THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Links 5/18: Snorri URL-uson

The ancient Persian calendar may be the most metal of all calendars, with months like “Month Of Wolf Killing”, “Month Of The Nameless God”, and “The Terrible One”. (h/t squareallworthy)

A Bayesian analysis of antidepressant efficacy.

funeral-disease on how old names are vs. how old we think they are. People with what we think of “old person names” like Mildred and Gladys are in their 90s or 100s by now; ordinary 70 year olds are more likely to have names like Carol or Sandra that we think of as 40-ish. Our idea of how old names are seems to be 20 or 30 years behind the time – why did they get set in stone a generation ago?

MIT and the private sector invest $50 million into an effort they say will produce a working fusion plant within 15 years.

Washington Post: How Twelve Experts Would End Inequality If They Ran America.

In my post on the Dark Ages, I hacked together some really simple graphs showing that western European cultural production plummeted during the 500 – 1000 AD period. Now Anatoly Karlin, Emil Kierkegaard, and Gwern have the much better and more complete version.

You’ve heard of Pig Latin and Dog Latin, but did you know there was also Botanical Latin?

Latest social psych effect to get questioned: the Pygmalion effect, where telling teachers that certain students are smart really increases the students’ performance. In retrospect, this was always kind of dumb.

A Cellular Basis Of Human Intelligence: “Here, we find that high IQ scores and large temporal cortical thickness associate with larger, more complex dendrites of human pyramidal neurons…these findings provide the first evidence that human intelligence is associated with neuronal complexity…”.

Daily Nous shows a 2011 survey on Who Philosophers Are Less Willing To Hire. Expected bias against conservatives is certainly there, but did you know that 20% of philosophers were be unwilling to hire transgender people? The prejudice against transgender people in philosophy was almost as strong as the prejudice against Republicans. I am seriously shocked by this.

Blogger at the World Bank is extremely unimpressed with GiveDirectly’s analysis of the impact of their cash transfer program; when spillover effects are treated correctly it is not clear it had any positive impact. And GiveWell (which is not the same organization as GiveDirectly, but does help fund them) responds, mostly saying they are waiting for a better study this November which should help clarify the issue.

The FAA has banned flight sharing apps (aka “Uber for planes”), but Congress is considering overruling them and permitting the service.

Learning Others’ Political Views Reduces The Ability To Assess And Use Their Expertise In Nonpolitical Domains -ie if you learn your plumber disagrees with you about politics, you’re less likely to trust his plumbing.

Japan Has Found A Semi-Infinite Deposite Of Rare Earth Minerals. Good news for business which will now be able to make high-tech components without having to beg China, bad news for mathematicians who are going to have to come up with a theory of what “semi-infinite” means.

One Step For Animals is a charity and associated shiny professional-looking website that makes the “eat less chicken for animal rights” argument.

I still think most of those predictive text jokes are fake, but the fake predictive text interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson is a work of art regardless of its authenticity.

Is Alex Tabarrok The Most Honest Economist In Academia?. “The libertarian went looking for the reason for entrepreneurial decline. The answer went against everything he believed. He published the results anyway.” In a functional society, this story would have all the oomph of “man adopts puppy, does not drown it”. Tabarrok’s own commentary here.

And the winner of the 2018 European Tree Of The Year award is…a cork tree in Alentejo, Portugal! Read more about it here, or browse the archive of past winners and finalists.

SB 827, the bill that would force cities to allow high-density housing near transit stops, is dead, through proponents are cautiously optimistic that maybe one day something like it might eventually get some support, or something.

Potential Reporting Bias In Neuroimaging Studies Of Sex Differences. Studies of brain sex differences are more likely to be published if they do show such differences. Doubt that grand political narratives are involved here beyond the tendency for every field to have a bias towards reporting positive results.

Researchers claim (study, popular article) that a Southeast Asian tribe which subsists off pearl diving has evolved anatomical adaptations that make them better at holding their breath.

A claim that the Iraqi elections have been tainted by fake sex tapes intended to discredit female candidates. Not sure if this is true since I can’t find it on a reputable site and a lot of the people involved are blaming Israel (which is kind of a red flag for Middle Eastern fake news). If so, would disconfirm my prediction that fake video software isn’t going to be geopolitically important. Sort of related: the CIA considered making a fake Saddam gay sex tape.

Wikipedia had a sudden transition between a pre-2007 period of rapid growth and a post-2007 period of slow decline. Why? Everything useful already written? Bad decisions about community norms? Or “a more general set of social dynamics at work that we do not think existing research explains in a satisfying way”?

Federal prison system cracks down on…prisoners ordering books. [Update: Feds cancel policy after outrage]

The average American thinks the average company makes a 36% profit – it actually makes about 8%. The AEI speculates that a lot of “raise the minimum wage, the companies can just take the losses out of the buckets of cash the greedy owners are hoarding for themselves” type of arguments come from this misunderstanding.

Yet another California secession movement has started gathering signatures for the ballot.

Friend of the blog Sarah Constantin has started the Longevity Research Institute, an anti-aging nonprofit. Currently they’re focusing on mouse studies of promising anti-aging agents. They also have a blog with Sarah’s assessment of some existing longevity strategies.

Related-ish: anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey discovered a new lower-bound in a decades-old unsolved math problem in his spare time.

NPR: When Teens Cyberbully Themselves. “Researchers found that 9 percent of the teens had bullied themselves online”. Also: “She set up ghost accounts on Instagram and posted mean comments about herself, saying things like, ‘I think you’re creepy and gay’ and ‘Don’t sit next to me again,’…She said these things because she feared being mocked by her peers [and] thought their teasing wouldn’t be so bad if she beat them to the punch”.

VC firm Bessemer’s anti-portfolio lists all their worst mistakes and missed opportunities, eg investing in Facebook. “Jeremy Levine spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin’s rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice ‘Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!'”

Alyssa Vance: Massachusetts transit authority takes bold step of firing contractor that went way behind schedule and over budget for their mass transit project; puts fear of God into other contractors who agree to complete project for less than original cost.

Iowa passes “most restrictive in the US” anti-abortion law outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected (usually six weeks, plausibly before many people know they’re pregnant). Likely (and desired by legislators) result is Supreme Court challenge that tests/redefines boundaries of Roe v. Wade.

Hotel Concierge, everyone’s favorite Tumblr cultural commentator who is definitely not secretly The Last Psychiatrist, has another magnum opus out – Shame And Society. My favorite excerpt: “Make no mistake, the performative sadness is not consequent to the pursuit of hedonism; it is a justification.” Deserves a lot closer reading and more discussion than I probably have the time and energy to give it.

Pharma’s Broken Business Model – pharma’s rate of return on research has been steadily declining for the past (at least) twenty-five years, so that it’s now lower than the cost of capital and will be negative by 2020. “Pharma as we know it will shrink out of existence, and no, there is nothing we can do to stop it.”

Liberalism Of The Month for May is Ordoliberalism, an economic philosophy that dominated post-war Germany and “emphasizes the need for the state to ensure that the free market produces results close to its theoretical potential”. That sounds pretty attractive to me, but for some reason it seems to get bogged down in stuff about trade unionism that doesn’t seem to clearly follow.

Trends in the share of population who are not having sex.

QZ has a big article out on how an economic reanalysis shows the consensus was wrong and China was taking our manufacturing jobs all along (with automation having a much smaller role). Still haven’t gotten a chance to look into it in depth, curious what the economists here think.

Is Kanye West’s newfound support for Donald Trump a performance art piece? I know nothing about the music scene and have no intuitions in this area, so somebody else is going to have to tell me if this is at all plausible.

AskReddit: some meteor flashes can look like the entire sky just switches color to become white or green for a few seconds.

The New York Times wedding section covered friend of the blog Patri Friedman’s wedding to Brit Benjamin.

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615 Responses to Links 5/18: Snorri URL-uson

  1. Alraune says:

    You don’t need as many people to die of suffocation as you’d think, just for the biggest-spleened pearl divers to convert their pearl wealth into extra wives.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      This.

      Come on Scott, sexual selection is a much better explanation.

    • dick says:

      I wondered whether it could just be individuals with small spleens consistently moving away to other parts of the island, but it’s hard to tell how isolated this community is.

    • thoramboinensis says:

      There was a remarkable amount of incorrect ideas packed into Scott’s summary of the study (though I’m glad he included it–it’s a cool finding that more people should know about). The Bajau are spread throughout coastal SE Asia, and are not a ‘Filipino Tribe’. The population included in the paper were from Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). They are also not ‘pearl divers’, but use breath-hold diving to spear fish or collect sea cucumbers, though I’m sure there are some individuals that pearl dive in some areas. I think the confusion probably came from a past study showing that Japanese pearl divers have spleens that contract harder than normal spleens, increasing oxygen availability on dives (*edit: and the Filipino origin of the Bajau, but they’ve been making the rounds in SE Asia for hundreds if not thousands of years–they aren’t called ‘the Sea Nomads’ for nothing!).

      It looks like Scott edited out the more broadly incorrect point that the Bajau had to be suffocating underwater for selection to be taking place. I would also push back on Alraune’s point that this has to be mediated by ‘extra wives’. In resource-strapped settings, an adaptation like this would almost certainly lead to greater acquisition of valuable food resources that through a variety of ways could convert to more reproductive success. It means being able to support more kids, and provide them with enough protein so they don’t grow up stunted. It means greater status that could lead to finding a higher status partner to have children with, which probably means mixing of the spleen gene with a lot of other favorable genetic material. Some of those pathways are mediated by sexual selection, but they don’t necessarily have to be, and sexual selection does not just mean ‘more wives’. These divers are frequently referenced as spending 60% of their 8 hour ‘working days’ underwater. Being able to stay down even just 10% longer could mean a huge difference in terms of what resources they’d be able to acquire.

      • Alraune says:

        Sure, but A. “more wives” is a much faster form of selection than “marginally less disease deaths due to better food supply” and B. the Bajau do generally allow polygamy, both historically and currently.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Or just realizing they suck at diving, and finding another way to make a living, which means exiting the community. Voluntary association could concentrate the relevant genes very, very quickly.

  2. Nick says:

    And the winner of the 2018 2018 European Tree Of The Year award is…

    Come on, Scott, that wasn’t even subtle this time!

    Wikipedia had a sudden transition between a pre-2007 period of rapid growth and a post-2007 period of slow decline. Why? Everything useful already written? Bad decisions about community norms?

    I’m sure many here have seen it, but gwern’s essay on inclusion and deletion policies on Wikipedia is worth a read. His thesis on the decline is right up front:

    The basic cause of the decline is the English Wikipedia’s increasingly narrow attitude as to what are acceptable topics and to what depth those topics can be explored, combined with a narrowed attitude as to what are acceptable sources, where academic & media coverage trumps any consideration of other factors.

    • quaelegit says:

      Wow, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever read an entire Gwern article! Thanks for sharing!

      I feel like a general opinion I’ve seen on the web is that Wikipedia has been pretty reliable since 2007 or so, which is the second year that Gwern feels like deletion and barriers to entry increased. Maybe these policies actually did help improve quality even as they ruined the community? Or could just be the fans of the new policy congratulating themselves, I can’t tell from this remove.

      Also, I’m confused on his position on editor anonymity/reputation, though. Near the beginning, in Friction, there’s this quote: “And the fact that it’s difficult to tell who wrote an article, or who edited it – rather than discouraging contribution, as you might assume – actually encouraged contributions.” But near the end he says that the lack of reputation less worthwhile for him than keeping his own wiki.

      • Nick says:

        Wow, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever read an entire Gwern article! Thanks for sharing!

        Really damning by faint praise there. 😛 Personally I like his Melancholy of Subculture Society as well, and his material on Death Note and Evangelion docs is interesting. Folks here might enjoy (or enjoy disagreeing with) his Colder Wars article too. Oh, and the stuff on Dual N-Back and Spaced Repetition is really nice.

        I feel like a general opinion I’ve seen on the web is that Wikipedia has been pretty reliable since 2007 or so, which is the second year that Gwern feels like deletion and barriers to entry increased. Maybe these policies actually did help improve quality even as they ruined the community? Or could just be the fans of the new policy congratulating themselves, I can’t tell from this remove.

        I’m not sure whether reliability has improved or not, but if it’s done so by scaring away new content I doubt it’s worth it. But personally, one of my Wikipedia pet peeves is finding a really interesting topic lacking in external links, so when I found that so-called deletionists were targeting those I made up my mind.

        Also, I’m confused on his position on editor anonymity/reputation, though. Near the beginning, in Friction, there’s this quote: “And the fact that it’s difficult to tell who wrote an article, or who edited it – rather than discouraging contribution, as you might assume – actually encouraged contributions.” But near the end he says that the lack of reputation less worthwhile for him than keeping his own wiki.

        I think part of the takeaway from A Personal Look Back is that gwern wanted something more than “satisfaction and being able to point people at better articles during discussions.” That it was enough to draw him in, but not enough to keep him. But another part was the “flakiness,” evidently, and part of the reason for that flakiness is zealous deletionists, so it’s not unrelated to the larger issue.

        I get the impression gwern’s ideal here, and he is welcome to correct me 😀, is a Wikipedia in which no one cares overly much about their contributions or internal reputation—and consequently, moving on or continuing to edit as they please is as low cost as it once was.

        • quaelegit says:

          >Really damning by faint praise there. 😛

          Shoot, that’s not what I meant! (I can tell from the smiley that you’re joking, but just to clarify what I did mean:) I keep hearing great things about Gwern’s writing and in-depth research, but his other articles I’ve tried to read were a bit of a slog for me, mostly because they weren’t areas of familiarity or interest for me. I care a lot about Wikipedia, so I’m happy that I read his whole essay — there are a lot of great points and demonstrations there!

          >I’m not sure whether reliability has improved or not, but if it’s done so by scaring away new content I doubt it’s worth it.

          I agree, I will be sad if Wikipedia continues to decline 🙁 Personally I’m sad they decided to push fan-wiki type stuff out of Wikipedia, because those mostly migrated to incredibly slow & ad-filled Wikia platforms.

          Re: third part — thanks for clarifying, that makes sense.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      I’ll have to read Gwern's essay, but having joined in mid-2002 (pretty early, given that it started at the beginning of 2001) and semi-officially quit in 2006 (since then I've edited —and don't tell anybody, but I still have administrator powers— but I haven't gone to the site for the initial purpose of editing rather than reading, and I've stayed out of all policy debates), I agree with this. I've said since as early as 2003 that the only thing wrong with Wikipedia is that it should be more like Wikipedia (meaning less like everything else); trying to lock it down makes it look better in the short term at the expense of long-term improvement.

      It's still miles ahead of almost everything else, of course.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        It turns out that I've read that before (but it's interesting to read again (including revisions (including the one that mentions me (with the last letter of my last name missing)))).

  3. jw says:

    I vote to rename April “The Terrible One” from now on.

  4. Paul Crowley says:

    The philosophy bias numbers seem unbelievable. Is it possible some people were answering along the lines of eg “Even though I strongly believe trans people should be treated as equals, I’m sure I have a shameful unconscious bias against them, so I’ll tick yes”?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Looking at it further, the data is from 2011, which is like a century ago in Culture War years. I bet the trans numbers would be lower now.

      • rgressis says:

        Speaking as a professor of philosophy (FWIW), I suspect that, if the numbers are correct, Schilling’s explanation is the right one: people are using “trans* philosopher” as a proxy for “super left-wing, critical theory type philosopher.”

    • J Mann says:

      Do you think the republican numbers are right?

    • John Schilling says:

      Also plausible is, “Even though I strongly believe trans people should be treated as equals, I believe they have a much higher rate of Drama, and in particular the sort of Drama that results in my having long meetings with my HR and Legal departments.”

      Though, of course, admitting that this is at all a factor in your own hiring decisions could also result in long meetings with HR and legal. How thoroughly anonymized was that survey data?

    • Barr says:

      I’m more surprised by the bias against atheists. Another survey on philosophical convergence put philosophers as 90% atheist (and the most convergent live issue in philosophy).

      • Protagoras says:

        7.9% is a pretty small percentage, and I think 90% is a little high as the level of atheism among philosophers. The big survey a few years back came up with only 75% atheists among philosophers. So if that’s right would only take a third of the believers being uncomfortable hiring yet another atheist (or inviting the atheists into their little religious enclave department) to get the 7.9% result.

    • Lis says:

      As a trans person, the 20% statistic seems completely unsurprising based on the level of general public stigma.

      Some philosophers are just awful philosophers with false beliefs?

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I imagine the numbers are lower now and significantly lower among younger philosophers, but it’s not THAT surprising to me. Remember that a lot of philosophers are old.

  5. zima says:

    The QZ article about manufacturing doesn’t make sense. It says that a lot of the boom in manufacturing is because “statisticians assume the difference in value between the two models is just the difference in their prices” so “if the 2017 processor costs twice as much as the 2016 one does, then selling one 2017 processor counts as selling two of the 2016 versions in the statisticians’ books.”

    The obvious problem with this is that the price of manufactures has gone down, especially in computer sectors. Therefore, the fact that statisticians control for price should mean that the official statistics are understating, not overstating, the physical quantity of manufactured goods we are producing.

    The article is correct that a lot of manufacturing improvements have been in computers, but that’s to be expected given how many more computers people use now, and it’s unclear why computer manufacturing is less valuable than other types of manufacturing.

    • herculesorion says:

      They’re controlling for price, but they’re also controlling for How Good Stuff Is (which is what they should be doing!) and the article-quoted study suggests that they’re doing the latter wrong.

      A) the “manufacturing output” that people say is higher than ever is actually based on the estimated value of stuff being made
      B) macroeconomic statisticians don’t actually know how much value is added by Better Computers, so they guessed a number
      C) they guessed wrong
      D) if you use a different (lower) number, US manufacturing output crashes
      E) that number is within the margin of error on the one they did use
      F) and there’s a big knee in the curve right where we started having everything made in China.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        To add onto this, the BEA uses a general output-input price index measure to create a value-add measure. So if you sell computers for $400 billion and have $100 billion in inputs, your value-add is $300 billion.

        A specific problem is the $100 billion input side. US companies are sourcing a LOT of stuff from foreign nations these days, and under-estimating how cheap they are compared to the US. So that $100 billion in inputs is really more like $150 billion, so the value-add isn’t $300 billion, it’s $250 billion. It means US manufacturing is way, way, way, way less productive than we think it is.

      • fnord says:

        Those are the claims of the article, but I don’t think the article actually shows (D) and (F). If you actually look at the charts presented, here is what the different, lower number shows:

        US manufacturing output grows more slowly than the rest of the economy, and has been growing more slowly since the ’80s.

        There’s a small dip around 2001, which might be caused by trade with China or might be caused by the recession we had around that time. Output growth resumes and, by 2007, reaches a peak higher than the 2000 level.

        Then output drops substantially around the time of the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession, and possibly growth slows thereafter (that’s hard to eyeball). This drop is the primary reason manufacturing output was flat over the 2000-2016 period (and is down from the 2007 peak).

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The article is correct that a lot of manufacturing improvements have been in computers, but that’s to be expected given how many more computers people use now, and it’s unclear why computer manufacturing is less valuable than other types of manufacturing.

      Computers isn’t manufacturing. It’s a sub-set of manufacturing. That’s the point.

      Other manufacturers are screaming that they are losing to China, and you are saying “no, actually, you’re doing fine! Look at how many computers we are making!”
      That’s like saying the steel industry is doing AWESOME because Apple reported record profits this quarter. It makes absolutely no sense.

      • Swimmy says:

        Back in 1967, the US steel industry employed about 780,000 workers, and produced about 115 million tons of steel. By 2015, employment had fallen to 90,000, producing about 79 million tons of steel. In both years the US consumed about 130 million tons of steel. (I’m not sure these figures are exactly right, but I think they are close enough.)

        The bottom line is that even if we still produced 115 million tons, or even upped it to 130 million, the level of employment in steel would be in the 120,000 to 150,000 range. The vast majority of those 780,000 steel jobs were lost to automation, and they aren’t coming back.

        http://www.themoneyillusion.com/steel-jobs-are-gone-forever/

        This is why the QZ article’s claims are… not as conclusive as they seem to believe. You can point to lowered steel output and say it’s 100% because of trade, but it still wouldn’t be the main cause of steel job losses. It only takes a little arithmetic to see this. (I don’t know what similar calculations for other manufacturing industries would show, but I’m not confident they would reveal that steel is the exception.)

  6. MartMart says:

    ” if you learn your plumber disagrees with you about politics, you’re less likely to trust his plumbing.”
    Makes perfect sense. If plumber belongs to enemy tribe, I’m concerned that he will either intentionally mistreat me, or unintentionally allow his biases to lessen the quality of work he does. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true 100% of time for me not to take the risk if there are plenty of plumbers to choose from.

    • Randy M says:

      You might be concerned about that, but is there any evidence this kind of thing actually happens any significant percentage of the time?

      • MartMart says:

        1. In a world where there is an infinite supply of plumbers, even an infinitely small risk is easily avoided, and its rational to do so. So you’re not worried about a 80% here, but rather 5%.
        2. When dealing with tradesman, one if typically in some sort information asymmetry. The plumber (or mechanic, ac repairman) may be inventing problems to pad the bill. One must trust the tradesman, and there is less trust between tribes than there is in a tribe.
        3. Today’s tribal warfare is about moral values. Culture wars are fought over what is an isn’t wrong. Both are slowly coming around to the idea that pocking the other tribe with a sharp stick in the eye isn’t wrong. One does not want to be the eye in this situation, and the louder the other person is at advertising their tribal membership, the more likely they are to engage in stick pocking.
        Add to all this semi conscious biases, where the person doesn’t make an active decision, and rising above a low threshold becomes very easy.

        • Randy M says:

          Like, a survey, even? Anything?

          • herculesorion says:

            Randy, you’re talking to the wrong guy. Talk to the people in the original study who already display the behavior you’re upset about.

          • Urstoff says:

            It would take quite a while to survey the infinite supply of plumbers.

          • toastengineer says:

            What if they’re only semi-infinite?

          • Randy M says:

            Randy, you’re talking to the wrong guy. Talk to the people in the original study who already display the behavior you’re upset about.

            But that would involve going over there, and I’m only upset enough to question people who suggest it here.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Uhm.. I do not think *anywhere* has an infinite supply of plumbers. Even places with very strong craft-person traditions tend to have at least a mild shortage of skilled pipe-workers.

    • Well... says:

      To me it depends on what the area of expertise is.

      For some reason, I feel like I’d trust left-wing skilled manual laborers more (plumbers, auto mechanics, etc.) but I’d trust right-wing white-collar workers more. I’d also trust conservative food service, hospitality, and grocery store people more.

      I want my arborists, artists, designers, and academic researchers to be consciously centrist like me.

      • Nornagest says:

        Huh. Can you unpack this a little more? I have basically none of these intuitions.

        • Urstoff says:

          Do you have any intuitions about what ideology you’d trust more in a particular, non-political job? I don’t think I do.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t think so. Certainly none that I can untangle from cultural stereotypes — there are professions that I associate more with Red or Blue Tribe, but I don’t think that’d correlate well with trust, at least once I actually met the person.

            Well…’s comments re: food service, hospitality, and grocery suggest that there’s a purity heuristic involved, but I don’t think I share it.

          • Well... says:

            I thought about it and wondered if there was a purity thing going on there too. That doesn’t seem quite right but I can’t think of what’s more right. (No pun intended.)

            It might have to do more with orderliness…?

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            Hm, I don’t really do either, but maybe I can reason my way to some.

            I mean, I think the right and left are both mostly decent and competent people, but where I think their faults are overrepresented is that the left trends stupid (wishful thinking) and the right trends evil (greed).

            So if I followed that, I’d pick a leftist for work where I needed to trust the person and a rightie for where pure observable skill was needed.

            I’ve never tried to reason my way to a prejudice before…

          • Quixote says:

            I thought it was a joke / absurdist humor…

      • Doc Brown says:

        ahh, is it because most skilled manual labourers aren’t left wing and most white-collar workers aren’t right wing?

        So, if they are a minority and they have survived some time in their profession, they are likelier to be more skilled?

        • Well... says:

          There could be some of that going on but that isn’t how I was thinking of it at all.

          I’m just reflecting back on the various people I’ve met over my life as a consumer of services, and also people I’ve had as coworkers, and what kinds of impressions I got from different types of people in different types of jobs.

        • But surely it’s the opposite—manual labourers are stereotypically left-wing, white-collar workers are stereotypically right-wing.

          • Randy M says:

            Economically or socially?

          • Notsocrazy 24 says:

            In Europe, or what? That’s not really the case in the U.S., or at least it depends on which tribe or geographical area you come from.

            The Blue Tribe narrative is of course that they are for the workers and that the right basically only consists of the Koch brothers and a couple of others on Wall Street, and some brainwashed idiots in flyover country. Whereas the Red Tribe narrative is that the left is a bunch of rich cultural elites trying to force their ideals on salt-of-the-earth folk like farmers, factory workers, welders, truck drivers, etc.

            FWIW my experience in blue-collar work for the past 7 years has been overwhelmingly right-wing, anti-union, etc. with two notable exceptions, both of whom were supervisors so they had somewhat less purely blue-collar jobs. However, I’ve also lived exclusively in the Midwest, so YMMV.

          • I live in the UK (northern England), so perhaps it is different in the USA. I just wouldn’t have thought you’d have the complete opposite set of associations.

            It’s true that it’s more about economic rather than social issues—I don’t expect manual labourers and white-collar workers to differ too much on things like gay rights, as most of them would be supportive in either group. I think in the UK there’s a greater degree of consensus on social issues, so economics is the more salient dimension of political alignment.

            The two narratives, as you describe them, seem to have the characteristic that the opposing political group is supposed to be a small group of people with outsized political power, rather than the “other half” of the population. This seems to be different in the UK: I think here it’s generally understood that to an approximation, the left-wing working classes make up half of the country and the right-wing middle classes make up the other half. (Don’t take “half” too literally—the point is that neither group is marginal.)

        • j1000000 says:

          I kind of agree with his weird intuition because I’m assuming what you’re assuming about conventional lineup of politics and occupations. And, to me, it would signal intelligence if your political beliefs do not by default conform with your peers.

          But then thinking over my time in various companies in my career, I can see no correlation between any particular outwardly stated political beliefs and competence.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      On the other hand, the issue might not be fear of defection, or not only that.

      I think the culture wars also include the idea that the other side is less intelligent and less conscientious, so people might be concerned that the plumbers on the other side are likely to be worse plumbers.

    • brmic says:

      If the plumber is from my tribe, there’s a chance he read my tribal affiliation correctly.and is trying to bond with me. If he is from the other tribe he’s gravely misinterpreted the many signs of my tribal affiliation, in which case I don’t trust his judgement, or he’s careless enough to open up about politics to a total stranger and again that probably means his judgement is subpar.

  7. KieferO says:

    Nitpick: It was the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) that cancelled the contracts, not the City of Boston. The MBTA has commuter rail operations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island; and has subway operations in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Quincy. The personality of the MBTA, as an entity, is very different from the cities it serves. Sure they’re all run by puritans, but the MBTA is run by the angrier puritans.

    • j1000000 says:

      I can’t tell — are you saying the MBTA is competent? Never heard anyone accuse them of such a thing.

  8. Anonymous Bosch says:

    A rare positive follow-up to one of those links: last week the Washington Post started sniffing at that Injustice Today story on the BOP book restrictions and the federal prisons named abruptly reversed those policies.

    The reversal came two days after inquiries from The Washington Post asking about the vendor, the markup and the rationale for the restriction.

    Prison officials said in an email Thursday that the bureau had rescinded the memos and will review the policy to “ensure we strike the right balance between maintaining the safety and security of our institutions and inmate access to correspondence and reading materials.”

    Officials declined to identify the vendor and explain the costs added to the book purchase prices.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Any theories other than “someone got caught with his hand in the cookie jar?”

      • Virbie says:

        I remember reading about this (maybe on the subreddit’CW thread?), and it was some semi-plausible story about only allowing books provided by the prison so contraband can’t be smuggled in.

        The markup is probably halfway between incompetence and corruption, like everything else in the world.

  9. vaniver says:

    u/neildegrassebotnik’s responses are written by Botnik Studios members with predictive text keyboards trained on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interiews and transcripts from his reboot of Cosmos.

    Typically, this means the author is choosing from the top 3 words the Markov model spits out, which still gives them quite a bit of creative control.

    • Autolykos says:

      That makes a lot of sense. The answers don’t drift away from the original question as quickly as an unsupervised Markov model should, and are way too good at making fun of Neil.
      My original bet would have been “fake” (while still loving to be proven wrong, preferably with source code and/or a network graph to tinker with), but “strongly human guided” works as well.

  10. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    I refuse to believe that anyone who writes as poorly as Hotel Concierge could pass the MCAT, much less get through medical school.

    He has to be making a deliberate effort to be that unclear. And that’s a shame because he has a few good points buried under the obscurationist prose. His form is strangling the life out of his function.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think this might be the first time anyone has ever suggested doctors are good writers.

      • rahien.din says:

        I’ve noticed that the longer I practice, the lower the quality of my non-medical writing.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I’ve never noticed particularly poor quality writing from doctors, not unless you mean handwriting.

        • convie says:

          I think doctors writing can be pretty dry. Even Michael Chrichton, as popular and successful as he was, came off as sterile.

      • cosmarchia says:

        You need to read António Lobo Antunes and Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

      • Nietzsche says:

        Oliver Sacks.

    • Randy M says:

      Ah, I was going to make that complaint, but didn’t because I was afraid the error was on this end.

      One of the reasons SSC is great is because it is written to be understood, rather than to impress.

      • Confusion says:

        Same problem here. And I have the same problem with Samzdat. I sometimes manage to wrestle through and extract the value, but mostly I get stuck. Their writings make me feel like I’m solving a puzzle that has way more pieces than necessary to complete.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      In case anyone thinks I’m being unfair or missing the point, here is the entire substantive part of the post stripped of pop culture references and postmodernist duckspeak:

      (This is my rather loose paraphrase, not a direct quote.)

      There is a four-step process which has infected and hollowed out the entirety of modern society. It affects everything from school and work to friendships and dating.

      In step one, a bureaucrat or a computer needs to make a decision between two or more candidates. It needs a legible signal. Signalling (see Robin Hanson) means making a display of a desired characteristic which is expensive or otherwise difficult to fake without that characteristic; legibility (see James Scott) means that the display is measurable and doesn’t require local knowledge or context to interpret.

      In step two, Goodhart’s Law kicks in. Faking the signal is expensive and difficult but, as long as it’s not more expensive to fake than the reward for successfully faking it, people will do so anyway. In some cases fakers actually look better than non-fakers, but even if that’s not the case the signal loses much of its value to discriminate.

      In step three, the bureaucrats and/or computers demand a new and more costly signal. Things cycle between steps two and three until the cost of the signal approaches the reward for having the trait. Runaway signalling has now eaten nearly the entire gain it was supposed to safeguard.

      In step four, the expensive and now nearly-useless signal is a huge sunk cost for everyone that possesses it. If the signal is abandoned, they will have sacrificed huge amounts of time, money and effort for nothing. Worse, they’ll face competition from younger, richer, more energetic people who didn’t have to pay that cost. The signal now has a lobby dedicated to maintaining it even if it costs more than the entire benefit of the trait.

      The connection to the school and job application processes is obvious, but it doesn’t stop there. We rarely speak to our neighbors or go to our neighborhood churches, and even if we did the price of housing in our neighborhood is an important signal that bureaucrats and computers care a great deal about. Our classmates and co-workers were obviously also selected by the same signalling processes. And online dating is, you guessed it, a computer making a decision about which of two or more candidates to show us using legible signals. Our entire social circle and the mores of that social circle are dominated by the considerations of signalling.

      So we’re older, poorer and more exhausted because of these signals all while we’re more dependent on them than ever. We hate our identies but we can’t risk deviating from them. So we redirect that frustration into punishing our peers for deviating from the same restrictive identities we wish we were free from.

      Add a few choice examples, some snappy neologisms, and this could still fit on a single 8″ x 11″ sheet of paper.

      • herculesorion says:

        What are your thoughts on the writings of Hunter S. Thompson?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I’ve never actually read anything of his, or even seen the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

          I have greatly enjoyed reading Nietzsche, who is famously difficult, although since I read his work translated into English I may be losing the bulk of the incomprehensibility. Prying out the key insights from his syphilitic prose style was challenging but felt worthwhile.

          The problem is that Hotel Concierge isn’t Nietzsche and he’s probably not Hunter S. Thompson either. It takes a certain chutzpah to write an article about the corrosive effect of pretense replacing substance with style while pretentiously imitating the style of better known writers at the cost of the article’s substantial points. Meta-irony isn’t clever, it’s just obnoxious.

          • Nornagest says:

            Nietzsche’s problem is that he’s too understandable. I can read a page of his stuff and extract nine points, six of which contradict each other.

          • Confusion says:

            Nornagest: similar to those sites: ribbonfarm?

      • liskantope says:

        I like some of the Hotel Concierge essays I’ve read, but they seem to have gotten increasingly hard to follow for me. Thank you for making this latest one actually readable and even readable within ~1 minute. If anyone’s up for creating a similar Cliffs Notes version of the rest of his essays, I’d be very appreciative.

      • baconbits9 says:

        What do people want? Authors generally want to be read, readers generally want to feel a connection to the writing (or the writer). I follow basketball and do some low level analytics for fun, I wrote 20 page playoff preview this year and posted it. It got 2 recs (likes), poking fun at the Nets management or noting how Al Horford has a plus minus of -240 will get between 10-30 recs.

        The factual substance doesn’t matter to the broad readership (on that site), the numbers could be cherry picked or flat out wrong (intentionally or unintentionally) and being right or wrong in the past has little (to no) influence on popularity.

        Few people look for reading about facts or understanding vs reading for comfort and familiarity.

      • quanta413 says:

        I couldn’t stand reading the original blog. Read one essay (or half of one?). Decided it wasn’t worth it.

        Thanks for the distillation. Reasonable theoretical framework to try.

      • Scumbarge says:

        Every time I read a post by HC or TLP, I spend the next day or so thinking somewhat in their writing style, and I think that’s what I actually get out of it. My purpose isn’t to walk away with an easily summarized talking point, it’s to be inundated in that lens of seeing the world with an aura of superior, world-weary confidence, the feeling of understanding things in a way that goes over the head of all the other drones. (In fairness, that’s part of what I get out of SSC, too).

        Insight porn! And, like someone masturbating to cuck porn is kind of meta (i.e, it’s clearly not you fucking that woman), masturbating to insight porn on the topic of “everything in the world is insight porn” puts you on the highest possible level, right?

        Or maybe not, maybe that’s the blank-screen/black-mirror moment where you have the misfortune of witnessing your O-face and feel ashamed about having fooled yourself up to that point. The kind of shame that even strips away shame’s usual ability to provide some form of absolution.

        See? Now I’m rambling. I’ll be like this for 24 hours.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Do you also enjoy hallucinogens?

          I ask because your description sounds similar to what I saw trip-sitting friends who dropped acid. They feel a sense of clarity and understanding despite obviously being extremely confused and having no idea what’s going on around them. They babble a bunch of eye-rolling nonsense and then later lament that they couldn’t remember their “profound insights.”

          To each their own, but the idea of having my perceptions that divorced from reality is terrifying. If I feel like I understand some deep truth I want to actually understand it. Hacking curiosity by frying your brain is a really dark path.

          • Scumbarge says:

            I do! And have had that same sense of understanding that only stays as long as the half-life.

            That said, I think that there is value to be taken away from it, aside from the basic chemical ecstacy and the pleasant feeling of ethereal understanding. It’s hard to put into words, but I think my lens has been changed for the better through the act of temporarily stepping outside of it. Psychadelics force you to look at the limitations of your models by temporarily scrambling them, to a degree that repeating “this is water, this is water” can only scratch the surface of.

            (Also, Vinay Gupta has recently gotten a lot of shit here, some of which was for good reason, but he’s a pretty cogent speaker when he isn’t throwing a tantrum. My take on his take on enlightenment boils down to “take what you can prove from the enlightenment experience, and don’t trust the urge to explain the experience through the lens of a medieval religious upbringing”.

            Replace “enlightenment” with “psychadelic”, and “medieval religious upbringing” with “feeling of universal love”, and there’s still some value left over after the bullshit has been done away with).

            I’ve never personally met anyone who took enough often enough to fry their brains, but have heard enough stories to not fuck with that kind of volume. Once a month is enough for me, in general. They act as a sort of…mental gestalt generator, if that makes sense. Your pattern recognition gets turned up to 11, causing you to make correlations between everything that comes to mind, everything you’ve read or struggled with in the past month, every song that comes on the radio, in a way that feels personal and synchronistic and significant to an extent that’s otherwise hard to come by.

            And, sure, if you continue to treat every little crossed synapse as Actually True, you’re going to find yourself with some unverifiable superstitious hash. But I’ve always found a lot of joy in making analogies, so dropping myself into a state where I can more effortlessly play with connections between large abstract concepts is quite enjoyable as long as I keep myself grounded, and the ideas I come up with are often mnemonically vibrant enough that they stick around long past the afterglow.

            (Of course, I’d be remiss not to admit that part of my enjoyment of psychadelics probably stems from that same place of “wanting to feel productive without putting forward real effort” as my enjoyment of insight porn, which isn’t a connection I’d actually made until your comment. And it’s hard to say how much of my defense of either comes from the sunk cost fallacy versus an honest assessment of their worth)

            One more note: Some of the visual effects of psychadelics can be described in terms of visual processing. The sense of colors “breathing”, for example, reminds me a lot of Eulerian Video Magnification: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONZcjs1Pjmk. Someone in this general sphere made a comparison between visual tracers and predictive processing.

            I think the mental effects are somewhat similar: just because they’re a divergence from the standard means of processing doesn’t mean they aren’t grounded in reality; they just amplify certain variables to different levels than you’re used to.

            That was one of the basic takeaways of my first psychadelic experience: everyone is kind of tripping on their default model all the time, they just think they’re witnessing base reality because they’ve never been immersed in anything else. In actuality, you’re a computer made of meat operating within an incredibly limited set of wavelengths, taking data from senses and cognitive models that evolved for the purpose of survival rather than Knowing the Truth.

            Any philosopher would tell you that this is obvious, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it firsthand.

        • aristides says:

          I actually found SSC because of TLP. I used to idolize TLP and when he stopped writing, I googled writers like him and found Scott. I like Scott’s writing style a lot more, but TLP had a lot of ideas that I never heard before, and transformed the way I think. The “if you’re watching it, it’s for you” and “what does the author want to be true” are simple, not original, ideas, that changed how I consumed media. Scott can convey more ideas a lot more clearly than TLP, but TLP had a few important ideas that he was able to convey in an overly convoluted way.

          • invective says:

            I made my here by the same route, however I still think very highly of TLP.

            I find that SSC is great for extremely in depth analysis of things I already understand in principle, where as TLP has more insights that made me say “wow I never thought of it that way”.

            I personally enjoy HC while appreciating Nabil’s point. A bit like reading baudrillard, who I also find to have very interesting ideas but writes in a needlesly difficult fashion.

            Does anyone know of any more sites in this category? (Hotel, TLP, Samzdat)

            Cheers.

