THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT105: Ethelthread The Unthready

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

1. Comment of the week is by AlesZiegler, answering the question “What parts of Piketty’s book have stood the test of time?”

2. But also, see the discussion about the border in the last Open Thread, where people on every part of the political spectrum hash out their differences about Trump’s border policy with an emphasis on “if we’re going to enforce immigration laws, how can we do it more humanely than the current system?”. Especially interesting to me was this comment questioning the idea of “enforcing” vs “not enforcing” immigration law. And also this thread arguing border walls are ineffective at stopping migration, that even “successful” walls like the Israeli border wall and the Berlin Wall mostly relied on guards, and that the bare minimum requirement for a wall being even slightly useful – protection against ladders – is not in Trump’s requirements (suggesting he’s not serious about anything except the symbolism). But I don’t know how to square this with other people’s claims that the Bush-era fence did decrease immigration.

3. I went back, read the last month of comment reports, and banned several people who deserved it. I want to make this explicit so people don’t think bad behavior here isn’t punished. It is – it just takes me a long time to get around to it. Thanks to everyone who uses the report button to report comments to me.

4. I’ll probably be at the South Bay SSC meetup, 2 PM on Saturday July 7, at 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose. If you’re coming, consider emailing David Friedman (address at link) so he knows how many to expect.

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1,013 Responses to OT105: Ethelthread The Unthready

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing looks at the first part of the Great White Fleet’s round-the-world journey.

  2. Taking advantage of being the second comment to remind people that we have another South Bay meetup this Saturday at 2:00. 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, as usual. If you expect to come, email me so we’ll have a rough count of how many people we are feeding.

  3. Mary says:

    Noble Thread the Un-thread!

  4. johan_larson says:

    In an earlier OT we discussed what might be done to replace college, under the assumption that Tyler Cowen is exactly right that college is not about learning things, but rather about proving oneself intelligent, conscientious, and conformant. One commenter pointed out that it would be useful for whatever institution or program being proposed to be familiar, meaning at least superficially like existing offerings, to gain acceptance by students and employers. That’s a reasonable suggestion, so let’s go with that.

    What I am proposing is a proper four-year degree that should be at least as good a proof of the three qualities as most such degrees, but is designed to be cheaper. I call it Hard Cheap College.

    A degree from Hard Cheap College is good proof of the three qualities because the academic demands are deliberately high, grading is severe, support (such as tutoring and counselling) is at best limited, and instructors are encouraged to structure courses and assignments so as to trip up the undisciplined. To verify social skills (indicative of conformity) group assignments are common, and often have instructor-created groups.

    In order to be cheap the college provides nothing outside its educational mission. There are no sports teams, no student activities, and no lounges. Classes are large. The faculty is qualified, but not exceptional. The college is located on the outskirts of a large urban center and mostly serves commuter students. The curriculum is chosen to include only subjects that can be taught inexpensively. English, math, and history, yes; petroleum engineering or chemistry, no. It probably wouldn’t offer a major in computer science, for example, since such profs are in high demand and hence expensive.

    All in all, Hard Cheap College is designed to offer something that is recognizably a four-year college degree, optimized to be particularly good proof of the three essential qualities, and distinctly cheap.

    Thoughts?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think some of the goals are contrary to each other. The practical people looking at such a school are going to want the degrees that lead to a high-paying career.

      Aside from that, cheaper and more bare-bones schools used to exist. Some state universities; I believe Temple had that sort of reputation for a while. But all the free money in the university system has made them go away.

    • Erusian says:

      How would this be cheaper than (or superior to), say, community college?

      • Brad says:

        I don’t think community college courses are known for being difficult.

        • Erusian says:

          True. But if it gets 2/3rds of the qualities at 1/10th of the price, doesn’t that soak up most of the market? Wouldn’t it be easier just to have some CC’s that are hard?

        • cryptoshill says:

          Community College classes are no more difficult than a regular old land-grant university. Some hyper-selective program within that regular old land-grant university might have more difficult coursework, but that’s usually because the community college doesn’t have those sorts of degrees on offer at all, not the difficulty of the course. That said – the fact that there’s no selectivity in community colleges lowers its signaling value significantly.

          • Matt says:

            Have you had experience at both?

