get to the mythical good job, things will be better. I don’t see any evidence for that.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Peterson’s generic advice would not be to ‘get a different job’ as that would be outside of your control if you are at that level. His advice would be to do your current job better, and to find ways to improve yourself.

          It is self evident that the job isn’t ‘pointless’ since you do it, even if the only point is to earn money then you can maximize your earnings by being a good employee.

          • Mark says:

            I don’t really work for the money. And, I don’t think the amount of effort I put into my job is going to affect how much money I get.

            I work because:
            (1) Since everyone else does it, I’m worried I might be missing something. (Could still be pointless and is from my perspective)
            (2) It’s character building. (Pointlessness is a feature not a bug)
            (3) It’s far more socially acceptable to have something to say when people ask you what your job is, and I don’t like lying. (Have to go along with society even if society wants you to do something pointless. Like wearing pants.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            1. Not everyone else does it, LFPR is ~65%, so 1/3rd of the country doesn’t work and does something else and it is totally socially acceptable.

            2. Most people who work work for money, that is the primary reason they get up everyday. If you don’t need money you aren’t missing something.

            3. Not coincidentally I started dating my current wife when I was working part time and doing other stuff with my time. Answering the question “what do you do” with “my job is X, Y and Z”, isn’t nearly as interesting as “I do X, Y and Z” where X, Y and Z are not work related.

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    http://time.com/5131362/hot-tea-esophageal-cancer/

    A friend pointed me at this, and my first reaction was “It’s a study. I don’t trust it.”

    Am I overreacting to the replication crisis?

    It won’t affect my choices because I don’t drink, smoke, or drink painfully hot drinks.

    I’m left with couple of questions– is painfully hot coffee also a risk? Are there health risks to minor mouth burns from pizza?

    • Thegnskald says:

      Anything that destroys cells increases your risk of cancer, as a general rule of thumb. So this stands up to the most basic level of scrutiny.

      I would imagine hot coffee and pizza would similarly increase risks. But absent mutagens compounding the issue, probably fairly negligibly. (So scalding pizza + chewing tobacco would probably have a strong enough effect to show up in studies, scalding pizza alone probably not)

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Your link says WHO has already concluded that hot drinks are a probable carcinogen. So it’s not just one study.

      This just specifically suggests that tea AND something else increases your cancer risk more than JUST tea.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Short answer

      Among people who regularly smoked cigarettes and drank at least one drink per day, drinking hot tea was linked to a five-times higher risk of developing esophageal cancer, compared to those who didn’t do any of those three habits. In people who didn’t have those two vices, however, drinking tea did not seem to have a significant effect on cancer development.

      So if you smoke and drink AND drink hot tea you increase your chances of one specific type of cancer. Would it be particularly surprising to find that doing ALL of the things together that might cause cancer has a non lineal relationship with getting cancer?

    • Aapje says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz

      This study may be inconsistent with the conclusions drawn by the WHO*, which is legitimate grounds for distrust.

      In general, studies like these are easily confounded by people with certain habits also having other habits. So a general distrust for these kind of studies seems warranted. I would not trust any individual studies in this field.

      * Although the outcome of this study is consistent with the WHO finding if smokers and people who drink frequently have a tendency to drink their hot drinks at higher temperatures. Perhaps they are relatively insensitive.

      I’m left with couple of questions– is painfully hot coffee also a risk? Are there health risks to minor mouth burns from pizza?

      Probably merely a minor risk that is not really worth caring about. Esophageal cancer is merely the 18th most common cancer, with 1% of cancers being esophageal cancer. Smoking seems to be the biggest risk factor, so if you don’t smoke, you already cut your risk a huge amount.

      As you can see in the link, women are 4 times less likely to get it. Of course, this may in part be because women tend to drink their hot drinks at lower temperatures. 😛

    • carvenvisage says:

      My first reaction is ‘that’s plausible’. Smoking and even drinking bitter drinks like beer are manifestly unpleasant but widely popular, so it’s a thing people are into, and scalding your throat with boiling hot liquid has always struck me as more immediately crazy.

    • Chalid says:

      Sounds like data mining. This is the sort of weird conditional thing you’d find if you had a giant pile of information on people’s lifestyles and asked a computer to find any unusual correlations that you could publish.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      My way to think about it is to divide the people studied into groups:

      1. People who smoke, drink and drink very hot tea
      2. People who smoke and drink, but don’t drink very hot tea.
      3. People who don’t smoke and drink, but drink very hot tea.
      4. People who don’t smoke and drink, and who don’t drink very hot tea.