          • theternalone says:

            @invective; I’d recommend The Underground Grammarian. A lot older, but very much along similar lines to HC, TLP, and Sam[]zdat. Also, exemplary in form, style, and substance. For a quick taste:

            “There is only one Education, and it has only one goal: the freedom of the mind. Anything that needs an adjective, be it civics education, or socialist education, or Christian education, or whatever-you-like education, is not education, and it has some different goal. The very existence of modified ‘educations’ is testimony to the fact that their proponents cannot bring about what they want in a mind that is free. An ‘education’ that cannot do its work in a free mind, and so must ‘teach’ by homily and precept in the service of these feelings and attitudes and beliefs rather than those, is pure and unmistakable tyranny. And it is exactly the kind of tyranny, ‘tyranny over the mind of man,’ to which Thomas Jefferson swore ‘eternal enmity’ on–on what?–on ‘the altar of God.'”

            The Underground Grammarian, Vol. 6, No. 6

      • The Obsolete Man says:

        That was a very good paraphrasing.

        Thanks so much Scott for providing a link to this. I thought that TLP had quit writing for good (except for his porn book). He is very cryptic and I have to admit that I started to skim read some of this post due to its length. It would be nice to sort his posts on the site by word count :-).

        Here’s the portion in the middle that I think gets to his motivation to write this:

        This is the sinuous path to our particular dystopia, collectivized atomization, the conspiracy against each of us by everyone else. Things will get worse before they get better. The politicization of everything mirrors the spread of capitalism: in both cases, local resources (wool, opinions about videogames) are exchanged for global currency (euro, opinions about gender). Over and over again we are told of the importance of making this trade. I’m sure your coworkers like you well enough, but these days no one would be surprised if anyone turned out to be a school-shooting racist rapist. “Nice fella. Quiet. Kept to himself, mostly,” says the naive yokel, to which Dave Chapelle’s white guy voice replies, “My God! That’s the first sign!” Lesson learned: don’t trust your instincts, loyalty is a spook, only the media can see the truth.

        In this way, the global community dissolves all communities smaller than itself. Let me be explicit: I am against this. Not against immigration or sending aid abroad, but against the promulgation of a monoculture. Though a complete monoculture will never exist, movement in that direction is harmful: a) any culture that pacifies everyone will satisfy no one, Disney has no terminal values, and b) I don’t think the math works out. It’s niche differentiation, the law of Solzhenitsyn’s gulag: a decrease in the diversity of opportunities for competition will lead to an increase in competition’s ferocity. “My world has been so filtered that I only encounter people half a deviation away from me along any axis and yet I hate nearly everyone I meet,” says the urbanite fake-laugher sipping LaCroix. Yeah, like that’s a coincidence. You’d kill a guy over breadcrumbs if breadcrumbs were the only privilege allowed. When social currency is only achievable through one set of values, then the game truly becomes zero sum.

      • Eddy says:

        THANK YOU this was useful, please provide more of these…. somewhere. Or email HC and tell them to add an abstract to each post in this form.

      • benm says:

        I think it’s a little unfair to level claims of “postmodernist duck speak” at HC; granted, they and Samizdat can be difficult to follow at times. But I think this is to do somewhat less with style and more with the complexity of the idea being expressed; sometimes succinct expression is hard, because the idea itself is complex and difficult to convey. What precise sequence of English vocab words to use?

        I take the opposite stance; HC gets more and more enjoyable on repeat readings, you get more out of the essays on repeat readings, and the reason for this is that a lot of the information is actually already highly condensed. Pop culture references and other metaphors are useful precisely because they encode so much information. The difficulty on the part of the reader is that you need to put in more effort to extract that information.

      • benm says:

        There has been a reasonably large amount of discussion in the comments section recently about “how easy it is to read/understand” writers like Hotel Concierge, The Last Psychiatrist, and Samizdat (consensus seems to be: not easy, they are pretentious, and so on) and I wanted to write a defence of their style, some of their ideas, and to try and draw out why this style is important and what its benefits are. It’s difficult to do justice to some of these claims about pretention and difficulty without a longer form essay being involved, so here we are. I’m lumping these three writers together because much of the discussion seems to be revolving around them, and I’ll let you delineate what makes them, “them” for yourselves. There are some easy similarities to spot, and assume for the purposes of this essay that the argument applies to all three.

        Nabil ad Dajjal wrote an excellent critique of HC that involves generalising the argument and abstracting outwards; “here’s the tl;dr” subsequently: “If I can do this, all those other words are unnecessary, and his arguments are specious” Completely reasonable and normal. This is ironic because in that essay, HC references Samizdats ideas of episteme and metis (specifically the essay sequence elaborating on, and articulating those ideas)

        HC is generous in his writing, in that he gives a lot of concrete, specific examples to work with. He then makes reference to an essay attempting to show why localised knowledge is often good, and is then lambasted because we can extract the essence of those arguments into bullet point form. Of course we could make a bullet point list from any given essay; this is the very business model of Cliffs Notes. But what do we lose in the process? If you read SHAME & SOCIETY carefully, this criticism has to a certain extent already been preempted. What’s the distinction between form and content? What if the form is the content? (something something Susan Sontag NB: this is very important) One reader labelled them as “rhetorical pyrotechnics” (great label, by the way) but my argument is that writers like HC use form to condense more information. If the argument is, “We can condense X number of words down to 10% of X, therefore the style of X is [negative evaluation]” then the natural next question is, what did you lose in reducing the number of words? I’m not defending bloated prose, and some people are bad writers and deliberately obfuscate and hide behind lengthy vocab. But you should be able to read an essay and know which is which, and I don’t think any reasonable reading of HC says that he’s a bad writer hiding behind a patina of characters.

        There are some wonderful pieces at Suspended Reason about Jürgen Schmidhuber, and the idea of aesthetics as computational compressibility. I like this idea, I judge it as elegant. My guess is that a lot of people in the rationalist community do, too NB: I do not consider myself a rationalist, nor a member of the rationalist community. And I would invoke this notion in defence of Hotel Concierge and Samizdat. The “rhetorical pyrotechnics” if you will aren’t there to obscure, they are there to compress more into less.

        Saying that he isn’t Nietzsche or Hunter S. is easy, no one was claiming he was, he obviously isn’t, and so on. He used one particular Nietzsche quote to draw out an image. What he didn’t do was connect the dots for you: what’s the preceding paragraph? What’s the picture immediately afterwards? It’s fine to say you’ve read Nietzsche, but how do you get from The Gay Science to modern day life at your 9-5? The image is very representative of the quote, but it requires you to make the connection yourself.

        And what about:

        “In kindergarten, poor and rich kids might play in the same sandbox; after college, such friendships are mediated by the checkout counter. Hobbies and neighborhoods segregate race like the lines of a coloring book, girl gangs harmonize vocal fry, even the wokest heterosexual men somehow dissociate from gays. These borders are all the harsher for not being planned, for existing, ethereal, in unlaughed jokes and clumsy prandial opinions in need of tensely-smiled excuses. Harsher, because no individual has to believe in these nudges of ostracism for them to reign. All that is necessary is to wince along with the ingroup as the outgroup digs their grave.”

        This begins as a list of situations from present day life. Are they applicable to you? Maybe, maybe not. But they’re illustrative, not confusing. They draw out the image of what is happening on a moment-to-moment basis. Yes, once again, you can condense the core idea down to bullet points. But you’re going to be losing something in the process. Why are these even the examples given? Why are these the examples that exist at all? “Clumsy prandial opinion in need of tensely-smiled excuses” yes, post christmas dinner, in-laws of approx age 145 make racist jokes, you need to keep up appearances. Isn’t it worth saying that this type of situation exists? Did you think about why it exists, or see the pattern between family dinner and [general social crisis] ? You might argue there isn’t one, but that’s not the same as arguing that the example is given purely as rhetoric.

        Some essays are difficult because they are attempting to articulate a lot of information. Sometimes this is done well, sometimes not. But you cannot expect to fully comprehend everything you read on a first-pass. Sometimes you’ll need to re-read, and think carefully.

        Please note that I don’t intend this piece as a silly “this writer is better than this writer” argument of immaturity – everyone is awesome and I love you all. I don’t think we should be forming tribes based on preferences of writers. And I’m not trying to be toxic, I’m not trying to be pretentious or claim you’re stupid if you don’t “get” HC. I’m only trying to refute the “HC is pretentious and/or deliberately confusing” claim.

    • Aqua says:

      I actually enjoy him a lot for this reason. Kind of like the hitchhikers guide

    • Kestrellius says:

      I’ve just finished tenderizing my brain trying to figure out what that article was about. I think the issue is that he keeps changing the subject without any explanation as to how any of the topics relate to one another.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        That’s true.

        I grounded myself with his annecdote from medical school about surgery. That was by far the most clearly written segment. It also connected to a previous bit he had written, The False Negatives, which had a similar point about fakes looking more real than the real thing in the context of dating. The dating bit tied back into the recurring dating examples throughout Shame and Society and gave them an actual context. All that jazz about masks and inauthentic authenticity is a way of gesturing at signals that become identies because they’ve lost most of their actual value but still represent sunk costs.

        Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that nobody should have to do any of that in order to understand what’s ultimately a very simple message. It’s a good message and deserves to be heard, not smothered under several thousand words of analysis of the Emoji Movie.

    • melboiko says:

      It amuses but does not surprises me that the best active online prose writer I know would be criticized for, out of all the things that could be criticized, style, on this thread. Precisely its strongest and redeeming point! But I knew this space exists on some sort of parallel dimension where all the greatest writers in history never existed and are never even name-dropped, much less discussed; where the most discussed piece of literature is in fact a Harry Potter fanfic; and where the one criteria for evaluating prose essayism is, rolleyes, “clarity”. Too many notes, right? Ah, To a locker-room life at low tension / abnormal none, anonymous hosts / driven like Danaids by drill sergeants / to ply well-paid repetitive tasks…

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      I really really loved the writing in that article. You may contend that rhetorical pyrotechnics lead to an arms race that competes with the very content of the debate, but he didn’t start the arms race and it’s not like he’s recommending unilateral disarming to others. If anything it’s a good thing he’s using his cool to sell rationalist ideas.

      Also while your paraphrase outlines a recurring motif of the post, it’s not nearly the whole substantive content.

    • j1000000 says:

      I read The Last Psychiatrist like once every few months because people raved about it so much. I felt the exact same way you do about this. Every once in a while I’d maybe catch a glimpse of a half-insight, then it was gone in a sea of rambling nothingness. Was dull to me to play that game, but others seemed to enjoy it. Maybe the game was the thing.

  11. vV_Vv says:

    Daily Nous shows a survey on Who Philosophers Are Less Willing To Hire. Expected bias against conservatives is certainly there, but did you know that 20% of philosophers would be unwilling to hire transgender people? The prejudice against transgender people in philosophy is almost as strong as the prejudice against Republicans. I am seriously shocked by this.

    How was that measured? Is it a correlational study?

    Researchers claim (study, popular article) that a Filipino tribe which subsists off pearl diving has evolved anatomical adaptations that make them better at holding their breath. Imagine how many people have to die of suffocation to produce that much evolution in that short a time period.

    Researchers claim that a Eastern European ethnic group of Middle Eastern origin which subsists off doing smart stuff evolved cognitive adaptations that make them better at doing smart stuff. Imagine how many people have to die of … losing Talmudic debates? to produce that much evolution in that short of a time period. Or maybe they just failed to attract mates within their group and moved to some other group.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve always suspected there was a Talmudic Thunderdome hidden away somewhere. Two men enter, one rabbi leaves.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I want to believe this. Would it count as a Jewish conspiracy theory, though?

        • Jaskologist says:

          Jewish selection is actually twice as tough:

          Four men entered pardes — Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher (Elisha ben Abuyah) and Rabbi Akiva. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace.

          • JulieK says:

            According to the Midrash (quoted by Rashi here), of 1,000 students who begin to study the written Torah, 100 will go on to study the Mishnah; 10 of those will go on to study Gemara; and one of those will eventually be qualified to teach.

        • Nornagest says:

          Is it still blood libel if it’s consensual?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Not quite that, but I did hear about rabbinical (Reform?) training being very expensive, but with a guaranteed job at the end of it.

        • YehoshuaK says:

          Talmudic scholarship doesn’t have anything to do with rabbinical training. That is, very many men spend the best years of their lives (and a significant fraction, their entire lives) in full-time Talmudic study without any intention of ever seeking a rabbinic position. I personally spent around five years before marriage and ten years afterwards in full-time Talmudic study, without ever seeking or seriously considering a rabbinic career.

          Of course rabbis should have extensive knowledge of Talmud and the legal codes deriving from it. However, we see Talmudic study as an end-value in itself, not merely as vocational training.

          • Aapje says:

            Perhaps it is an unconscious attempt to undermine stereotypes (by keeping Jews poor)?

            🙂

          • YehoshuaK says:

            It’s a simple matter of priorities. Studying Talmud is important. Making money is merely useful.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @YehoshuaK

            I did Biblical scholarship in school, but my area of focus was quite different (early Christianity, which with regard to Judaism only gave me info regarding Judaism of the first century etc – I took other courses on Judaism, but the first century was my jam).

            One thing I’ve wondered. Scholars don’t think that, circa first century, literacy rate among Jews was that much higher than the norm for the Hellenistic world (in which around 10% of people knew how to read – or maybe that was 10% of men – and that was mostly in Greek, even for Jews).

            Is there a point at which Jews pulled ahead of everyone else for literacy – do we even have reliable stats or even guesses for this? After all, if the average guy is expected (even as an ideal) to read the Talmud, he’s gotta know how to read, and not the vernacular, either.

      • nameless1 says:

        I keep hearing stories that back in old times Buddhists and Hindus debated at the Indian centres of learning and the loser became the student of the winner, where student also meant servant. I wonder what were the rules and the conditions of winning…

        • AlphaGamma says:

          There is the old joke about the religious debate in sign language which exists in both Buddhism and Judaism (I don’t know which came first or whether they developed independently).

    • johan_larson says:

      I seem to remember something about scholars of the Torah being the most desirable grooms among ultra-orthodox Jews.

      • JulieK says:

        Excerpt from a letter appearing in an advice column in this week’s Mishpacha magazine:

        “I’ve been devoting hours each week to researching and redting [suggesting] shidduchim [matches] to the many singles I know. Over time, I’ve noticed a worrisome phenomenon. Many of the girls I speak with are looking for the next gadol hador [greatest Torah scholar of the generation]. And most of the boys I know, even the good, solid ones, are simply not gadol hador material.”

        • YehoshuaK says:

          To clarify, a “good, solid boy” in this context means a young man that is perfectly capable of, and actually intends to, spend years after marriage studying the Talmud for at least six or seven hours a day. Call him a Ph.D equivalent. Just not a future world-class great.

          • Error says:

            I notice I am confused. How do they find time to work if they’re spending seven hours a day studying Talmud? Do they get up, go to work, come home, and study Talmud until bed, every day? Or does the wife do both the breadwinning and the housekeeping?

          • bbeck310 says:

            How do they find time to work if they’re spending seven hours a day studying Talmud?

            Based on the rest of the linked article, these sound like boys who will become rabbis, and will make their living by studying Talmud (and conducting services, writing, and all the other things rabbis do). Like a professor of philosophy gets paid to study philosophy, they’ll get paid to study Talmud.

            Among Israeli ultra-orthodox, the haredim, they don’t work–they study Talmud all day and collect welfare checks from the Israeli government. As you can imagine, this is a source of extreme friction with the highly productive secular Jewish majority in Israel.

          • YehoshuaK says:

            Response to “Error”

            How do they find time to work if they’re spending seven hours a day studying Talmud? Do they get up, go to work, come home, and study Talmud until bed, every day?

            Yes, many do. That is indeed a pretty good description of the ideal Jewish layman. There are probably few in this category that can find six or seven hours to study, though. Two or three would probably be more typical.

            Some receive a stipend from their kollelim. A kollel is basically an academy for Talmudic study for married men (the equivalent for not-yet-married men is yeshiva. Some kollelim have structured curricula and are meant to produce rabbis, but most others are simply meant to provide a setting in which those that wish to devote their time to study may do so. Add this to money earned by their wives (who voluntarily sign on for this lifestyle, allow me to note), perhaps some money earned tutoring or doing other things during breaks, perhaps some help from parents, and a frugal lifestyle, and they get by.

            Remember, we do not live to earn money, we earn money to live. Livelihood should not be allowed to supplant that which it is meant to subsidize.

            Response to “bbeck310”

            Based on the rest of the linked article, these sound like boys who will become rabbis, and will make their living by studying Talmud (and conducting services, writing, and all the other things rabbis do).

            Huh. I read the article, and I find myself puzzled what part of it implies that these young men intend to make their living by studying Talmud, or as professional rabbis. I don’t see a word to that effect, and as a member of the community, I know that’s not the reality. Where did you get this from? (By the way, “conducting services” is no part of a professional rabbi’s job, in our community. That runs more to teaching, answering questions of halacha, Jewish law, and things of that nature.)

            Among Israeli ultra-orthodox, the haredim, they don’t work–they study Talmud all day and collect welfare checks from the Israeli government. As you can imagine, this is a source of extreme friction with the highly productive secular Jewish majority in Israel.

            This, in my view, is a distortion in several ways.

            First of all, only some haredi men receive money to enable them to study Talmud. Many, perhaps most, are working on any given weekday, and certainly the large majority do enter the workforce eventually.

            Second, they don’t collect welfare checks. They receive support to enable them to pursue their studies, in a similar fashion (although far less per person) to that received by academic students of poetry, history, or mathematics. Those people are not receiving welfare, and neither are the kollel men.

            This, for the sake of the discussion, ignores the sincere conviction of these men that studying Torah is the best contribution possible to the physical well-being (prosperity, security, etc.) of the entire community. You may not (almost certainly do not) share that conviction, but you should recognize that they view themselves as benefactors of the community, public servants, and certainly intend to achieve the well-being of all. For clarity, it is my view that these men are the most productive. Far from parasitical check-takers, it is they who make possible the economic and military success with which Israel has been blessed in recent decades.

            Third, there is no secular majority in Israel. There is a strictly-observant minority, a secular minority, and a semi-observant majority in the middle. That majority, of course, has members that shade towards each of the two minorities on its flanks; however, probably any member of it would be insulted to hear themselves called “secular.”

          • nzk says:

            “Second, they don’t collect welfare checks.”

            That is wrong. They receive a lot of welfare.
            First, they receive (not all) but the ones in Kollels a stipend for living. Comparing it to University student is misleading, because even though both are subsidized, University students have to *Pay* to go to university, why Kollel and Yeshiva students *Get* money.

            Second, they receive a lot of welfare because they are poor and have big families. In Israel you get money per child per month, so having a big family means big checks for welfare. This means also they get lots of discounts in local taxes, and have discounts in kindergartens, schools, etc. Someone has to pay for those.

            Third, they don’t serve in the army in significant percentages, that is 3 years of mandatory service for men, and 2 for women.

            Fourth, they get a lot of services that they require and other people don’t subsidized, mostly religious services and Torah schools.

            So yeah, they receive a lot of welfare in expanse of the general public.
            One problem is that they don’t contribute much (as a public, nothing against specific persons here) by choice, so it is not a “safety net” thing.

    • nameless1 says:

      For me reading Herman Wouk’s Inside, Outside was a great help for understanding Jews. He writes how the daughters of famous Talmudists, the yohsenta (?) behaves basically like nobility, had high status. The male version, the son of a famous Talmudist, the yohsen (?) did not mean much as they were supposed to go and become famous Talmudists themselves, not live off dad’s fame.

      So yes, I suspect quite some reproductive advantage.

      • YehoshuaK says:

        Who cares about famous? Many very great scholars pursue their studies in obscurity, with only their immediate circle (if that) aware of their stature.

        I am reminded of a story involving Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish (so called after his monumental work of Talmudic commentary by the same name), who later became the undoubted leader of ultra-Orthodox Jewry immediately after WWII, but who studied in complete obscurity in his younger years.

        The story goes that one time, he was waiting to speak with the rabbi of the town, and a famous Rosh Yeshiva (Talmudic lecturer) was waiting with him. The Rosh Yeshiva mistook him for a simple shopkeeper, and asked if he ever studied Talmud. The Chazon Ish responded “When I have time.”

        When the Rosh Yeshiva entered to speak with the town rabbi, he mentioned the young man waiting outside, and was shocked to hear that he studied at every possible moment, a minimum of twelve or thirteen hours a day, and the rabbi had summoned him to take his place on the town’s rabbinical court while he (the rabbi) would be temporarily unavailable.

  12. b_jonas says:

    If you’re curious about Aubrey de Grey’s new lower bound for the Hadwiger-Nelson problem, I recommend you skip the smooth-talking popsci journalist article and read one of these instead: Gil Kalai’s short blog entry https://gilkalai.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/aubrey-de-grey-the-chromatic-number-of-the-plane-is-at-least-5/ , Scott Aaronson’s short blog entry https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3697 , David Madore’s blog entry http://www.madore.org/~david/weblog/d.2018-04-11.2507.html .

  13. For quite a while I’ve been of the opinion that it’s better to eat your meat in the form of chickens or, ideally, turkey than pigs or cows. The number of individual chickens hurts by my eating them is obviously higher but given how quickly they grow to edibility compared to cows the number of animal-days of suffering that go into my diet is roughly the same either way and I’m inclined to eat the stupider animal all things being equal, and with the health and environmental considerations favoring poultry consumption they clearly aren’t.

    • toastengineer says:

      Plus from what I understand chicken is the most environmentally friendly meat (more chicken per square meter in the factory farm, I guess.)

      • rlms says:

        The site linked disagrees.

        • Huh, I didn’t think it did.

          Almost every argument for vegetarianism or veganism applies much more to avoiding red meat than birds – environmental and health arguments especially.

          So the environmental arguments are much more against eating red meat than against eating birds. I was fairly impressed at the site for admitting that but not so impressed that I was willing to take their conclusions without them addressing the evidence I’d already gathered on the issue.

          • rlms says:

            You’re right. I just skimmed it and interpreted the list of five facts as the basis of an argument that not eating chicken is better than not eating red meat, but actually it’s taking as read that chicken is morally worse than red meat and using the five facts to argue for its advocacy approach. I.e. the intended audience is vegans who want to effectively reduce animal suffering, not a general audience.

    • gbdub says:

      Saw an interesting article the other day that contended that, from an ethical standpoint, bivalves ought to be considered “vegan”. While technically animals, e.g. scallops and oysters lack a brain or central nervous system, are almost definitely not “sentient” for any reasonable definition, and probably have no capacity for a pain sensation. So they are basically meat plants. Plus farming them is often a net positive environmentally, since their food source is basically “random crap floating in the water”.

    • herculesorion says:

      “it’s better to eat your meat in the form of chickens”

      but what about the PUDDING

    • Michael_druggan says:

      “The number of individual chickens hurts by my eating them is obviously higher but given how quickly they grow to edibility compared to cows the number of animal-days of suffering that go into my diet is roughly the same either way”

      I think your math is off. Broiler chickens are raised for 6 weeks and cows are raised for 18months, this is a factor if 13. But a cow gives more like 100-150 times as much meat as a chicken (3-5lb for a chicken vs 500-700 for a cow) so cows actually still produce about 10x as much meat per animal-day of suffering.

      • convie says:

        Your assuming every day of existence for these animals is suffering. And furthermore that chickens can even experience suffering (I’ll concede cows and pigs can experience something similar to what we know as suffering).

        • Michael_druggan says:

          I’m not assuming anything, I’m just pointing out that rationale Andrew gave was wrong. If chickens are incapable of suffering or if the amount they suffer each day before being slaughtered multiplied by the moral relevance of their suffering is over 10x less than cows then maybe eating chicken is better. But Andrew didn’t make that argument. He claimed that the shorter raising time of chickens evens out with the larger size of cows and the math says he’s wrong by an order of magnitude

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Huh. I always felt a little worse about chicken because when I clean a plate of 20 wings, I mean, I could be eating 20 different chickens. Every meal is a genocide. I’m like Hitler to their people.

    • wintermute92 says:

      I’m honestly sort of uncomfortable with how smoothly “chicken is morally worse than beef” became a tenant of ethical veganism. It feels like the idea was never really contested despite using some pretty debatable assumptions, and has made me less comfortable with claims of the form “EA should investigate lots of weird stuff because when the resulting guidelines are weird we’ll analyze and debate them.”

      I doubt that Tomasik’s “chickens suffer twice as much as cows” argument generalizes, since conditions vary widely by law and animal source. I’d never considered your point about animal-days by lifespan to consumption, but it’s a factor of >10 in favor of eating chicken. So using 1:1 suffering, 10:1 lifespan, and 1:100 meat output, the question is whether a cow has 10x the moral weight a chicken does. This seems at least plausible to me, for a bunch of messy reasons which largely boil down to “suffering is much less bad than suffering with memory of suffering, anticipation of suffering, and continuity of experience”.

      I am fully prepared to be wrong about this; to the extent that “moral weight of animals” is quantifiable outside my feelings I mildly suspect I am wrong. (I admit I simply care less about chickens, on level that’s not very utilitarian.) But what concerns me is that we’re now talking about the cognitive function of chickens to work out the direction of a <10x margin, and it feels like many other EA-aligned people have simply said "wow, chicken is vastly less moral than beef, spread the word!"

      Also, all of this assumes chicken and cow lives are both net-negative. If you assume that they're horrible but positive, or that one is positive and the other is negative (maybe living is positive but slaughter is negative?) then the moral weights start flipping around wildly and the answer depends on totally different factors. Plus, you'll need to pick your answer to the repugnant conclusion – is lowering cow quality of life to sustain a high cow population good or bad? Again, "farmed chickens could prefer life to death" seems like an idea which is not ludicrous, but is being totally bypassed to reach the conclusion.

      (The other question is how much moral harm is done by the environmental and health damage of consuming each. I'm calling that "outside scope" for now.)

  14. jonm says:

    I stopped eating chicken for the reasons outlined in the one step for animals article a few years ago.

    One thing I’ve wondered though is whether a focus on moving more meat consumption from factory to free range farming is actually ethical on this view? Selective breeding and feed techniques for chickens used in factory farms seem to have greatly increased meat yield per chicken since the 1950s (there’s a lot of numbers in the paper, but if I’m reading it correctly mass increases by 5 to 6 times and the percentage of mass that is converted into meat increases by 10-20 percentage points) https://doi.org/10.1093/ps/82.10.1509

    I would like people to stop eating chicken entirely, but how do you weigh the life of 7 chickens bred in free range conditions versus 1 in factory farms.

    The move to stop killing male chicks in egg farms seems like an unambigously good thing though.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I would like people to stop eating chicken entirely, but how do you weigh the life of 7 chickens bred in free range conditions versus 1 in factory farms.

      Higher.

      The move to stop killing male chicks in egg farms seems like an unambigously good thing though.

      What happens to them if they aren’t killed immediately?

    • gbdub says:

      There’s a belief that the factory farmed bird’s existence is net negative. It would be better for them to not exist at all, than to exist in a factory farm.

      If there is a way to raise a food animal such that its existence has positive utility, then needing more of them is a feature, not a bug.

      • jonm says:

        This really depends on exactly the version of consequentialism you subscribe to. Many people have doubts about versions of consequentialism that encourage us to make as many barely positive utility beings as possible e.g. whether the world is better because we grow the human population at 1% +100 utility beings per year versus growing it at a 40% +0.1 utility beings per year, which will rapidly overtake the slow population growth world in terms of total utility but will be full of humans whose lives are just barely worth living.

        Basically I’m worried that this version of consequentialism ends up at the point where slavery is good compared to not having slavery, so long as you keep the birth rate high enough compared to freedom and keep slave lives just worth living. That seems like too low a bar.

        I’m not sure what the correct solution is to this, but I’m not bought into the idea that maximising sum of the utility of possible beings should be our goal.

        • gbdub says:

          Well fair enough, but whether your goal is “maximum happiness” or “minimum suffering”, moving “food chicken” from a net negative to a (small) net positive could easily be enough to justify a larger number of the latter.

          • jonm says:

            Without getting too much deeper into versions of consequentialism your suggestion seems to imply the following ordering:

            Free range chickens > no chickens > factory farm chickens

            and my ordering would (probably) be:
            no chickens > factory farm chickens > free range chickens

            Is there a consistent philosophy that gets us to the far more common animal rights position of:

            no chickens> free range chickens > factory farm chickens

            Is the argument going to be entirely about
            1) how many multiples worse of net negative utility factory farmed chickens suffer compared to free range
            2) empirical debates over whether modern free range chickens can close the yield gap with factory farmed

            Also if you up the ratio of factory farming:free range chicken utility too much, you are going to make free range chicken look morally competitive with beef.

    • wintermute92 says:

      I would like people to stop eating chicken entirely, but how do you weigh the life of 7 chickens bred in free range conditions versus 1 in factory farms.

      One urgent question: do the free-range chickens have net-negative lives?

      Implicit in this sort of ethical veganism is that the animals would be better off not existing. For factory-farmed chickens, that seems obviously true. For free-range chickens, I’m doubtful. If they’re slaughtered fairly humanely, it’s at least plausible that they’re coming out ahead on existing.

      For possible future chickens, the question isn’t “should this animal be killed for meat?”, it’s “should this animal be born to be killed for meat, or not be born at all?” So now we’re debating antinatalism and the repugnant conclusion, but it seems at minimum true that “creating a happy life without harming others” is no worse than not creating it.

      All of which adds up to: I still don’t actually understand why ethical vegans are opposed to eating non-sufferingly-raised, humanely-slaughtered animals.

  15. Matt Ball says:

    Thanks for your plug of One Step for Animals, especially linking right to the About page. Sadly, it took me several decades to recognize and accept the five facts listed there.

    • Well... says:

      What is a “compassionate diet”?

      The way we breed, raise, slaughter, and consume plantlife and fungi makes the meat industrial complex look like a natural wildlife conservatory. Plants and fungi are not inert. They feel, sense, react, and communicate. Some even can solve problems. (But of course they don’t have cut fuzzy wuzzy wittle faces, so…)

      • Nornagest says:

        What is a “compassionate diet”?

        A diet that gets a book deal.

      • darkwingduck says:

        Citation needed. The fact that plants and fungi appear to react and respond to their environments in certain ways is not strong evidence that they actually possess a subjective consciousness and can actually ‘feel’ anything.

        • Well... says:

          What counts as evidence of possession of a subjective consciousness, then?

          Can sea anemones ‘feel’ anything? Can tardigrades? Nematodes? Bivalves? Insects? These are all animals.

      • Michael_druggan says:

        Do you believe plants are capable of subjective experience? If you do you’re in a tiny minority. Subjective experience (aka consciousness aka sentience) is where most people who care about animal welfare draw the line for moral consideration.

        • Well... says:

          Can you define “subjective experience”/consciousness/sentience to help me understand how sea anemones have it but plants and fungi don’t?

  16. wanda_tinasky says:

    I’m glad we’re finally making progress on decreasing the amount of time that fusion will be perpetually in the future. It used to be 50 years, now we’re down to 15. What a world!

    • There’s a good reason classical fusion has always been far in the future.

      • TheRadicalModerate says:

        Mostly, the reason was that making magnets with high field densities was incredibly expensive, and didn’t really get much cheaper for a long time.

        That has now changed. There are now commercially available REBCO¹ tape superconductors, which are cheaper, lighter, easier to use to make high-field-strength magnets, and less expensive to cool to superconducting temperatures. That makes the volumes of the fusion reactors much smaller. Cost of reactors unsurprisingly scales as the volume, so the high-field magnets are a huge deal.

        As usual, most scientific or technological progress is predicated on some kind of materials science innovation.

        ————————–
        ¹Rare Earth Barium Copper Oxide

        For anybody’s who’s interested, there’s a very good lecture on the SPARC concept here.

        • That’s why we’re now able to have fusion without spending billions and billions of dollars. But we could have gotten fusion earlier if we were willing to spend billions and billions of dollars. And the fact that we decided it wasn’t worth it doesn’t mean that the people in the 19702 saying fusion was achievable by the 1990s were wrong.

          • TheRadicalModerate says:

            The thing is, if you have to spend billions and billions to get to ignition, the way you got there probably isn’t going to be an economical power source. That kinda defeats the purpose.

          • Nornagest says:

            Depends where the money’s going. If you just need to build electromagnets or lasers that huge, then yes. If it’s mostly R&D, then no. If it’s that you need a lot of bespoke hardware you can’t get anywhere else, then it’s in between but economies of scale can bring it down.

          • Tuna-Fish says:

            The issue was indeed that they needed to make the reactors huge, to the point of making them too expensive.

            This quote about ITER is very relevant:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0KuAx1COEk&t=49m18s

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        A part of me finds that annoying, as if the rate of technological progress is directly strongly linked with levels of financial funding.

        Its there, but its a much more complex relationship. You can’t just throw money at the problem. If your best professors who know multiple scientific subjects well can’t make any real headway on the problem, what then?

        • TheRadicalModerate says:

          Sometimes you just have to wait for the enabling innovation to arrive. It has.

    • b_jonas says:

      It depends on who you’re lying to. If you’re researching fusion power, and the research is expected to cost billions of dollars, then you lie to the investors that they’ll see their money back in fifteen years. At the same time, you still lie to politicians that fusion power is fifty years in the future, or else they’ll ignore the actions they should do to reduce global warming, believing we can all just fix it in fifteen years and we won’t get anything too bad until that.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Your always lying as no one has more than a vague idea on what is going to change over 15 years. Best guess is that some advances will occur, if these happen to largely benefit fusion then people who invested in fusion will be filthy rich(er).

        The reason you lie to politicians isn’t because of global warming, its because they are looking at a legacy project. 15 years is to far away to get them reelected, 5 years is to soon (if it doesn’t come true its ammo against them in the next campaign), a generation or two out and you can paint the picture of them being seen as a visionary while never actually being threatened with being wrong. You can even goose the numbers, 5 years ago we said 50 years, but now its 40 because we have made so much progress, another round of funding for the project that has always been 40 years in the future.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Twenty years ago I kept saying I’d retire in in 50 years, but now I say I’ll retire in 30 years! What a world!

      • DutLinx says:

        Not sure if I’m missing a joke or your intent here, but I think wanda is referring to the running joke that fusion will always be 20 or 50 years away. So the news would mean that we’re finally moving the needle.

        • wanda_tinasky says:

          Well the joke I’m trying to make is that the estimates people make about achieving practical fusion bear no relation to how close we actually are. So the only actual progress that’s been made here is a change in the fictional narrative we’ve decided to build around fusion research.

      • wanda_tinasky says:

        I would argue that only one of those estimates is a function of time.

        I’m still taking the over on fusion.

  17. William says:

    Profit margin is a ridiculous metric to relate in any way to wage and the argument that because the general public doesn’t have a good estimate of the magnitude of the median company’s profit margin, popular views on minimum wage should be discounted is absolutely absurd.

    What must real world profit margins be in order to justify an increase in minimum wage? Actually believing that there is an answer to that question is mind blowing and some how making the leap to arguing that because the average person can’t guess what a typical price margin is means that a collective push to raise minimum wages is incredibly. Such a broken framework.

    • herculesorion says:

      “What must real world profit margins be in order to justify an increase in minimum wage? ”

      Are you actually saying that it doesn’t matter what the numbers are because it feels wrong because, well, good luck with your feelings bro, people got lots of feelings, they got feelings about non-white people and non-conforming gender expression in the restrooms, if we run things on feelings you’ll like it less than what we got now.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        No, he’s suggesting that ensuring the profitability of a business is not the job of the average worker and that the fight for wage justice is not dependent on the profitability of capital.

        • Urstoff says:

          Wouldn’t substituting capital for labor be more attractive in low-margin industries facing rising wages? A maximum ethical profit margin seems like a dubious concept, but there still might be practical considerations with respect to profit margins.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Not necessarily, since capital is more of a fixed cost than labor: you can generally lay off employees and stop paying them, but if you “lay off” machinery or facilities, you only save the maintenance costs and you’re out the most of the cost of buying or building the thing unless you can sell it for a very good price.

            So substituting capital for labor is a bet on the long-term health of the industry, since you’re betting that the conditions that made the capital profitable will continue, or at least that if they don’t, that there will be other widget-making firms interested in buying a slightly used Automatic Widget Manufacturebot (TM).

        • bbeck310 says:

          Except the real minimum wage is always $0. Business profitability isn’t the job of the average worker, but providing a living wage isn’t the job of the average business owner. Businesses aren’t charities.

          I mean, I know you’re a socialist and that’s the framework you’re coming from, but if businesses are forced to pay employees $15/hr, they’re not going to hire employees who don’t provide at least $15/hr in value.

        • herculesorion says:

          “the fight for wage justice is not dependent on the profitability of capital.”

          That’s funny, I invariably see people framing the Fight For Wage Justice in terms of “businesses make SO MUCH MONEY they can totally afford to pay higher wages” or “how can businesses justify their workers needing public assistance when they make SO MUCH MONEY”, which suggests that the profitability of capital actually matters quite a bit to this discussion and the Fight For Wage Justice depends quite closely on the profitability of capital.

          Although it’s true that I occasionally see someone suggest that if a Fair Wage would put a business into bankruptcy then the business is obviously unable to compete and deserves to fail, which is a surprisingly capitalist position for people who are generally avowed socialists.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The workers are powerless? Or it is inconsequential to the worker if they are fired? Or what?

        • I would argue that, without capital controls or other despotic inroads on the rights of capital, the fight for wage justice is very much dependent on the profitability of capital. Lower profitability means capital flight, loss of jobs, blame being foisted on leftist politics for ruining the economy, increased competition among wage-workers, more difficulty in organizing, more cleavages along the lines of race/ethnicity/gender etc. as a proxy for the inherent competition among wage-workers, etc. “Wage justice” is self-defeating without control over capital.

          I would propose that we get capital by the balls before we start thinking about fighting for “wage justice.” Meaning, at the very least, capital controls, an import-export bank with a monopoly on foreign trade and foreign currency exchange, and the constitutional authority to confiscate absentee assets and idle assets (including assets only being held for a speculative purpose whose use-values are not accessible to workers or society at large), meaning the message to businesses is “use it or lose it” regardless of how low their profit rate is compared to other opportunities around the world.

          • Lambert says:

            Isn’t the status quo on assets owned by businesses ‘Use it or get outcompeted by companies who utilise their capital better, thereby losing it’?

            I suppose things like Chinese investments in empty London flats is a different matter, though. Why are they empty? Probably friction of some kind in the system.

          • the fight for wage justice

            Can you define that? How, in principle, does one define a just wage? A related question–what return is it just for capital to receive?

            If I correctly understand the Marxist position, the answer to the second question is zero. Is that correct?

          • I don’t believe in “wage justice” as a moral claim. Morality is an invented, subjective concept by humans. I’m merely using Freddie DeBoer’s terminology to make it clear what I am responding to. I would have phrased it differently if I were starting the conversation.

            If you ask me, “wage justice” simply means “whatever benefits me.” So, if I am a capitalist, then a “just wage” for my workers would be the bare minimum to repair their labor-power mentally, physically, and generationally. If I am a worker, it means the former, plus a share of control over the product of society’s surplus value, exercised through a workers’ state in which I have proportional decision-making power.

      • William says:

        No I’m saying profit margin is a ridiculous metric and 1) varies with the market cycle, 2) varies over the lifecycle of a business, and 3) is not reflective of the earnings of a company. How is this a difficult concept? If a company wants to capture more market share in order to increase profit down the line, profit margin almost always falls.