            I got my undergraduate and master’s at a 3rd tier university, just a step up from community college, really. During my master’s program, I also taught undergraduates. (Engineering Statics, Engineering Dynamics, and a computer programming course aimed at engineering students)

            Then I went for a PhD a top-tier engineering school. The classes were incredibly difficult and rigorous, and I had trouble even in the classes I re-took at my second school. I taught again (an Engineering Dynamics & Controls class, and filled in a bit lecturing in a Flight Mechanics class). Much more rigor was expected from the undergraduates at this school as well.

            I got straight A’s at the first school. I was on academic probation most of my time at the second.

            My suspicion is that community colleges would generally be easier than my first university.

          • cryptoshill says:

            I don’t think we’re talking about the same things. I was making the comparison to just “A Random University” (think general admission to a state school) , not “A top tier engineering school (engineering schools are already known for their rigor). I would suspect that there’s a larger gap between say – Marlboro College and MIT than there is between PoDunk Local CC and Marlboro College.

          • Matt says:

            Maybe so…

          • andrewflicker says:

            I went to a very large community college in California, then to Arizona State to finish my 4-year degree. The CC classes were higher-variance, but many of them were as hard or harder than all but the hardest classes I took at ASU.

            Just one datapoint, and I’m sure ASU is an “easier” four-year college (although I did get a degree in Math, which I imagine is one of the more difficult majors).

      • David Speyer says:

        A lot of people go to community colleges for two years and then transfer to standard colleges. They often have to work to convince the standard colleges that they are capable of handling the workload, and that the courses they took in CC are adequate for transfer. If HCC was located near several standard colleges and did a good job building its reputation among them, it might be able to promote itself as the community college whose transfers always succeeded.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      Except for the restrictions of majors offered, you’ve basically described how universities work in Germany and in many other European countries.

      • 10240 says:

        And except group assignments – at least in some subjects we don’t have any. I don’t see that European universities require conformity; then again, I don’t know how American universities require conformity, so I don’t know what johan_larson exactly means.

        A relevant feature of European universities is that you almost exclusively study your “major”, unlike, as far as I understand, in America.

        As for the subjects, you don’t have to restrict them, just charge more for the more expensive ones.

        • nzk says:

          Europe and alike, as far as I know:

          1) Shorter programs. University in non-engineering is 3 years. No College required. No Major/minor splits.
          2) Large classes, a lot of reading/online practice, and HW submitting. Not a lot of Hands-on, except in Lab sciences like Chemistry. Almost no tutoring.
          3) Exams rule, meaning you could not get to a lecture at all, and still pass if you passed the exam.
          4) Government subsidies with strings attached. For example, limitations of salaries. This can really make University much cheaper, if there is no competition for salaries. It has been proven that for OK salary a lot of people would take a huge pay cut in order to be in Academia.
          5) A lot less focus on amenities, like sports, etc.

          • Aapje says:

            @nzk

            1) Europe changed to a bachelor/master model to make it easier to switch to a different university/college in the same or another country. The length of the bachelor and master phases can differ.

            Both in Germany and The Netherlands, there is a distinction between higher education that is academic and higher education that is more practically oriented.

            In The Netherlands, the practical kind are called HBO (Higher Professional Education) and the more academic kind are called universities. The former typically have 4 year programs that grant a bachelor, while the latter have 3 year bachelors and 1-2 year masters. A HBO bachelor does not automatically grant access to a university master. Students often have to first get extra education, called a premaster. This is typically a 6 month program.

            2) This can vary greatly. My experience is very different from what you describe, but I’ve heard that it can differ greatly by subject and/or university.

            3) My experience as well, with a lot of students skipping the lectures to study on their own/play computer games

            4) There is no salary limitation if you get Dutch government subsidies. Over time, subsidies for individual students have turned into loans more and more anyway, so current students will be paying the money back. However, students still pay only part of the costs (subsidies are now going directly to the university/HBO).

            5) True. It’s more private initiative than the university providing services. Some fraternities/sororities organize sports and cultural events.

          • 10240 says:

            In Hungary we have large classes for lectures, but we also have practice or exercise classes in smaller groups (at least in sciences, including non-lab sciences like math). I think this is a good setup. The exercise classes are often held by PhD students or master students for symbolic pay.

            As Aapje said, universities typically have 3 years Bachelors and 2 year Masters. A Bachelor is enough for some jobs, but a lot of jobs require a Master. Engineering is like this, too (or perhaps it’s 3.5+2 years), but perhaps most jobs require a master. A few subjects are “unsplit”, i.e. 5 year master with no bachelor.