      Now, we already knew that combined 1 & 2 has a higher incidence of esophageal cancer than combined 3 & 4. The article headlines with a 1 vs 4 comparison, which is strange because the only interesting conclusion from the study is the 1 vs 2 comparison. Group 3 is basically not addressed which makes me think they didn’t find anything in the 3 vs 4 comparison (or the 1 & 3 vs 2 & 4 comparison).

      I would guess the majority of people worrying about this study fall into group 3 – if you’re very concerned about your risk of cancer, you probably don’t smoke. But that group is totally unaddressed in the article.

      • Aapje says:

        They did address it:

        Among people who regularly smoked cigarettes and drank at least one drink per day, drinking hot tea was linked to a five-times higher risk of developing esophageal cancer, compared to those who didn’t do any of those three habits. In people who didn’t have those two vices, however, drinking tea did not seem to have a significant effect on cancer development.

  19. DunnoWhatToDo says:

    Yo. Thanks for all the help in the last two OTs; I’m feeling a lot better now.

    Still, life is life and now I got another problem: I got an interview to a job I really wanted, was asked if next week’s fine, but was told I’ll only get an answer this weekend. So this is gonna be a whole big week of anxiety, and I’ll apply to other jobs in the meanwhile. but anything I can do to increase my chance of getting a yes?

    I’ll access my mental model of HPMOR!Harry here. The nicest thing I can think of is exploiting the reciprocation principle and offer a motivation from within the team, rather than the guy who hires me. Would offering the entire team a drink work well? Not sure about coming out of nowhere with it, so that’s a problem-inside-a-problem. The goal would be to later ask them to recommend me. But since I already did an interview, that might just make him more annoyed or mad or whatever.

    Anything better than just “hope for the best”?

    • Mark says:

      If you are friends with the team (or some of the members) already, then just ask them to give you a recommendation.

      If you are acquaintances with them, could be a good strategy.

      If you’re not friends with them, and they are a laid back crowd, I guess inviting them out for a drink might help you. If they aren’t laid back, I think it might come across as a bit strange. Depends how good you are at reading situations like that. And how likeable you are.

      One way of improving your chances of getting a yes is being relatable. Tell them a story that allows them to identify with you.

      • Well... says:

        I don’t think inviting them out to a drink, or giving any kind of gift, is a good idea under any circumstances, whether you know someone on the team or not. It says “I don’t think I’m the best guy for this job but maybe I can improve my odds with bribery.”

        Since the interview has already taken place, the best strategy is to follow up in a friendly way, thanking the interviewer and any other people you met during the process. Mark is right that being likeable and relatable is important here, but it isn’t the right time to tell stories. Give a heartfelt thank-you, in your own voice. Make it unique enough to remember but not so unique it’s weird or awkward or annoying*. If you can strategically bump into one or more of them at a Meetup or something to do this in person, great. Doing it by email is pretty standard. If it’s via LinkedIn that’s better than nothing.

        One good way to do this, I think, is if you mentioned something during the interview and the interviewer had a reaction indicating he found it interesting, try and drop a tidbit about that, even use it as an excuse for following up. “Hey, I finished that [book] I had mentioned [reading]. Just wanted to let you know, [articulate, constructive one-sentence summary of your thoughts on it]. Anyway, thanks for having me in, I hope we get to talk again soon.”

        In a way you are giving this person a taste of what it’s like to receive a brief work email from you following up on some discussion. Make it the kind of experience that person wants more of.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Get a book indirectly related to the work, preferably along “professional self-improvement” lines (not basics – don’t show up to a programming interview with an “Introduction to Java” book, but something esoteric that isn’t directly related to the job you are applying for would be ideal, taking care not to get something that implies you are looking for a different kind of career – for example, a game development book applying for a corporate IT job would be bad, but a NoSQL book might be good).

      Read about half of it prior to the interview, and read it while you are waiting in the lobby or whatever.

  20. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Meta:

    1. I get logged out of SSC about one every week or two. Is this normal? I have checked “Keep me logged in.”

    2. My browser refuses to remember the wordpress password. It has some entirely different password saved for this place, even though I check “yes, change the password you remembered before” each time I log in.