        Also wtf – my feelings? Maybe actually think critically instead of jumping straight into identity politics.

        • Patrick Cruce says:

          This.

          Also a lot of companies return earnings to shareholders through buybacks. A company can earn quite a lot for shareholders while showing no profit.

          • Why would that show no profit?

          • BillyZoom says:

            Stock repurchases are reported on the balance sheet, and do not affect net income.

            Dividends are reported on the cash flow statement, and also don’t affect income.

          • Patrick Cruce says:

            They do when they’re leveraged.

          • BillyZoom says:

            If you mean the company issues debt to do the repurchase, then only the interest portion shows up on the income statement.

            In some PE-type transactions, companies are leveraged up, and the interest payments on that new debt can be substantial. And sometimes, some of the proceeds will be used to pay a special dividend to the new owners. But those tend to be mid-cap companies, and it happens only occasionally, and it’s different in kind that what I took you to be saying.

          • Patrick Cruce says:

            I was under the impression that that sort of repurchasing was quite common. It is an easy way for a CEO to grow his bonus. Especially with the low interest rates of the last couple years….bonzana.

            http://www.businessinsider.com/what-will-prick-the-leveraged-share-buyback-craze-2017-1

            What makes you think it is rare?

          • BillyZoom says:

            Stock buybacks aren’t particularly rare. And most companies (as in, nearly all) have debt. And sometimes debt is issued with the express purpose of buying back shares.

            My point is that it is rare for a company to issue enough debt that is used for the repurchase of stock such that the interest payments on that debt take them from profitable to not profitable.

            It’s definitely not the case for any of the companies in Business Insider article – e.g. Apple. To take another example highlighted in the article, McDonalds; they have a net income of 1.3Bn along with an total interest expense of 237m (from their last 10K). So, they’re still quite profitable.

            There a many dozens of ways and reasons why companies lever up. But I wasn’t comfortable with what I felt was your implication that companies are routinely returning capital to shareholders while looking unprofitable.

            ETA: This line in the BI article is completely false: “Companies are the relentless bid. The purpose of buybacks is not to buy low, but to drive up the price of their shares, and to do that, they try to buy high. “

    • helloo says:

      Businesses that have low profit margins are more likely to fire people and reduce scope when there is an increase to minimal wage.

      Do you disagree with that statement? Is it an absurd statement?
      Do you think that is a statement (or its reversal) that is so rarely considered by people as to be meaningless?

      And as for your question – more than 0 if they do not expect an equal rise in profits and do not cut costs.

      • William says:

        Businesses with low profit margins are not generally failing businesses – properly managed and optimized business have low profit margins because they’ve expanded until they feel they have maximized profits. If a business has sky high profit margins for an extended period, either it’s a monopoly or operates in a very niche space that it structurally cannot expand out of or both.

        I am absolutely in favor of businesses growing and the market expanding – but profit margin is such a nitpicked and detached measure of anything economic that it’s (purposefully) misleading

        • gbdub says:

          Regardless, low profit margin still means that the business likely cannot make a significant increase in per-employee payroll without making other substantial changes to the business.

          The most successful low margin businesses, even less so, because they’ve already mostly optimized all the other places that extra payroll funding could come from.

          • William says:

            If you’re arguing that maximally profitable companies struggle to stay maximally profitable over time I agree. I think the dynamics around this are nicely removed from minimum wage issues so the arguments are more economic than political and as a result more generally palatable.

            Let’s just think about this in terms of inflation. Very generally let’s assume we real inflation is a natural result of a globally growing economy. As a result we would expect to see wage inflation over time. How do companies deal with this? Effectively by passing on costs to it’s customers by raising prices. If we assume that in the real world prices are somewhat sticky then we have a super basic Keynesian model of the world that pretty clearly explains why we see both wages and prices rise over time.

            That’s all well and good but these sorts of macro frameworks really leave out the impact of 1) market cycles and 2) competitiveness in markets. As market cycles go on, we sort of expect to see a stagnation in wage inflation. This time around we’ve been stuck in an anomalously long market cycle (likely due to the Fed/world keeping rates low for a very long time) and are only recently seeing a pick up in inflation. We’ve also seen (the calculable metric for) competition between firms trend downwards for the last 40 years so that also puts downward pressure on wages as companies can optimize to more profitable levels.

            Long story short, wage inflation falls out of any long term economic model assuming policy remain capitalistic (and fulfills anti trust obligations, which US may not be). When actually applied in the real world, the estimates are good but we see more rotation of companies growing and dying than models expect (similarly we see many economically driven equity market models underestimate trading volumes).

            In the end my point being that if a company dies because it’s peaked and is now being over run by a company that can more effectively capture market share (maybe by running a tighter profit margin) then that’s a good thing. Wage inflation will continue all the same and likely be helped by the turning of the market cycle.

            Views on an optimal minimum wage are absolutely more economically and socially nuanced but I mean that’s studied by people paid to study that fulltime so I think it would make sense to defer to whatever you believe the be the median unbiased expert opinion

          • In a simple perfect competition market, profit is competed down to the market return on capital. Suppose a minimum wage law raises the cost of low skilled labor. The result isn’t that profit is reduced by the additional cost, its that the increase in the cost of production results in an increase in the market price, at which all firms remaining in the market are again earning the market return on capital.

            Of course, at the higher price, quantity demanded is lower, so some firms may go out of business, which costs some low skilled jobs. And firms may find that it is now worth substituting capital or skilled labor for some of the now more expensive unskilled labor. But that doesn’t depend on the profit rate.

            I don’t think anyone in this thread has said what the profit rate or profit margin being discussed actually is. If it’s the ratio of revenue minus cost to revenue, it should be high in capital intensive industries, low in labor intensive industries, since wages count as a cost and, for accounting purposes, the interest on stockholder capital doesn’t.

            If it’s the ratio of revenue minus cost to amount of capital, it should be about the same in all firms, with the exceptions being firms that are unusually lucky or unlucky at the moment or are in some way protected from competition.

          • Let’s just think about this in terms of inflation. Very generally let’s assume we real inflation is a natural result of a globally growing economy.

            What is “real inflation”? “Real,” in the economic context (“real wages” for instance) means after adjusting for inflation. Inflation is usually defined as the rate of increase in the average price level, and after adjusting for inflation that’s by definition zero.

          • Deej says:

            @davidfriedman

            RE the effects of minimum wages on profits… are you just describing how things work in theory or is there (conclusive- ish) empirical stuff on this?

          • @Deej:

            I’m describing the implication of conventional price theory. I’m not sure what sort of empirical evidence you are looking for. Minimum wage workers are a very small part of the labor force, so any effect of changes in the minimum wage on the overall economy are going to be smaller than the random variation from other causes.

            The main effect to look for is on categories of workers likely to be minimum wage, such as teen workers. I believe the evidence in the past was that raising the minimum wage tended to increase their unemployment rate, but this isn’t my field so I don’t know what the current evidence is. The logic of the link seems pretty straightforward.

        • helloo says:

          That doesn’t really answer my question.

          I did not mean to imply that low profit margin businesses are failing, just that they would be impacted more by things such as minimum wage increases (assuming they have a sizable portion of expenses towards wages). And vise versa for high margin businesses.

          If the public thinks that an average business has 36% profit margin, then they probably do think they are monopolies, or operate similar to Apple, or really doesn’t care about why a business would have such a high profit margin.

          Profit margin isn’t a great metric for a lot of things, and frankly I believe they’re using it as they haven’t had much luck convincing that CEO pay rate also isn’t a great metric. However, if the public thinks most companies have this high of a margin, the public might have some other ideas of how companies would be impacted by increases in minimal wage.

    • gbdub says:

      Your average Joe seems to think that companies have a huge profit margin, therefore a substantial increase in wages could be easily absorbed (and the only reason not to do so is greed). Although it wasn’t covered here, I’d suspect people also underestimate the percentage of the average company’s revenue that goes to payroll and benefits.

      So no, the precise percentage of profit margin doesn’t really matter, but it’s absolutely relevant whether a minimum wage increase would result in merely “lower profits for fatcat investors” or “half the country’s businesses become insolvent”. The only thing absurd is your assumption that this has no effect on people’s opinion about what constitutes a reasonable wage.

      This also came up in the healthcare debate, with many people I talked to convinced that the for-profit nature of insurance companies and some providers was the major driver of healthcare cost, when in fact profit is a relatively small fraction of the overall cost.

      • arlie says:

        Interesting. After some bad experiences with insurance company bureaucrats, I’ve mentally tacked “rapacious” into the phrase “insurance company”, at least with reference to health insurance.

        I actually have no data on their profits, or lack thereof – I’ve just witnessed too many lies, too many privacy violations, and too many absurd decisions – some of them plainly net negative for the insurance company, and most of them net negative for the person insured. (I have no insight into the cost/benefits for the actual insurance plan selector, which would generally be an employer. My presumption is that they do better than the people being insured.)

        So please post pointers to data, or discussions of actual data. Turning my critical skills on them might be interesting as well as fun. And maybe I’ll learn something.

        • gbdub says:

          I’m not arguing that insurance companies always make good decisions, or that they always treat their customers super well. Just that “insurance company profits” are a relatively small part of the overall cost of healthcare, thus replacing insurance companies with non-profit organizations filling the same role would have at best a modest impact on the cost disease infecting healthcare.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Uhhhh, I think you need to expand on your viewpoint here. Companies need to make profits to pay wages. Companies that do not make profits go out of business and then the wage is zero. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

      • William says:

        I agree with you 100%, but typically properly optimizing for profit results in low margins.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Okay, reading a few more of your posts, I sort of understand what you’re getting at. Profit margins really aren’t measures of profitability. Citizen points out an example below of why you can’t compare profit margins of a wine-maker with, say, Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart can have higher turnover. You can have a low profit margin and still have a big profit because you have a high volume.

          I’m actually working on an effort-post for strategic management which has this as a side-note, but Return on Assets and Return on Equity are both better measures than profit margin because they account for this (and also the decision to use debt vs. equity for financing, kind of out of scope for this short comment).

          From an analytical standpoint, though, profit margin and how much labor makes up as a percentage still drive how much firms can theoretically raise wages. Wal-Mart is quite profitable despite only a 2.5% profit margin, but if 80% of their costs are labor, then a 3% increase in their wages is going to entirely wipe out their profits, and it doesn’t matter how big their market share. If you’re losing money on every piece, you can’t make it up on volume. Also, labor is a variable expense, so growing their market share more is only going to compound the problem, since their labor costs will go up, too.

          It seems to me that people are confusing GROSS profit with NET profit. “It only takes 20 cents to make this pencil, why does it cost $2!” I’m not surprised, because even my fellow business students were pretty confused on that.

          • William says:

            Excellent comment.

            On the Walmart example, I don’t think it’s straightforward to dissect changes in wages from inflation, but let’s say that Walmart is required to raise wages 3% instantly and is not allowed to change prices immediately. In this case Walmart would face a choice of what to do with market share: either a) reduce market share in an effort to consolidate around the highest margin lines of business, or b) sustain market share while suffering lower (maybe negative) profits in order to grab market share as competitors retreat in order to capture more of the market in the future and improve their pricing power (hopefully this process supports survival of the fittest without encouraging monopolies). What is sort of necessarily implied is that in the middle term inflation is actually tided to changes in wage so Walmart will raise prices down the line.

            I think in reality there is some game-theoretic solution and you probably see this sort of play in spaces facing technologically driven pricing deflation, but in most cases through recent history, we do see companies with low profit margins raising wages and not suffering terrible consequences because in reality increases in wage are passed through to consumers. The fuel production segment of the market is a fantastic example of this where you can see (regulatory) costs passed directly though to customers.

          • but if 80% of their costs are labor, then a 3% increase in their wages is going to entirely wipe out their profits, and it doesn’t matter how big their market share.

            Not if that increase also applies to all of their competitors. The result isn’t that profit is wiped out, it’s that price goes up a little.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yeah, you guys are correct in that the costs can be passed through on an industry-wide basis, but that sort of belies the idea that corporations are greedy money-hungry organizations and can absorb the cost of wage increases with absolutely no consequence

            However, there are limits to what the market will bear, and firms aren’t identical in their production so you’re changing the competitive landscape by increasing one input more than another. Eventually the business model becomes unsustainable, or at the very least uncompetitive.

            For this particular case, my understanding is that Costco would be in a better position relative to Wal-Mart if the minimum wage increased.

      • Patrick Cruce says:

        Companies need to make profits to pay wages.

        Ummmmm no. Amazon made approximately zero profit for more than a decade and still managed to pay their workers.

      • John Schilling says:

        Companies that do not make profits go out of business and then the wage is zero.

        My company hasn’t made a profit in almost sixty years of existence, and is still capable of paying wages to me and about three thousand of my colleagues. So I think there’s something wrong with this model.

        A company’s ability to pay wages only requires that its cash flow be sufficient to cover operating expenses. This can easily be accomplished without profitability, particularly if some of that cash flow comes not from sales revenue but continued investment, loans, subsidies, liquidation of capital, etc.

        A company’s willingness to pay wages, only requires that its ultimate decisionmakers see the company’s operations as being likely to serve their goals in the future. In the very simplistic case of a company whose only purpose is to generate profit, and whose owners accurately understand the company’s future profitability, this means the company will cease operations and lay off its workers as soon as its profitability is over. But this Econ-101 level model of an idealized company, probably represents only a minority of actual companies. In most contexts the differences will be small, but they may sometimes be important. And if, in an academic discussion like this, someone points out the distinction, you’re probably better off acknowledging that it exists.

        • bean says:

          My company hasn’t made a profit in almost sixty years of existence, and is still capable of paying wages to me and about three thousand of my colleagues. So I think there’s something wrong with this model.

          Your company is legally prohibited from making a profit. While his model is somewhat simplistic, it’s accurate for most businesses in the long term.

        • William says:

          I think public companies or companies that expect to go public suffer a harsher incentive to produce profits in the long term.

          That said, I don’t have a great sense of how much top-line metrics like wage inflation are driven by public/pre-ipo firms vs small businesses. If anyone has a framework to illuminate this breakdown, I would be interested.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I don’t think this isn’t a useful argument to suggest an increase in the minimum wage, unless you’re pairing it with a major revision in the way the US economy functions. Per the BLS, non-profit firms account for link text. State/Local/Federal governments account for another 14 or so % per a different BLS table. Maybe there’s something not accounted for in here, but I highly doubt you’re talking about a huge chunk of the work force.

          So three-quarters of US workers work in companies that are expected to make a profit at some point. That a company is not currently making a profit (such as in the case of Amazon) is pedantic: it’s expected to make a profit at some point, or else capital infusion is not going to occur. At this point Amazon can decide to never make a profit and return all cash to employees, but they will likely be sued by the shareholders.

          There’s theoretically ways to run an economy that do not rely on private, profit-seeking actors to supply entrepreneurship and capital, but that’s largely not how American employment markets work, and even the more “socialist” Western states rely heavily on their markets to create wealth or distribute goods. And the majority method of financing those non-profit jobs appears to be taxation, not operating income and not private infusion of capital from donors.

          Hand-waving profit maximization with a throw-away line about Amazon isn’t really an academic discussion. There’s some pretty obvious questions that follow from that.

          EDIT: I think it’s also useful to point out that the OP’s actual point isn’t that profits don’t matter, but that using profit margin as a tool obfuscates more than it illuminates, and there’s no direct connection between an optimal min wage and a specific profit margin level.

          • Patrick Cruce says:

            Even if something doesn’t directly generate any returns, people will want to own it. (Gold, bitcoin, the organization that delivers much of our goods) And Amazon is not the only company that has adopted a zero profit stance.

            It seems that you’re declaring the infeasibilty of increasing the minimum wage from a commitment to a very particular model of economic participation.

            So no, I don’t see Amazon as pedantic. More $750 Billion worth of counterexample.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Yea, I shouldn’t have expected better from an AEI link, but it seems to fall into the “bad argument” tropes previously discussed. People that get mad about bosses keeping your surplus labour are gonna be mad if its 0.25% or 75% because only taking pennies doesn’t justify thieving. People that believe in free markets aren’t gonna suddenly stop thinking someone that follows all the laws is intolerably greedy just because they cross a certain number threshold. It’s an article written to convince no one, just to have the pretense to own the libs for not knowing one particular set of statistics

      • gbdub says:

        “People that get mad about bosses keeping your surplus labour are gonna be mad if its 0.25% or 75% because only taking pennies doesn’t justify thieving.”

        So you believe the majority of “wage justice / living wage” advocates would be equally happy if their wages went up $0.20 vs. $20, so long as the boss wasn’t “keeping any surplus labor”? Or if they got paid $20/hr, but had to pay half that back to cover maintenance costs and property tax on the company capital?

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Of course I admit people care about individual working conditions and greater wage increases in their own lives. Sorry I was unclear, I mean something like “no one who goes around talking about the problems with corporate profits and capitalism is gonna have their mind changed by being proved wrong about this fact.” If you’re cynical about capitalism (from the left,) you can imagine a world where there’s only a few, hyper efficient companies that struggle to make 1% profit off grinding every possible resource into commodities and conditions are much worse than they are now.

          • JulieK says:

            If the companies are hyper efficient, and only 1% goes to profits, why would conditions be so bad? If they’re producing so many commodities, most people should have a high standard of living enjoying those commodities, right?

      • 1soru1 says:

        True by definition, people who get mad are going to get mad. The issue is whether they are right to do so.

        The fact that the official profit rate is what corporations get taxed on should induce some skepticism as to whether that is the correct measure of surplus extraction by owners. For example, the classic ‘leveraged buyout using own assets, sell as scrap’ plan does not require profits at any stage.

        Obviously, the reality of the world is that people who own stuff for a living are not making 20% more than the median skilled worker, or even 75% more.

        They are building giant golden towers with their name on.

    • It’s important to carefully distinguish between the profit margin and the profit rate. Due to the tendency for the rate of profit to equalize, industries with a low turnover rate (example: wine production) will tend to have a higher profit margin while industries with a higher turnover rate (grape juice production) will tend to have a lower profit margin.

      On this question, I don’t think it is very illuminating to focus on the profit margin. I would rather have seen the original author focus on the profit rate.

  18. wanda_tinasky says:

    exorbitant executive and upper-management pay/bonuses is not part of “8%” but is part of “buckets of cash the greedy owners are hoarding”

    Not if your quibble is about corporate tax rates. I mean, if your basic approach is “down with the elites, inequality is unfair, redistribution etc” then fine, make that argument. But it’s sort of orthogonal to issue of corporate taxation.

    Also it seems unlikely that the difference between the 8% and 30% companies is related to executive pay. Execs don’t take home 22% of public company’s bottom lines.

    • Anon. says:

      You don’t get the same CEO for $6 million though, otherwise they’d just get the cheaper one to begin with.

  19. Well, for example Walmart’s CEO makes $35 million every year, or about $15 dollars per employee. For companies that employ a large number of people the effect of slashing the CEO’s wage to 0 would be measured in hourly cents per worker. In general the increase in US inequality since the 50s has all come from a rise in inequality between firms and almost none of it has come from increased inequality within firms.

    • Urstoff says:

      That seems low for a company as big as Wal-Mart, but I guess CEO talent and business acumen probably doesn’t move the profitability meter as much as it would at a tech or finance company.

  20. greghb says:

    On a skim, it doesn’t look like funeral-disease controlled for age among the respondents. My hypothesis has always been that a person’s own name-age stereotypes are calcified for that person during their childhood. So it’s not like the impressions of these names were written in stone 20 years ago for everyone, it’s that most of the people surveyed were in the name-age stereotype critical period about 20 years ago. Easy to test. I’d put up some money for an MTurk experiment if someone else wants to run it. (Or, sorry if I missed it and they did include this in their original analysis.)

  21. dlr says:

    re that Filipino tribe which subsists off pearl diving. Probably no one died of suffocation. Males who could hold their breath longer could stay down longer. Males who could stay down longer found more pearls. Males who found more pearls traded the extra pearls for a wife, or another wife, or more informal/ unofficial mating opportunities, or extra calories or micronutrients for their wives or kids. Wives who got extra calories or micro-nutrients were more likely to be fertile/have a successful pregnancy/have a healthy baby/have more milk. Kids who got extra calories or micro-nutrients were more likely to fight off and survive early childhood challenges.

  22. chosh says:

    The trial GiveWell is keeping an eye on (https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/505) has been pushed back quite a few times since inception, does anyone know why?

    • Quixote says:

      It is at least worth considering that if giving people money is shown to make lives better, then people and institutions interested in making lives better might want to give people money. And they might look for sources of money from which to draw funds to give people. So a forward thinking pool of money might have an incentive to denigrate such a study as early in the process as possible. It’s easier to catch a snowball than an avalanche.

      Note that this logic applies regardless of the quality of the study. There are a wide variety of other reasons someone might push back on the study, but those would tend to be dependent on the quality of the study so we can’t, in advance, know how much there would be. But there should be ‘some’ pushback regardless of quality.

  23. herculesorion says:

    MBTA: What’s going to be funny is about three years from now when costs go up, features go down, more money is needed, but they can’t fire all the contractors again because reasons.

    It’s also very funny seeing her so happy about how all the new bids came in so low, like it means that the previous contractor was obviously featherbedding and running up needless expenses, and the work definitely shouldn’t have cost so much. Like, holy shit you guys, people have rational responses to incentives, call the fucking presses.

  24. Freddie deBoer says:

    Please join me in enjoying the music of Endon and Pharmakon.

    • Acedia says:

      The Endon track is great. Mildly surprised to learn you’re into this stuff.

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        I’m a big fan of sludge/stoner/doom/drone metal, as well as Swans and similar. My brother is more of the noise addict but he’s turned me on to some good stuff. I saw Endon open for Boris and they were awesome.

        • Lapsed Pacifist says:

          You should try the band Ocean (from Portland ME, apparently there are two?)

          Here Where Nothing Grows will test your tolerance of drone and tension in music. It’s great.

  25. Anon. says:

    Average CEO pay at S&P 500 companies is ~13 million (https://aflcio.org/paywatch), infinitesimal compared to their revenues.

  26. paranoidfunk says:

    Gwern newsletter and SSC Links post on the same day? Work can wait.

    Also, re: HC: I don’t think they are TLP; they are too familiar with LW-adjacent stuff, and at least compared to the drunken sloppyness of the TLP blog the presentation is too neat (no double em-dashes!) HC has also mentioned working in the ER before (of course, People Might Lie on the Internet).

    • sohois says:

      It would also be strange to continually reference TLP in his writings if he was also TLP and presumably trying to break away from that identity.

    • Anonymous` says:

      On the other hand, I’m pretty sure nostalgebraist and su3su2u1 are the same person.

  27. Tatu Ahponen says:

    1. The biggest complaint about the Human Accomplishment dataset post was that Human Accomplishment in itself was not a neutral source, and that new post at Unz is hardly going to convince anyone who thought that, myself included.

    2. What’s the stuff about trade unionism in ordoliberalism you don’t follow?

    3. After just glancing at the titles, how many of the inequality articles are “just do what I think is the best social policy anyway *and* it will also end inequality, in addition to everything else I believe it does?”

    4. Re: old names, something I’ve been wondering for some time: in Finland, people often note that the names in birth and death announcements are the same – ie. names for *really* old people tend to also become popular as baby names. Thus, now names like “Eino” and “Helmi” that I’d associate with 70+ people are also popular baby names. Is this also so in English-speaking countries?

    • Wrong Species says:

      On Human Accomplishment

      From what I’ve read, Murray just looked up a bunch of encyclopedias, found people with the most references and used that for his data. It makes sense for people to be skeptical.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Say what you want about “Human Accomplishment”, as far as I know nobody ever claimed it was biased against the Dark Ages.

      Re: ordoliberalism – I know basically nothing about the philosophy except its Wikipedia page, but I didn’t understand how “state should guide the free market” works out to “have lots of trade unions and give them lots of power”

      • Tatu Ahponen says:

        The datasets it uses may very well be, though. Probably are.

        • quanta413 says:

          I’m inclined to agree with this suspicion.

          Even worse, how exactly are we going to even define biased or unbiased samples here?

          That data is not totally useless, but it may say as much about us now as it does about the past.

          That might be an interesting way to imagine things actually. If humans kept track of past accomplishments over time, how are the measures fluctuating as the present moves forward? In other words, what would someone compiling a list in the 1800s say about accomplishments up until 1600? And how would that differ from a compiler in the 1700s? What if they were in China instead of the West?

        • B_Rat says:

          @Tatu Ahponen
          I wholeheartedly agree, since the point that most historians make is exactly “The Early Medieval Period has been severely belittled until very little time ago”, which is something that cannot not have influenced the texts Murray (who is not an historian) used.

          Also, “Significant figures born per year” is definitely not equal to “human accomplishment”.

          @quanta413,
          good points! The selection bias is very apparent from the absolute graph.

      • Tim van Beek says:

        Hi Scott,

        “state should guide the free market” works out to “have lots of trade unions and give them lots of power”

        As far as ordoliberalism refers to post war Germany: The state does not give unions a lot of power. Unions have a legal status in Germany that is comparable to clubs. They had and have a lot of power, but that comes from their ability to organize large parts of the workforce and the electorate, organized in one of the (foremost) most powerful political parties, the Social Democrats.

        If all people working in fast food restaurants joined in a “fight for our working conditions” club in the USA today, and formed a faction with high visibility inside the Democratic party, you would and could see similar effects.

        This is different regarding work councils (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_council), which have a lot of rights. This can, and is often, in practice, used by unions, of course, but from a legal viewpoint both concepts are not connected.

        Of course, if an Ordoliberal observes a monopsony on the labor market distorting it, she might think about how the state could facilitate something like a union (as one possible measure) to reduce market distortion. One could argue that this applies to the post war German mining industry, for example.
        So having strong unions in those marktes fits the worldview of (some) Ordoliberals, which could be another reason why it is mentioned besides historical ones. But it is not an essential concept.

      • Hoopdawg says:

        I didn’t understand how “state should guide the free market” works out to “have lots of trade unions and give them lots of power”

        Workers’ life-long self-interest is well-aligned with the long-term well-being of their company. Shareholders’ interest is not, as they can immediately take their money elsewhere. It follows that to maximize long-term growth and stability, the workers, not shareholders, should control companies.

        But of course, in capitalism, shareholders are the proprietors and nominally allowed to do whatever they wish with their “property” (no matter how myopic or destructive). Now, some would say the best solution would be to dismantle capitalism, but when you’re a liberal, your goal is to preserve it. Hence, law-enforced codetermination.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Shareholders’ interest is not, as they can immediately take their money elsewhere.

          No, shareholders cannot force companies to give them their money back to take elsewhere.

          They can try to find someone else to buy their shares off them, but that is different and has no implications about long term stability.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            shareholders cannot force companies to give them their money back to take elsewhere

            Yes, they can.

            They can try to find someone (…) to buy their shares off them

            Yeah, that too.

            They can also find billions of other ways to simply fuck the company up, then leave, but that’s a longer story than both my anecdotal knowledge and the format of blog comment allows for.

          • enye-word says:

            @Hoopdawg a dividend is payed out over time, not immediately. Also, a share repurchase is different than what baconbits9 was describing.

        • Workers’ life-long self-interest is well-aligned with the long-term well-being of their company. Shareholders’ interest is not, as they can immediately take their money elsewhere.

          I think you have it almost exactly backwards. A shareholder can only take his money elsewhere if someone else is willing to buy his share. The price that someone else is willing to pay will depend on his view of the long-term prospects of the company.

          A worker, on the other hand, can take his labor elsewhere without having to provide a substitute worker. He faces some cost to doing so, because he will have specialized skills for working in that company and may have sunk costs associated with living where he now lives, but the cost to him of moving doesn’t depend on the future prospects of the company. If the company goes broke he doesn’t have his job but he still has his labor to sell elsewhere. If the company goes broke, the stockholder loses the full value of his stock.

          The shareholder is much closer than the worker to being in a position where what matters to his choices is the long-term prospects for the company.

          • Deej says:

            @davidfriedman

            Nice libertarian theory arguing. But –

            – It’s generally far less costly and less risky to sell and buy shares than it is to get a new job. Shareholders can find a buyer and seller much easier than workers can find a new job. Generally selling a share and buying a different one, is simply swapping one risk for another which could be higher or lower. A new job is much more of a step into the unkown, it’s risky as compared to staying where you are because you know more about your current job/company than the new one.

            – Shareholders make money from short termism all the time.

          • The cost of selling shares is low. The question, however, is whether shareholders have more or less incentive to care about the long term results for the firm than employees.

            If the results of current practice for the long term are predictable, the answer is that the shareholder’s incentive is to maximize the present value of the long term profit stream, because that is what determines the price he can sell his shares at. If the results are not predictable, then neither the worker nor the shareholder knows what he should favor in the long term.

            What I’m describing isn’t libertarian theory, it’s conventional economic theory. Economists are more likely to be libertarians than other social scientists are, but still not very likely—my guess would be that a majority vote Democratic, although I don’t have data.

        • BillyZoom says:

          But of course, in capitalism, shareholders are the proprietors and nominally allowed to do whatever they wish with their “property” (no matter how myopic or destructive).

          I suppose that depends on what you define as “capitalism” and “nominally”. But that is not remotely true in the United States, even nominally (nor anywhere I know of). Being a shareholder does not make you an owner in the common sense of the term. What if gives you is a set of rights as set out in the prospectus, and also a potential to sue based on case law. In brief, management runs the company. If you don’t like the management, or you’d like to see a higher dividend (or whatever), you either need to convince management or replace them.

          Continuing, and in reference to your links to share repurchases and dividends below, neither of those things can be “demanded” or “forced” by shareholders, without first a proxy fight or tender offer to get enough agreement or take enough ownership of the company to elect your own board of directors.

          It certainly cannot be done by a single shareholder, excepting maybe a few instances of a well known activist investor (think Carl Ichan/Dan Loeb) putting the pressure on.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            Yeah, let’s not dwell on definitions or my bad phrasing. The setup obviously works like you described, codetermination wouldn’t be a meaningful check on the shareholders otherwise.

            Obviously, the check is only meaningful if there are any worker representatives or other independent members on the board of directors. Otherwise, shareholders hold all the power, and “they can’t do things themselves, they have to hire people to do it” is not a particularly convincing argument against that.

      • nameless1 says:

        Not sure about the whole picture, but one element is not having a national or regional minimum wage, trade unions agree in a minimum wage per industry with the employers. This is supposed to provide flexibility for industries that are in a recession while other industries are not. I don’t know, but I think it may illustrate the principle.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        Medievalists have been complaining for the last 50 years that encyclopedias and popular histories are biased against the years 500 – 1000.

        One reason is that medievalists don’t slice 500 – 1000 this way. As has been stated before, 500 – 750 was a miniature renaissance in Britain, where inroads in philosophy, math, and culture were getting deeper and deeper. The destruction wrought by the Vikings put Britain (which was supplying its learned people to Francia and Italia) and consequently the rest of the continent back 300 years. This is partly why 1000 marks the beginning of such a great uptick in cultural output, because a large portion of europe was finally where Britain was in 700.

        Since 2004 there have been well over 500 additions to our digital store of archival material on the Internet for before 1100, this might move Gwern’s numbers, but I don’t know by how much.

        I am NOT saying that there was no “worse period” in the Middle Ages. It is hard, though, to take account of the data that has been destroyed through neglect, fire, and flood. I find the generalization misleading. It might be better to compare Central Middle Ages (900 – 1400) to Classical/Hellenestic Greece (-600 – -100) to get a good function of high cultural output under similar economic conditions. Then from those numbers to figure out what is a reasonable amount of prior “foundational” cultural output.

        It’s interesting to me that Hellenestic Greece was far more technologically advanced than Classical Greece but we have far less surviving literary output. We know they were writing, but we hardly even know what they were writing. So much is lost.

        • Another point on the graphs shown. If you look not at level but rate of change, you observe that things start down during the Roman Republic, start back up in the early medieval period.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          [in 1000] a large portion of europe was finally where Britain was in 700

          It is so rare for someone to make such a direct comparison. Where can I read more about this?

          • yodelyak says:

            I read “How the Irish Saved Civilization” a while back, (it’s a pop-history book, and probably sold because Irish-lovers buy Irish-loving books, not because it’s brilliantly researched or anything) which tells a similar story, except points at Ireland a couple hundred years earlier as the seed… it’s not that excellent a book, but I immediately saw the parallel to Asimov’s Foundation books, and figured he must have based them on somesuch, although not necessarily Ireland.

            I am also hoping for something to read on this point, or just generally a good story of how what survived Rome to now did, in fact, survive.

          • JohnBuridan says:

            Well, we use a few proxies. In the Latin west knowledge of Greek was rare but highly valuable since Greek was regarded even by Late Antique Romans as the language of philosophy. So anyone who could write Greek both had enough access to Greek texts that he could learn to write and intellectually engage with Greek authors, and had the educational opportunity to do so.

            Another helpful proxy is how good a group of people are at writing Latin. Good Latin style (meaning “Late Republican/Early Principate Rome”) indicates education and access to texts. Simply reading and being able to write some Latin is not enough to tell us much about education and learning, but seeing that the Latin of Isidore of Seville or Gregory the Great in Rome was so ungrammatical, whereas the Latin of Britain – where Latin was only briefly spoken by an occupying force- followed classical rules of style, we can infer that Britain had more texts and more formation for its educated religious scholars than anywhere else.

            Textual analysis also provides some hints (and sometimes outright certainty) of what texts the British had in their possession. It was quite a trove.

            Hilda the Abbess of Whitby wrote hundreds of letters and organized a church council; thousands of additional documents – letters, old texts, new treatises – were written under her direction. Ultimately, none but one meager letter survived the Vikings.

            To read more about this, I don’t have a good secondary source to recommend. I’ll ask one of my friends who would know and get back to you hopefully.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Maybe I should have asked instead: what do you even mean by more advanced?

            You singled out math. It seems like it should be easier to benchmark what you mean by progress in math. You may need proxies for determining where people are, but it should be easier to say what they are proxies for. People always mention Bede calculating the date of Easter. This sounds really unimpressive to me. I’m pretty sure that was behind where the continent was in 500, so Britain only over took the continent by combining its 300 years of progress with 300 years of regress in its competitor.

      • Deej says:

        @Scott

        The logic runs like this –
        1. Left to itself “free market” has some bad outcomes
        2. State should guide free market towards better outcomes
        3. Some of these better outcomes relate to worker’s conditions and pay
        4. A good way to achieve this is through improving the bargaining power of workers
        5. Unions do this

        Question – do you see unions as being in contradiction to free markets in some way?

        • I’m not Scott, but I’ll respond anyway.

          1. True. For a long discussion by me, see this chapter in the third edition of my first book.

          2. The same problem that leads the market to sometimes produce bad outcomes also leads the political system to. The difference is that the relevant conditions are the exception on the former, the norm on the latter. For the argument see the same chapter I just linked to.

          Or, putting the issue back to you, what do you believe is the mechanism that results in the state doing the right thing, in its intervention on average improving on the market outcome instead of worsening it?

          3. Probably not.

          4 and 5. Monopoly unions–all the workers in one industry–have the same problems as other cartels.

          Voluntary unions are consistent with libertarian principles and are not in contradiction to free markets. A union that can force employees to join it, or use state action to force the employer not to hire non-union workers, is inconsistent with both. A union that, with or without state support, contains all the workers in some field clashes with free markets in the same way in which a monopoly firm or a cartel does.

          Libertarian theory doesn’t, so far as I can tell, rule out private monopolies, cartels, or monopoly unions, provided in each case that the monopoly is enforced without violating individual rights—the obvious example being a natural monopoly, a large firm that can produce at a lower cost than any smaller firm. But economic theory suggests problems with all of those.

          • rlms says:

            Are monopoly unions common? This suggests that the most heavily unionised industries have 40% of employees being union members, but the typical figure is much lower (11%), and many industries have multiple unions.

      • zzzzort says:

        The knock on “Human Accomplishment” is that it recapitulates the bias of the secondary sources it draws from, essentially acting as a survey of the conventional wisdom. Both sides of the dark ages debate acknowledge that the conventional wisdom says the dark ages were shitty and boring; they disagree on whether that characterization is correct. To me the y-axis of those plots is best thought of as historian interest level, and so doesn’t really favor one side of the debate over the other.

    • greghb says:

      Re: birth/death names, there are some U-shaped naming trends in the US. Here’s a chart of one of the starkest, the name Emma.

      http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager#prefix=emma&sw=both&exact=true

      One theory I’ve heard is that grandparent names are associated with actual living old people who look/sound/smell old, but great-grandparent names sound so old as to be classy and have the mystique of the past without ever being associated with actual, physical oldness. So parents pick names from the youngest generation they cannot remember: the one that was dying while they were being born.

      Edit: I guess this doesn’t quite square with the Finnish observation: the parents naming the kids would be old enough to remember the generation dying. There doesn’t happen to be a tradition to name babies after the youngest deceased relative? I think such a tradition exists in some cultures.

      • BBA says:

        I’m old enough to have seen “Emma” go from stereotypical very old lady name to stereotypical millennial name, but I can’t think of any others. The trendy names these days seem to be faux-Celtic neologisms instead of revived old names.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Isabella/Bella, Grace, Eva/Ava

          • BBA says:

            Sometimes the full name seems old-fashioned but the nickname is modern. Isabella/Bella definitely counts, and so does Abigail/Abby.

            Also the whole phenomenon appears to affect women’s names more than men’s, where evergreen names like John stay dominant.

          • JulieK says:

            @BBA:
            “Being associated with actual, physical oldness” (to quote another commentator) is a bigger negative for women than men. Hence more rapidly changing fashions for women’s names (like for women’s clothing).

          • engleberg says:

            Eva! the toast goes round.
            Eva! again.

        • kaakitwitaasota says:

          By 2100, Ashlynn and Cayden will become ye olde classy names for wise people in novels…

        • JulieK says:

          Popular baby names in 2016 also include Olivia, Sophia and Charlotte.

        • Don P. says:

          I’ll add “Max”, the first few of whom I can think of are Jewish, so there’s also probably an element of being upfront about their ethnicity.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Max (as Maximilian) is still a common name in Austria, which I suspect is the source of the Jewish name. (“Max Gruber” would be a really good ambiguously Gentile/Jewish name, if you needed such)

          • Tarpitz says:

            The trouble with [anything] Gruber is that an awful lot of people’s immediate association will not be “Jew” or “gentile” or “unclear if Jew or gentile”.

            It will be “Die Hard villain”.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        But from my understanding the pool of Finnish names really isn’t that deep.
        In America the pool is infinitely deep; there can be any number of names.

    • The title on that article about “ending inequality” was extremely misleading, even for very lenient definitions of “ending inequality” (i.e. I don’t think anyone is assuming they were referring to a GINI coefficient of 0.00). The proposals given don’t even come close.

      • nzk says:

        Here a question for you:

        If you took 75% of the wealth and income of the top 10%, and gave it all to one man, without impacting the production of the top 10%(I know this is impossible), would inequality rise, or not?