          • Lambert says:

            3) They’ve started to record them nowadays. Lots of my friends watch a large proportion of their lectures at home, at 1.25x speed.

          • nzk says:

            4) Well apparently the salary limitation is not universal in Europe, but does exist in some countries.

          • Aapje says:

            @nzk

            Can you give me more information on that? I’ve never heard about that.

            You don’t have to pay back the subsidy if your salary is below a certain limit. Is that what you meant instead?

          • nzk says:

            Well, I know it by experience, so I hunted for links. I didn’t really check their validity.

            Italy

            According to this link, the academic salaries are set by legislation. That is it.

            Israel

            Salaries are negotiated at national level, between ministry of Education and Professor’s Union.

            France

            Fixed salaries at national level.

            I know there are all kind of bonuses, mostly for getting big grants. But this doesn’t come directly from the institution.

          • Aapje says:

            @nzk

            Oh, that’s what you meant.

            It’s not surprising that the government decides the salaries for people who work for the government (and to have unions fight to have higher salaries).

    • Matt M says:

      How would you attract students?

      I assume you think the “cheap” aspect is doing that, but I would propose that for students who are willing/able to deal with the “hard” part, college is already “cheap,” in the form of scholarships (or the fact that non-prestigious schools are already fairly cheap on their own).

      Your target customer would seem to be a student that is smart and motivated enough to deal with a much-harder-than-typical college experience, but also desires/requires a very cheap experience. I’m not sure those exist. Doesn’t Harvard famously grant scholarships to anyone they accept that doesn’t come from a rich family?

      I myself, when applying for grad school, got to pick between Top 10 programs that weren’t offering me scholarships, and #10-20 programs that were offering me a totally free ride.

      • johan_larson says:

        I picture someone ambitious but poor, yes, and capable enough that they have some hope of making it through HCC. I don’t have a good picture of how talented you have to be to start pulling in serious scholarship money, but I am under the impression it is dead easy to end up six figures in debt after going to a four-year college, particularly since some financial aid comes in the form of loans, not grants. That sort of debt-load seems like something people would be eager to avoid.

        I’m expecting HCC to cost something like $10,000 per year. That compares with $14,000 (in-state) or $39,000 (out-of-state) for Michigan State University, a third-tier institution. I thing HCC would offer instruction roughly comparable to MSU and have rather higher expectations, but have much less choice in areas of study and much worse student life.

        Is there a range of poor but talented and ambitious where that’s an attractive offer? I’m not sure.

        • Matt M says:

          Okay, so you’re offering a roughly 30% discount on the sticker-rate price of a third-tier university, with presumably harder instruction and significantly fewer perks (and potentially no guaranteed loans, but I don’t think you clarified whether you’d be federally endorsed and able to support that or not).

          I’m sorry but I don’t think this will appeal to much of anybody.

          As I was saying in my own personal example, students are often faced choices such that you can trade-off cost and prestige. A hypothetical student that’s good enough to get into a second-tier school with no scholarship is quite likely to be able to get a full ride or significant scholarship to the third-tier institution of their choice.

          So right from the start, you’re limiting your customer base to people who are already not good enough applicants to get any scholarships at a third tier school. In which case they probably could get a significant scholarship at a fourth-tier school.

          The “poor but talented and ambitious” class certainly exists. But the entire system is set up such that cost isn’t really considered by most students, due to a combination of self-selection with scholarships as well as guaranteed loans. If you’re talented and ambitious, the cost doesn’t matter – you’ll make the money back (and then some) in your future career. Or if you’re particularly conservative with money, you can move down a tier and go to school for free.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Also note that a high failure/drop-out rate adds to the cost for the students.

          • Matt M says:

            Not to mention it’s likely to end up with the regulators on your back. As far as I can tell, schools with low graduation rates are typically viewed as “this school isn’t doing a good enough job helping it’s students graduate” rather than “wow this school must be really elite since so many students don’t make the cut”

          • Mary says:

            (and to have unions fight to have higher salaries).

            And no one to fight against them.

            The government official has no reason not to hand out salaries and benefits. Especially retirement ones, where he’ll be retired to another state before the bill comes due.

          • Aapje says:

            @Mary

            Yet, teachers don’t get paid especially high salaries.

            Teachers are also quite reluctant to strike, because doing so mainly harms students, not their employer.