  21. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/why-paper-jams-persist

    This is geek catnip. Paper jams involve a lot of different sorts of science and engineering. Paper is more complicated than I thought. There’s history of paper jams. Climate matters.

    • John Schilling says:

      Geek catnip, yes, and insight into the engineering mind in what would seem to be the most mundane environment. Thanks for finding this.

    • gbdub says:

      Ugh. Good article, but I have to say this is the first time I’ve seen somebody not only get the explanation for lift wrong (it is NOT “equal transit time plus Bernoulli’s principle”), but actually screw up which side of a wing is curved.

    • Controls Freak says:

      [Kind of sniped by gbdub, but I can read/can’t post at work, so I’m still posting what I wrote.]

      Bernoulli’s principle, discovered in 1738, entails that fast-moving air exerts less air pressure than slow-moving air. Because the top side of an airplane wing is flat, while the underside is curved, the air above moves faster than the air below, and the wing rises.

      Calling the article geek catnip is sufficient cover for geeks (who serve cats) to come in and nip at it, right? So, this. It’s not really true, and more importantly, it’s misleading.

      First, just go to google and look for images of wing sections. Or flip through the latter part of Theory of Wing Sections. (Oh hey! Theory of Wing Sections is apparently available online now!) Sure, you’ll see some with flatter looking top surfaces, but you’ll see a lot with flatter looking bottom surfaces. So, right off the bat, we’re confused.

      Next, there is a hidden assumption in his statement. It’s actually a slightly different hidden assumption than the typical hidden assumption that causes people problems on this topic. Most of the time, people look at those pictures of all those curved top surfaces and flatter bottom surfaces, then make the hidden assumption, “The air has to meet up at the trailing edge at the same time. Since the path across the top is longer, it must be moving faster.” Then, having concluded that the air on the top is moving faster, they look at Bernoulli’s principle and conclude lift. However, the hidden assumption isn’t true. Yes, the air over the top surface is moving faster, but it doesn’t meet up at the trailing edge at the same time, so it’s not a simple distance/time calculation.

      This article’s hidden assumption seems to be that the curved lower surface impedes or slows down the flow in some way. Again, the flow on the bottom is slower when lift is generated, but it’s still not so simple. Pop open Theory of Wing Sections. We’ll look for a thin, decently cambered airfoil. In the simple four digit series, 4412 will work (it’s on page 488-489 of my copy; the first two numbers have to do with camber, the second two with thickness). Looking at the picture, it looks like the bottom surface is really flat, but the top surface is really curved, protruding out from the chord line (connecting the leading/trailing edges). Yet, not only does this wing produce lift, but it even produces positive lift at zero angle of attack. (That means that if you turned it upside down and had the supposed “slowing” effect of the curved surface on the bottom, it would produce negative lift at zero AoA, which is opposite of what we thought.) I think airfoils like this are what led to the first (and more common) misconception, but they definitely cause great difficulties for his hidden assumption.

      So what gives? Is there a really easy-to-understand causal chain of inference to explain wing lift? Maybe not by using Bernoulli. Perhaps the easiest way to think about the overall situation is that, via Newton, if we want to produce positive lift, we must impart a downward momentum on the air. So whether your airfoil has a curved upper surface, a curved lower surface, is a flat plate, or is just your hand sticking out of your car window, to the extent that you’re adding downward momentum to the incoming air, you’re producing positive lift (summarized: angle of attack is usually king). Details of the wing shape are generally more important for other design criteria (drag, nominal speed, trying to pull energy out of the flow, etc.).

      Bernoulli’s principle is good, but it’s quite restricted. When I was teaching undergrads, I harped on the assumptions that go into it (inviscid, incompressible, steady, no body forces, and most importantly, along a streamline). Most of the time, when people want to shorten it to, “Pressure and velocity are inversely related, always,” they skip over the steady flow assumption and the along streamlines assumption (sidenote: most of the airfoils with flatter top surfaces tend to be transsonic airfoils, and they’re designed to deal with compressible effects, so Bernoulli wouldn’t really apply, anyway). In any event, if you go back to the flow viz video, you can see the streamlines of steady flow. So we know that Bernoulli applies along them. That’s still not quite enough. We also need to know that a property about streamlines is that flow (fluid particles) doesn’t cross streamlines. That’s still not quite enough. We need to know enough about the incompressible continuity equation to know that as the streamlines get closer together (the cross sectional area decreases for a constant mass flow rate), the velocity increases. Then we can apply Bernoulli and get a pressure differential.