    • B_Rat says:

      On Human Accomplishment

      Apart from all the problems with this specific source pointed out in this thread, what puzzles me is that no historian denies that following the long decline, unrest and ultimately disintegration of the Roman Empire, in part of its former territories the Early Middle Ages were a period of disorder, fragmentation and reduced wealth and intellectual production (but also of innovation, adaptation and recover). What historian note is that the term is an overstatement of this and that in popular culture it is irremediably linked to a severe misunderstanding of the Middle Ages.

  28. eqdw says:

    The average American thinks the average company makes a 36% profit – it actually makes about 8%. The AEI speculates that a lot “raise the minimum wage, the companies can just take the losses out of the buckets of cash the greedy owners are hoarding for themselves” type of arguments come from this misunderstanding.

    A fun related piece of information that you can use to troll people (or to just laugh to yourself) is that peoples’ intuitions about profit margins often tend to be inverse from reality. Often the companies being criticized for being the most evil, corrupt, greedy, and profit-seeking are exactly those companies with the _smallest_ profit margins, while those companies that are considered to be the most socially conscious, prestigious, or good have the highest profit margins. For some interesting data points (all these points were taken with about 5 seconds of googling and I may be incorrect on some)

    * in Q1 2015, Whole Foods had a profit margin of 4.33%. Compare to Krogers at 1.87%, or the average net margin of grocery stores generally at 1.3%
    * Costco’s margins fluctuate around 10%. Walmart’s tend to be around 3%
    * Apple’s profit margins are some of the largest in the world, at a whopping 40%

    The Costco v Walmart comparison is probably the most useful here. It is (or at least used to be) a talking point amongst policy wonks that Costco is good, Walmart is bad, and Walmart should be more like Costco.

    Now, all of this makes sense if you consider it with inverted causality. That is, the model “greedy rich capitalists want a fat profit margin and then they run their companies to generate that”, throw that out. Instead consider it from the perspective that a given kind of business will have a sort of natural profit margin based on fundamentals of that business. Some businesses (like Apple, who sell luxury goods with massive markups that require relatively low staff overheads to make) have gigantic profit margins, which give them the luxury of operating in a more socially conscious fashion (and lets them afford the PR necessary to make sure you know this). Other businesses (like walmart, whose business model consists of making everything as cheap as humanly possible to outcompete competitors) have tiny profit margins, and as such must run incredibly efficiently and don’t have slack in their finances to pay the cost of being socially conscious.

    Following this line of reasoning with people who care a great deal about inequality and helping the poor, you can end up at another fun conclusion. One correlation that seems to exist is that an easy way to grow profit margins is to make luxury goods/services for rich people and mark them up super high. Phrased more cynically: if you want to make larger profit margins, ignore your poor customers and cater to your rich customers.

    —-

    Finally, in defense of peoples’ hilariously wrong intuitions on this subject: I think that a lot of people conflate the idea of profit amount and profit margin. Sometimes this is reasonable, sometimes it is not. Walmart has a razor thin profit margin but through sheer scale they still make billions in profit every year. Under some circumstances, referring to Walmart as having very large profits would be reasonable. For instance, if you were making rhetorical statements about how wealthy their owners must be. On the other hand, in some contexts it is not reasonable. Namely, assuming that there’s a large profit margin from which wealth can be transferred to workers. Walmart may make tons of money but because it’s coming from a very small profit margin on a gigantic amount of things, even a tiny increase in their costs can wipe out their profits. Like, all of them.

    Once, while bored at work, I ran the numbers. I don’t have the numbers handy, so I can’t show my work here, and I encourage someone else to double check them. But I computed that if the entire executive of Walmart forewent their pay entirely, and their pay was redistributed to the remaining, low-paid workers of Walmart, this would work out to a raise of about 800 bucks a year, or about 40 cents an hour (assuming full time 2000 hours per year). Phrased another way: giving a blanket raise of 50 cents an hour to every employee of Walmart would eat so far into their profits that their entire executive would stop making money.

    • herculesorion says:

      As is always the case with statistics, people are learning that you can’t draw a line with only one data point. If you look at the percentage, you miss the absolute number. If you look at the absolute number, you miss the percentage.

    • cassander says:

      There are many evergreen headlines, but “Study Shows Most People are Innumerate” has to be one of the greenest.

      • Randy M says:

        Also must pointless to publish if true. (Unless they use simple pictograms to relate the findings)

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Just as a general thing, it seems to me that it’s expensive to achieve virtue by progressive standards.

    • A lot of the complaints about Walmart come from the petit-bourgeoisie or people who aspire to the petit-bourgeoisie who are resentful and envious of “hoch kapitalismus” (big capital) outperforming them. At the margin, this sort of moralistic, unscientific, un-Marxist complaint about “corporate greed” can easily be leveraged to justify anti-Semitic attacks that deflect attention from the true source of the problem—generalized commodity production in which labor-power is also produced as a commodity. That will not go away even if Walmart is dismantled—even if we are left to the tender mercies of every petit-bourgeois shopkeeper who dreams of the day when they are no longer out-competed by the far more efficient and revolutionary competitors like Walmart and Amazon.

      The fact that this opportunistic anti-big business demagoguery has gotten wrapped up with the Left just shows how sorry of a state the Left is in. The Left should be praising big businesses like Walmart and the centralization of capital. All the better to accelerate the system into deepening its own internal contradictions and preparing the ultimate centralization of the means of production in the hands of the workers’ state.

      • Aapje says:

        This is a bit childish. You first set up a straw man, by arguing that all of the left wants communism and then judge them deficient at working to this goal.

        If a large part of the left actually have a different goal, your criticism is invalid.

  29. Nornagest says:

    Yet another California secession movement has started gathering signatures for the ballot.

    I wonder if this one will turn out to have been ginned up by literal Russian spies.

  30. apollocarmb says:

    >Latest social psych effect to get questioned: the Pygmalion effect, where telling teachers that certain students are smart really increases the students’ performance. In retrospect, this was always kind of dumb.

    I completely disagree. If two people get the same poor result in a maths test for example but one has higher expectations then the other the odds are the one with higher expectations will be more disappointed and will be more determined to do better (assuming they care about high school)

    Determination of course helps with success.

    • herculesorion says:

      You’re misreading. The theory is that if teachers are told that a student is smart, then the student will show better outcomes on objectively-neutral tests. It’s not about telling the student that they’re smart; in the theory, they don’t know anyone is saying anything at all about them.

      • Anthony says:

        On “objectively neutral” tests, or on grading done by the teacher?

        If the latter, it’s somewhat surprising that there’s no effect. But then, priming is failing to replicate, too. (Unless replication researchers are being primed by the “replication crisis” to make experiments fail replication?)

  31. Mark Dominus says:

    “Semi-infinite” is already a standard piece of mathematical jargon, although it appears that the Japanese deposit is probably not semi-infinite in this sense. The term refers to an object, such as the positive real numbers, which extends in two directions, and is bounded in one direction and unbounded in the other. The prototypical example is the geometric object called a “ray”.

    There is even a term “quarter-infinite” which refers for example to a single quadrant of an infinite plane; say the set of all points in the plane whose x– and y-coordinates are both positive. I discussed this and related terms on my blog a few months ago.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      “Semi-infinite” is commonly used in geology in exactly the same way—treat the planet as infinitely deep, but having a definite surface. Much more than in mathematics. This examples seems to be about the temporal dimension: the deposit will not supply the past.

      So cohomology is semi-infinite, but semi-infinite cohomology is truly infinite?

      “A few” meaning 100…

  32. The Pachyderminator says:

    Re. too-good-to-be-true predictive text output: the best one I’ve ever seen is Botnik Studio’s Harry Potter, which is now my second-favorite Harry Potter fanfiction. (Disclaimer: I really don’t read Harry Potter fanfic, with, um, the obvious exceptions.) I suppose it’s possible that the witty humans who put it together simply arranged pre-generated sentences, but I suspect they had some input into the word choice as well.

    • Brian Slesinsky says:

      Yep. From the article: “Worstall sums up the situation by saying ‘in mining, there are just two things: dirt and ore. Your back garden contains dirt, because it would cost more to extract the rare earths from it then you would make selling them on. The moment it costs less to extract those rare earths, that dirt becomes ore. But what have the Japanese have found? At the moment, it’s still dirt.'”

    • John Schilling says:

      The issue with Rare Earths isn’t how much Rare Earth minerals a nation has. It’s how many environmentalists it has, vs. how many goons willing to take a rubber hose to any environmentalist that gets in the way of the national interest and/or corporate profits. Rare Earth ores aren’t rare, as the article notes, but refining them is an exceedingly messy business with lots of toxic byproducts that are expensive to deal with. The US used to be the world’s largest producer, in spite of the high cost of remediation, because we had adequate reserves and somewhat looser enforcement of environmental regulations than the rest of the world. When China decided that as a matter of national policy they weren’t going to let any pesky environmentalists get in the way of rare-earth refining, they were able to undersell everyone else and the US mines were basically shuttered overnight.

      China’s got the market entirely cornered, until someone finds and decides to exploit large reserves in a country that isn’t a western(ish) liberal democracy. Pretty sure that’s not going to be Japan. As Sleinsky notes, any rare-earth ore in Japan is going to be economically classified as “dirt”.

      And if China decides to play the monopoly “And now you must pay us One Trillion Dollars! And not complain when we annex the South China Sea, or no Rare Earths for you!” game, meh, the US still has adequate reserves and we at least used to know how to extract them while paying merely annoying levels of $$$ to keep the environmentalists off the miners’ backs.

      • Godfree Roberts says:

        China, the largest consumer and producer of rare earths, followed our environmental lead by placing restrictions on its miners. No-one was hurt, despite the usual ‘Bad China’ media bleating. No biggie.

        • Anthony says:

          China would have a long way to go to catch up to the US lead in mining regulation. And even more in enforcement.

          And if they’re capable of learning from our mistakes, they could get a regulatory regime that’s just as strict yet substantially cheaper, and never catch up to us in the cost race.

          American regulatory regimes generally require lots and lots and lots of money to be spent documenting compliance, and the consequences of screwing up that documentation are almost as bad, if not worse, than actually not complying, if the actual non-compliance is properly documented.

      • James Green says:

        Exactly right, but one further thing: a lot of users suddenly find various ways to use less rare earths once the price goes up, i.e. R&D costs to avoid rare earths in products become less expensive than maintaining existing levels of rare earth use.

    • Anthony says:

      Unlike the article that Scott posted, this one did not take a semi-infinite time to load.

  33. phil says:

    The NPR presented explanation for self cyber-bullying seems absurd.

    Wouldn’t the far simpler explanation be kids self cyber-bully as a strategy for sympathy/attention from parents/friends/other 3rd parties?

  34. herculesorion says:

    In the “Uber For Planes” article, someone presents as obviously stupid the scenario where pilots and passengers can connect via a bulletin board and there’s no regulation but when they do it via an app there’s regulation. What they miss is that if the FAA had their way, the former would be subject to regulation as well; the issue is that:

    A) the practice was too well-established by the time the regulatory regime’s power reached a level where banning it was possible, and
    B) it’s a lot easier to ban one company from using an app than it is to go to every tiny airport in the country and tear down their bulletin boards, and easier to make the app ban stick than it is to go back to every tiny airport in the country and make sure the boards didn’t get put back up.

    It’s similar to reselling physical copies of media; the First Sale Doctrine isn’t some expression of fundamental property rights, it’s an expression of the impossibility of enforcement.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The FAA has three priorities

      1) Nobody mess with the flying buses.

      2) Maybe we’ll let a few very special people willing to pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and drown themselves in paperwork put a small plane into the air nowhere near the Big Bus Hubs. But we’ll make it hard, and NO COMPETING WITH THE FLYING BUSES.

      3) Everyone else stay on the f-ing ground. That means you, Nybbler, with that five-pound toy of yours.

      • CatCube says:

        You’re going to have to clarify your raving. If you have a private license, you’re permitted to fly in Class B airspace, with no paperwork over and above that required to fly any small plane. You’ve got to have a radio, but that’s required for Class D and Class C airspace as well. There is a requirement for a transponder, and an upcoming new requirement for ADS-B. This one I think you might have a point about, but they’re one-time costs.

        For competing with airlines, the FAA has some pretty good reasons to insist that you get gud first. A lot of private pilots (and their passengers) have died because they flew into conditions well over their heads because of schedule pressure (referred to in aviation as get-there-itis). It’s one thing if you really are just hooking up with a buddy to fly to another city for business (which is perfectly allowed as long as the pilot pays their share). It’s a whole hell of a different thing if you’re going to hang out a shingle selling rides to people, and you’d better Goddamn well have your instrument ticket and have the extra experience.

        And as far as your “five-pound toy” goes, it’s big enough to cause serious damage to a plane full of people, and nothing in your post gives me confidence that you understand enough about what’s going on to think that you should be toddling around in the airspace surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson.

        • Mike Powers says:

          His raving is him being upset that he can’t fly his drone around.

          And you’re certainly right that as soon as an exception to common-carrier rules is permitted, companies will ram that shit WIDE open. I could certainly see United setting up a “fly-share” service that, hey guess what, doesn’t need union pilots and doesn’t need union flight crew and isn’t subject to union work rules, and (since it’s “private pilots” owning and flying the aircraft) doesn’t have to bother with gate-slot auctions or airworthiness directives or MRO requirements.

          • bean says:

            I could certainly see United setting up a “fly-share” service that, hey guess what, doesn’t need union pilots and doesn’t need union flight crew and isn’t subject to union work rules, and (since it’s “private pilots” owning and flying the aircraft) doesn’t have to bother with gate-slot auctions or airworthiness directives or MRO requirements.

            One of the big drivers in the airline industry is the perception of safety. Nobody wants to have a plane with their name on the side end up on the news. Boeing was unhappy about the SWA accident a couple of weeks ago, even though they were pretty much blameless. Southwest cares about 737 fleet safety worldwide, because if the 737 is perceived as unsafe, even as a result of Burning Stump Airways in lower Whereverstan doing stupid things (this is a serious concern), they’ll take a hit. Even just generic news footage of crashed planes is a bit bad for everyone, because it moves people out of planes and into cars/trains/buses. The chance of any major airline staking their hard-earned reputation (yes, even United has a reputation for not crashing, even if their customer service is considered on par with that of Nazi Germany) on something guaranteed to have a high accident rate is zero.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Boeing was unhappy about the SWA accident a couple of weeks ago, even though they were pretty much blameless. Southwest cares about 737 fleet safety worldwide, because if the 737 is perceived as unsafe, even as a result of Burning Stump Airways in lower

            Lots of people have incentives towards safety. The pilot of a ride sharing plane for example, or the company running it. My 13 year old Honda Civic is a fine automobile (in my estimation) but it isn’t good enough for Uber, and they ‘ground’ me because they know a couple of breakdowns on the highway is bad for their business, even if no one dies horribly in a fireball.

          • bean says:

            Lots of people have incentives towards safety. The pilot of a ride sharing plane for example, or the company running it. My 13 year old Honda Civic is a fine automobile (in my estimation) but it isn’t good enough for Uber, and they ‘ground’ me because they know a couple of breakdowns on the highway is bad for their business, even if no one dies horribly in a fireball.

            What’s your point? Yes, lots of people care about safety. But I’ve actually worked in air transport, and it’s a bigger concern there than in the normal world. And to get commercial levels of safety (which have to be guaranteed for the airlines to get involved) you need commercial levels of care, which ultimately means commercial levels of money. The fact that the recent death on the Southwest flight was the first commercial passenger death in the US in 9 years didn’t come easily or cheaply. I don’t care what your incentives are, light aircraft flown by amateurs are inherently less safe.

          • CatCube says:

            I really couldn’t give any fewer fucks about the unions. I don’t like people building trusts to screw consumers by collusion, and it makes no difference to me if those people are the business owners or the workers.

            Also, private pilots also need to comply with airworthiness directives as well. Cessna’s get ADs and you have to install them by a certain date or your aircraft’s airworthiness certificate is no longer valid just as you do on an A380.

            No, the problem is that a private pilot’s certificate really doesn’t have the requirements necessary to safely carry passengers for money. The biggest one is not needing an instrument rating, which vastly increases the weather conditions in which you can fly. As I alluded to in my comment, there are a whole mess of people who, to meet a promise they made to their passengers, took off into slightly-bad weather conditions and turned their plane into a dirt dart because they were over their head. This was what got JFK, Jr. He had no business taking off on his final flight, but he had promised his passengers he’d get them to Martha’s Vineyard, and didn’t want to disappoint them. This is a really common story for private pilots getting into crashes.

            If you have a private pilot certificate, your plane is not a mode of transport. It is a method of recreation that has the ability to take you to other places. When you start using it as a method of transport, to (say) make obligations, you’re putting yourself and your passengers in a bad place. If it’s for, say, business, the people you’re meeting with often won’t understand why you couldn’t make it–I mean, United got everybody else there! Whereas if a storm system is sufficient to close O’Hare, everybody will understand that you’re stuck at the airport. This can really contribute to taking chances.

            As @bean alludes to, it’s not so bad when you’ve got people hanging around a general aviation airport doing this, since the people looking for rides are often pilots or deeply interested in aviation themselves, and probably have at least a decent idea of that even a light rain shower means the flight today will be a no-go. They will also kind of know what they’re getting themselves into when taking the chance. Somebody who’s just trying this cool new app probably won’t.

          • bean says:

            @Mike Powers

            doesn’t have to bother with gate-slot auctions or airworthiness directives or MRO requirements.

            Missed this the first time.
            ADs are mandatory for anyone, and you’d better believe that the FAA would be paying attention to a scheme like this, and hitting them with big fines over even minor mistakes. (I’ve actually written documents that were later mandated by AD. It’s not easy.) I expect that there’s a bit less rigor on the private side (I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trying to figure out how to deal with a group of about 6 airplanes with a weird configuration that are almost certainly all retired, but that are still technically active) but unless you’re flying in an experimental, you still have to have an airworthiness certificate.
            Other than that, I entirely endorse what CatCube has to say. Private pilots are not qualified to fly in this manner, and the FAA did the right thing to shut this down.

          • No, the problem is that a private pilot’s certificate really doesn’t have the requirements necessary to safely carry passengers for money.

            Why is there a difference between what it takes to safely carry passengers for money and what it takes to safely carry passengers not for money?

          • And to get commercial levels of safety (which have to be guaranteed for the airlines to get involved) you need commercial levels of care,

            How do you know that “commercial levels of safety” are the right level–so right that nobody should be permitted to accept a lower level of safety in exchange for a lower cost, more convenient scheduling, or whatever? If safety is infinitely valuable, which the rhetoric seems to suggest, then why permit private pilots to risk their own lives? If it isn’t infinitely valuable, why not let customers make their own decision on the relevant tradeoffs?

            Speaking as a passenger, I observe apparent safety precautions, such as starting every flight with a demonstration of how to put on a seat belt, that I suspect are worth close to zero, hence less than whatever their cost. My guess is that this is the safety equivalent of security theater. How much of it is driven by the choices of the airlines and how much by regulation I don’t know, but I suspect the latter given the observed uniformity.

          • bean says:

            Why is there a difference between what it takes to safely carry passengers for money and what it takes to safely carry passengers not for money?

            Because money carries with it expectations. Ordinary private pilots are capable of safely operating an aircraft in near-optimal conditions. Flying into bad conditions is the classic deadly mistake of a private pilot. If I’m a normal private pilot flying for FlightShare, I’m a lot more likely to risk the iffy weather than if I was simply going up on my own dime. I don’t want a bad rating. It’s possible to operate an airplane safely in those conditions, but it takes more skill to do it. Specifically, an instrument rating. Which is required before you can fly people for pay.

            How do you know that “commercial levels of safety” are the right level–so right that nobody should be permitted to accept a lower level of safety in exchange for a lower cost, more convenient scheduling, or whatever?

            I wasn’t claiming that the safety record of commercial aviation is some sort of moral standard. I was pointing out that United wasn’t going to get involved in something like this because that standard of safety is seen by the industry as important. It’s entirely possible that someone would try to make this into something more like actual Uber, but it won’t be an established airline.

            Speaking as a passenger, I observe apparent safety precautions, such as starting every flight with a demonstration of how to put on a seat belt, that I suspect are worth close to zero, hence less than whatever their cost.

            Seatbelts are actually important. A plane crash is at least as likely to be “on the ground on fire and slightly broken” as it is to be “pieces scattered all over the place, everyone killed on impact”. In that case, a seatbelt is important to keep you from breaking bones and dying of smoke inhalation or from being ejected and run over by the fire trucks. (Both true stories.) The oxygen masks, on the other hand, are useless or worse.

            My guess is that this is the safety equivalent of security theater. How much of it is driven by the choices of the airlines and how much by regulation I don’t know, but I suspect the latter given the observed uniformity.

            It’s 100% regulation. A lot of the language is even mandated. “Tampering with, disabling, or destroying”, for instance.
            I go back and forth on regulation. On one hand, a lot of it is pointless and stupid. (See oxygen masks.) On the other, you have carriers like ValueJet, who plowed a whole plane into the ground by stupidity and bad procedures. I don’t really trust the flying public at all. They’ll flock to the careless, then avoid flying entirely when a few planes crash.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @bean

            What’s the reason oxygen masks are useless or worse?

          • bean says:

            What’s the reason oxygen masks are useless or worse?

            The only case where the pilots (who have separate oxygen systems) couldn’t get the plane down to an altitude capable of supporting human life before anyone died of hypoxia is if they were flying over the Himalayas. AIUI, they’ve never actually saved anyone, and canisters for them caused the ValueJet crash I’ve alluded to.

          • CatCube says:

            @DavidFriedman

            The biggest differences are the requirement for an instrument rating and the extra experience required to get the certificate. Also, having a commercial pilot license isn’t sufficient; if you’re going to run it as a business, you’re going to have to comply with additional maintenance and recordkeeping requirements for the aircraft itself.

            As I mentioned in another comment, a private pilot certification means your plane is not a method of transportation, it’s a method of recreation that can take you to other places. The easiest way to explain this is with an example:

            I want to get to Los Angeles for a meeting. I can fly myself (which is perfectly legal) but having no instrument rating I can only fly in Visual Meteorological Conditions. The requirements for that have some complexity, but saying that visibility has to be 3 miles, and you have to stay at least 2000′ laterally, 1000′ above, or 500′ below clouds. Given normal altitudes, if you’ve got a cloud deck less than 3000′ above ground level, this can be tough to meet for a pretty good number of days out of the year for a lot of the country (especially the Pacific Northwest). You’re not going to be sure that you can take off until the day of…except you told another company that you were going to be there today for that meeting. If you’d taken a commercial airline, you’d get there fine because they have the ability to operate in all but the worst weather–and if LAX is closed it’s pretty easy to tell them that LAX is closed. If you tell them that you can’t come because of the weather, and they look out the window and see sunny skies, then at the weather channel and don’t see massive storms over your departure point, they get pretty bent out of shape because if you’d just taken a commercial airline you’d be there for the meeting.

            This often leads to pilots talking themselves into “no, really, the weather’s fine.” They then take off into poor and deteriorating weather conditions and crash. This was what killed JFK, Jr. (His flight was perfectly legal–he wasn’t doing it for money, only the pride that he’d told his passengers he’d get them to Martha’s Vineyard. Now imagine if he had a financial incentive to talk himself into doing something stupid.)

            Speaking as a passenger, I observe apparent safety precautions, such as starting every flight with a demonstration of how to put on a seat belt, that I suspect are worth close to zero, hence less than whatever their cost. My guess is that this is the safety equivalent of security theater. How much of it is driven by the choices of the airlines and how much by regulation I don’t know, but I suspect the latter given the observed uniformity.

            This complaint is, to be honest, one of the sillier ones I’ve seen on this. First off, it is actually a regulatory requirement to brief the use of safety equipment (including seatbelts). It’s even a requirement for a private pilot to give this briefing, and you can fail your checkride if you don’t give the examiner the briefing.

            When you think about it for a second, it makes perfect sense to do this. You know perfectly well how to buckle your seatbelt, that you have to buckle your seatbelt, where the exits are, that you can use your seat cushion as a flotation device, and that you should put your own mask on before helping others–because you’ve flown many, many times. What about somebody who hasn’t flown before? Are the flight attendants going to ask the passengers if anybody needs the briefing and if so, raise your hand? You taught classes for many years; how often will people not know something but not want to raise their hand to admit ignorance? It costs nothing to simply give the briefing every time, so they give the briefing every time.

            As far as the tradeoffs go between safety and cost, I to limited extent agree with you. To take an example, I feel nothing for the people that died in that warehouse fire in Oakland. I mean, they were using pallets stacked up to form stairs. I say again: They were using pallets to make stairs! Only a fucking idiot would go in there after seeing this, and well, sometimes being a fucking idiot means that you die in a fire. There are two things about this, though. 1) I work in the construction industry, so I know what right looks like and it’s a really easy cheap shot for me to say that I’d nope out of there right away, and 2) right, wrong, or indifferent I’m very much in the minority in this opinion. When the parent of one of those kids gets in front of a camera and wails about how they killed her baby, everybody asks themselves how that could have been allowed to happen. So, as a society, we’re not going to accept that more people are going to die due to relatively easily preventable failures.

          • John Schilling says:

            How do you know that “commercial levels of safety” are the right level–so right that nobody should be permitted to accept a lower level of safety in exchange for a lower cost, more convenient scheduling, or whatever?

            That’s irrelevant in this context. The right (i.e. consensus of the electorate, this being a democracy) level of regulation for commercial air transportation is somewhat debatable, but it isn’t plausibly zero. So when we have someone saying “This thing I am doing is not commercial air transportation, because [stupid lie that we stupidly fell for last time], therefore your regulations don’t apply!”, the appropriate response is, “No, you are lying and you are running a commercial air transportation system and will be regulated as such”.

            But since you’re going to insist,

            Customers value safety–I suspect even overvalue it.

            What does it mean for customers to “overvalue” safety? Their values are their own, not yours or anyone else’s to denounce as wrong. If they place an extremely high value on safety in air transport, even as they place a lower value on safety in other contexts, that’s it – they’ve made their decision, which both the market and the democratic government need to accept.

            In the absence of the FAA, airlines would still have a very strong incentive not to have their planes crash, since even a single crash is going to cost them not only an airplane and possible liability suits but a lot of future business.

            That’s not going to work for pilot-owners in a hypothetical Uber of the Skies, because if they crash, they’re done. They won’t value their customers’ lives more than their own, and we empirically observe that lots of pilots don’t value their own lives very much.

            And it’s not a reliable safeguard for new businesses either, because we can observe some of them to be rather cavalier about safety as well. Either through naive optimism, or short-term thinking during the startup phase, or as bean notes because they cynically expect to disappear and restart under a new name if things go wrong. “If you kill your customers, you’ll go out of business”, is not sufficient to ensure customer safety.

            And, yes, air transportation customers value safety. Empirically, we see how they value safety. As a binary absolute, either Safe Enough or Too Dangerous. And, empirically, when they perceive Too Dangerous, they do not search the marketplace for a marginally safer competitor. They avoid Too Dangerous altogether, and demand that their government impose regulations to make it Safe Enough.

            Did I mention that we live in a democracy, not an anarcho-capitalist utopia?

            The FAA, for its part, is actually quite good at anticipating or, if necessary, responding to demands for “regulate away the Too Dangerous!” with relatively modest interventions. They are also pretty good at rolling back regulations when nobody is looking. ETOPS, Part 23 certification, Sport Pilot, BasicMed, just off the top of my head. Their original mandate was to regulate and promote air commerce, and while the latter is no longer part of their statutory authorization, it is part of their culture. Plus an awful lot of them are private pilots.

            So if we see an approximate equilibrium between external pressure for moar regulationz, and the FAA’s regulatory reform efforts, that suggests to me that the status quo is, if not the ideal regulatory balance, at least close enough for government work.

            Ideas for how to improve it are always welcome – usually even at the FAA. So if there’s something you’d like to discuss, like the merits of seatbelt briefings, bring it up at some convenient Open Thread. But if, in the context of a discussion about whether some manifestation of air commerce should be regulated at all, someone insists on proof that the current regulations are perfect, we’re probably not going to engage that argument in this context.

          • In that case, a seatbelt is important

            I agree that wearing a seatbelt is valuable in the unlikely case of some sort of crash. But what fraction of the passengers in an airplane don’t know how to buckle a seatbelt?

          • bean says:

            I agree that wearing a seatbelt is valuable in the unlikely case of some sort of crash. But what fraction of the passengers in an airplane don’t know how to buckle a seatbelt?

            I agree that the demonstration of how to buckle a seatbelt could be usefully replaced with “and if you don’t know how to use a seatbelt, please press the call button so we can help you” (I’m sure the flight attendant will be wanting to finish that with “off the plane”.) Nobody is claiming that the current system is perfect, or that some of the safety briefing couldn’t be usefully removed. It stays by inertia, and to keep the airlines from getting sued by someone who wasn’t wearing their seat belt and gets injured by turbulence. “My client was injured because she didn’t properly close her safety belt. She failed to do so because of inadequate instructions from the air crew.” In a rational society, the passenger would get told to pay the airline’s legal costs for being an idiot, but given how a lot of people feel about the airlines these days, it might well go the other way.

          • John Schilling says:

            But what fraction of the passengers in an airplane don’t know how to buckle a seatbelt?

            Almost all of them will know how to buckle a typical automobile seatbelt. But the issue is the number of people who know how to unbuckle an airplane seatbelt. Which work differently than automobile seatbelts, and which may have to be operated quickly under high stress and entirely by feel in a smoke-filled environment.

            People have different learning styles, and for some a verbal reminder or a personal demonstration a few hours before use can make a difference.

          • herculesorion says:

            bean:
            I was pointing out that United wasn’t going to get involved in something like this because that standard of safety is seen by the industry as important.

            “While all of us at United Airlines(tm) offer our thoughts and prayers to those who lost their lives in this incident, we strongly remind those commenting that United FlyShare(tm) is merely a service that connects private pilots with passengers and that none of the aircraft are operated by United Airlines(tm). Because of this, we cannot guarantee that United FlyShare(tm) services meet the same safety standards as those of United Airlines(tm), and customers are informed of this prior to purchasing a fare through the United FlyShare(tm) FlyApp(tm).”

            DavidFriedman:

            Speaking as a passenger, I observe apparent safety precautions, such as starting every flight with a demonstration of how to put on a seat belt, that I suspect are worth close to zero, hence less than whatever their cost.

            Quick quiz, does the mask *have* to go over your mouth *and* nose, or is it OK if it’s only over your mouth?

            (hint: every asshole on that southwest flight got this one wrong.)

          • quaelegit says:

            @herculesorion

            My memory of many safety briefings suggests that it’s “nose AND mouth”, but I think the pictures I saw showed people using them that way, so am I wrong?

            And why are you calling the passengers assholes? Were they all really rude or something? (I only read a two paragraph summary of the story so I’m probably missing a lot of details.)

          • bean says:

            @herculesorion
            Sorry, but no. United’s management may be only dubiously competent, but safety is really, really deep in the DNA of civil air transport. And their PR flacks are going to gasp in horror at the idea of putting their name next to crashes. They know full well that however many disclaimers they put on it, it’s going to hurt their brand.

          • herculesorion says:

            (/me looks at the exploded Southwest engine)

            Yeah, these dudes are totally gonna go the extra mile to make sure Joe Schmoe’s Cessna from 1972 is up to code.

          • bean says:

            (/me looks at the exploded Southwest engine)

            Yeah, these dudes are totally gonna go the extra mile to make sure Joe Schmoe’s Cessna from 1972 is up to code.

            1. The causes of that engine failure are still unknown, but if it was due to a careless oversight, it’s a vanishingly rare one. I did this for two years, and the work that goes in to avoiding those is frankly incredible.
            2. They wouldn’t let the 1972 Cessna anywhere near their brand, precisely because they don’t want to do the work of making sure it’s up to code. When it crashes, they don’t want their name on it. This is a deep cultural issue. Any attempt to do it will come from outside the airlines.

        • The Nybbler says:

          You’re going to have to clarify your raving. If you have a private license, you’re permitted to fly in Class B airspace, with no paperwork over and above that required to fly any small plane.

          You need the Private license for this, though, not the Sport or Recreational. And you need type certification for the plane you’re on. And a medical certificate. And all the various equipment. Pretty damn prohibitive. The system seems designed to make it so if you can’t basically make keeping up with the requirements a full-time job (which you can’t be paid for), you can’t do it.

          For competing with airlines, the FAA has some pretty good reasons to insist that you get gud first.

          Now you’re just agreeing with the FAA that nobody should compete with the flying buses.

          And as far as your “five-pound toy” goes, it’s big enough to cause serious damage to a plane full of people, and nothing in your post gives me confidence that you understand enough about what’s going on to think that you should be toddling around in the airspace surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson.

          The FAA objects to me flying it in my backyard or a nearby field, never mind near ATL (or EWR). They can’t actually _stop_ me, but it’s an irritant that just about every damn thing I like to do (aside from post on the Internet) is illegal. And of course if you need to have the correct views on appropriate regulation to be considered competent to fly, I’ll never have them.

          • bean says:

            You need the Private license for this, though, not the Sport or Recreational. And you need type certification for the plane you’re on. And a medical certificate. And all the various equipment. Pretty damn prohibitive. The system seems designed to make it so if you can’t basically make keeping up with the requirements a full-time job (which you can’t be paid for), you can’t do it.

            Stop exaggerating. Yes, private aviation is something that takes a pretty large commitment of time and money to do. But there are lots of hobbies that require serious commitment to be good at them. Most are somewhat less likely to result in death or mass property damage to other people, so we let amateurs dabble in them.

            Now you’re just agreeing with the FAA that nobody should compete with the flying buses.

            Compete with them? That’s rich. At its very best, this kind of thing is only barely competitive with the margins of commercial aviation, the local puddle-jumpers and EAS flights. Commercial aviation in its current form is an incredible achievement. I could fly from where I am right now to basically anywhere in the world for maybe two weeks worth of take-home income for the average family. It would take a day or two at most. I’d be in reasonable comfort, and probably safer than getting into my bathtub.
            I’ve flown in light aircraft. It’s great fun, and I’m glad it’s something that people can do. But a light aircraft only goes maybe twice as fast as a car, and it’s a lot more than twice as expensive to run.

            Look. I’m not a fan of the FAA in general. I spent two years having to write things for their approval, and I’m pretty much forever barred from getting more than a sport license by their policies on ADD medication. Their handling of drones has been dismal. But they perform a valuable service of making flying possible. The alternative to the FAA isn’t a great libertarian utopia where we all fly around cheaply and in great comfort. It’s a world where nobody flies at all because people really don’t like planes crashing on top of them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Stop exaggerating.

            I’m not. You do need all those things. Plus the initial investment in training with 60 hours of flight time (seems to run in the $10,000 – $15,000 range), plus a large amount of training in radio procedures, regulations, etc. And this only lets you fly one type of plane.
            The flight time requirement seems reasonable enough, at least.

            Compete with them? That’s rich. At its very best, this kind of thing is only barely competitive with the margins of commercial aviation.

            Of course it’s silly. But the FAA puts a very wide fence around the flying bus business.

            But they perform a valuable service of making flying possible.

            There was flying before the FAA. Anyway, even if one agrees there should be regulation, it does not follow that it’s the FAA’s way or prohibition. Threatening real estate agents with fines for flying drones at roof level, making it essentially illegal to fly model aircraft outside a formal club, and making flight-sharing apps illegal… none of these things are _necessary_.

          • bean says:

            I’m not. You do need all those things. Plus the initial investment in training with 60 hours of flight time (seems to run in the $10,000 – $15,000 range), plus a large amount of training in radio procedures, regulations, etc. And this only lets you fly one type of plane.
            The flight time requirement seems reasonable enough, at least.

            You said:

            The system seems designed to make it so if you can’t basically make keeping up with the requirements a full-time job (which you can’t be paid for), you can’t do it.

            I have a good friend who’s an enthusiastic private pilot. When he was in college, he flew a couple times a month. He wasn’t making great money, and he had a full class load to keep up with. He did a bunch of work for the guy he rented the plane from to get credit for flying, and found the time to keep his paperwork in order.

            Of course it’s silly. But the FAA puts a very wide fence around the flying bus business.

            Because if you’re trying to run flying as a business, you’re a lot more likely to do stupid things with it. This is amply demonstrated by history.

            There was flying before the FAA.

            There was, and it was incredibly dangerous. Societal tolerance of risk has dropped a lot since then. That may be a bad thing, but it’s not something the FAA can fix. Also, there was a lot less stuff in the sky back then, and what there was was moving slower. A DC-3’s crew can probably spot a Cessna in time to avoid it. Not so for a 737, which has the same eyes, but a plane moving about three times as fast. So we make a system where put big, fast-moving planes in certain parts of the sky and control what goes on there, and let the rest operate on the old rules.

            Anyway, even if one agrees there should be regulation, it does not follow that it’s the FAA’s way or prohibition. Threatening real estate agents with fines for flying drones at roof level, making it essentially illegal to fly model aircraft outside a formal club, and making flight-sharing apps illegal… none of these things are _necessary_.

            I’ve explicitly said that I think they’ve badly mishandled the drone situation. But as John has pointed out, no regulator is going to let Uber-for-thing-I-regulate get off the ground without a lot of scrutiny after the stunts Uber and Lyft pulled, and there are good reasons that I and others have brought up for why flight-sharing apps are probably a bad idea.

          • The Nybbler says:

            He did a bunch of work for the guy he rented the plane from to get credit for flying, and found the time to keep his paperwork in order.

            I’ve explicitly said that I think they’ve badly mishandled the drone situation.

            You said that. But Catcube is perfectly fine with them being banned and thinks people with the wrong attitude towards regulation shouldn’t be allowed to fly anyway.

            The FAAs attitude is closer to his. And if there’s a cost-benefit analysis where any potential danger to airliners, no matter how small, is unacceptable, that’s how it will always go.

            But as John has pointed out, no regulator is going to let Uber-for-thing-I-regulate get off the ground without a lot of scrutiny

            Based on how they handled drones, “a lot of scrutiny” from the FAA means they’ll just delay for a long time and then say “no”, hoping anyone interested went away before the final decision comes out.

          • bean says:

            You said that. But Catcube is perfectly fine with them being banned and thinks people with the wrong attitude towards regulation shouldn’t be allowed to fly anyway.

            I’m actually kind of with him on this. The rules are mostly there for good reason, and you very clearly do not understand this. Even a 5-pound toy drone could bring down a plane, and we’re in an awkward position where they’re widely available to people who don’t understand that.

            The FAAs attitude is closer to his. And if there’s a cost-benefit analysis where any potential danger to airliners, no matter how small, is unacceptable, that’s how it will always go.

            Right. Cost-benefit analysis. Cost of a 737: ~100 million. Cost of a life: ~5 million (IIRC). Total killed by an average plane crash: ~150. Total cost of a crash: ~$850 million.
            Note that I’m leaving off secondary economic losses, like lost productivity from people deciding to drive instead of fly, or the deaths that will cause. More people died from driving as a result of 9/11 than were killed in the attacks themselves. Also, I’m completely neglecting things like damage from hits that don’t bring the plane down, and crashes of smaller planes.

            So how big is the threat? As of late 2015, there were 2 cases a day of planes spotting drones, most of them in areas the drones shouldn’t have been. A third of these were from multi-engine jets, and a third of cases were within 500′ of the aircraft. I can only assume it’s gone up since then. If we completely unregulated drones, I wouldn’t be surprised if we brought down one airliner a year or the equivalent. Because someone with a house near the airport will be drunk, and will think it’s a great idea to fly his quadcopter into the flight path.

            Based on how they handled drones, “a lot of scrutiny” from the FAA means they’ll just delay for a long time and then say “no”, hoping anyone interested went away before the final decision comes out.

            Indeed. And that would be for the best, most likely. Many things that can be safely done by small communities of interested people cannot be safely scaled to general use.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m actually kind of with him on this. The rules are mostly there for good reason, and you very clearly do not understand this. Even a 5-pound toy drone could bring down a plane, and we’re in an awkward position where they’re widely available to people who don’t understand that.

            Then you don’t think the FAA mishandled drones? Yeah, a 5 pound drone could bring down a plane. If you flew it into the plane during takeoff or landing (there’s no way it’s getting to airline cruising altitude). But not where I fly, because the trees, ridgelines, and buildings would present a much larger problem than the drone. Even on flat terrain with no buildings, airliners aren’t supposed to be cruising around under 500 feet.

            That list of drone incidents was heavily, heavily padded for PR purposes. Basically anything a pilot saw that wasn’t obviously another full-size aircraft (and some things that were) was called a “drone”. For instance:

            Summary: PILOT REPORTED A SILVER ROUND DRONE APPROXIMATELY 1.5 FEET WIDE ON THE RIGHT CROSSWIND TO DOWNWIND TURN FOR RUNWAY 22R AT PATTERN ALTITUDE. NO EVASIVE MANEUVERS WERE NEEDED TO AVOID THE DRONE, BUT WAS REPORTED APPROXIMATELY 200 FEET OFF WING. FALCON 5, THE LOCAL POLICE HELICOPTER, WAS IN THE LOCAL AREA AND WENT TO LOOK FOR THE DRONE BUT DID NOT SEE ANYTHING.

            That’s probably a mylar balloon. The list of incidents is full of stuff like this.

            If we completely unregulated drones, I wouldn’t be surprised if we brought down one airliner a year or the equivalent. Because someone with a house near the airport will be drunk, and will think it’s a great idea to fly his quadcopter into the flight path.

            This seems very unlikely, since there’s nothing to stop this now. Sure, it’s illegal to fly drones under most circumstances. But it’s not illegal to buy them. And I’m fairly sure most people who fly them don’t even know it’s illegal.

          • CatCube says:

            You need the Private license for this, though, not the Sport or Recreational. And you need type certification for the plane you’re on. And a medical certificate.

            You…don’t need type certification for a Cessna. That’s for large commercial aircraft. You need to be certified for category and class, but that’s (for example) Airplane, Single-Engine Land, which will permit you to fly most anything less than 12,500 lbs that doesn’t land on water. (Rotorcraft, Helicopter is another example. I hope it’s obvious why knowing one doesn’t qualify you fly the other.)

            Medical certificates are really easy to get, if you don’t have any medical conditions. You literally go to a doctor’s house after he gets done with work, and he gives you a bunch of really simple tests. The hearing test is he stands behind you and whispers, then asks you to repeat what he just said back to you. All of them are pretty much on that order. You also fill out a questionnaire about your health, and if there’s nothing questionable, the doctor types up your certificate and hands it to you.

            Now, if you want to argue that some of the medical standards are too high, that’s one I can get behind. I’m not convinced that the FAA’s ban on medical certification for taking medication for ADD is really all that necessary, for example. Diabetes for a 3rd class is another one that I think is a little questionable. But that’s an argument about the content of the regulations, not their necessity in general. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that an Airline Transport Pilot should have to get checked out every 6 months, and that he can’t be diabetic.

            And as far as “all the various equipment”, if you’re arguing that you shouldn’t have a radio to talk to ATC, well, we’re going to have to disagree on that one. For a transponder, well the lack of one contributed to the deaths of 82 people, so there’s at least something behind the rule; note that if you don’t have an onboard electrical system, you don’t have to have the transponder. Whether or not it’s required is a lot more arguable than the radio, though.

            Now you’re just agreeing with the FAA that nobody should compete with the flying buses.

            Uhhh, yeah. That is more or less an accurate summary of my position. It’s slightly overstating things, in that I think that you can compete with commercial aviation, but you do need to meet the same requirements. You can’t pull over to the side of the sky, and if you’re going to haul people for money then put in the effort.

            The FAA objects to me flying it in my backyard or a nearby field, never mind near ATL (or EWR). They can’t actually _stop_ me, but it’s an irritant that just about every damn thing I like to do (aside from post on the Internet) is illegal.

            What has the nearby airport objected to? I’d just pop in and talk to the airfield manager, personally, but I don’t know what actions you’ve taken so far. All the ones I’ve dealt with are generally really reasonable dudes, but there are a percentage of assholes in every position and it sounds like you’ve hit a bad one. I’d like to hear more.

            And of course if you need to have the correct views on appropriate regulation to be considered competent to fly, I’ll never have them.

            You of course do not need correct views on appropriate regulation. You do need to follow the regulations, but you’re free to think they’re stupid. However, you’ve not actually articulated anything that is bad. One quarter of your comments have been just general bitching about regulation, and another half seem to be mangling what the actual requirements are. One quarter is complaining about specific regulations, but frankly, those regulations are generally pretty good. (Maintaining radio contact with ATC in Class B airspace, not flying a UAS within 5 miles of an airport without talking to the airport, and medical certification are the ones I recall.) There are bad regulations, but you haven’t touched on them yet.

          • bean says:

            Then you don’t think the FAA mishandled drones?

            I’m with him on you not understanding how dangerous what you are doing could be. It’s possible you do, and are expressing yourself very poorly, but you come off rather like a kid who is insisting on playing on the interstate.
            The FAA could have struck a deal on business drones years earlier. Keep them away from airports, some minimal licensing so that everyone knows the rules, and let people get on with it. I’m not sure what to do on recreational drones, but the bit where they did nothing was not particularly helpful.

            Yeah, a 5 pound drone could bring down a plane. If you flew it into the plane during takeoff or landing (there’s no way it’s getting to airline cruising altitude).

            Which is why nobody is worried about backyard quadcopters at 35,000 ft. I’m an aerospace engineer. I know what they can and can’t do.

            But not where I fly, because the trees, ridgelines, and buildings would present a much larger problem than the drone. Even on flat terrain with no buildings, airliners aren’t supposed to be cruising around under 500 feet.

            Airliners don’t cruise around under 500′. Nobody does. But there’s two encounters a day with drones, mostly in places they shouldn’t be, and quadcopters continue to get cheaper and more available.

            That list of drone incidents was heavily, heavily padded for PR purposes. Basically anything a pilot saw that wasn’t obviously another full-size aircraft (and some things that were) was called a “drone”. For instance:

            I don’t have the information in front of me to evaluate this either way. Yes, the one you list is probably a balloon. But I have no clue how common those are. Are they 90%? 50%? 10%?.

            This seems very unlikely, since there’s nothing to stop this now. Sure, it’s illegal to fly drones under most circumstances. But it’s not illegal to buy them. And I’m fairly sure most people who fly them don’t even know it’s illegal.

            I don’t think there’s any doubt that quadcopters are becoming cheaper and thus more widely available. More people who can get in at low investment means more people using it poorly.

          • CatCube says:

            But CatCube is perfectly fine with them being banned and thinks people with the wrong attitude towards regulation shouldn’t be allowed to fly anyway.

            So, a bunch of other replies while I was writing mine…aaaand, you’re going to have to point at where you think I state this. Drones are cool, but you need to understand what the hell everybody else in the air is doing. Favoring some amount of regulation isn’t anywhere near “banning.” Your comments don’t give me any confidence that you actually have that understanding, so you’re not really helping your cause. I really, truly, have no problem with people flying drones…but I would like to know that you actually understand what airspace classes are and what the requirements for entry are.

            Where’d you get the $10,000-$15,000 number for getting your private? I spent about $8,000 all told, and the vast majority of that was for the flight hours you acknowledge are a good idea! (the requirement is 40 hours, BTW–I needed a little more because I took a year off to deploy to Afghanistan in the middle of training)

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m with him on you not understanding how dangerous what you are doing could be. It’s possible you do, and are expressing yourself very poorly, but you come off rather like a kid who is insisting on playing on the interstate.

            Airliners do not fly below 500′ except during takeoff and landing. I do not fly anywhere near that high, nor in flight paths. The field I usually use is here; it’s 200′ below the ridges to either side of it. I don’t even fly that high. Anyone flying a plane down in the valley has bigger problems than my model. The only full-sized flying thing it could cause a problem for is a helicopter trying to land on that field.

            So what terribly dangerous thing am I doing that I’m missing? How bad is it that I’m not tracking down at least three heliport operators (a hospital, a drug company, and a municipal one) and maybe 15+ (counting all the “heliports” which are really just occasional landing spots) and asking permission from each one every time before I fly?

            @Catcube

            The $10,000 to $15,000 was from Googling local flight schools. This is the NYC area; things cost more here.

          • The alternative to the FAA isn’t a great libertarian utopia where we all fly around cheaply and in great comfort. It’s a world where nobody flies at all because people really don’t like planes crashing on top of them.

            What is your reason for believing that? Customers value safety–I suspect even overvalue it. In the absence of the FAA, airlines would still have a very strong incentive not to have their planes crash, since even a single crash is going to cost them not only an airplane and possible liability suits but a lot of future business.

          • bean says:

            So what terribly dangerous thing am I doing that I’m missing? How bad is it that I’m not tracking down at least three heliport operators (a hospital, a drug company, and a municipal one) and maybe 15+ (counting all the “heliports” which are really just occasional landing spots) and asking permission from each one every time before I fly?

            Try to write a law that can distinguish what you’re up to from someone who is actually being dangerous without requiring someone at the FAA to look over every possible field. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

            Serious solution time:
            I’d suggest that we go with a tiered system. The bottom tier is stuff you can buy off the shelf, and it has to be either very small or specifically tested to not be dangerous to planes. No operation above 50′, no cameras, etc. Above that, maybe two or three tiers which require licensing and have more capability. The bottom license is probably just an online test where you prove you understand the rules and agree to follow them, and that gets you maybe 5-10 lbs and an operating altitude of maybe 200′. The higher licenses probably require an in-person class for a couple of hours, to make sure that you know the rules and care enough about the hobby to actually show up. To buy the relevant drones requires your license number. Again, trivial inconveniences to try to keep them out of the hands of idiots.

          • bean says:

            What is your reason for believing that? Customers value safety–I suspect even overvalue it. In the absence of the FAA, airlines would still have a very strong incentive not to have their planes crash, since even a single crash is going to cost them not only an airplane and possible liability suits but a lot of future business.

            That’s easy to deal with. Set up a company. Buy some old planes. Fly them around for a while, with minimum precautions. After a crash, set up another company under a different name, sell the planes to it, and keep flying. Most people won’t bother to keep track of which carrier is bad. (ValueJet did this after their crash, more or less. They bought a small carrier by the name of AirTran, and took the name. In fairness, their safety record as AirTran was spotless until it was bought by Southwest, but the execs mostly went on to found another carrier. It’s called Allegiant, and some of its maintenance practices are more than a little reminiscent of ValueJet.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            @bean

            So now we’re off of “you don’t like regulation, so you’re just a kid who is too clueless to know he’s going to crash an airliner, so you deserve to be shut down” and on to “It’s too hard for the FAA to distinguish between safe and unsafe, so gotta shut it all down”.

            Various tiered systems have been proposed. The current system is tiered, it’s just obnoxious — under .55 pounds you can fly, over .55 pounds but under 55 pounds for non-commercial use you have registration, and reasonable-sounding but actually onerous (and ambiguous) regulation. Over 55 pounds you gotta know the right people. The FAA isn’t going to be satisfied with any system that allows anyone outside “small communities of interested people” to fly models (greater than flyweight), and I’m not going to be able to legally fly with any system that disallows it.

            The restrictions you propose aren’t really practical to enforce. Most of these models don’t have altimeters; you can’t lock them down to 50′ or 200′ AGL. And all but the tiny toys and some of the (totally not for commercial use, wink wink) camera drones are generally sold as kits. It’s not clear what part you could regulate. Certainly there’s no way from keeping anyone from bolting a camera on; I once strapped an old cell phone to one of mine. Also the FAA currently has no power over sale of models, though they could probably go to Congress with more stories about danger to airliners and get it.

            Spending time in a classroom and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for model flight instruction, (maybe separately for quads, planes, helis), just so I can do what I was doing before the regs? I’m interested in model flight, not model bureaucracy.

          • BBA says:

            There was flying before the FAA.

            So I was reading up on the early days of aviation on a lark and… that’s technically true, but only for a few months in 1926, between when the Post Office started using private contractors for air mail and the Air Commerce Act entered effect. (And fine, technically the agency enforcing the act wasn’t called the FAA until 1958.) Aside from that, there was practically no commercial aviation in the US in the two decades after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Military and experimental/recreational flights, sure, but only small fledgling companies doing any kind of business.

            On the other hand European countries had regulations in place much earlier, and despite the increased burdens the first real airlines started there on the London-Paris route in 1919. And the unregulated early airlines in the US were the strongest proponents of the government getting involved. People really didn’t want to get on a plane without government assurance that the plane wouldn’t fall out of the sky and the pilot knew how to fly it. I admit there are confounding factors that made Europe a more fertile ground for early air travel than America, but the history doesn’t really support the libertarian narrative that regulation is always harmful. That it’s regulatory capture, I’m willing to buy.

            Also, private planes can and do land at major airports and the FAA has no problem with it. The airport authorities often discourage it, though.

          • bean says:

            So now we’re off of “you don’t like regulation, so you’re just a kid who is too clueless to know he’s going to crash an airliner, so you deserve to be shut down” and on to “It’s too hard for the FAA to distinguish between safe and unsafe, so gotta shut it all down”.

            Your initial comments in particular displayed what I can only describe as indifference to the dangers that free use of drones pose to manned aircraft. I’m not saying that you personally are indifferent and likely to fly in an unsafe manner, but you seem to be deliberately ignoring the fact that there are idiots who will get their hands on these things and abuse them.

            Various tiered systems have been proposed. The current system is tiered, it’s just obnoxious — under .55 pounds you can fly, over .55 pounds but under 55 pounds for non-commercial use you have registration, and reasonable-sounding but actually onerous (and ambiguous) regulation. Over 55 pounds you gotta know the right people. The FAA isn’t going to be satisfied with any system that allows anyone outside “small communities of interested people” to fly models (greater than flyweight), and I’m not going to be able to legally fly with any system that disallows it.

            Sorry, but from a bit of googling, registration doesn’t look that hard to me. It’s $5 for 3 years. That’s nothing. AIUI, you don’t need to get the piloting cert unless you’re flying commercially. That’s a $150 testing fee. Which is a bit steep, but not outrageous. I’m not sure there’s not some hidden hangup I’m missing (this is the FAA), but you’re going to have to explain it.
            (And if it’s “I don’t want to get government permission on principle” then I’m not going to be particularly sympathetic.)

            The restrictions you propose aren’t really practical to enforce. Most of these models don’t have altimeters; you can’t lock them down to 50′ or 200′ AGL.

            I’m well aware of that, and I’m certainly not suggesting we send FAA cops out looking for people flying at 55′ or 210′. But it’s reasonably easy to tell when someone is in gross violation of the rules. After all, how do they tell 400′ now? You could probably make some restrictions on power/weight or rate of climb to keep people from going too crazy.

            Also the FAA currently has no power over sale of models, though they could probably go to Congress with more stories about danger to airliners and get it.

            That’s more or less what I’m suggesting.

            Spending time in a classroom and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for model flight instruction, (maybe separately for quads, planes, helis), just so I can do what I was doing before the regs? I’m interested in model flight, not model bureaucracy.

            Hundreds or thousands of dollars? Please actually read what I write, not your parody of it. I suggested that the first test would be online and free or very cheap, and the second would take maybe a single day in the classroom, which is going to mean maybe $20 for a study guide and another $20 for the class/test.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            So I see the three seem to be Elmwood Park, the Merck site, and the closest is St. Barnabas (https://skyvector.com/?ll=40.72029308782017,-74.28668063122347&chart=200&zoom=2). (Soverel Park is really close, but both it and Elmwood are managed by the same guy, a Mr. Broz, so you can knock both those out at once.) What have the airport managers told you? I’m legitimately curious if they’ve actually objected, because the operations you describe shouldn’t cause any problems and I can’t think of why they’d do so. Also, are they amenable to a standard operating agreement? It simplifies things a lot if you can just come to agreement that you’ll leave a voicemail when you’re going to be screwing around, and the only people likely to care are St. Barnabas if they bring in a LifeFlight, at which point they can call you on your cell to let you know.

            I’m not sure what the 15+ number is talking about; I pulled all of the airport data from the surrounding three counties from the FAA and plotted them on Google Earth to make sure I wasn’t missing any from the FAA aeronautical charts; there are definitely no other registered airports in that volume, and the FAA is not going to call it a “heliport” if somebody is flying a helicopter to some little butthole field in their backyard without registering it with them.

            Note that you technically don’t need permission; you only have to notify them. Leaving a voicemail qualifies. If they call you back to object, then you’d have to pack it in, per the current understanding.

            Look, you might be careful about what you’re doing, but a lot of people are not. There are a lot of people who first heard about drones by reading about them in Dangerous Idiot Monthly, and this is a real concern to everybody else cruising around in the sky. I mean, for fuck’s sake there are people who think it’s funny to shine lasers at aircraft on short final. These same people purchase drones.

            Another consideration, you’re going to have to trade off simple, clear, rules (Stay below 500′ AGL, and if you’re within 5 miles of an airport, call) or having much more “realistic” bespoke rules (define a volume of space in which it’s safe to fly considering the glide paths of all runways, and various approaches.) I’m much more in favor of the first ones, because it leaves very little discretion to the authorities, and it’s easy to know if you’re in compliance. The more detailed you make the requirements (or say “common sense says this is/isn’t dangerous”) the more discretion you give for disagreement.

            Edit: BTW, flight schools are more attractive to people going for their commercial because the way they’re structured can potentially get you there faster, plus it makes you more hirable. But it is a very expensive way to get your ticket. If all you’re doing is going for your private with some vague though of a commercial certificate at some point in the future, without any ambition to get hired by a feeder airline, getting your ticket via Part 61 is much less expensive. There you basically just rent an airplane by the hour and pay an instructor cash on the barrelhead for his time. I paid $100/ hour wet for the Cessna 150 I learned in, and $30/hr for the instructor. (I was renting the plane from the instructor) You don’t need the instructor for all of the 40 hours. You’ll need to pay for the medical, written exam, and practical test separately, but those are $50-$150 each, so a drop in a bucket.

          • The Nybbler says:

            seem to be deliberately ignoring the fact that there are idiots who will get their hands on these things and abuse them.

            That’s true of everything. But there’s no way I can be distinguished from someone who is going to decide to use a drone to get a photo of an airliner taking off (and then smack right into it). I’m just “the general public”, same as them. Any system they could set up to try to distinguish is going to filter me out same as them.

            Registration is easy. I won’t do it, but that’s because I can’t follow all the other rules, so there’s no benefit to me to do it.

            Rules are
            1) Fly for hobby or recreational use only.

            This one’s not a problem for me, I’m not interested in commercializing flying.

            2) Register

            3) Fly within visual line-of-sight. This is a problem for people who fly “first person view”, but I don’t do that.

            4) “Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization”

            This is the ambiguous one, and the FAA hasn’t clarified it. The only nationwide community-based organization is the AMA; their guidelines. If the safety line has to be a physical marker, I can’t establish that. And there’s that “within the programming of”, which the FAA has not clarified. I’m not a member of the AMA or any AMA club, and I don’t fly at AMA fields. That would seem to put me outside their “programming”.

            5) Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization

            Annoys me in principle (this was an AMA power grab), but none of my models is nearly that big.

            6) Never fly near other aircraft

            OK

            7) Notify the airport and air traffic control tower prior to flying within 5 miles of an airport*

            Yeah, here’s another killer. Notifying every heliport and/or airport within 5 miles, every time I fly. Finding a field with none is nigh-impossible. When the FAA first set up these rules, there were over 15 on their “B4UFly” app. They seem to have removed quite a few. But they still have Soverel Park and Martens Stadium, which are actually just sports fields (these are just outside the range for the field I marked, but inside the range for another one I fly in). There’s still the hospital, the drug company, and Elmwood Park (also a sports field).

            maybe a single day in the classroom, which is going to mean maybe $20 for a study guide and another $20 for the class/test.

            Nothing costs $20 around here. A single day in the classroom is going to be over $100, probably more like $200. A single day of motorcycle training, for example, costs $150.

            It does look like they’ve made the commercial side less unreasonable since the last time I looked. They used to require a Section 333 exemption, which had all sorts of requirements including having to have an actual pilot run the drone. There’s an somewhat-infamous Section 333 exemption which requests permission to fly a paper airplane (it was granted.. but still required an actual pilot to fly it).

            @CatCube

            There’s a lot of things I can do. Setting up operating agreements is not one of them. I suspect that the FAA intends for people flying to be part of a club with a club field with someone who can then negotiate these standing agreements. People on their own are arguably not allowed to fly at all anyway, under that “within the programming of” rule.

          • bean says:

            But there’s no way I can be distinguished from someone who is going to decide to use a drone to get a photo of an airliner taking off (and then smack right into it). I’m just “the general public”, same as them. Any system they could set up to try to distinguish is going to filter me out same as them.

            Pretty much. This is exactly why we have regulation.

            Registration is easy. I won’t do it, but that’s because I can’t follow all the other rules, so there’s no benefit to me to do it.

            It doesn’t seem that hard to get the other stuff done. Given your continual exaggertions of the difficulties of doing things, as pointed out by both John and CatCube, I have no reason to trust your evaluation of the difficulty over theirs.

            This is the ambiguous one, and the FAA hasn’t clarified it. The only nationwide community-based organization is the AMA; their guidelines. If the safety line has to be a physical marker, I can’t establish that. And there’s that “within the programming of”, which the FAA has not clarified. I’m not a member of the AMA or any AMA club, and I don’t fly at AMA fields. That would seem to put me outside their “programming”.

            So because the FAA hasn’t said what it means, you’re going to immediately assume that it’s too onerous and not make a good-faith effort to comply with a more lenient reading of the rules. Let me tell you, the FAA isn’t going to be chasing down people who were in technical violation of a clarification before it was issued, because they have subscribers of Dangerous Idiot Monthly to deal with.

            Annoys me in principle (this was an AMA power grab), but none of my models is nearly that big.

            What’s the alternative? You can put anything you want into the air so long as it’s small enough it won’t do tremendous damage if you crash. I’m amazed they let you go as high as 55 lbs before requiring certification. The alternative to the AMA isn’t nothing, it’s the FAA proper, and they’re much too busy with all the paperwork they make me do.

            Yeah, here’s another killer. Notifying every heliport and/or airport within 5 miles, every time I fly. Finding a field with none is nigh-impossible. When the FAA first set up these rules, there were over 15 on their “B4UFly” app. They seem to have removed quite a few.

            Maybe because they wanted to make it easier for people like you.

            But they still have Soverel Park and Martens Stadium, which are actually just sports fields (these are just outside the range for the field I marked, but inside the range for another one I fly in). There’s still the hospital, the drug company, and Elmwood Park (also a sports field).

            CatCube seemed to think this was easy. When I took a display pyro class in college, we had to learn about this stuff, and coordinate with airports, too. I seem to remember that it wasn’t a huge deal, even the one time we did actually get interrupted by a medical chopper.

            Nothing costs $20 around here. A single day in the classroom is going to be over $100, probably more like $200. A single day of motorcycle training, for example, costs $150.

            Does this motorcycle training involve riding a motorcycle? That seems like it could drive up the price. Also, some of us live in less benightedly expensive parts of the country. Can you please stop assuming that we’re all saddled with your problems.

            It does look like they’ve made the commercial side less unreasonable since the last time I looked.

            Again, maybe they’re actually trying. Let’s reevaluate their efforts, this time with our minds open.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler
            Edit: I spent a few hours looking up information while drafting this, so I hadn’t seen @bean’s comment before hitting post, nor did he see mine.

            Soverel Park and Martens Stadium…and Elmwood Park

            OK, you just named three fields that are all managed by the same guy. I’m asking this question in all seriousness: have you actually picked up the phone to talk to him? I really get the sense that when you saw that you had to call aerodromes within 5 miles you just crossed your arms and huffed about how put-upon you are, and haven’t actually even tried to talk to these people. I mean, have you actually tried to have some sort of standing agreement to use that field and got refused? Or are you just assuming that it’s impossible and not trying?

            I apologize for misreading you if you *did* talk to them and got blown off. However, most of your comments here give me the impression that you at best only vaguely understand what other users of the National Airspace System are doing any why.

            For example, the 5 mile thing hasn’t been pulled out of a hat–well, actually it probably was originally, but that was in the ’30s or something–but as a general rule an air traffic control facility is responsible for the airspace within 4 nautical miles all the way down to the surface. That works out to 4.6 statute miles, and I think they just rounded that up to a nice whole number in the statute miles that most drone operators are familiar with. However, what they’re doing is generally extending the rules that everybody else has been using for decades, because we all use the same sky and we all need to know what everybody else is doing.

            You’ve talked about how where you fly isn’t likely to have airspace conflicts due to terrain, but that is not generally true. If there are no ridgelines, if you’re near a helipad they could very well come in low to the ground from any direction. Helicopters at the field that I fly from very often fly less than 100′ above the surface, perpendicular to the main runway. They do this because that means that they’re not going to conflict with fixed-wing traffic. There are rules about staying above 500′, but you’re not quoting it fully: According to FAR 91.119 “Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes…. You can land a helicopter in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen and get a hamburger, so long as the manager (and the person you’re renting the helicopter from) doesn’t object.

            Seriously, what rules do you actually think there should be? I almost get the sense that you think there should be some kind of finely-crafted airspace volume that extends over the whole US in which you’re able to operate freely without having to bother talking with somebody else. The rest of us are required to be aware of what’s going on and to communicate our intentions, so you’re not going to get much sympathy from other airspace users that you have to communicate, and I don’t know why drone operators should be exempt from having to do this.

            A bright-line rule like “talk to the airfields within 5 miles” will have plenty of places where that is obviously not needed, but it’s more than counterbalanced by the places where that’s a simple and easy rule for both drone operators and everybody else to understand.

            I do suspect that you’re correct about the primary intent being that you’ll operate with a club, because that simplifies things for everybody. you talk to your club rep, the club rep hashes things out with all the aerodromes in the area. That will create a lot of predictability for you and for the other aircraft in the area, and predictability is safety in aviation.

            However, if they intended to make membership mandatory, I suspect they’d have done it. The text about “fly[ing] with the programming of a community-based organization” appears to be the text of the law actually passed by Congress, and not something the FAA dreamed up. However, this page seems to say that you have to “g. follow a community-based set of guidelines.” So it seems that following the guidelines you linked to in that PDF will do it.

            I’m not sure what the confusion about a safety line is. I’m only familiar with the concept from airshows, but if it’s the same thing that’s just a line where you and your aircraft stays on one side, and bystanders stay on the other. That seems a pretty reasonable precaution for a half-pound object that could fall from 400′ in the air.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @CatCube

            There’s a bunch of history with the FAA and model aircraft. Before the current situation, there was essentially no regulation. The FAA had issued this Advisory Circular which specified no operation above 400′ and notifying the airport operator within 3 miles. Most people took that to mean actual airports, not every building with a heliport or grassy area where a helicopter once landed.

            Then came the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. This gave the FAA a mandate to implement regulations about unmanned aircraft systems. It also included Section 336, which was basically written by the AMA (Academy for Model Aeronautics — the ones who charter the dedicated model aircraft club fields) and was intended to exclude model aircraft. That’s where the “community-based” stuff comes from. Only the AMA has goals of its own. They’d been losing membership because of the new small electric-powered planes and helis (and later quads) which didn’t need a dedicated field. So they saw this as an good opportunity to essentially establish themselves as the regulator of model aircraft. Didn’t work out that way, however.

            The FAA dragged their feet for a long time and missed their deadlines for regulating drones. Eventually they issued the restrictive Section 333 exemption process, which required a whole lot of paperwork and required specification of a fixed area of operation and other onerous requirements (some of which were relaxed). It also required that the operator possess a Sport or higher pilot license; that requirement was not relaxed. None of this affected non-commercial models. But they went after people who took video from drones and put it on YouTube with ads, and got at least one real estate listing company to refuse drone-taken photographs in listings (except that real estate agents probably just lied)

            Meanwhile, they were pushing the “drones are dangerous” line by releasing those completely unfiltered “drone sighting” reports without noting that a lot of them are obviously bogus.

            Then they brought the hammer down with the emergency rulemaking on December 14, 2015. They required registration of all drones (completely ignoring Section 336), and they made notification of airports and towers within 5 miles mandatory. They also re-issued that advisory circular with the new more restrictive rules. And they put out the B4UFly app, which listed every airport, heliport, building top, and grass field where a helicopter might have ever landed. Nobody who flies models was happy with this, including the AMA, and there was talk of suing.

            The FAA fired a shot across the AMAs bow by shutting down every one of their model aircraft flying sites within 30nm of Washington DC. They didn’t just issue a regulation or a NOTAM (in fact no NOTAM was issued; only the advisory circular specifies the rule); they contacted the owners of all those fields and the clubs themselves and told them they were to shut down until further notice. Well, it got the AMA not to sue (and some fields were eventually re-opened), but someone else, a lawyer named John Taylor, did sue. And won; the FAA had no statutory authority to do this. Congress reversed that ruling, and here we stand.

            So that’s why the bunker mentality.

            I really get the sense that when you saw that you had to call aerodromes within 5 miles you just crossed your arms and huffed about how put-upon you are, and haven’t actually even tried to talk to these people.

            When I saw there were 15+ places I was supposed to contact, every time I flew, and no contact information was provided on the B4UFly app, I figured the FAA just meant “no”. According to other people who fly models, some airport managers always just say “no”. While technically permission is not required, just notification, the FAA takes the view that flying against the objection of an airport operator is punishable as unsafe operation.

            The FAA does seem to have cleaned out the database, but unfortunately calling three (or even one) airport operators every time I fly is still beyond me. I’m not part of the club you and John Schilling are part of. I’m not a pilot; I have no business contacting airports to ask if they mind if I can fly my toy, and I know it. You talk about establishing an operating agreement; I know about such things, but dealing with someone to establish it is completely outside my skills. It’s the same when you talk about the way you got your flight lessons and medical certificate; these are things you can do if you’re part of that community, “the sort of people who hang around airports” as bean puts it.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            I do appreciate the history. I only vaguely know what other airspace users are doing until they impact my own operations.

            The FAA does seem to have cleaned out the database, but unfortunately calling three (or even one) airport operators every time I fly is still beyond me. I’m not part of the club you and John Schilling are part of. I’m not a pilot; I have no business contacting airports to ask if they mind if I can fly my toy, and I know it.

            You absolutely have business contacting airports. You have the right to do so. You have just as much right to use the airspace as you do the public roads. However, you have just as much right to use the airspace as you do the public roads, in that you also have responsibilities as well.

            The names, addresses, and phone numbers of airport managers are public record. Here’s a direct link to the output of that database for Essex County, which includes all but one of the airports. A more convenient database might be skyvector.com, which slurps the FAAs database out and also integrates it with maps and flight planning tools. Here’s the SkyVector page for New Jersey airports, that has other information of interest to aviators. The Merck information is here.

            The way you keep talking about “15+ heliports” makes it sound like the FAA has a dude in every town with a pair of binoculars marking every field where a helicopter touched down and making it a “heliport”. All of those heliports that showed up on the app were there because the owners registered them as heliports.

            Not actually knowing the history, I’ll make this guess: all of those heliports were there because a bunch of companies thought it’d be cool to have their own company heliport, and until the rules for drones came out, the only cost was the (probably nominal) fee to register with the FAA and to keep the database updated every year. However, once it became a requirement for drone operators to interface with them, most of them probably got tired of getting calls every couple of hours and said, “fuck this. We have like one operation every two years, and it’s not worth it to keep the registration.”

            I want to emphasize: if they’ve got a registered airfield, it is that airfield manager’s job to talk to other airspace users, i.e., you. That’s their responsibility that comes with the rights to having an airfield.

            I’ve never dealt with the aviation community on the East Coast, but there is a perception that in general East Coasters tend to be assholes. So it’s entirely possible that Mr. Broz, Ms. Fetsko, and Mr. Mitchell will be jerks when you call. However, that would be considered uncommon in the aviation community elsewhere.

            As a matter of fact, I’d be surprised if they weren’t happy to hear from you. The fact that you’re picking up the phone is Bayesian evidence that you’re somebody they don’t need to worry about doing something stupid, and they’re usually going to be happy to be informed that there will be UAS operations between the ridgelines over that park, because now they know, and few things make airspace users more upset than surprises.

            Don’t make too much of an “operating agreement” either. That can simply be an e-mail between you and them saying that you’ll call a specific number and leaving a voicemail when you go out. The only field I see caring is that hospital because it’s close and likely to have traffic on weekends and on short notice, and what’s likely there is that they’ll ask you to call whoever mans their radio and let him know so he can tell incoming helicopters about “UAS operation over the park to the south below 400′ AGL.” They may also just agree to give you a call back and ask you to land if they’ve got somebody incoming (but if they forget, manned aircraft do have the right of way, so you do still need to watch out.) For the other two, I’d be surprised if they didn’t just give you an e-mail saying that as long as you’re using that field and staying below the tops of the ridgelines you they’re OK with it on a permanent basis and you don’t need to contact them further.

            Now, this is all pure speculation, but I’m hoping that it at least stops you from fearing to interact with these people. I’m perfectly willing to believe that there are some airfield managers who give out a flat “no” to any request–there are assholes everywhere, after all–but that some few do that isn’t a reason to not work with the others.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’d been ignoring the sausage-making for a while, but it looks like that there’s nothing the FAA can do that Congress can’t make worse. The current FAA re-authorization bill passed by the House mostly repeals the model aircraft exception, and forbids operation in B,C,D, or “the lateral boundaries of the surface area of class E airspace designated for an airport” without prior authorization. It sets a hard 400′ ceiling (this is going to tick off the soaring people) and allows the FAA to make additional regulations. It also requires the operator pass an “aeronautical knowledge an safety test”.

            The Commercial Drone Association is pushing for complete repeal of the model aircraft exemption, and wants transponders in all unmanned aircraft.

            And the Academy for Model Aeronautics is now insisting that the 700,000 model aircraft registrants flying who aren’t in their organization are in violation, and should be flying (if at all) under the part 107 rules. Et tu, brute?

            Looks like that part 107 certificate is probably the only way it’s going to be legal to fly. Somehow I don’t think the 900,000 drone registrants are going to be going through that process, nor the much larger number of non-registrants.

          • CatCube says:

            The current FAA re-authorization bill passed by the House mostly repeals the model aircraft exception, and forbids operation in B,C,D, or “the lateral boundaries of the surface area of class E airspace designated for an airport” without prior authorization.

            Ummm, what does this change? My reading of the regulations is you’re supposed to be doing that already. (Contact ATC facilities if you’re within 5 miles of an airfield with an ATC facility) If you’re not required now, you absolutely should be. To us a simile, this is like if you invented a new ground vehicle, and then expressed surprise that the state DOT is “going to make us come to a complete stop at this red, octagonal signs they’ve got everywhere.”

            It sets a hard 400′ ceiling (this is going to tick off the soaring people) and allows the FAA to make additional regulations.

            I agree that an absolute 400′ ceiling is silly, especially if you’re going to be working more closely with ATC. I’m OK with a presumptive 400′ ceiling everywhere outside of controlled airspace without some other sorts of controls to deconflict.

            It also requires the operator pass an “aeronautical knowledge and safety test”.

            That on its own isn’t a bad thing, but the downside here is that it costs $150. Especially for smaller drones, that might be a little bit steep if you’re not doing anything commercial.

            The Commercial Drone Association is pushing for complete repeal of the model aircraft exemption, and wants transponders in all unmanned aircraft.

            I agree that repealing the model aircraft exemption is too far. For small drones and actual model aircraft, a simplified set of rules to ensure no conflict with other airspace users is perfectly appropriate.

            OTOH, dude, you’re already talking about how you can’t possibly comply with the relatively simple rules contained within it. Maybe pulling everybody into one set of rules is a better way to keep everybody on the same page. I’m still mostly on the side of the sUAS rule, but you’ve kind of shaken my faith in it a little.

            As far as the transponder (I assume they mean ADS-B Out transmitter), I’m not opposed to the requirement in principal. I might be opposed to it in particular, because an ADS-B Out system as currently constituted can run several thousand dollars, and I’m not convinced that constructing it to that degree of integrity is necessary when the drone doesn’t carry passengers. However, if they can be constructed for the low hundred-dollar range, yeah I’m in favor of that.

            And the Academy for Model Aeronautics is now insisting that the 700,000 model aircraft registrants flying who aren’t in their organization are in violation, and should be flying (if at all) under the part 107 rules. Et tu, brute?

            I’m OK with the general guidelines being farmed out to a private organization, because the FAA has to do everything within the bounds of the Administrative Procedures Act, and therefore making small rule changes to smooth things out is generally more difficult if you have to run it through the bureaucracy. It also helps to give the actual drone operators more control over their own destiny. However, definitely agreed that having to be a member of a particular organization is inappropriate.

            Looks like that part 107 certificate is probably the only way it’s going to be legal to fly. Somehow I don’t think the 900,000 drone registrants are going to be going through that process, nor the much larger number of non-registrants.

            I’ve held off on making this suggestion before, but have you considered just becoming a certificated remote pilot under Part 107? Most of your complaints about not being able to comply basically boil down to “Well, I don’t feel like I have any business talking to the people I need to talk to to comply because I’m not a member of the ‘community’.” If you just went ahead and got your shiny plastic card that said “I’m damn well a member of the community” it might benefit you in the same sense that the patient Scott talked about benefited from taking the hairdryer with her. On the other hand, it does cost $150 to take the test and I don’t know what your financial situation is like.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @CatCube

            The FAA doesn’t want Part 107 sUAS operators bothering ATC. Instead, if you want to operate inside controlled airspace, you fill out a form on their website and within 90 days they give you an answer. Currently special rule operators have to give notification (to both ATC if present AND the airport manager) within 5 miles of an airport but don’t require advance authorization; the current bill would require advance authorization.

            I don’t think general aviation pilots need to fill out a form and wait 90 days for authorization to enter controlled airspace, but I could be mistaken. I expect the reason for this is they don’t want ATC overwhelmed by the drone people when they should be taking care of real pilots.

            ADS-B out would not only be cost-prohibitive (at $1500+ per system they’d each cost as much as my most expensive model, and I’d need one for each model, and one for every new model I bought), they’d be space-prohibitive (there’s no room for additional electronics on my smallest model, and certainly not for the antenna and power regulator). And the smallest one I know of is an ounce (without antenna and regulator), which is significant for a 12-ounce model. This is just the Commercial Drone Association wanting to get the amateurs out the airspace so they can have it themselves.