      This explanation isn’t nearly as intuitively satisfying. After all, “What causes the streamlines to bunch up?” Uh… this comment is already too long, having been built on the thin reed of a throwaway sentence in the linked article. I just hope the really bad misconception is a bit clearer.

  22. bean says:

    I find myself needing advice on ADD meds, and there’s usually knowledgeable people here. I’ve been on Concerta for 18 years or so, and it works well. I’ve been interested in trying modafinil for several years, and for various reasons, this switch is looking very advantageous. Has anyone tried both?

    • Protagoras says:

      Haven’t used Concerta, but I’m told methylphenidate is very similar to amphetamines for most people. I have used both amphetamines and modafinil for ADD and my experience was that modafinil didn’t work nearly as well. I seem to build up a tolerance to modafinil fairly quickly, whereas at least at the dosages I was using I never seemed to have tolerance problems with amphetamines. And even before tolerance started building up, the modafinil didn’t seem to be doing as much. But individual drug responses seem to vary hugely (I’m one of the many people who react badly to bupropion, but there also seem to be many for whom it’s a miracle drug, for example).

    • Eric Rall says:

      I’m currently on Modafinil, having previously been on Ritalin (same active ingredient as Concerta, but available as IR instead of just extended release) and Adderall at various times and having tried Focalin and Dexadrine.

      Compared to the others, Modafinil’s effects feel a lot more subtle and closer to natural. Classic stimulants give me a boost of energy and focus as soon as they kick in, along with a kick-in-the-pants feeling of urgency with an unpleasant edge of nervousness. If I take adderall and sit around waiting for it to kick in, I’ll soon feel it and feel a need to do something physically or mentally active.

      I don’t get that from Modafinil. If I sit around and veg on the couch after taking modafinil, I’ll hardly feel different from if I hadn’t taken it. But if I make myself start a task, I find myself very quickly getting into a groove with the task which I’m able to sustain much longer than I would have without the modafinil, and that groove is accompanied with a burst of energy that I can easily carry over into another task. It also seems to make everything about 20% more interesting. There’s no unpleasant edge to it at all, and it doesn’t feed my anxiety the way classic stimulants do.

      As a side note, amphetamine-class stimulants tend to come in two isomers, with the Dextro form boosting dopamine (producing the boost of energy and feeling of well-being) and the Levo form also boosting norepinephrine (producing the “kick in the pants” feeling and the jittery edge). Ritalin/Concerta is a 50/50 mix of the two forms of methylphenidate, Focalin is dextromethylphenidate only, Adderall is a 75/25 mix of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine, and Dexedrine is dextroamphetamine only.

      Vyvanse is dextroamphetamine with a lysine molecule bonded to it, which gets metabolized off leaving the dextro within an hour or so. The advantage of this is that many doctors are reluctant to prescribe dexedrine because without the levoamphetamine to give large doses an unpleasant edge, dexedrine is well-suited to recreational use. Adding the lysine makes it harder to get a big rush into your system all at once, reducing abuse potential.

      If your problem with Concerta is specifically the jitteryness, it might be worth trying Focalin or Dexedrine before trying Modafinil. Probably Focalin first, since it’s methyphenidate-based like Concerta, which you said has been working well for you.

      If your motivation is just switching to a less-controlled drug to save hassle with the doctors and pharmacists, then Modafinil is probably your best bet. All the others are Schedule II, while Modafinil is Schedule IV. Which means you can get a 90-day supply from a mail order pharmacy rather than needed a new paper or wired prescription sent to a brick-and-mortar pharmacy every 30 days.

      • bean says:

        Thanks. That’s interesting and encouraging. (As a side note, I’ve been on Ritalin/Concerta for north of 18 years now, so it’s not side effects.)

        If your motivation is just switching to a less-controlled drug to save hassle with the doctors and pharmacists, then Modafinil is probably your best bet. All the others are Schedule II, while Modafinil is Schedule IV. Which means you can get a 90-day supply from a mail order pharmacy rather than needed a new paper or wired prescription sent to a brick-and-mortar pharmacy every 30 days.

        That’s a large part of the desire for the switch. Previous states have let me get 90 day supplies of Concerta. Oklahoma doesn’t.

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