            It all amounts to nothing in the end. Some commercial part 107 operators are openly advocating disobedience and apparently got the FAAs attention (my understanding is that full-scale pilots who do such things tend to have their licenses threatened; if they did that to Mr. Moss he didn’t say so), and the FAA simply lacks the enforcement capacity. Either they’re going to have to go to enforcement by terror — publicly slam some poor schlubs whose number comes up with $250,000 fines and jail time — or they’re going to wait for some incident and use that to get Congress to grant them an army of anti-drone police.

          • redRover says:

            @Nybbler

            LAANC

            https://www.faa.gov/uas/programs_partnerships/uas_data_exchange/

            is part of how the FAA is trying to address the waiver issue for controlled (non-G) airspace. How effective it will be, or how much it costs (though the FAA seems to make most of the private stuff fairly cheap on their side, like free 1800WXBRIEF, a certificate is like $3 to renew/replace, etc) I don’t know, but the FAA is at least taking steps to make the process more responsive and less onerous.

            Also, do you have links on the part 336 interpretations as far as whether it only applies to AMA approved fields, or just fields that are operated to AMA standards? (Though maybe those are one and the same?)

          • The Nybbler says:

            @redRover

            LAANC currently is only for Part 107 pilots (TSA background check, aeronautical knowledge test including crew procedures and radio procedures, renew every 2 years, etc), not Special Rule for Model Aircraft flyers. With the FAA reauthorization bill still in Congress, it’s not clear what form permission for Special Rule fliers would take, or if there will even be such a rule.

            I basically stopped following this stuff in 2016 when (IMO) it became clear that the FAA and pretty much everyone else just wanted people like me out of the air. I’ve tried to catch up but I may not have the whole picture. There’s no FAA interpretation of the Special Rule which says it applies to only club fliers; that’s the _AMA_ interpretation. Further, the AMA supports something called the Sanford Amendment, which explicitly requires membership in a “community based organization” to fly without a license. This is in the version of the FAA reauthorization which passed the House; see Section 343(a)(2)(B). This deletes “in the programming of”, so I’d have to become a member but could legally fly at my current field if I could meet the AMAs safety rules and if I could give notification. However, I certainly have no intention of rewarding the AMAs blatant rent-seeking and throwing of all non-affiliated flyers under the bus by joining them.

            Section 344 tells the FAA to come up with another set of regulations for non-part-107, non-special-rule flyers, but as far as I can tell the FAA can just say “same as part 107 except the age restriction is waived and we won’t call your authorization an airman’s certificate”. It would allow access to LAANC.

            The Commercial Drone Association wants to end special treatment of model aircraft and require everyone to have a transponder

            The Flying Bus Driver Airline Pilots Association also wants to end special treatment of model aircraft.

            That leaves the general aviation people. The AOPA doesn’t seem to have weighed in, but we’ve got at least two GA pilots here who want me out of the sky, so that’s not too promising either.

            Unfortunately, there’s no “Rogue Flyers Association” (to use the AMA’s term) to lobby for the 700,000 people who registered their model but didn’t join the AMA, nor the unknown number who did not register.

            Incidentally the reason I’m worried about airspace restrictions isn’t that I fly within controlled airspace. It’s that the FAA has put out other restrictions about flying near or under controlled airspace. For instance, the B4UFly app says you can’t fly a model if you’re under the 500-foot-floor part of the Class B around EWR, though that rule doesn’t seem to be articulated anywhere else. And the new ADS B Out transponder requirements apply within 30nm of major airports from the surface to 10,000 feet; they don’t currently apply to unmanned aircraft but new rules for remote ID for unmanned aircraft are in the works.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            Stay in class G airspace and you’re legal with anything that you aren’t using to engage in interstate commerce (which for some reason includes all paid aviation).

            If your backyard is in class D airspace, that is because it isn’t guaranteed that something above the legal building height in that position isn’t going to kill people. Talk to the ATM at your local airport and figure out how to operate your drone without killing people BEFORE you operate your drone.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            I’m not convinced that the FAA’s ban on medical certification for taking medication for ADD is really all that necessary, for example.

            Oh, no. The ban on taking amphetamines isn’t the thing that grounds people with ADD.

            The diagnosis of ADD is itself disqualifying, according to the testimony of RFS Denise Baisden in front of the MSPB.

      • bean says:

        1) Nobody mess with the flying buses.

        I spent two years working for the people who make the other airliners, and while that may bias me, I do think that commercial air travel deserves to be first on the list of priorities. In terms of benefit to the public, everything else that flies is a rounding error. No matter how much you may enjoy your drone or your light aircraft, the ability to move masses of people quickly, cheaply, and safely around the world is much bigger. I’m not saying that we should ground everything not made by Boeing or Airbus. Far from it. But they are going to be calling the shots in any world where the dictator isn’t a massive fan of drones or private planes.

        • The Nybbler says:

          In terms of benefit to the public, everything else that flies is a rounding error.

          And that’s the problem when you do your calculus.

          Benefit to allowing some other thing: rounding error.

          Possible cost to allowing this other thing: unquantifiable chance times almost-infinity cost of airliner crashing = some positive thing.

          Result: Better forbid it.

          • bean says:

            From my post:

            I’m not saying that we should ground everything not made by Boeing or Airbus. Far from it.

            I like light aircraft. I won’t say I’ve always dreamed of flying, because I haven’t, but I wouldn’t rule out getting my license at some point. I’ve enjoyed the handful of times I’ve been up in one. I’m in favor of some liberalization, and wish the medical rules let me get a full private.

            But you apparently don’t care to actually listen to the other person. In your world, would we even have airlines? Or would it just be drones and light aircraft, and take the train to get home for Christmas? Or do we make the 787 coming in from Singapore wait in line while you prance around in your single-engine Piper over LAX, doing whatever you feel like? Ultimately, two things trying to occupy the same piece of air usually means both fall out of the sky. And under any rational system, the one that brings more benefits will win those conflicts. So yes, nobody messes with the airliners.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s not a just matter of “win those conflicts”. It’s the huge precautionary wall they throw around those conflicts. They’d probably get rid of non-commercial pilots entirely if they could, but there’s a lot of tradition there and some fairly wealthy people who would fight against that.

            So they make sure it remains prohibitively expensive in terms of time and money (and yes, medical requirements) and keep the club as small as possible. They were fine with model aircraft as long as it was just a bunch of retired pilots flying them in a circle somewhere. As soon as regular people got interested they forbade it unless you fulfilled a bunch of onerous requirements. Including, for anything which smells of commercial use, a regular pilot’s license.

          • bean says:

            It’s the huge precautionary wall they throw around those conflicts.

            The problem is the cost of letting cracks into the wall. If the FAA loosens the restrictions a lot and some idiot flies his Cessna into restricted airspace and takes out a 747, who gets blamed? To a large extent, the barriers are there to make sure that only people who can be trusted not to do that get into the cockpit. There are surprisingly few places where you can kill more than a few people with a car, even if you’re trying. It’s very difficult to do by accident. This is not true in an airplane.

            As soon as regular people got interested they forbade it unless you fulfilled a bunch of onerous requirements.

            For the seventeenth time, I think the FAA has badly botched the drone issue. But I do see where they’re coming from. When RC aircraft were restricted to a bunch of enthusiasts who only do it in out-of-the-way places and who are mostly responsible enough and invested enough to be safe, it’s not a big deal. When any yahoo can buy a quadcopter for a couple hundred bucks and fly it from their back yard, the FAA is going to be nervous. Not because it’s a problem 99% of the time, but because some back yards are near major airports, and they can’t trust every single owner of one not to fly a quadcopter there. And yes, some people have done so, so this isn’t an idle threat.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The problem is the cost of letting cracks into the wall. If the FAA loosens the restrictions a lot and some idiot flies his Cessna into restricted airspace and takes out a 747, who gets blamed?

            What does this have to do with ride-sharing apps? Nobody’s talking about flying Cessnas into Class A (which most of them can’t reach, or only barely) or letting them fly uncontrolled into controlled airspace. The Cessna pilot presumably already has his private certificate. So it’s not presenting a new physical threat to airliners. Only an infinitesimal threat to the wall the FAA has erected against commercial endeavors. And possibly allowing an increase in private flying in general, which may be their real worry.

            When any yahoo can buy a quadcopter for a couple hundred bucks and fly it from their back yard, the FAA is going to be nervous.

            And so because they’re “nervous”, the hobby should just go away. Yes, I know you say they botched it but despite that you’re defending them here anyway.

          • CatCube says:

            You can fly Cessnas into Class A, or rather, you’re allowed to. You just need to be on an instrument flight plan. You are technically correct that the 18,000 foot floor is above most Cessna model’s service ceilings. I do note that the Cessna 182 can juuust reach that (18,100 ft), but if you get an oxygen tank and file a flight plan ATC won’t care, since you’re just a dot on a scope to them. As long as you’re a dot on a scope that’s acting in a predictable fashion, they’re happy.

          • bean says:

            What does this have to do with ride-sharing apps? Nobody’s talking about flying Cessnas into Class A (which most of them can’t reach, or only barely) or letting them fly uncontrolled into controlled airspace. The Cessna pilot presumably already has his private certificate. So it’s not presenting a new physical threat to airliners. Only an infinitesimal threat to the wall the FAA has erected against commercial endeavors. And possibly allowing an increase in private flying in general, which may be their real worry.

            That was about the restrictive nature of private pilot licenses in general, not the ride-sharing thing. The problem with that is that private pilots are known to do stupid things when under pressure, and that kind of app puts them under pressure. I’ve said it, CatCube has said it, John Schilling has said it. I’m done talking about it.

            And so because they’re “nervous”, the hobby should just go away. Yes, I know you say they botched it but despite that you’re defending them here anyway.

            I’m saying that I can see why they did what they did. Figuring out how to allocate airspace between several different users is a hard problem, and their drivers are towards maximum safety.

          • herculesorion says:

            bean:
            Not because it’s a problem 99% of the time, but because some back yards are near major airports, and they can’t trust every single owner of one not to fly a quadcopter there. And yes, some people have done so, so this isn’t an idle threat.

            To add to this: We can’t even trust people to not duct-tape twenty laser pointers together and shine them at airliner cockpits; do people really imagine that there wouldn’t be videos like “watch me fly formation with this airliner lol” or “creeping on pretty girls at 2000 feet AGL”?

      • John Schilling says:

        3) Everyone else stay on the f-ing ground. That means you, Nybbler, with that five-pound toy of yours.

        “The United States of America is the only country in the world where an ordinary working man can fly his own airplane from one coast to the other without ever having to ask anyone’s permission”
        Gordon Baxter (from memory, ca 1985)

        That’s not as true as it used to be, but it’s still mostly true. And I know you’re upset that the FAA won’t let you fly your drones the way you’d like, but your anger is making you blind and arrogant and your basic errors of fact are making you look very foolish.

        While protecting everything from airliners to medevac helicopters, the FAA has managed to make something like 95% of the airspace below 18,000′ (and about two-thirds of the nation’s airports) almost unconditionally open to anyone with a pilot’s license, no clearance required, no need to so much as talk to an air traffic controller. Another 4% of the airspace, and almost all the remaining airports, you have to call in a few minutes before takeoff and/or landing, but you don’t need to tell them anything more than your general direction of departure or arrival. There are about thirty large commercial airports and their immediately surrounding airspace, plus some restricted military areas, where a private pilot in a Cessna would be genuinely unwelcome, and even these are usually negotiable.

        Yes, you do need a pilot’s license to fly an airplane. There’s no reason for that to cost more than $7-8K unless you are training in and for fancy glass-cockpit airplanes, in which case you can afford the extra. That includes “training in radio procedures, regulations, etc”. And it covers basically every single-engine airplane up to 12,500 lbs gross weight (or every multi-engine airplane, or helicopter, etc). Type certificates are not required for anything much less than a business jet.

        The “prohibitive” equipment required for flight into class B airspace, can be had for about $3000 (and you spent at least $20K on an airworthy airplane to begin with). Starting in 2020, that will go to $5000.

        “keeping up with the requirements” generally requires a few hours per year; substantial revisions that might actually require a couple of weekends’ effort or a few thousand dollars in costs come maybe once a decade.

        And the idea that the FAA would “probably get rid of non-commercial pilots entirely if they could”, or that it’s only rich people stopping them, is simply laughable.

        You have expressed even more ignorance and more blind anger than the author of the article that started this whole brouhaha, and that’s no small feat. But I don’t think it is one you want to continue with.

        • The Nybbler says:

          An ordinary working man can’t fly his own airplane anywhere, because he can’t afford to keep one. The number of pilots has been dropping rapidly from the 1980 peak, probably for that reason.

          Type certificates are not required for anything much less than a business jet.

          OK, so I confused type certificates with class ratings. Single engine is different than multi-engine, seaplane is different than a plane that lands only on land, and obviously helicopters are different.

          Starting in 2020, that will go to $5000.

          There was talk of requiring that Mode C transponder on drones too. At least that didn’t happen. Yet.

          But no matter how good the FAA is for anyone who is a pilot, I’m not part of the club. If I so much as lift my smallest outdoor-capable drone — about 3/4 pound — an inch off the ground in my backyard, I’m in violation. I’m not in controlled airspace (nor even under the EWR class B), but to be legal I’d have to at minimum track down and inform all the airports within 5 miles, every time. And maybe it wouldn’t be legal even then because it’s not “within the programming” of a national community-based organization. So yeah, I’m angry. It pisses me off that in the name of protecting airliners I literally don’t come within thousands of feet of, I have to theoretically risk fines and jail time to do what I was doing before that was harming no one. (as far as I know, no one has been jailed yet, but fines have been handed out). Probably it won’t happen unless the pilots here decide to inform the FAA of the field I pointed out.. and even then they might catch someone else; I’m not the only one who flies there and no one follows the the notification rules.

          • John Schilling says:

            An ordinary working man can’t fly his own airplane anywhere, because he can’t afford to keep one.

            Cost of ownership of a used but airworthy two-seat VFR airplane is comparable to that of a fancy pickup truck, bass boat, or mountain cabin. These are things that working-class Americans routinely own. That bass boats are an order of magnitude or so more common than light planes, is a cultural rather than economic thing. And I do know working-class Americans with their own airplanes, so telling me it is impossible gets you nowhere.

            But no matter how good the FAA is for anyone who is a pilot, I’m not part of the club.

            And you’re doing a bang-up job, starting from a position of sympathy, of convincing me that I don’t want you in my club, and shouldn’t care about your troubles flying your pet drones.

          • CatCube says:

            I’m sorry to keep posting responses, playing comment tag, but this seems to be getting to the heart of the disagreement.

            But no matter how good the FAA is for anyone who is a pilot, I’m not part of the club.

            I’m not sure where this bunker mentality is coming from, but it’s probably unwarranted. Now, FAA employees might be the biggest dicks in the world, but I wouldn’t know because I have never interacted with an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration.*

            No, really. My flight instructor was a private citizen who I paid by the lesson. I found him by a “Learn to Fly Here” sign hanging on the airfield I drove by every day on the way to work. When I got my first medical, I literally went to the doctor’s house in the evening; he was running late, so I sat on his couch for 45 minutes and chatted with his wife. This was the first and only time I met them. To take the knowledge test, I went to an airport that had a testing center in a little building just off of the FBO. I paid the FBO guy. For my checkride, the examiner was a guy with a crop-dusting business who was a Designated Pilot Examiner as a sideline. I paid him cash. After the oral and practical test, he filled out my temporary certificate with a typewriter, shook my hand and turned me back over to my instructor.

            I’ve always had my documents with me, but I’ve never had a ramp check, and they’re just not common. Heck, as far as your talking about one of us informing the FAA of your field, the FAA’s own guidance for drone operators acting the fool is to call local law enforcement! They’re really hands off unless somebody is doing something really stupid, and at that point they’re probably just going to investigate after the cops have pulled everybody in.

            None of the drone stuff requires interaction with the FAA, either. They all basically boil down to “learn and follow the rules of the road” and “communicate with everybody in the vicinity.” These are just not that onerous, and aren’t really anything the rest of us aren’t doing.

            *Edit: I forgot that many Air-Traffic Controllers are employed directly by the FAA, so I’ve certainly talked to them on the radio, or when I did a “tower tour”. During my training I’d hang out with the controllers at that tower, but they were employed by the Department of the Army.

          • redRover says:

            to be legal I’d have to at minimum track down and inform all the airports within 5 miles,

            It pisses me off that in the name of protecting airliners I literally don’t come within thousands of feet of, I have to theoretically risk fines and jail time to do what I was doing before that was harming no one.

            I think one of the bigger things you’re missing here is that the separation standards in aviation are very different from what most non-pilots think is acceptable, or what pilots would think is acceptable on the ground.

            We’re used to driving 60mph on an undivided two lane road, which means closing at 120mph with maybe 5 feet of separation. In contrast, aviation separation margins are enormous. Even with relatively benign VFR conditions at slow speeds, most pilots will try to maintain at least a mile or two of separation horizontally, or five hundred feet vertically, unless they have radio and visual contact with the other plane. So, in a traffic circuit or an approach, a smaller separation margin is acceptable, but only because everyone is talking to each other, and usually have eyes on each other. For IFR traffic in a radar environment, minimum separation is 1000′ vertically, or 3-10nm horizontally, depending on some secondary things, but usually 5nm. That is to say, so far as practicable, each and every airplane under IFR, from a 172 to a 747, has a 3nm radius, 1000′ tall hockey puck around it that nobody else gets to go into.* If there is no radar, procedural separation (i.e. for trans-Pacific flights, or mid-Atlantic) can exceed 50nm.

            Now, since you’re not in radio contact with anyone, and are too small to show up on radar (without a transponder), that basically means if a plane takes off within 5nm of you, you’re already in their little hockey puck of separation.

            Now, I think that the weight limits are arbitrary, and you have some good points about how the FAA hasn’t handled this as well, but I think you’re also making a mistake by starting from ground based assumptions, rather than starting from the assumption you have another hunk of plastic that has to be integrated into the airspace system and not violate the isolation pucks.

            *There are some exceptions to this, if the flight is IFR in VMC for terminal areas, but let’s not over complicate it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @redRover

            Nearly all model aircraft operation takes place under visual conditions.

          • redRover says:

            @TheNybbler

            That’s true, but what matters are the rules, not the conditions. If you’re IFR on a CAVU day, ATC still provides the same separation as if it were clouds from 100′ up, mostly.

            I think they could sort of get around this by having better weight limits, or more weight/perf classes, but the problem from a regulatory standpoint is that a 40 lb drone in the middle of an approach/departure path is a big violation of the separation puck, which is why they have the 5nm rule. (And from a regulatory standpoint, at least from what you’ve said and what I’ve read, a 5lb and a 40lb drone are both in the same intermediate group?)

    • bean says:

      I do think there’s a couple of key differences, which make the case for regulation of the bulletin boards significantly weaker. (I’m not saying the FAA wouldn’t ban those bulletin boards if it could, just that you can distinguish between them.)
      1. “1 star. Pilot turned back in the face of a little light rain, and I missed my meeting.” The bulletin boards don’t have a reputation system in the same way an app does. Get-there-itis is going to be exacerbated by the desire not to get a bad review and cut their ability to do flight-sharing. Unless you happen to irritate the wrong person who haunts the airport bulletin board, putting up nasty fliers and tearing down yours, this isn’t a concern with the current system.
      2. Who looks at a bulletin board at an airport about flight-sharing? The sort of people who hang around airports. Who are much more likely than someone who heard about this cool new flight-sharing app and has never been up in a light aircraft to understand the realities of private flight, and use the service appropriately.

  35. Winter Shaker says:

    The ancient Persian calendar may be the most metal of all calendars

    Okay, but you do know that Finnish November is ‘marraskuu’ – month of death, right?

    • achenx says:

      Similarly, Anglo-Saxon and some other old Germanic languages have November as “blood month”.

      As far as the Persian calendar, while “month of wolf killing” is nice, I’m a fan of “garlic collecting month”.

      The Romans seemed to have limited creativity — a few moderately interesting month names, then they give up and just start numbering. Same goes with praenomina, for that matter.

  36. rlms says:

    Profit margins are irrelevant by themselves to the question of whether a company can afford to pay its workers more, you also need to know what proportion of expenses minimum wage salaries account for.

    I was certain that ordoliberalism had appeared in an old links post, but Googling suggests not.

    I don’t find Gwern et alts’ analysis convincing. Charles Murray doesn’t strike me as a perfectly unbiased source on the issue in question, and even if he were using only English reference books to make the data set doesn’t seem like it would work very well. But setting that aside, look at the error bars on Gwern’s graph — they’re huge!

    More interesting results from the philosophers study — they are more prejudiced against Republicans than communists, but more against communists than libertarians.

    • herculesorion says:

      “Profit margins are irrelevant by themselves to the question of whether a company can afford to pay its workers more”

      It’s not us you need to say this to, it’s the people who talk about how business are making record profits and therefore we can obviously afford to increase the minimum wage.

      • rlms says:

        Maybe some of those people are reading this! Alternatively, maybe some people making the opposite mistake (i.e. claiming that obviously a business with single digit profit margins can’t afford a pay rise for its minimum wage workers even if their salaries are a tiny proportion of its expenses) are.

    • gwern says:

      But setting that aside, look at the error bars on Gwern’s graph — they’re huge!

      Not really. Remember, those are posterior probabilities, showing the width in which you have 95% probability of it falling. The credible intervals barely overlap, indicating that at any individual decade, there’s like a 0-5% probability of reversal, and if you want more than a few decades or a century, the probability of repeated reversal becomes ~0%.

    • poignardazur says:

      Profit margins are irrelevant by themselves to the question of whether a company can afford to pay its workers more, you also need to know what proportion of expenses minimum wage salaries account for.

      I’m no economist, so I’m not sure whether that makes sense. Presumably, if you pay your workers more, that money has to come from somewhere, right?

      I guess you’re saying that companies where salaries are a low proportion of expenses can spend less in, say, advertising and storefront renovating to spend more on salaries… but even then stuff like advertising is part of the company’s business model, and a company that spends less on advertising will have fewer clients and less money to pay salaries with in the long term?

      EDIT: Although thinking about it, you could argue that raising minimum wages would force all companies to spend less on advertising without actually losing sales, because advertising is a zero-sum game; I don’t think the numbers really check out on that.

      On the other hand, passing regulations to limit how much companies spend on advertising one way or another might get them out of the zero-sum game and might result in slightly increased wages.

      • rlms says:

        The money could come from other costs, but it could also come from the profit. Example: suppose we have a company with tiny profit margins that only employs one minimum wage worker (say 1% margin and the worker’s wages are 0.1% of our total costs). Then doubling the minimum wage multiplies total costs by a factor of 1.001, so we can do that and only reduce the profit margin to 0.9%. On the other hand, if minimum wage salaries are 10% of costs, we would need a profit margin of 50% to be able to double salaries and only reduce the margin by 10% of its value (5 percentage points).

        • Mike Powers says:

          Or we could actually do the math. Walmart profited about nine percent on a hundred twenty-nine billion dollars of net revenue. They employ about two million people. Put those together, and you find that if Walmart reduces its profit to zero percent every employee gets five thousand dollars.

          And that’s certainly not a small amount of money for the kind of people who work at Walmart, but it’s not buy-a-house money, it’s not college-education money, it’s not cure-mama’s-cancer money. Shit, people leave credit card applications on bus-station benches that would give me a higher limit than that!

          • rlms says:

            I did the maths — those numbers come directly from the formula for profit margin. Walmart is a low-margin business with low wage worker salaries making a high proportion of its expenses, so it is not surprising that it can’t afford to pay its workers significantly more (unless it fires a lot of them). My point is that that might not be the case for a hypothetical company that spends less on low wage workers, and conversely even if Walmart had larger profit margins they couldn’t realistically increase wages that much.

          • herculesorion says:

            Is it really that surprising to you that when people talk about which companies could Totally Afford To Pay A Higher Minimum Wage Because They Make SO MUCH MONEY, they’re thinking “Wal-Mart” and not “a hypothetical company that has high margins and a small workforce of low-wage employees”?

            Which is kinda what the study in the Links post was about, that people figure “big company = big money = plenty to spread around”, and that’s just not really true.

        • poignardazur says:

          Oh, I didn’t think about it that way. Good point.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Eh.. You are all arguing with a straw-man. The actual argument for higher minimum wages tend to go that a lot of firms cannot afford to raise wages in the current environment, because they would be competing with firms that did not, but that a higher minimum wage would maintain a level field, and boost the spending power of the bottom of the income distribution, which would allow a lot of these businesses to expand.

      And it does not all just get eaten up by inflation because there is a lot of productive capacity going unused because the bottom of the income distribution does not currently have any spare money, which would be mobilized.

      The second part is important – attempts at wage increases in productivity-limited economies are guaranteed to fail, but nobody thinks minimum wage increases do much of their good by raiding the pockets of fat cats. They work by solving a coordination problem – That is, that the firms producing for the low-income segment of the population are also largely the people employing them, and their market would be bigger if they paid them more, but that none of them can do so unilaterally without cratering.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This smells of broken-window economics. The money that comes from “expanding the market” in this scenario is coming directly from the producers of the goods in the first place. They can’t make more that way; even at perfect efficiency they’re just paying themselves through an intermediary.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          Both workers and firms have other costs, which wont move with the wage increase – if 30 % of your spend is wages, and your workers spend 90 percent of the wages on staying housed and fed, then a ten percent wage increase will up your costs by 3 % and double the discretionary spending of your workers (at least for a while, rent extractors gobbling up increases in the income of the poor is a real thing that happens) That can leave you a heck of a lot better of, overall, if that happens across your city.

          Of course, even better would be a successful political intervention that drove down rents….

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I’m at least somewhat sympathetic to this argument, but I believe the answer is micro-credit, not minimum wage increases.

  37. INH5 says:

    Trends in the share of population who are not having sex.

    I’m very skeptical of the validity of this analysis.

    First, this person brings up some significant issues with the methodology. More generally, “unmarried persons from age 22 to 35” seems like a really arbitrary grouping to me, and immediately set off my “statistical malpractice sense.” The data looks a lot more noisy when you break it down into men in their 20s and 30s.

    Second, “haven’t had sex in the last year” includes a lot of situations that are very different from the socially awkward virgin types that Lyman seems to assume this is measuring. Active-duty military personnel (and yes, they are included in the GSS sample), for example, are often deployed for a year or longer in places where it is pretty difficult to get laid. Men in various Blue-Collar occupations might live and work for years in remote places where the population has a heavy male skew and there aren’t enough women to go around. And then there are people who, for whatever reason, might decide to just take a break from relationships for a while and focus on other things in their life.

    For these reasons, I favor actual virginity statistics, or the closest available proxy, which in the GSS seems to have “haven’t had sex since your 18th birthday,” when measuring this kind of thing. This study examines that statistic for young adults aged 20-24, and finds a significant increase among both men and women.

    • Reasoner says:

      Interesting quote from your last link:

      The shift toward higher rates of sexual inactivity among Millennials and iGen’ers was more pronounced among women and absent among Black Americans and those with a college education.

    • Throwaway6359 says:

      Second, the rise of hookup culture may, paradoxically, help explain increased sexual inactivity. As others have noted, hooking up involves a variety of sexual behaviors, with vaginal sex somewhat less frequent than other sexual activities (Fielder & Carey, 2010; Reiber&Garcia, 2010). As such, Millennials and iGen may report more hooking up with partners to whom they are not committed (or with whom they are not interested in pursuing a relationship), but largely engage in non penetrative behaviors that may actually make it easier to delay vaginal sex.

      Calling this “sexual inactivity” may also not accurately measure “socially awkward virgin types”

  38. Douglas Summers-Stay says:

    Aubrey DeGray is one of those people (like Elon Musk and Donald Trump) who must seriously question whether they are a main character in a fictional world.

  39. userfriendlyyy says:

    NPR: When Teens Cyberbully Themselves

    Good, let’s make sure the poor ones can’t get any help for that. SINGLE PAYER ALREADY!

    Nearly a dozen residential treatment centers for children who suffer from mental illness are scrambling to find new funding after receiving word this week that they’re no longer eligible for federal Medicaid dollars.

    • J Mann says:

      @userfriendlyyy, the story you link is that the federal government is refusing to pay for treatment at large residential settings. Given that this is a government decision, how do you think single payer would improve the situation, and why aren’t those mechanisms working now.

      As things stand, if you have your kid in private insurance, they might pay for the facilities at issue, but if you have your kid covered by federal medicaid, you’re definitely out of luck. (And need to find a facility with <16 beds, apparently).

  40. quaelegit says:

    Re: “Botanical Latin” — the Wiki article calls it a “technical language” but it’s just nouns, right? Seems more “part of” Neo-Latin than “based on” it.

    (I also found the Neo-Latin article interesting — I’m not sure how separate it is in terms of language features from medieval Latin since the article mostly talks about typography, but it is interesting to think about how the changing usage across the centuries affected Latin.)

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Botanical Latin isn’t just the names- it is also full and quite long descriptions, like this:

      Arbor ad 8 alta, raminculis sparse pilosis, trichomatis 2-2.5 mm longis. Folia persistentia; laminae anisophyllae, foliis majoribus ellipticus, 12-23.5 cm longis, 6-13 cm latis, minoribus orbicularis, ca 8.5 cm longis, 7.5 cm latis, apice acuminato et caudato, acuminibus 1.5-2 cm longis, basi rotundata ad obtusam, margine integra, supra sericea, trichomatis 2.5-4 mm longis, appressis, pagina inferiore sericea ad pilosam, trichomatis 2-3 mm longis; petioli 4-7 mm longi. Inflorescentia terminalis vel axillaris, cymosa, 8-10 cm latis. Flores bisexuales; calyx tubularis, ca. 6 mm longus, 10-costatus; corolla alba, tubularis, 5-lobata; stamina 5, filis 8-10 mm longis, pubescentia ad insertionem.

      From here

      That particular example has no indicative verbs, only participles (plus adjectives, prepositions and conjunctions), but verbs do exist in Botanical Latin, though they are often omitted in later examples.

  41. Zubon says:

    SB 827: in a casual estimate in our state government, we pegged a policy change as needing about 14 years to come to fruition. That is, if a policy has just been proposed, there is some chance of it becoming law about 14 years later. It might help if the proposal is not very controversial, but then your barrier is overcoming inertia because no one cares enough to get it passed.

    Very few bills pass the first time. Very many bills repeat session after session until moving for no reason most people can see, and it becomes “an overnight success” a decade or more in the making.

  42. ledicious says:

    The prejudice against transgender people in philosophy was almost as strong as the prejudice against Republicans.

    Just looking at the link, I didn’t see anything about the comparative intensity of prejudice, just the extent of prejudice. I didn’t click through to the full study, though, so I might have missed something.

  43. INH5 says:

    funeral-disease on how old names are vs. how old we think they are. People with what we think of “old person names” like Mildred and Gladys are in their 90s or 100s by now; ordinary 70 year olds are more likely to have names like Carol or Sandra that we think of as 40-ish. Our idea of how old names are seems to be 20 or 30 years behind the time – why did they get set in stone a generation ago?

    I was going to say skewed age demographics, but the sample was apparently “Tumblr users at large,” and Tumblr’s demographics are such that, even taking into account selection bias, the sample must have included a bunch of people in their mid 20s or younger.

    My guess is that this is because, starting with Cable TV and continuing with DVDs, Netflix, and other online streaming services, moderately successful entertainment media and especially TV shows made from the 1990s onward have stuck around longer than moderately but not spectacularly successful media made before that time did. As a teenager in the mid-2000s, I spent plenty of time watching reruns of shows from the 1990s like Boy Meets World and The X Files on Basic Cable channels. I imagine that kids today are in a similar situation seeing as how Netflix has a decent selection of TV shows from as far back as the late 1980s, but not much from before then, probably because the rights are easier to acquire for shows that have been in syndication for a while.

    The result is that people grow up watching a significant amount of media made around or shortly before the turn of the millennium, and things like the names of older characters stick in their subconscious.

    You see this with other things, too. In a discussion on the Subreddit earlier this year, someone mentioned that there was “near-mandated monogamy 50 years ago.” 50 years ago was 1968, right in between the Summer of Love and Woodstock.

  44. Godfree Roberts says:

    ‘ China was taking our manufacturing jobs all along’ ranks with ‘China was selling us junk all along’.

    In truth, we were exporting our manufacturing jobs (to great media acclaim at the time) and ordering lowest-cost crap from Chinese manufacturers who much preferred to sell us high-quality products.

    Thus is history re-written, I guess

  45. Lillian says:

    The age of Asian predominance lasted from the Crisis of the Third Century, when the Roman Empire fell into intellectual as well as political decline (Tainter: “increase in mysticism, and knowledge by revelation”), until about 1100, which coincided with the rise of medieval scholasticism, as opposed to the Renaissance, which is more commonly cited as the divergence point. In truth, at least as proxied by human accomplishment, Europe was already massively ahead even by the time of the Renaissance.

    Yes! Yeeees! More evidence to my long-held opinion that the 12th century Renaissance was the real Renaissance! What we call The Renaissance was more a cultural movement than a genuine reawakening of learning and philosophy. Indeed that reawakening had actually already happened to enable the Renaissance in the first place! An anti-intellectual people would have had little appreciation for classical works of intellectualism, they must have become intellectual first in order to discover a new appreciation for the classics.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      That quote is confused. All that happens in 1100 is that Europe passes Asia, but it had been trending upwards for hundreds of years before and continued for hundreds of years after. That’s an arbitrary benchmark, so there’s nothing to explain, so why does Karlin connect it to scholasticism? If you go by the graph, the European trough is in 700, so the “real” Renaissance is the Carolingian Renaissance.

      I do think that the Renaissance of the 12th Century was the real deal, but Murray does not support that.

      • m.alex.matt says:

        The general (in-accurate but accurate enough) distinction to be made is:

        1. The Carolingian Renaissance was a renaissance in learning and culture in the Carolingian court and its immediate social surroundings. Everywhere else stayed mostly dark.

        2. The 12th Century Renaissance was a renaissance in learning and culture in the monasteries and broader Church environment, with monks, priests, and secular churchmen participating. Secular society remained mostly dark.

        3. The Big R Renaissance was secular society joining this trend, with literacy rates finally starting to bump upwards from the rounding errors involved in the previous renaissance movements.

        This general idea helps to explain why something like the Reformation happened in the aftermath of the 14/15th century Renaissance but not the previous two movements. While major social movements happened around the other two renaissances, they tended to be tied up in the same social groups that those renaissances were limited to. The rebirth of a sense of Empire in the West after Charlemagne, the monastic reforms, Peace of God, Investiture Controversy that surrounded the 12th century Renaissance, both were relatively limited to the groups involved in this rebirth of culture. The 14/15th century Renaissance, on the other hand, led to a more broad-based involvement in literary culture that spent the next several centuries working its way out with a series of more ‘mass’ social movements like the Reformation.

        • Secular society remained mostly dark.

          How can you tell, given that almost all our written source come from the clergy? If there was an increasingly vibrant secular culture, how much of it would we see?

          One of my interests is historical jewelry. That’s one class of cultural artifacts that has the virtue of not needing written texts as evidence of its existence. The Sutton Hoo treasure (7th century Anglo-Saxon) is at least as impressive as anything I can think of from classical antiquity.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            ‘No written sources’ is what I mean by dark. Pretty much every society ever that has had the time to build past absolute subsistence has had a vibrant culture of one sort or another. It’s a literary culture that is relatively rare.

        • Lillian says:

          The 12th Century Renaissance was a renaissance in learning and culture in the monasteries and broader Church environment, with monks, priests, and secular churchmen participating. Secular society remained mostly dark.

          True but incomplete, we also see a renaissance of learning among the petty nobility and well off commoners who will together become the merchant class, because literacy and numeracy are important component of running successful large scale mercantile enterprises. This effect is strongest in Northern Italy and Flanders, resulted in a class of lay men who handled a lot of recording tasks that would have been elsewhere done by clergy. This consequently produced quite a bit of secular written sources in those regions.

          Naturally most of these are concerned with commerce. For example the earliest ancestor of treasury bonds comes from mid-12th century Genoa, where the commune sold the proceeds from the money changing tables to a group of merchants. The merchants were to hold the right to these proceeds for a period of i think it was either twenty or thirty years, at which point the city would buy it back at the same price. In effect it was a loan, with the purchase price as the principal, and the proceeds as the interest, but neatly bypassing the Church’s prohibition on usury.

          The success of this scheme would result in the city later doing the same with its other sources of income such as harbour fees. Additionally since the rights to these proceeds were issued as transferable shares, there arose a speculative market on the value of these shares. This means that the Genoese were issuing and trading public debt more than eight centuries ago. We also have records of private individuals giving their money to early bankers not just for safekeeping, but to have invested for them in an early form of financial management.

          To me this all indicates the existence of a vibrant and sophisticated secular society.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Learning and philosophy are a sideshow, the Commercial Revolution is the real deal.

      • Lillian says:

        The fun thing about the 12th Century Renaissance is that it dovetails with the Commercial Revolution. The two in fact fed off of each other, which is again part of why i think that one was the big Kahuna.

  46. John Schilling says:

    Regarding “Uber for Planes”, this is an almost inevitable result of the original sin of Uber and Lyft, the flat-out lie that these were “ride-sharing services” where “your friend with a car” happens to be going your direction and is willing to give you a lift if you merely share the costs. That worked well enough for Uber and Lyft to become big and popular enough, fast enough, that regulatory agencies couldn’t effectively organize to stop them. It won’t work for anyone else ever again, and the FAA in any event has a big head start on being nationally organized to regulate air commerce. If there’s a for-profit corporation brokering deals where one person transports another and takes money in return, there is going to be a strong presumption that this is commercial transportation for a fee.

    And, until we live in an anarchist utopia or at least the land of caveat ultra emptor capitalism, that’s going to require things like a commercial pilots’ license. General aviation can be quite safe, but there are segments of the industry that have accident rates that the contemporary US will not tolerate in fee-for-service commercial transportation. And a great many of those accidents stem from poor decisions clearly motivated by schedule pressure. Private pilots are not required to have the training, experience, or equipment that would be necessary to fly safely in a regime where failing to meet schedule results in significant financial harm. And this is a good thing, because operating at that level is expensive enough to take aviation almost entirely out of reach of the middle class except in the form of cattle-class airline seats. But it does mean that the type of people who are allowed to fly their own planes on their own time at their own risk, aren’t going to be allowed to do things that look too much like flying for hire.

    Also, private pilots do not “have to log at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to maintain their licenses”. Not even close. Seeing that in print, means knowing that the author has no familiarity with general aviation and didn’t so much as have their friend with a plane proofread the article for them, in which case there’s not much point in reading it.

    • bean says:

      It probably should be pointed out that while it’s technically non-profit, the pilot is essentially being paid in free flight hours. Pilots like to fly in a way that almost nobody likes driving, and being able to stretch your monthly flight budget by hauling people around would be pretty tempting. Currently, scale stops this from being a serious problem, but if it became possible to reliably say “I’m flying Saturday, anybody want me to take them somewhere?” and get takers, then I think that will probably change.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Some of the car crazies at Google have talked somewhat seriously about signing up for Uber (or pizza delivery!) to have a better excuse to tool about in their Lotuses/Mclarens. I don’t know if anyone has actually done it, admittedly.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Uber requires a 4-door car, so they’re out of luck with that one.

        • AlphaGamma says:

          Someone’s used a DB7, though admittedly they depreciated very fast.

          (and there were claims that this was fake as a magnetic sign wouldn’t stick to the aluminium roof of a DB7, but there are ways around that).

          Differently, there are the various Blood Bike services that exist in the UK, which are groups of volunteer motorcyclists, largely using their own bikes, who deliver blood for transfusion and other urgent items to hospitals.

    • hapablap says:

      “Private pilots are not required to have the training, experience, or equipment”

      More important than these is the supervision that a part 135 operation provides. An accountable chief pilot who makes sure the pilot doesn’t do anything dumb.

      Regarding public perception: every article written about these flight share companies calls them Uber for planes. Uber/Lyft is 1) about as safe as a taxi, maybe safer 2) reliable. Neither of these apply to private general aviation. General aviation kills about 450 people per year in the US, while airlines kill ~10 per year, while moving 100-1000X more passengers.

      The fact is though that there are legal versions of Uber for Planes that have innovative subscription models and ride sharing. Surf Air in California with PC-12s, Imagine Air in the southeast with SR-22s.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Airlines are incredibly safe, but expecting the operator of a four-seater Cessna (smallest plane I’ve ridden in) to meet the same safety requirements as the operator of a 787 Dreamliner doesn’t make much sense. When JFK Jr. screwed up and killed everyone aboard he only killed 3 people. If an airline pilot screws up and kills everyone aboard, that’s hundreds.

        Uber itself is really a taxi service. You’re paying the driver to drive, over and above his costs. Nothing about these flight-sharing apps would allow that; it would still be cost sharing.

        • John Schilling says:

          Airlines are incredibly safe, but expecting the operator of a four-seater Cessna (smallest plane I’ve ridden in) to meet the same safety requirements as the operator of a 787 Dreamliner doesn’t make much sense.

          Which is why the FAA doesn’t do that. Seriously, knowing that your reputation is taking a hit every time you post on this subject, you couldn’t do a two-minute Google before digging the hole a little bit deeper?

          787s, and virtually all airliners, operate under the extremely restrictive 14 CFR part 121. A four-seat Cessna being operated for hire operates under the rather more forgiving 14 CFR part 135. Which has multiple subcategories depending on the type of operation, notably including a streamlined version (single-pilot on-demand operating certificate) that is is specifically designed to let one guy with his own airplane conduct nonscheduled for-hire flights with about 99.99% less paperwork than is required for United Airlines to fly a 787.

          But still more paperwork than is required by 14 CFR 91, for a four-seat Cessna whose owner never charges money for rides. And, to be complete, someone rich enough to have their own private 787 can also operate under 14 CFR 91. Though he will at that point need a type certificate, and there will be more ADs to comply with, etc.

        • bean says:

          Uber itself is really a taxi service. You’re paying the driver to drive, over and above his costs. Nothing about these flight-sharing apps would allow that; it would still be cost sharing.

          I don’t think that difference means that much. Nobody drives like an Uber driver does for fun, while enjoyment is the entire point of private aviation. The pilot is essentially getting paid in extra flight hours. To a first approximation, for the hassle of having to put up with passengers, he’s getting twice or three times as much time in the air for the same money. I suspect a lot of pilots would look on that as a pretty good deal. And while it’s a clear positive for everyone when the weather’s good, it’s going to lead to more pilots doing stupid things in bad weather and killing themselves and their passengers.

          • it’s going to lead to more pilots doing stupid things in bad weather and killing themselves and their passengers.

            Could be. What I find puzzling in your attitude is that you apparently consider it fine for private pilots to take risks but don’t want to permit other people to take the same risks. The pilots do it for the fun of it, the potential passengers for some mix of fun and convenience–getting to somewhere that it would be a pain to drive to and commercial planes don’t take you to. Why aren’t the latter as entitled to decide what risks are worth taking as the former?

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’m not bean, but as I understand it, the objection is that giving private for-fun pilots more incentive to fly, or to fly more often, increases the risks they’ll take.

            As for the passengers – are they capable to competently gauge risk?

          • hapablap says:

            Hi DavidFriedman,

            If these sites took time to explain the risk and offered tips on red flags to look for, then the general public could assess the risk themselves. Instead they offer assurances that it is completely safe (see wingly’s safety page: https://en.wingly.io/index.php?page=content&sub_page=safety)

            It’s hard to estimate the risk of flying privately with just google searches, but it appears to be on par with getting on the back of a random motorcycle. That’s well outside the comfort zone for a lot of people, and very few would climb onto the back of a bike with someone they didn’t know at all.

          • John Schilling says:

            What I find puzzling in your attitude is that you apparently consider it fine for private pilots to take risks but don’t want to permit other people to take the same risks.

            The risk is not the same. The risk, as has been repeatedly explained, increases substantially when complete strangers can start imposing financial penalties if you don’t make schedule.

            Also, informed consent. A pilot knows or ought to know a great deal about the risks of any particular flight. A friend of a pilot, or someone who hangs out at airports, probably knows a fair deal. Sky-Uber customers likely “know” only what they have learned from much more disciplined forms of aviation.

            It is possible to argue that the appropriate regulatory regime for Sky-Uber would be closer to 14 CFR 91 than even the lowest tier of 14 CFR 135. But it is certainly not the case that “X = Y, so I am puzzled that you think Y requires stricter regulation”. Not even if X and Y are distribution functions with some degree of overlap.

          • baconbits9 says:

            How is it that airlines with the same incentives to get passengers to where they are going on time can figure the safety stuff out, but we can’t even let smaller operates a crack at solving it before the FAA functionally shuts them down?

          • BBA says:

            @baconbits: It’s not “small operators” being shut down. It’s two particular small operators (who claimed not to be operators because they were backed by venture capital and had smartphone apps and used the word “disruptive” a lot) being shut down, and others who jumped through the regulatory hoops continuing to fly.

          • bean says:

            @David Friedman
            Others have answered this pretty well. Your average user of a flight-sharing app isn’t competent to judge the risk, and the financial incentives are going to make pilots behave in a risky way.

            @baconbits

            How is it that airlines with the same incentives to get passengers to where they are going on time can figure the safety stuff out, but we can’t even let smaller operates a crack at solving it before the FAA functionally shuts them down?

            Because they can’t possibly meet the same standards without spending way more money than is feasible. The fact that commercial aviation is as safe as it is requires lots of people and lots of work. I did this for 2 years. I won’t claim that every part of the bureaucracy involved is necessary, but we have a pretty good idea of how and why planes crash, and it’s simply not possible to fly at commercial levels of safety as a private pilot. Can’t be done, certainly not under any plausible incentive framework these apps are likely to create.

            @John
            Just out of curiosity, are you instrument-rated? How do you handle bad weather? Do you just work from home those days? (Fairly rare in your part of the world, fortunately.)

          • John Schilling says:

            How do you handle bad weather? Do you just work from home those days?

            Bad weather, when it occurs, often takes the form of high winds over the mountains. Instruments don’t help with that. Maintaining enough schedule slack that I can always call off the flight and drive, helps a lot. And, yes, working from home, though that’s harder now that I’m management.

          • dndnrsn says:

            A good example of a pilot having incentives to fly when it wasn’t safe and passengers not knowing the risk was The Day the Music Died – the pilot wasn’t cleared to fly in those conditions, but did anyway; did Holly, Valens, and Bopper (nee Richardson) know it was unsafe to have a pilot not cleared for those conditions flying in them?

          • engleberg says:

            @it’s going to lead to more pilots doing stupid things in bad weather and killing themselves and their passengers.

            I can see why it would. But- Fly Nice Weather Uber! When the sky’s not dry, we don’t fly! When it’s sunny, we’re your hopping honey bunny! Tell customers up front, make it obvious. Make it obvious repeatedly. Put it on all company stationary. Make it your main selling point. Even tell the pilots about it. Make it obvious again. Rip off the old Coppertone ad. Could work.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I really like that jingle.

        • John Schilling says:

          Also, how does a flight-sharing app disallow “cost-sharing” that ends up with the pilot making an absolute profit? The cost of nominally-identical general aviation flights (e.g. three people in a Cessna 172 from Santa Monica to Palo Alto) can easily differ by more than a factor of two, based on factors controlled by and really only knowable to the pilot(*).

          Even if the operators of the flight-sharing app sincerely want to stop their pilots from making a profit (on which point I am skeptical), I don’t see them as actually being able to do so. They could, however, drive pilots to take extra risks in order to keep their costs below any imposed revenue cap.

          * Barring the intervention of a forensic accountant and/or the sort of bookkeeping requirements that will dissuade anyone who would have trouble with 14 CFR 135.

          • bean says:

            Out of curiosity, how does this happen? The only obvious exploit involves rental vs ownership of the airplane, but that seems reasonably resistant to gaming. I suppose you could play games with fuel sourcing or something.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If the pilot wants to cheat, the app certainly can’t stop him. That would be on the pilot. But that’s different from Uber, where there’s no requirement not to make a profit in the first place.

            But cost-sharing is explictly allowed, it’s in the CFRs. The FAA is apparently trying to keep it obscure but not forbidden.

          • John Schilling says:

            Out of curiosity, how does this happen?

            Fuel consumption is one aspect of it. By the book, my airplane can get about 14 mpg cruising at ~175 mph with a rich throttle setting at 5000′, or 22 mpg at ~130 mph running lean of peak at 8000′. Lean-of-peak operation is associated with a small increase in engine wear if you have a $5000 engine analyzer, and a substantially increased risk if you do it by ear.

            Fuel sourcing, definitely. If I’m flying out of Burbank, Avgas costs $7.20/gallon (where fuel pricing serves as a de facto use fee). Ten miles away in El Monte, it’s $4.90/gallon. Thirty miles away in Apple Valley, $4.45/gallon (where it is a loss leader for the airport FBO and restaurant). But my passengers want to go to Burbank nonstop, which can encourage running fuel reserves dangerously low while I wait for an opportunity to stop at the cheap fuel stop and/or fly dangerously overloaded right after I filled the extended-range tank at same. And if I’m in a state with no ethanol mandate, I can use auto gas instead – yet another risk factor, which the FAA usually allows for private but not commercial operations.

            The engine should be replaced or overhauled every 2,000 flying hours, which is $30,000 for a factory rebuild or maybe less than half that from your local mechanic. Also, “every 2,000 hours” is mandatory in commercial service; private owner-pilots are allowed to stretch that so long as the engine seems to be running fine and their mechanic signs off on it every year.

            Speaking of local mechanics, I budget $3000/year for the annual inspection and associated repairs, from one of the top mechanics in the country for my make and model (but 300+ miles away and so another $1000 for the trip). I know where I can get the signatures and the probably-won’t-crash job done locally and for less than half the price.

            Storing the airplane in a hangar would be $240/month; a tiedown at Lancaster is $55 but exposes my airplane to high-desert dust storms.

            Rental airplanes are probably right out for this application because the actual owner will veto it, but depreciation and/or loan payments on a late-model airplane in good condition with full instrumentation will be at least twice those for a worn-out version of the same nominal make and model with a bare-bones IFR suite.

            If you set the price at an honest and even cost share for someone doing the job right, I’m pretty sure I can cut the cost by at least half and break even with one passenger, or make $25/hour with two. And then there’s the bit where I lie through my teeth and say it’s safe to fly with three, then pocket $40/hour.

            If I’m flying on my own account and occasionally sharing flights with friends or the sort of person who reads airport bulletin boards, I’m going to do things to my risk tolerance and if I’m a dangerous cheapskate, very few people will be exposed to that. Sky-Uber offers vastly more opportunity, and thus vastly greater incentive for risky behavior in the name of profit. And Sky-Uber saying “We pinky-swear this is just ride-sharing, and shame on our pilots if they try to make money, the terms of service clearly say not to do that”, yeah, pull the other one.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Engine overhaul every 2000 hours, on top of $3000/year in maintenance? That’s one expensive bass boat.

          • bean says:

            @John

            Fuel consumption is one aspect of it.

            Facepalm.
            Obvious in retrospect. I’m a little bit surprised how much avgas varies in cost, but I guess it works for Burbank somehow.

            @Nybbler

            Engine overhaul every 2000 hours, on top of $3000/year in maintenance? That’s one expensive bass boat.

            John commutes in his plane. Someone who flies less and is less cautious and less willing to spend money could get by on half that. And the overhaul works out to $15/hr if you do it really right. So the engine earns more than minimum wage, but not by much. But 2,000 hours is a lot in flight time, and you can get your mechanic to sign off on more if you’re private.

          • redRover says:

            Also, 2000 hours is about 20 years of flying for most private pilots. So, it’s a lot of money, but the per year reserves are fairly low. (And also, have you seen the prices of new outboards these days? A 150hp for a bass boat is about 10-15k, and while you certainly have people who run them for fifty years, particularly for boats only used for two weeks on a freshwater lake, most outboards are good for maybe 15 years if the boat lives on a dock.)

          • redRover says:

            Also, how does a flight-sharing app disallow “cost-sharing” that ends up with the pilot making an absolute profit?

            Europe apparently has more liberal rules on cost-sharing, or at least more liberal rules about advertising cost shared flights. One proposed way around this problem, which is apparently legal in the UK, is to have the plane owned by an LLC, rent it out at some inflated rate, and then the pilot and his passengers all pay a pro-rata share to the LLC. There are some extra maintenance costs associated with renting the plane, versus owner-flying, but if you were to be doing cost shared flights regularly it would seem worthwhile.

    • redRover says:

      I think instead of Uber for planes, a ZipCar (or RelayRides https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turo_(car_rental)) for planes would be more interesting. Currently, if you want to rent a plane away from your home airport, you usually have to get a checkout and some other things, so that it’s a fairly involved process.

      There are obviously some problems with this, both around the variety of pilot skills and the asymmetry in maintenance costs if something goes wrong, but for a pilot based in New York, who wants to rent a plane one weekend in Idaho, and in California the next, it seems like there would be some way to make it better than the current system. Maybe you could have a universal checkout to higher standards than the BFR, so having an express pass would give you access to all in-network FBOs planes. Anyways, this seems less fraught than the Uber for planes idea.

  47. somervta says:

    This is a somewhat misleading presentation of the philosophers data. The data is from a survey sent out to philosophers in the Directory of American Philosophers, 2008-2009, with a response rate of 27.9%. In the survey, respondents were asked to consider a prospective candidate for employment on the faculty, and answered questions about whether a given characteristic was likely to enhance or damage the candidate’s chances.
    It looks* like this data is taken from the ‘% damages’ cells in Supplemental Table 5.1: Breakdown of Whether Belonging to Selected Social Groups Enhances or Damages Job Applicants by Discipline, or at least calculated from the means the same way – not all of these are in that table.

    Here, atheists have ‘7.9% damages’ for philosophy, but ‘*9.9*% enhances’; being an atheist was more likely to enhance than damage your chances if you were being reviewed by one of these respondent philosophers

    *the n in the book is 160, not 159, but other than that all the numbers match up

    The primary use of the data wasn’t his table; it’s presented as the mean response on a 1-7 Likertlike scale to the question of how a particular characteristic affects your support for a candidate if you were able to know it of a candidate for a new professor;
    1— Extremely damages support of candidate
    2— Moderately damages support of candidate
    3— Slightly damages support of candidate
    4— Does not make a difference
    5— Slightly enhances support of candidate
    6— Moderately enhances support of candidate
    7— Extremely enhances support of candidate

    (there was also an eighth N/A option for if you didn’t understand the characteristic, which is presumably where the decrease of 1 came from to get =159?)

  48. birdboy2000 says:

    Newspaper owned by the richest man in the world writes article about inequality, shouldn’t they disclose that fact somewhere in the article? No wonder the proposals were for the most part so toothless – a lot of them focused on some subgroup of the poor, while leaving many or most existing poor people in the same position – and they all completely ignored the political dimension. (You can’t realistically expect an oligarchic government to fix this, any real solution needs to either end the US system of de facto oligarchy or level the distribution of wealth enough to make it impossible, incrementalism under oligarchy is a fool’s errand.)

    • cryptoshill says:

      The two that I respected the most out of that article were the person recommending housing build (I need to re-source this but I remember reading a decent analysis that suggested that the increase in rental prices and homeownership costs have created *one hundred percent* of the increase in wealth inequality.) and the libertarian who suggested we exiled the one percent. There is also this mythological idea that capital is taxed less than labor, if your Marginal Effective Tax Rate for the company is 29%, and investors pay 15% capital gains tax – that is already at the highest possible tax bracket not including all of the taxes a business pays for payroll, cost of goods, importation taxes, etc.

  49. jg29a says:

    And late night talk shows with 50-ish hosts and (I’m guessing) 30-ish writers sure seem to think that current teenagers are named things like “Jennifer” and “Jeremy”.

  50. alex111 says:

    The contributions by civ/culture graph is not very convincing. European is a misleading and anachronistic term for Ancient Greek and Roman achievements. Not only many of the persons in question resided in Asia or Africa but also culturally they had more in common with fellow mediterraneans rather than with the barbarians of Northern Europe. In other words, someone born in Alexandria would be classified as European if he was born in 1 century AC and as non-European if he was born in 10 century AC.

  51. Brett says:

    I’m hoping for smaller fusion plants, ones that could produce energy in the 100 MW range and are small enough that you could fit them on a bunch of ships.

    I’m curious about that profit margin data. How much of the average is being dragged down by money-losing firms? Not a lot in some sectors obviously, such as retail (that Walmart margin given at the link sounds about right, and it’s typical for retail). Incidentally, this explains why unions trying to organize low-paid service sector workers (particularly fast food) have been trying to get “joint employer” status off the ground – if they have to bargain with the franchise-holders directly employing the workers only, there’s very little margin for any gains (although wages aren’t everything and having some say over workplace conditions obviously matters too).

    Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has made that point about Pharma before as well. When you look at Return on Investment, Pharma kind of falls into the “triumph of hope over experience” factor with relatively unremarkable returns as a sector (and apparently it’s gotten worse in the years since he wrote that post).

    Maybe the “union” issue with Ordoliberalism is that it allows for corporations and unions to tailor working conditions and wages for their sectors, rather than taking a public regulatory approach. Germany did not have a statutory minimum wage for a long-time as an example of this, IIRC.

    I bet that percentage of “no sex in a year” people is lower than the actual percentage.

    Dean Baker at CEPR has been pointing that out for a while. There was a slow decline in manufacturing jobs before 2000 – and a much steeper decline in unionized manufacturing jobs since the 1960s, although they were made up for by non-union manufacturing jobs – but it fell off a cliff in the early 2000s. Trade integration with China was a huge shock to the sector, although not really a big shock to employment as a whole.

    • It would be great to have cargo ships powered by fusion from an environmental standpoint but these fusion plants do produce neutrons and so still could be used to produce plutonium if the operators chose to do so.

      • James C says:

        I feel that there’s a lot of steps missing between neutron source and plutonium that we could keep track of, but I’m not a nuclear physicist.

        • John Schilling says:

          The missing steps are depleted and/or natural uranium feedstock and some non-nuclear chemical processing equipment, which we haven’t been keeping track of and would probably have trouble putting under control at this late a date. Probably worth the trouble for a really good fusion reactor, but my hunch is that this approach will lead to a moderately crappy fusion reactor that is only marginally better than a good fission reactor.

          There’s another pathway from Thorium to weapons-grade uranium that I don’t want to go into too much detail about, but which would be troublesome to lock down.

      • Lapsed Pacifist says:

        I don’t know how great it would be to have privately owned fusion bombs in every major seaport.

        • Protagoras says:

          That certainly does sound like an unappealing possibility. Except that that isn’t what is being discussed; are you really this unaware of how different fusion bombs and fusion power plants are?

          • John Schilling says:

            But James Cameron told us that if a fusion reactor ever lost its cooling supply, it would vaporize an area the size of Nebraska. And if you can’t trust James Cameron, who can you trust?

          • Protagoras says:

            @John Schilling, That seems to be a universe in which everything is engineered to be as dangerous as possible; their approach to bio-weapons seems to be based on the theory that if it isn’t more hazardous to you than to your enemies, you are doing something wrong. I imagine you could design a kind of fusion reactor which was capable of exploding if you tried really, really hard, and that’s just the sort of thing that the inhabitants of that world might try really, really hard at.

  52. Liberalism Of The Month for May is Ordoliberalism, an economic philosophy that dominated post-war Germany and “emphasizes the need for the state to ensure that the free market produces results close to its theoretical potential”. That sounds pretty attractive to me, but for some reason it seems to get bogged down in stuff about trade unionism that doesn’t seem to clearly follow.

    I think it diverged from the thought of the founding figures over time. I’d be very interested in reading anything written by Walter Eucken whose theories supposedly influenced the policies behind Germany’s post-war economic boom, but he seems like an overlooked figure, so his work might not have been translated into English.

    In contrast to laissez-faire, which by the 1930s had been observed to give rise to cartels and an undue concentration of power, ordoliberalism aims to put limits on the economic power of individuals, companies and associations. This is achieved through a legal and institutional framework, including maintenance of private property, enforcement of private contracts, liability, free entry to markets, and monetary stabilization. In this, the state should refrain from directing or intervening in the economic processes of daily practices, as in a centrally planned economy, but rather provide a well-functioning competitive Ordnung (order) in which private agents can act without frequent discretionary influence from the state

    The idea seems to be to emphasize a competitive market, rather than a “free” market per se, which put ordoliberals at odd with laissez faire liberals support for free markets and Nazi support for restricted competition and favored companies.

    EDIT: It does appear that his book “The Foundations of Economics: History and Theory in the Analysis of Economic Reality” exists in English.

  53. Virbie says:

    > QZ has a big article out on how an economic reanalysis shows the consensus was wrong and China was taking our manufacturing jobs all along (with automation having a much smaller role). Still haven’t gotten a chance to look into it in depth, curious what the economists here think

    I was pretty surprised to hear about this news recently framed as an i-told-you-so; I thought there was a study which came out a couple years ago that came to this conclusion, or at least a fairly similar one. IIRC, the claim was that the entrance of China was into the global market was so massive that adjustment shocks overwhelmed the gains to the US from free trade efficiency GAINS (at least in certain sectors). The authors of the study claimed that this was a sui generis event that doesn’t really generalize much. While I can understand this POV[1], I can hardly blame the skeptics.

    [1]. China was the world’s largest economy for 18 of the last 20 centuries, so it’s plausible that their re-entry into significance would be truly singular

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      That wasn’t the exact I-told-you-so I had in mind. For me, I was voting for Pat Buchanan back in the 90s and in the robotics lab where I worked as an undergrad I would argue politics with my neocon professor. I would say “free trade is a sham. All we will wind up doing is shipping all the factory jobs over to China where they have slave labor. If we’re going to have worker protection laws and environmental regulations (as we should), then we need tariffs against imports from countries that don’t have similar standards.”

      And his response was not that “no the jobs won’t go overseas,” but that we don’t want those sorts of jobs, we want high tech jobs. And my response was “we’re all electrical engineers and engineering students. There’s a not a person in this room with an IQ under 125. The factory workers are average people with 100 IQs. They can’t do the things we do.”

      And there really wasn’t an answer to that. We got exactly what I predicted: poverty, malaise, drug abuse, suicide. It’s not an I-told-you-so I wanted.

      • Lapsed Pacifist says:

        Are you arguing that “poverty, malaise, drug abuse, suicide…” have *increased* in the US since the 90’s?

      • All we will wind up doing is shipping all the factory jobs over to China where they have slave labor.

        Might it be relevant that China became a major player in world markets only after they stopped having slave labor–when Mao died and the economy gradually shifted from socialism to “socialism with Chinese characteristics” aka very nearly as capitalist as the U.S.?

        Or is your definition of “slave labor” wages lower than U.S. wages but much higher than income was back when it really was a slave system?

  54. Jack V says:

    Old names.

    I found someone’s suggestion “confounded by age of respondents” an especially likely conclusion. But if there’s any truth to the name-stereotypes being frozen, I wonder if it could be (a) mass media perpetuating creators’ stereotypes instead of people’s personal experiences or (b) baby boomer demographic bump meaning people are more familiar with names that sound old to that generation.

    Or, possibly, that generations got stretched as people tend to live longer (or rather, stay active longer) — it’s possible 60 is more like middle age than old by some metrics.

  55. JoS says:

    Blogger at the World Bank is extremely unimpressed with GiveDirectly’s analysis of the impact of their cash transfer program; when spillover effects are treated correctly it is not clear it had any positive impact. And GiveWell (which is not the same organization as GiveDirectly, but does help fund them) responds, mostly saying they are waiting for a better study this November which should help clarify the issue.

    I think it is worth pointing out that this analysis is about the impact after 3 years. If I understand the Blog post by Berk Ozler correctly, the short-term study did find positive effects, both for comparing recipients to non-recipients in the same village and for comparing with people from non-treatment villages.

  56. IdleKing says:

    The average American thinks the average company makes a 36% profit – it actually makes about 8%. The AEI speculates that a lot of “raise the minimum wage, the companies can just take the losses out of the buckets of cash the greedy owners are hoarding for themselves” type of arguments come from this misunderstanding.

    Is 8% a lot? A little? One way of answering this is to look at historical data. When you do that you find that corporate profits are at historic highs as % of GDP. (Don’t just take my word for it: check out these charts.) Corporate profits at nearly HALF their current level were compatible with the economic boom of the 80s and 90s.

    (It may be worth noting that most other analysts put US corporate profits closer to 10% than 8%. I think this is just a question of how you handle intermediate goods and aggregation. Also note that it’s ~12% pre-tax.)

    But look — while the rhetoric of economic justice does make reference to corporate profits, the actual efficacy of a lot of the proposed policies (e.g. minimum wage) doesn’t depend on high corporate profits. The danger, as Scott laid out in Meditations on Moloch, is that ever-more-desperate competition on ever-thinner margins forces corporations to trade away “working conditions” in favor of “staying in business”, and similarly forces workers to trade away working conditions for subsistence. The point of e.g. a minimum wage (or OSHA, or corporate taxes to fund social spending) is to ensure that we don’t end up in this race to the bottom. I guess this is a “high-level generator of disagreement”, to use Scott’s framework from Tuesday.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Are these US profits or the profits of corporations listed on a US stock exchange? Because these aren’t the same thing. If GM buys $500 million in labor and makes $600 million in sales, it will show up as GDP of $600 million, with $100 million to capital and $500 million to labor.

      If GM buys $500 million in labor in CHINA and makes $600 million in sales in CHINA, it will show up as GDP of $0 (because it’s all in China), and yet S&P 500 measures will still show $100 million in profit. It will also show in the GNP numbers, but it’s not the US economy.

      • BillyZoom says:

        The chart being shown is from the Fed (see here: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=1Pik). The corporate profit line is from the BEA, with a methodology give here: https://www.bea.gov/scb/pdf/national/nipa/methpap/methpap2.pdf.

        Long, boring document, but the takeaway is that the CP line is from all global profits from all US domiciled entities, and profits are pulled from tax data (rather than financial reporting).

        The GDP number is for domestic production by both US and foreign entities operating in the US. So, to the extent that US-based companies increase their profits overseas faster than foreign companies increase their production in the US, the trend line will rise (as you describe above).

        Surprising (to me anyway) random factoid: In a GDP of ~19T, we have CP @ ~1.75T (peaked @ 1.8, down to 1.68 MRQ), we see that the 10 most profitable companies in the last fiscal year had an aggregate profit of ~210B. So these top 10 companies contributed 12% of the entire nations corporate profitability.

        For these companies, profit margin looks to average around 25%, with Apple doing a lot of the heavy lifting. These companies are all scale businesses in finance or tech, with a couple outliers in Altria and J&J and sort of Berkshire Hathaway.

        My best guess is none of these companies employ a single minimum wage employee (maybe J&J?). Walmart is 11th on the list I used, btw.

        If you took, say, the top 50 most profitable US companies which have ~0 minimum wage workers out of the calculation, you’d pull the average corporate profit rate down noticeably. Just taking the top 10 out pulls it down 1% or so.

        I guess my take from this is yes, corporate profits are high, but concentrated, favoring scale businesses in finance and tech. Profits outside these industries, especially amongst companies that hire minimum (or near) wage employees, are much lower. I’d say that the public’s perception of average corporate profit margins is driven by financial news reporting of the largest companies, and that the available profits for increasing worker salaries (minimum wage or not) outside of these global firms is constrained.

        It’s gonna be tough out there.

    • The danger, as Scott laid out in Meditations on Moloch, is that ever-more-desperate competition on ever-thinner margins forces corporations to trade away “working conditions” in favor of “staying in business”, and similarly forces workers to trade away working conditions for subsistence.

      The logic of that doesn’t require ever-more-desperate competition on ever-thinner margins. If the wage at which quantity supplied of low-skill labor equals quantity demanded is $10/hour and the legal minimum wage is $15/hour, employers find they can spend less on working conditions for such workers and still get workers, workers find that they are better off accepting the new wage and the new, worse, conditions than not having a job, so you end up with the pecuniary terms of transaction higher and the non-pecuniary terms lower.

      It’s the same logic as the effect of rent control on apartment quality. Without rent control, it pays the landlord to make any improvements, maintenance, etc. that are worth more to the tenant than they cost him, because he gets more than the cost back in the rent he can charge. With rent control it pays him to spend as little on such things as he can, since he can still find tenants.

  57. Harry says:

    The average American thinks the average company makes a 36% profit – it actually makes about 8%. The AEI speculates that a lot of “raise the minimum wage, the companies can just take the losses out of the buckets of cash the greedy owners are hoarding for themselves” type of arguments come from this misunderstanding.

    This is an extremely flawed argument. Most people who are concerned with increasing the minimum wage don’t use profit margins as their comparison point, for precisely this reason. Instead, they prefer to point to over-inflated high-level executive salaries and huge bonuses, both of which actually serve to lower overall profit margin.

    • Well... says:

      Instead, they prefer to point to over-inflated high-level executive salaries and huge bonuses, both of which actually serve to lower overall profit margin.

      …by attracting the best and most motivated executives who can boost profit margins?

      I don’t have a strong opinion on the minimum wage issue, and it’s because of chicken-and-egg problems like this.

    • Nornagest says:

      Most people don’t know what they’re talking about. High-level executive salaries, and bonuses for same, are unlikely to come to even one percent of revenue by my estimate: in 2017, companies in the S&P 500 averaged about 23 billion dollars in revenue and ten million dollars in total CEO compensation (salary, bonuses, and equity), making CEO compensation a twentieth of a percent of the top line. I haven’t been able to find figures for all executive positions, but this probably follows a power law-like distribution (most competitive fields do), so I’d expect to see only a few times that.

      It’s easy to point to some suit and say “hey, that guy is making $BIGNUM and I’m making $SMALLNUM”, and it’s hard to interpret accounting numbers, but profit margins are much more significant than executive compensation in large public companies. They’re not significant enough that shrinking profit margins would allow for large increases in pay to ordinary workers under most circumstances, but docking the C-suite’s pay wouldn’t even register.

  58. nestorr says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUQ-DdSDoE

    Have you guys SEEN this? It looks like google AI just passed the Turing test, quietly, with no fuss, thousands of times.

    Meanwhile people are flipping out because a Boston Dynamics robot jumped over a log…

    • poignardazur says:

      I think most interpretations of the Turing Test have the tester actually try to determine whether their conversation partner is a robot, and the freedom to ask the testee whatever question they want.

      Google’s AI is able to follow a somewhat simple script (ordering stuff online), and Google obviously didn’t show us the bloopers. I’m waaaay more impressed by the Boston Dynamics robots.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Impressive, but….

      I’d like something to wrestle with online forms for me.

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      It did. Well a “close enough” version

      I am convinced this entire reality is a simulation now designed to see how I and a few other creatures react to this or something like that. Or some simulation. Some 21’st century end of history experience. That’s what this has to be. This isn’t reality and none of us are actually here. WHAT A COINCIDENCE!

      People normally should be interested in an AI passing the turing test. But no. This happens consistently. Just consistent goalpost moving. That never ends. People move the goalposts for “Is this AI” for the last 40 years. And will do so until a god is invented.

      We just had something pass a turing test and nobody cares about the biggest event in history. Did this happen in original reality a trillion years ago? Has the master AI forgotten how people worked? How close is this? You would think a deadly war would break out over this. Is this some PG version of how it all went down?

      • ohwhatisthis? says:

        We have Watson, alphago zero(which became grand with the insight of “add more layers lol XD”), and now a lite turing test got passed. ANd nobody seems to care. FOr all of these achievements, there was not the corresponding amount of media news that should have happened.

        I think this is watching the end of normal history. Possibly over and over and over again. Were watching how the end of history played out.

      • Confusion says:

        And will do so until a god is invented.

        For values of ‘god’ where humans are gods.

        • ohwhatisthis? says:

          How else would it be? Any creator needs to come from the same evolutionary process as other creations.

          Scott Aaronsons work has pretty handily smashed the omnipotence argument, unless the upper reality being lives in some sort of space where hypercomputation is possible.

      • It isn’t passing the Turing test. The person at the other end of the phone doesn’t know it might be a computer, isn’t trying to use the conversation to find out if it is.

        • nestorr says:

          Sure, but the original Turing test is a thought experiment, and he envisaged it through a text interface. This would be an impressive performance for a chatbot, but hey, it’s speaking.

          No biggie.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            One participant trying to unmask the other as a robot isn’t a little detail in the Turing Test. It’s the entire point of the test. Sucessfully making an appointment at a hair salon is impressive for a bot, sure, but it’s a fundamentally different from passing the Turing Test or getting within miles of it.

          • beleester says:

            The speaking is impressive, but not for reasons related to the Turing test. Generating the text you want to say, and converting that text into natural-sounding speech, are almost completely separate problems.

            The only “thinking” bit in the demo that I can definitely say is part of the speech rather than the text generation is the part where it corrects the human by saying “four people.” That demonstrates that the speech synthesizer is content-aware enough to emphasize the word “four.”

            (I have read that speech synthesis benefits a surprising amount from ML advances, since the robot can “learn” how words map to soundwaves instead of having a giant database of prerecorded phonemes. But that’s still tangentially related to understanding text at best.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.

    • laughingagave says:

      I hadn’t seen it, but a short article showed up in MIT tech review just now, saying people were mostly weirded out by it, and Google has agreed to have it identify itself as artificial. It’s not incredibly surprising, though it is impressive. That’s probably because, as an outsider, it’s pretty hard to predict where technological roadblocks might be, so everything AI researchers do comes across as equally plausible/implausible. It would be interesting to know what it’s range is for vocal interactions. Could it, for instance, call around to different companies and find out details and prices not posted online? Will the next step be for those companies to implement AI call screeners because the information isn’t online on purpose?

      Making appointments seem like the least useful thing to do with the technology, but admittedly I’ve never known anyone who was so busy they considered hiring a personal assistant and having them make reservations; maybe there are more of those people than I thought. Once they’re all using AI assistants, I will doubtless be even less likely to ever meet them.

      Edit: The fact that the first things to spring to mind (and also in the Youtube comments) are just about a bunch of AIs calling each other and blocking each other’s calls seems to be the problem, and the reason this is going so under the radar. Is that intentional?

    • cassander says:

      We already have the perfect setup for a turing test. Have the AI work a call center and not have any customers shout “let me talk to a fucking human” into the phone. Anything less than that is small potatoes.

      • christhenottopher says:

        As a human who worked in a call center, you might be surprised by how often humans fail that test.

        • cassander says:

          Including humans who are native speakers of the caller’s language? I imagine there’s a lot of swearing at them, but not accusing them of being machines.

          • CatCube says:

            I was looking for some of the stories I saw on notalwaysright.com and wasn’t able to find them, but I remember more than a few from callers who were talking to a human that answered the phone and kept repeating “I want to talk to a human” over and over.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            @CatCube Here’s one, sort of, though it’s in a text interface instead of phone.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I’m disappointed in this comment thread. Slate Star readers should be savvier than this about overhyped AI claims.

      Yes, this is impressive – at least the two brief calls we heard in the video were impressive – but it’s not a trivial observation, or an attempt to move the goalposts, to note that the only reason this was possible is that things like making reservations are tightly restricted conversations where it’s normal for both parties to follow a script. I see no reason to think of this as some kind of fundamental breakthrough – not even as much as AlphaGo was, let alone the shattering news that a program actually passing the Turing Test would be.

      Could this answer Scott Aaronson’s shoebox vs. Mount Everest question? Or the question proposed by Douglas Hofstadter in Le Ton Beau de Marot: “Do you see anything suspicious about the image of a hard-boiled egg rolling end over end for fifteen seconds down a curving pathway defined by two parallel garden hoses separated by a half inch or so of space?”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Also, geek conversations sometimes take a random wander through general knowledge.

        • Aapje says:

          Will a person ever get back to the original starting point of a random walk? In 1921, George Pólya proved that the person almost surely will in a 2-dimensional random walk, but for 3 dimensions or higher, the probability of returning to the origin decreases as the number of dimensions increases. In 3 dimensions, the probability decreases to roughly 34%.

          Pólya is a Martian (nickname for Hungarian Jewish scientists who migrated to the US). Scott has written about this previously.

  59. GermanEcon says:

    I did a PhD in economics in a German university with strong ordoliberal tradition. I can answer a couple of questions on ordoliberalism in case there’s interest. You can probably disregard the thing about trade unions as specific to Germany’s own institutional set up, I don’t remember it being central to ordoliberalism thought per se.

    • Can you explain how ordoliberalism differs from classical liberalism on the one hand and modern liberalism, American sense, on the other?

      • GermanEcon says:

        As a German I’m not 100% sure I fully understand the underlying philosophy or principles of American liberalism, but here goes my attempt at an answer.

        Ordoliberalism agrees with classical liberalism in seeing the market economy as a fundamentally desirable and just order for society. The role of economic competition is seen not only in guaranteeing economic efficiency, but also in preventing the abuse of (economic) power within society and thus in enabling a “free society of equals”. Classical liberalism’s “nightwatch”-role of the state (restricting the state to enforcement of property rights and contracts) is however seen as insufficient to guarantee a desirable social order. The “laissez faire” approach of classical liberalism is rejected in favor of a very active role of the state in planning for and enforcing society’s institutional framework.

        Ordoliberalism does not think that whatever results from the free and unmediated interplay of individuals in society, regardless of the institutional constraints in place, will be good social outcomes. Specifically, ordoliberalism accuses the “laissez-faire” of classical liberalism of having allowed Germany to become a land of monopolies in the late 19th century. By having allowed market participants to enter into cartel agreements, the “free” nature of society was undermined via misuse of the institution of freedom of contract.
        It a key tenet of ordoliberalism that only under a good set of rules and institutions can good and desirable social outcomes be expected to result from the interplay of individual actions.

        In regards to market processes, ordoliberalism does not think the state should plan the economic process itself (rejection of inefficient central planning, unacceptable power concentration). Nor should it intervene into regular competitive economic dynamics (e.g. by helping workers in declining industries sustain their livelihood by shielding their industry from competition, or by fixing certain prices to help certain favored groups, etc). If the state gives itself the freedom to intervene into economic processes by granting privileges to certain groups (as opposed to restricting itself to planning and enforcing the rules for economic processes), the state allows itself to become increasingly captured by economic interest groups and will become a “weak” state. A “strong” state is a state which restricts its actions to planning and enforcing broad rules and institutions, and which furthermore actively fosters the institutional preconditions for a competitive market economy. This probably a key difference to American liberalism, which I understand is more intervention friendly.

        To actively enable and maintain a market economy the state must i.a. guarantee a stable currency, keep markets open for competition, ensure freedom of contract, and ensure correct incentives.
        Ordoliberalism places greater focus than classical liberalism on the state’s role in planning the institutional order to adequately deal with and mitigate undesirable outcomes due to “market flaws”: e.g. state control of natural monopolies, regulating external effects, the provision of public goods not supplied by the market, provision of social safety net etc.

        However, in contrast to American liberalism, ordoliberalism recommends the state should focus its activities on broad institutional solutions, otherwise risk being captured by interest groups. And if the state wants to mitigate market flaws, it should be mindful that it does not do so via the granting of economic privileges.
        Ordoliberalism sees absence of economic privileges (i.e. rules which within the logic of the market economy can only be granted to some groups, but not to everyone without destroying the fundamental nature of the market economy, such as exclusive monopoly rights in an industry) as a very important and desirable characteristic of institutional orders.
        The cumulative effect of granting privileges to many groups is to subvert the nature of the market economy and to convert it into a new kind of feudalism. American liberalism seems to have a blind spot in regards to both the privilege-nature of many of its desired policies, and in regards to the cumulative effect that these desired piecemeal policies will have on the nature of the social order, while these topics are central in ordoliberal thought.

        • Thanks.

          To actively enable and maintain a market economy the state must i.a. guarantee a stable currency, keep markets open for competition, ensure freedom of contract, and ensure correct incentives.

          Why does the state have to provide any currency at all? Currency can be, and historically often has been, privately provided. Or citizens could choose to use the currency of another state.

          I’m not sure what “ensure freedom of contract” means. I would have said that it is normally government action that prevents freedom of contract.

          “Insure correct incentives” is pretty vague. The usual economic argument for laissez-faire is that it results in correct incentives: P=MC=MV. How does ordoliberalism propose to give government actors the correct incentives? How do you make it in the interest of legislators to pass those laws that best serve the population, or judges to make correct decisions?

          If the state controls natural monopolies, how do you give the regulators (if the monopolies are private but regulated) or the government officials running the monopolies (if they are governmental) the correct incentives? Do you tell them to set price equal to average cost? Marginal cost? How do you make it in their interest to correctly do either?

          • Tim van Beek says:

            I’m not sure what “ensure freedom of contract” means.

            It is the literal translation of “Vertragsfreiheit”, which means the freedom to conclude contracts with whom you want in any form you want. (“freedom of contract” seems to be the correct translation, or isn’t it?)

            I would have said that it is normally government action that prevents freedom of contract.

            Ordoliberalism sees the state as provider of sound legal protection, providing means to enforce contracts by e.g. suing. In this sense, the state is the protector (or provider) of said freedom.

            But, yes, of course no freedom is absolute, so the state has to restrict the freedom of contract. One example already mentioned is by preventing companies from merging or buying each other when this would result in a monopoly (or something close to that).

            This is implemented in Germany in a similar way to the USA, with the analogy of the Antitrust Division of the DoJ being the “Bundeskartellamt”.

          • Classical liberalism assumes that it’s the job of the state to provide a legal system that enforces contracts (anarcho-capitalism doesn’t, but that’s a variant), so that isn’t a difference with regard to ordoliberalism. A good many classical liberals believed that the state ought not to enforce contracts in restraint of trade. Anti-trust action beyond that is a bit iffy from the classical liberal position.

          • benf says:

            “Why does the state have to provide any currency at all? Currency can be, and historically often has been, privately provided.”

            You missed the key word “stable”. Currency has been privately provided, and that currency is subject to all kinds of nasty booms and busts that make transaction costs very high and unnecessarily hamstring the economic system. There is a market failure in the provision of a stabilizing institution with enough market power to keep currency values predictable. Even state money is very difficult to keep in balance – private money has been a disaster enough times that I think we can consider that question answered.

        • What stands out to me is the fact that monopolies, often predicted as a theoretical drawback of classical liberalism , actually occurred, and ordoliberalism was a reaction to them.

        • James Green says:

          This is only the macroeconomic half of the political economy. Without detailing the political half it is only half of a potentially useful idea. In fact I can’t actually see any difference between this ordoliberalism and more general forms of liberalism at all. They appear identical to me because all forms of liberalism march in the same direction and to the same eventual destination if they are under the same political system.

        • Ted Pudlik says:

          Could you recommend a good book on ordoliberal principles, preferably in English (but German is ok, too, if the essential works have not been translated)?

  60. rlms says:

    Memoir of Benny Goodman’s fairly disastrous tour of the Soviet Union.

    Txokos were/are Spanish gastronomical societies that functioned as enclaves from Francoist oppression of Basques due to their prohibition of political discussion (the parallels with .5 Open Threads are obvious). Also interesting as an example of a commun(al)ist institution.

  61. truthtaker says:

    Well, in regards to the bias against transexuals in philosophy – think to the ideologies involved.
    Philosophy itself is often thought of as the “search for truth”.
    Contrast that with transexual ideology (and related ‘identity’ streams of thought). Under TSI, if you identify as something, you are that thing, and you also gain a moral claim to attack anyone who says you are not that thing. It’s a half-sidestep from solopsism etc.
    So, if you’re quite obviously physically a man, and and you identify as a woman, that puts you into direct conflict with any philosopher who originates their thought in physical evidence etc. Of course there’d be philosophers who *like* that sort of thought experiment of denying certain aspects of physical evidence – hence the only 20% hard rejection.

    As for the opposite-party plumber problem, it’s pretty simple. People take so much on trust in regards to competence, and something that shows a person is so different to you in values and thoughts is reason to withdraw that emprace of trust.
    I wonder though what the effect would be if you split it between your career and a foreign field. Would knowing that you can understand what the other person is doing in their work make you *more* likely to trust them? It’s easier for a programmer to check someone else’s code than understand whether a pipe fitter is doing a good job or not.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      One might as well say that anti-trans ideology requires the direct conflict with physical reality of claiming that Buck Angel is obviously a woman.

      • Lapsed Pacifist says:

        Buck Angel is obviously a woman, and I can tell because there are apparent physiological/musculoskeletal differences. Sorry. This isn’t much of a gotcha.

        I imagine that there would be a good deal of apparent differences in socialization and physical mannerisms as well, were I to meet them in person.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          I suggest you do not use this strategy in real life lest you call a Hell’s Angel with an unusual musculoskeletal structure “she” and get beaten up. Fortunately for your continued physical health, I’m pretty sure this is just your knowledge of Buck Angel’s chromosomes overriding the obvious physical aspects of his appearance.

          I actually have met him in person and he’s just… very gay. Which makes sense, because he’s gay.

      • Well, that Buck Angel was AFAB certainly isn’t obvious to me. What apparent differences would these be?

    • enye-word says:

      This was my guess too. Thanks for writing this comment and saving me some time!

      Though, in looking into it more, I become increasingly unsure of my guess, or even that the data are meaningful. But what can you do?

  62. knockknock says:

    If a calendar is truly metal it must also have a Month of Partying Down with Crazy Chicks

  63. n8chz says:

    Oh, this is rich:

    Imagine you had complete control of the U.S. government: What one thing would you do to reduce the country’s staggering economic inequality?

    Fighting inequality with absolute monarchy smh.

    • Well... says:

      It seems like you could hack the question by not including the implied bit about the outcome being good.

      For example…

      Confiscate everyone’s money and liquidate their assets, then redistribute the money exactly equally. Kill anyone who resists and put their money into the general pool.

      • rlms says:

        The libertarian think tank answer was “send the rich to Venezuela”.

        • Well... says:

          I didn’t read it; was it a way of saying “what a dumb question”?

          • Tim van Beek says:

            Not quite, the point is that the rise of inequality isn’t a problem, mainly because

            …the rising inequality in the past four decades has been driven by a spectacular rise in the earnings of the top 0.1 percent; inequality in the 99.9 percent has not changed that much.

            Meaning that the (economic) problems of the 99.9 percent are not related to the rise in inequality.

            When you talk to prosecutors in Italy who try to battle the Mafia, what they will tell you among other things: Economic power sooner or later translates into political power. Once someone has sufficient political power, prosecution becomes impossible.

            So I wonder what libertarians say about that? Forget economics and accept the viewpoint cited above for a moment , isn’t it a danger (that has arguably already become partially a reality) in the USA that economic inequality transforms a Democracy into an oligarchic Plutocracy?

          • John Schilling says:

            I forget, what’s the name for the kind of -ocracy where the media elite tells everyone what to believe and who to vote for? Or the one with the party hacks in smoke-filled rooms?

            It is the nature of political power to concentrate, and it is not rational for voters in a democracy to resist that. If you don’t like large concentrations of power, best make sure there aren’t large amounts of political power to concentrate.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Economic power sooner or later translates into political power.

            I don’t think they have it right. It’s that economic power _requires_ political power. Because if you make money without getting influence over politics, you won’t be able to keep the money. That’s a lesson Microsoft learned almost too late.

          • Tim van Beek says:

            It’s that economic power _requires_ political power.

            It is not a strict monocausal relationship, so both statements don’t contradict themselves.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            I disagree. Democracy is the means by which the accumulation of political power in the hands of an elite is reduced.

          • Tim van Beek says:

            It is the nature of political power to concentrate, and it is not rational for voters in a democracy to resist that.

            Parsing that gets me: “Democracies inevitably turn into dictatorships, and no one should resist that”, is that right? It seems really dark…

            If you don’t like large concentrations of power, best make sure there aren’t large amounts of political power to concentrate.

            Ok, how does that translate into concrete actions regarding the thought experiment of the OP?

          • John Schilling says:

            Parsing that gets me: “Democracies inevitably turn into dictatorships, and no one should resist that”, is that right? It seems really dark…

            The key, and the problem, is that no one should resist that. Each voter gets approximately the same benefit by blowing off the whole deal and either free-riding on other people’s dictatorship-reducing efforts or consoling themselves that at least they didn’t invest in a doomed effort.

            There are social and psychological benefits to hopping on the bandwagon someone else is using to drive voters to the polls, but that’s not the same thing and at best a weak preventative against dictatorship.

          • isn’t it a danger (that has arguably already become partially a reality) in the USA that economic inequality transforms a Democracy into an oligarchic Plutocracy?

            Interesting question.

            One answer is that the individual billionaire who wants the government to do things that benefit him at the expense of the rest of us is competing for political power with corporations that have even more assets than he does and are selling their products to a large number of non-billionaires. If what he wants the government to do hurts their customers by increasing the cost or decreasing the quality of what the corporation sells, it is in the corporation’s interest to oppose it. Of course, a corporation also may want government to do things that benefit it (and possibly, but not necessarily, its customers) and hurt the rest of us.

            But it’s worth remembering that the powerful political actors, for good and bad, are not limited to individuals.

            The nice thing about having billionaires around is that they can function as what is referred to as a “privileged minority” in the context of ways of solving public good problems. A privileged minority is a group that gets enough of the benefit of the public good to be willing to pay for it, even though everyone else free rides, and is small enough to be able to coordinate for the purpose.

            Of course, different people may disagree about the sign of the net effect of the public good. In the political context, I am describing both Soros and the Koch Brothers.

          • Tim van Beek says:

            One answer is that…

            So the main points are that there are also corporations, and both corporations and individuals may act beneficially.
            I think we have a major divide in how Americans and Europeans see rich entities (corporations or individuals), based on idealized narratives abstracted from their national history.

            Americans see Bill Gates, a self made billionaire who got rich through hard work and innovations, providing jobs for thousands, never trying to misuse his power and spending all his money for charities (“behind every big fortune is a successful enterprise”).

            Europeans see Silvio Berlusconi, who got rich through organized crime (allegedly), used his money to build a media empire corrupting society, and public opinion in particular, and got into politics primarily in order to sabotage investigations into his crimes and enabling new ones (“behind every big fortune is a major crime”).

            That’s why I chose Italy as an example to introduce the subject 😉

            So, this is basically anecdotal evidence. What confuses me most about this kinds of debates is that this is usually phrased/presented as fundamental insights derived from first principles.

            If one accepts that this is not the case, the original question still stands: Don’t you think that rising economic inequality may lead to an Oligarchy with “bad” actors who destabilize society?

            Example: The donor class gets the Republicans to completely dispose of Medicare and Medicaid (for example by, among other things, paying for the personal security of delegates via private bodygards etc.). All people with family members for whom this is a death sentence decide to exercise their second amendment rights.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            When you talk to prosecutors in Italy who try to battle the Mafia, what they will tell you among other things: Economic power sooner or later translates into political power.

            I don’t know the actual history so I speak under correction, but the implied sequence of events (Mafia first gets rich doing non-violent stuff, which gives them enough political power so they can become violent with impunity) seems implausible, compared to the storyline in which their willingness and commitment to engage in violence gave them an alternative form of political power, which they were then able to use to enrich themselves.

          • Tim van Beek says:

            Mafia first gets rich doing non-violent stuff, which gives them enough political power so they can become violent with impunity.

            That’s not the implied sequence of events, it is “Mafia gets rich through crime (possibly both violent and non-violent), launders its money to become legitimate businessmen, then use their economic power to get political power in order to prevent prosecution”.
            A concrete example is the career of Silvio Berlusconi. If you don’t buy the allegations of his connections to the Mafia (first part of the sequence), the latter ones are in plain sight, especially that he passed laws that directly hindered ongoing investigations against him.

          • baconbits9 says:

            How is it that the Mafia have a marketplace to work win? Organized crime in the US has traditionally developed power in a few vices- prostitution, gambling, drugs- which were outlawed. In this situation political power is required to set the conditions for the crime boss and the thread goes Political power -> crime -> economic power -> political power. In this series political power is the cause of the crime boss and the means to which he defends himself, making it the clear problem.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            That is a silly argument. Prostitution, gambling & drugs were not made illegal to support the mafia, but because people wanted to make people stop doing these things.

            So: attempt to control people -> people seek illicit ways -> crime with high margins -> organized crime as criminals professionalize -> mafia needs to launder their money -> mafia goes into ‘legitimate’ business -> etc

          • cryptoshill says:

            In regards to the bit on illegality of prostitution, gambling etc ostensibly being an effort to stop these things – I think you’re essentially correct. However if you read Johann Hari’s book Chasing the Scream – he draws an excellent line between the prohibition of these things and their ability to empower orgnaized crime actors. His model for it is sort of a “dictatorship of the most brutal”. Going all the way back to Bastiat, there’s the idea of “Where goods don’t flow, soldiers will” – I don’t think we can discount this intuition just because the soldiers look different.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That is a silly argument. Prostitution, gambling & drugs were not made illegal to support the mafia, but because people wanted to make people stop doing these things.

            Your reasons for doing things don’t change the outcomes of the things you do (in most cases). The political power caused the markets to be created in such a way as to allow for the rise of the mafia don.

            How you are also factually incorrect. Prohibition for one example was supported by Baptists and bootleggers, people who wanted no drinking and people who were already in the grey and black markets and saw a profit opportunity. Furthermore many prohibitions are embraced not with an overwhelming majority of people supporting it, but with a small minority pushing for it and with politicians caving to well organized groups. The direct reason for these laws if frequently not “people want to stop x” but “politician wants to keep job”.

          • John Schilling says:

            Don’t you think that rising economic inequality may lead to an Oligarchy with “bad” actors who destabilize society?

            Possibly, but I don’t focus on that hypothetical to any of the others – like the one where, e.g., rising educational inequality may lead to an oligarchy of bad actors.

            You will of course tell us that Europe has no educational inequality because the government pays for college and university. But, e.g., the French government pays for a carefully selected 0.02% of the population to attend the École Nationale D’administration, and the other 99.98% to attend schools where they are taught to be useful subordinates. In the UK, it’s the Oxford Philosophy, Politics, and Economics degree program and a few others that fill the same role.

            Or maybe you’ll tell us that going to the Right School guarantees that people won’t be a “bad actors”. Hah.

            The US has pretty much handed the Supreme Court over to Yale and Harvard, but Congress, the Presidency, and the Civil Service are still reasonably open. And billionaires, American ones at least, are going to bring more intellectual and ideological diversity to the table, which I think argues against forming an oligarchy. Might be different in Europe where more of the billionaires are hereditary.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            The political power caused the markets to be created in such a way as to allow for the rise of the mafia don.

            But it was not the political power of the precursors to the mafia that created those markets.

            Prohibition for one example was supported by Baptists and bootleggers, people who wanted no drinking and people who were already in the grey and black markets and saw a profit opportunity.

            The paper that you are referring to is merely theoretical and doesn’t seem to offer any actual evidence that this coalition actually existed or that the bootleggers had any significant influence.

            I’d like some actual evidence.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But it was not the political power of the precursors to the mafia that created those markets.

            Even if it wasn’t it is irrelevant, the point is the existing political power explains both ends. However

            In 1855, Connecticut passed a prohibition law, only to have it repealed 2 years later. The breakdown of prohibition, according to Governor Dutton, was caused by the sabotage and greed of state attorneys and enforcement officers, “men who made use of the law for the purpose of making money”

            This system, on paper, had appeal to a wide spectrum of opinion on the liquor question. Prohibitionists and antiprohibitionists were initially united, and the first year of the experiment seemed to bear out the promise of this immediate approach. In the year before the new law went into effect, there were 613 licensed saloons in the state; once these were shut down, the 146 dispensaries constituted the only points of legal distribution (Grant 1932, p. 8). Besides reducing the number of outlets, the state-run system produced significant revenues; the profits amounted to one-half million dollars a year, roughly a third of the total raised from all state sources. Despite an auspicious beginning, the state-operated scheme of regulation soon proved to have major flaws. The chief problem that emerged was pervasive malfeasance in the management and enforcement apparatus. The state board of control and the county board whose members it approved became notorious for their venality. As an investigating committee of the legislature reported in 1906, “officials of the dispensaries ‘have become shameless in their abuse of power, insatiate in their greed, and perfidious in the discharge of their duties’” (Grant 1932, p. 10). State agents were imprisoned for various conspiracies to receive bounties and rebates from distilleries; local dispensaries regularly violated the letter of the law, which required written application, and the enforcement officers, called “spies,” were as suspect of corruption as those whose conduct they were supposed to monitor.

            Multiple attempts at prohibition within the US ended fairly abruptly with scandal often involving elected officials and those charged with carrying out enforcement.

          • rlms says:

            @Aapje
            But it’s such a catch phrase! Why would you need evidence?

            I’m not sure if there is any evidence that bootleggers promoted prohibition before it came into existence, but there was a coalition of wet country liquor stores and anti-alcohol Christians in 2014 that worked against the repeal of temperance laws.

          • Aapje says:

            @rlms

            Not really impressed by that. Those liquor stores didn’t want alcohol sales to be banned in a way that made their own store illegal, so they could supply illegally. They merely wanted less legal competition for their own legal sales.

            Those stores wouldn’t ally with anti-alcohol Christians to get anti-alcohol laws passed for their own region.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Berlusconi is, if anything, an even more non-central example than the Mafia: he got political power by becoming a politician and getting elected.

  64. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I see people on the left say often enough that if a business can’t afford to pay minimum wage and supply benefits up to some standard, then it shouldn’t exist. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been thought through– is everyone actually better off if such businesses don’t exist? Should some of them be considered community services and get government support and pay better?

    Faint memory of something from Ayn Rand– a complaint that communists and communist-adjacent people think that the problems of production have been solved, so all that remains is work on problems of distribution.

    • sohois says:

      To defend that assertion, one could easily point to the many successful companies in Europe that manage to pay higher minimum wages, provide ample time off, maternity benefits, etc. and still stay in business. So it doesn’t necessary follow that they are advocting for business to vanish en masse, but could rather imply a skepticism towards the idea that firms will just collapse if they are asked to give more in wages and benefits. As someone posted upthread, profit margin is an easily gamed measure and not super reliable for what a firm can or can’t afford, so I don’t think that this would be a baseless accusation.

      • Urstoff says:

        Seems like a complete lack of marginal thinking to me.

      • poignardazur says:

        I can’t speak for every high-minimal wage European country, but I live in France, and we basically still have the same debate, except instead of “we should/shouldn’t raise minimal wage because it will/won’t wreck our economy”, we have “we should/shouldn’t have raised minimal wage, because it did/didn’t wreck our economy”.

        I think a lot of Americans have this idea of “but European countries do socialists things all the time and they’re not even on fire, so these policies must work!” (see also: healthcare, social safety nets), but the truth is way more complicated than that; whether or not socialist policies are economically viable at all is not a solved problem in Europe any more than it is in the US.

    • dick says:

      Would you agree with “If a business can’t afford to let its employees take bathroom breaks, then it shouldn’t exist”? If so, then it would seem that you agree with that position you described ideologically (you both feel that businesses should be regulated, and that they should close if they can’t make a profit while complying with those regulations) and just disagree about which regulations should be in place. In which case it is hard for people to agree with you or disagree until you specify what level of minimum wage and which benefits.

      • Would you agree with “If a business can’t afford to let its employees take bathroom breaks, then it shouldn’t exist”?

        In the U.S. as it currently is such a business won’t exist, because it won’t be able to find enough employees willing to work on those terms.

        If we imagine a society poor enough so that a firm could function on those terms, perhaps with the employees all wearing adult diapers, or alternatively a firm that had some good reason not to permit bathroom breaks and so was willing to pay enough to make employees willing to work without them, then such a firm should exist.

        • Jiro says:

          In the U.S. as it currently is such a business won’t exist, because it won’t be able to find enough employees willing to work on those terms.

          What makes you believe this?

        • dick says:

          > In the U.S. as it currently is such a business won’t exist

          You sure about that? It’s not my area of expertise, but I’ve heard anecdotally that this (denying legally required breaks) is a fairly common thing to be fined for. Amazon has been accused of it (not of denying breaks outright, but of setting productivity quotas high enough to that they can’t be filled without peeing in a bottle at your workstation) quite recently.

          But I’m not terribly interested in the particulars of restroom law, my point is just to delineate the difference between objecting to a specific regulation and to regulations in general. It seemed to me that Nancy’s objection (is anyone better off if these businesses close?) would apply to any regulation at all – minimum wage, no child labor, OSHA, what have you – but I suspect that what she actually objects to is some specific regulation, like requiring health insurance for all jobs, or all FT jobs, or something along those lines. (I’m making that assumption because the belief that businesses should have any regulation at all is not limited to “people on the left”).

      • SamChevre says:

        I’m familiar with at least one high-status, high-paid profession where employees have significant chunks of time where they can’t take bathroom breaks–and those chunks of time are longer as someone moves up the status ladder.

        Juvyr fhvgrq sbe gur BE, fhetrbaf naq fhetvpny ahefrf. Vg’f gbb rkcrafvir naq gbb uneq ba gur cngvrag gb rkgraq fhetrel orlbaq gur zvavzhz, naq er-rfgnoyvfuvat fgrevyr fhvgvat vf gvzr-pbafhzvat.

        • Aapje says:

          Now I’m wondering if they wear diapers if they have a lengthy ‘job.’

          • John Schilling says:

            Astronauts doing EVAs definitely do, as do fighter pilots on long missions. And there are commercial single-pilot operations as well, for planes with up to IIRC 9 passengers.

            Divers don’t bother with diapers unless they’re doing drysuit work.

            “If a business can’t afford to let its employees take bathroom breaks, then it shouldn’t exist”, is a standard dreamed up by someone who has only ever worked in an office or behind a counter, and needs to get out more.

          • dick says:

            “If a business can’t afford to let its employees take bathroom breaks, then it shouldn’t exist”, is a standard dreamed up by someone who has only ever worked in an office or behind a counter, and needs to get out more.

            That’s not a standard I dreamed up, it was an example to prove a point. I was saying, if you’re okay with some lower regulation X but not some more onerous regulation Y, your reason why should include Y but not X, illustrated with mandatory breaktimes being an example of a X – a regulation on business that is relatively cheap and (I naively imagined) uncontroversial.

            I wasn’t arguing for or against any of the various laws mandating breaks at work, and I certainly wasn’t proposing a new one that requires firing astronauts and brain surgeons and whatnot. And for the record, I have held blue collar jobs, and I get out enough, thanks. You should probably try to mentally convert “That guy’s comment is so outrageously dumb that I’m justified in tacking on a snarky insult in my reply” straight in to “That guy’s comment seems to be so outrageously dumb that I should consider the possibility that I misread it.”

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            I knew about that. Lisa Nowak was supposedly wearing diapers when she went to try and kidnap the lover of her ex-partner. That’s when I learned that astronauts use them.

            But I was actually asking specifically about the job that was ROT13’d.

    • Thomas Jørgensen says:

      Norway is doing fine, so.. yes?
      Honestly, this is a fairly coherent argument. Higher wages force firms to make effective use of labor and automate everything that does not create a sufficient amount of value per hour worked.

      In a perfectly efficient economy that incentive would not be necessary, since an spherical standard issue perfect manager would maximize the productivity of their workers regardless of their pay, but as an observed fact about the world, if you can hire people for peanuts, then people will be employed at tasks that are incredibly low-productivity, and the economy is overall better of if those jobs were automated out of existence and those workers were instead doing something where they produced some noticible value add.

      • Higher wages force firms to make effective use of labor and automate everything that does not create a sufficient amount of value per hour worked.

        At which point employees whose productivity is less than the mandated higher wages are unemployed, having been replaced by capital or more skilled labor.

        That plus enough welfare to maintain the unemployed workers is a possible system, but it’s one with a good deal of wasted labor and it may have some long term stability problems.

        and the economy is overall better of if those jobs were automated out of existence and those workers were instead doing something where they produced some noticible value add.

        If there was something those people could do that produced more than the about to be mandated wage, why wouldn’t someone already be hiring them to do it?

        • dick says:

          Are you suggesting that countries without minimum wage and other workers’ protections are more productive and stable than countries with them? (Not a straw man, genuinely unsure) Is this conjecture, or has the latter actually been tried in the modern era?

          I was under the impression that “Stable countries” and “High productivity countries” and “Countries with relatively strong worker protections” were pretty much overlapping groups.

          • Are you suggesting that countries without minimum wage and other workers’ protections are more productive and stable than countries with them?

            I think a given country would be more productive without a minimum wage law. I put it that way because I want to distinguish the two possible directions of causation. Minimum wage laws cause countries to be poorer. But it might be the case that a country being rich causes it to pass minimum wage laws, in which case countries without minimum wage laws would not be more productive than countries with them.

            The argument against price controls, on wages or anything else, follows from conventional economics.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          The productivity of labor is not an inherent quality of the worker in question, that is the essentialist fallacy. Again, as an observed fact about the world, places with enormously high wages also very frequently have sky-high labor force participation, to suppose that high pay produces high unemployment is a theory which does not pass even the most cursory sanity check.

          High pay means high demand for goods and services. If you dont have the technological productivity to meet that demand, obviously the wheels are going to come off and your economy is going to turn into a smoking crater in the ground, but if you do, keeping wages low just hurts demand and makes your entire country poorer than it should be for no reason whatsoever.

          This should not be a surprise to anyone that actually believe in markets? A high price of labor mobilizes more workers.

          • This should not be a surprise to anyone that actually believe in markets? A high price of labor mobilizes more workers.

            A high price for labor, or any other input, increases the supply of that input but decreases the demand for it. As people familiar with the conventional economic analysis of market realize.

            If that isn’t obvious, consider the case of an ordinary consumption good. Suppose the government set a minimum price for cars, making it illegal to sell a car for less than a hundred thousand dollars. If car companies could sell as many cars as they wanted at that price, the high price would “mobilize” more cars, just as a high wage will “mobilize” more workers.

            Do you think the number of cars sold would go up or down?

          • baconbits9 says:

            High pay means high demand for goods and services.

            No it doesn’t. Pay is a cost of producing products, high pay for some means higher prices for others, which negates the “high pay = more demand” portion of the equation. Pay beet pickers $100 an hour and the price of beets will have to rise (or the price of other things will rise to pay the taxes to transfer the the beet picker).

            Again, as an observed fact about the world, places with enormously high wages also very frequently have sky-high labor force participation

            A man and a woman each get up in the morning, the man walks to a near by farm, punches a time card and then feeds the chickens and cows, waters them, collects eggs and then milks the cows. The woman gets up walks into her own yard and feeds her chickens and cow, waters them, collects the eggs and then milks the cow, and serves the eggs and milk to her family.

            The same basic jobs and skills yet one is in the labor force and one is not.

            Again, as an observed fact about the world, places with enormously high wages also very frequently have sky-high labor force participation,

            No they don’t, because this is a discussion about nominal wages, not real. The places in the history of the world with the highest nominal wages had among the lowest LFPRs in history. Eventually their economies and currencies collapsed and then nominal wages tank and LFPR goes way up.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          I think this analysis misses the fact that the zone of possible agreement for labour prices isn’t a single point – if workers value their free time at £10 an hour, and they can add £15 of value for a potential employer by working for an hour (by e.g. making £15 worth of goods) then all that economics 101 can tell us is that their wages will be between £10 and £15 an hour; where in that range the labour price will stabilise depends on a bunch of messy, hard-to-model things like negotiating skills and political environment.

          If there was something those people could do that produced more than the about to be mandated wage, why wouldn’t someone already be hiring them to do it?

          I think the answer to this is “They are”. In practice, pretty much everyone is working in a job where they don’t just produce as much value for their employer as they are paid, they produce more – otherwise the employer would be indifferent to employing them.

          The situation in which a minimum wage can make things better for a worker is when it is set in the region between the wage someone is currently working for and the upper end of the zone of possible agreement, meaning that their interaction with their employer continues to produce the same total amount of added value, but more of that created value goes to the worker and less to the employer.

          When you set a minimum wage above the upper end of the ZOPA, then you create unemployment, and that’s a negative effect that has to be traded off against the (in my view) positive effect of making life better for those workers who remain employed and get higher wages. So I think the question “are minimum wages a good idea” boils down to “how close to the upper bounds of their ZOPAs (ZsOPA?) are low-waged workers”.

          And I think that at the moment that probably makes them a very good idea. Productivity has been rising much faster than wages for the last 40 years, suggesting that what has happened is that the upper end of the ZOPA has increased but that many peoples’ wages are currently mostly towards the lower end of it, and that there is likely to be significant room to move them upwards through minimum wages without creating too much unemployment.

          • Thanks for that. It was much better than the dogma-masquerading-as-analysis that is standard round here.

          • – if workers value their free time at £10 an hour, and they can add £15 of value for a potential employer by working for an hour (by e.g. making £15 worth of goods) then all that economics 101 can tell us is that their wages will be between £10 and £15 an hour; where in that range the labour price will stabilise depends on a bunch of messy, hard-to-model things like negotiating skills and political environment.

            Economics 101, at least in the forms I am familiar with, doesn’t assume that all markets are bilateral monopolies, which is the framework you are using. In equilibrium in a competitive market the marginal value of the worker’s free time and his marginal value product are both equal to the wage.

            MC=MV=P.

            If a firm makes an additional £15 for each additional hour of (some kind of) labor it buys, and can buy it for £12, why doesn’t it buy more of it? If all firms are trying to buy more labor, why doesn’t the wage increase and the marginal value product of labor decrease until they are equal?

    • I see people on the left say often enough that if a business can’t afford to pay minimum wage and supply benefits up to some standard, then it shouldn’t exist.

      A hostile interpretation of that is that they believe that if a worker isn’t worth at least $15/hour it is better for him to be unemployed than employed at $10/hour, since being unemployed will provide a sufficient argument to provide him welfare that is better than working for $10/hour.

      • Aapje says:

        And a more charitable framing of the same argument is that the negatives of employment don’t outweigh the positives below a certain level of income.

        • That’s the same position.

          The underlying idea is that anyone who doesn’t want to work should be entitled to $X/year–welfare not dependent on involuntary unemployment. That’s politically difficult to pass since people, especially people not making a lot more than $X/year, are likely to object to other people getting it for free when they have to work.

          This version first makes people unemployed then says since they are unemployed, which isn’t their fault, they qualify for welfare.

          The idea makes utilitarian sense in the short run, on the theory that the leisure is worth more utility than the utility value to the tax paying workers of the money they are paying for the welfare. In the long run it creates a permanent welfare class, which has problems.

          I expect it’s particularly popular with people who believe the next increase in productivity due to technology, unlike the past order of magnitude+ increase, is going to leave us with mass unemployment in a world where a handful of people can produce everything anyone should want.

          • Aapje says:

            The underlying idea is that anyone who doesn’t want to work should be entitled to $X/year–welfare not dependent on involuntary unemployment. That’s politically difficult to pass since people, especially people not making a lot more than $X/year

            This is not how the system works in my country. There is a gap between minimum wage and welfare. Also, the unemployed are required to apply for at least one job a week and have other restrictions.

            There are also partially successful attempts to force these people into unpaid labor.

            Essentially, these people are now dependent on the vagaries of government, rather than those of employers. I suspect that you don’t see this as an improvement, but there are those who disagree.

            In the long run it creates a permanent welfare class, which has problems.

            The other solution creates a permanent class of the working poor.

            I think that both solutions benefit some and hurt others, so neither is superior in all circumstances.

            I expect it’s particularly popular with people who believe the next increase in productivity due to technology, unlike the past order of magnitude+ increase, is going to leave us with mass unemployment in a world where a handful of people can produce everything anyone should want.

            I think that a good case can be made that human intelligence was underused for much of history & that we managed to increase human capability to keep up with the increased demands of technology, through education and such; but that education may be fairly close to the limits of what it can do.

          • This is not how the system works in my country. There is a gap between minimum wage and welfare.

            I think you are misreading my argument. I didn’t say that the amount of welfare people wanted everyone to have access would be equal to the level of minimum wage they proposed as an alternative.

            Also, the unemployed are required to apply for at least one job a week and have other restrictions.

            That fits the pattern I was describing.

            Suppose you want people whose market wage is less than (say) $15/hour to be on welfare instead, but it isn’t politically possible to make welfare available to people unless they are involuntarily unemployed (for simplicity I ignore other possible qualifications). You pass a $15/hr minimum wage law. Now the people who are not worth that much to any employer are all involuntarily unemployed, so get welfare. They apply for one job a week, but since your minimum wage law has priced them out of the market they don’t get it.

  65. Scott says:

    From a friend, who follows this more closely:

    “Kanye West thinks he shares “dragon energy” with Trump & claims 400 years of slavery is “a choice”. Also back in 2009 he claimed to be a “proud non-reader of books” and said “I would never want a book’s autograph.” In 2005 he claimed at a live concert that AIDS is a biological weapon created by the US government to kill black people.

    He suffers from severe mental illness and has been forcefully institutionalized for weeks at a time with symptoms including mania, depression, hallucinations, and delusions. He’s a very ill man not fully in control of his faculties.”

    • ohwhatisthis? says:

      He managed to become the worlds best selling and most talked about pop artist today. You get some wackiness with that. Maybe that’s even a prerequisite.

    • Well... says:

      For years I’ve been saying only half-jokingly that Kanye West is a very special man who succeeded despite a lot and we should be very proud of him, and that it’s rude to point, stare at, or make fun of him for the way he is.

      That said, in meatspace I know an internationally famous musician. Punctuating a very chill, down-to-earth disposition, manic episodes are known to happen to him and include weird rants and bewildering statements. I think his use of social media has intensified and made more visible the wacky things he says during these episodes. So, who knows, maybe it comes with the territory.

      • Well... says:

        PS. The above is not meant to imply that I think Kanye’s statements are correct or incorrect on an object level. I have not given any serious thought to that.

    • mdet says:

      While Kanye has struggled with mental health issues recently, I don’t think he’s supporting Trump out of insanity. My explanation is just that Kanye West and Donald Trump are the exact same kind of person — they really do share “dragon energy”.

      Both men are impulsive and irreverent, blurting out whatever absurd idea is on their mind and doubling down when criticized. They’re known for their arrogance and egos (even given the braggadocio of hip hop, Kanye still has the biggest ego). They often “get really passionate” / “go on wild rants” when they’re speaking. Both of them are married to supermodels, and are known for their public spats with women (misogynist?). They both “fell in love with a porn star”, and have blasted SNL for satirizing them. To the extent that they’re involved in politics, neither man seems to have a committed ideology, or detailed policy preferences. They mostly seem to just channel the feelings of whoever’s around them at the time.

      I think that Kanye just sees in Trump a man who thinks and acts exactly as he does, respects Trump for his shared energy, and really only cares about policy secondarily, if at all. And vice versa. I think Kanye is too impulsive / unfiltered to pull off an extended performance art lie.

    • BBA says:

      One of his strange pronouncements is now accepted as absolute truth by all right-thinking people: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

      Even a stopped clock, etc., etc.

    • Doug says:

      Kanye’s pro-Trump tweets came out suspiciously close to when 1Q accounting statements would be released. My theory is that he saw the impact of the tax cuts on his various business income, and went full on pro-MAGA. Kanye probably makes $100 million a year in pre-tax income from his clothes line alone. A reduction in the corporate or pass-through rate from 35% to 21% would be an unexpected bonus of $3.5 million for the quarter.

      Nothing is likely to trigger a mania episode like finding several million underneath the couch cushions.

  66. Z says:

    The inequality article was just about treating symptoms. There will always be inequality as long as there are differences in ability and motivation. Yes, there’s luck too, and that’s why there should be social safety nets to allow people to bounce back from horrible events. But until we address the elephant in the room of intelligence and genetics, we’ll keep spinning our wheels to no avail like we have for the past 70-80 years. It’s why we have cost disease in education, and why the GiveDirectly efforts aren’t going as well as hoped.

  67. Doug S. says:

    I can’t read the Alyssa Vance facebook post. It leads to a “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now” error page.

  68. liljaycup says:

    As a teacher, the pygmalion effect has always struck me as suspicious. Giving an arbitrary, exterior label to someone else seems to shift the moment you get to interact with that person and form your own conclusions. Teachers are MUCH more likely, as are most humans, to form their own opinions on the student, even (especially?) if it contradicts some “concrete data”. Tell me that a marker is orange, for example, I might believe you until I see that it’s brown. I might give some polite caveats to avoid argument or disagreement, like calling it “rust-colored” for a while, but after a full semester?? I imagine I’d just be calling it brown, at least privately.

    I’m willing to bet that the teachers would be fooled (or cowed into silence) about the “gifted students” if you had a large enough group of other teachers confirming the label given to said students. But I’d be curious how much the BELIEF that the student is smart actually changes the outputs for a teacher, and in what ways. I’m sure it does on occasion, but I can’t imagine its reproduce-able.

    Not only that, I doubt it’s always a positive effect–imagine observing a student consistently producing sub-par work when you’ve been told to expect more from them. I imagine you might start to push this student harder or grade them harsher when they fail to live up to your expectations. Bad grades and being pushed out of frustration don’t always (usually?) work to propel a student to grow. Many students will shut down in the face of this kind of pressure.

    What HAS worked for me, and for others, is to attempt to change students’ self-labels. If you pull a “problem” student aside at the start of a semester–a student that you’ve heard other teachers complain about–and you tell them that you’ve heard good things about them, that you’ve been looking forward to having them in your class, then that can change the student’s perspective on themselves. It can get them out of the self-fulfilling prophecy of thinking they know how to categorize themselves (and having others constantly reinforce that categorization, too).

    But this is tricky–they not only have to believe what you’ve told them, they also have to WANT to believe it. In other words, if I tell a student who’s acting out that I’m excited to have her, she may double down on her bad behavior because she prefers her “bad student” label.

    Human psychology is hard, man.