          • Yet, teachers don’t get paid especially high salaries.

            That’s at least the conventional wisdom. Here’s a piece arguing that they do.

        • Thomas Jørgensen says:

          This idea just really, really cannot compete with “Go to Germany, Study there for free”.
          German universities have far more solid reputations – And an american who successfully completes a degree in a German university is signalling conscientiousness and competence pretty darn hard. So the price tag is lower, the signalling worth is far higher, and.. well, also, German universities insist on instilling an actual skill of some kind.

          • johan_larson says:

            There has to be a catch.

          • Nick says:

            There has to be a catch.

            If I had to guess, that the classes are taught in German.

          • rlms says:

            Friends in Germany would probably be lower value than American ones if you wanted to go back to the US.

          • Aapje says:

            @Thomas Jørgensen

            This idea just really, really cannot compete with “Go to Germany, study there for free”.

            Germany seems to be reintroducing tuition fees for foreign students.

            German universities have far more solid reputations

            They have relatively low rankings, because the rankings are more suited to how Anglo-Saxon countries are organized. For example, lots of research in Germany is done by national research organizations, like Fraunhofer, Max-Planck & Leibniz, while in the US much more research is done at the universities. A decent number of employees of the German national research organizations are professors and teachers at the universities, but their research isn’t counted in the university rankings, while American professors and teachers more often publish in the name of the university, so their research increases the ranking much more.

            German universities also grade very harshly, so compared that American students that benefit from grade inflation, equally performing students from German universities look much worse.

            So I think that it is hard to impress upon American employers how good you are, if you get a German degree.

    • Murphy says:

      You’re trying to treat humans as PeopleBotUnits when in reality people do actually give a damn about how they live for notable fractions of their entire life.

      Your institution will quickly devolve into a beast primarily dedicated to feeding the paychecks of the board with few other priorities. It’ll be a horrible place to study and as such the people who can go elsewhere will do so. Those will tend to be the cream of the crop leaving you will the least promising students.

      So you lose the Intelligent and conscientious signal because mostly those people avoid your institution because the majority of them have better options.

      anyway.

      You’re describing an IT or technical college.

      They tend to be the pits.

      They’re basically the same idea and they hit the same problems yours will.

      Namely distribution of power.

      Lots of institutions try to set up to compete with the big educational institutions but they tend to fail because they try to run it like a Cargo Cult. They think that only the part the students see matters… which is basically like a company only hiring web developers and visual designers while never hiring any backend devs or database people…. because their website is the part that customers see. Why would they wastefully spend money on anything else?

      Once you set up your institution you need mechanisms to keep money flowing to the parts of the institution that benefit the students and mechanisms to spot problems and failing parts of your institution.

      If you’re familiar with the inside workings of big old prestigious institutions that manage to remain stable you’ll find that they have a lot of very old mechanisms to spread power to students, real power in the form of control of parts of budgets and seats and votes on real committees and boards with real power and student bodies having access to real budgets with real power over those things.

      But that’s exactly the kind of power that people will cling too until it’s pried from their cold dead hands. They assume it’s pointless. So they fail.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        I don’t think one can “arm chair” effective institutions, it is too hard.

        I advocate trying to promote the culture of empiricism so people have the time, funding, and public support to keep trying various things and learning what works that way.

    • Deiseach says:

      If you leave out expensive (technical) courses, then (a) the students who would like to do such subjects and can only afford Cheap College are not going to be able to do them, and if they can’t afford Expensive College they’re not going to attend any college at all, so you’re under-serving part of your potential market (b) if it’s only liberal arts (because they’re cheap) then the reputation you will get is not Hard Cheap College, it’s Easy Cheap College for the second-raters who couldn’t get into Real (Expensive) College, and all your academic rigour won’t change that perception, even if you do make it tough and not a doss course to get a degree in English or History (please please please don’t have Ethnic Wimmyn Persons Of Non-Ablitude courses).

      And of course (c) – don’t these colleges already exist? the lower-tier ones, not the Ivy Leagues and not even the second level after them; state universities that do basic courses on practical subjects without too much fancy-schmancy and turn out hard-working graduates that will fit right in to your company or business (or secondary school)? I’m thinking of what Tolkien wrote in a letter about his Head of Department at Leeds University in the early 1920s:

      A personal contribution of his was his doctrine of lightheartedness: dangerous, perhaps, in Oxford, necessary in Yorkshire. No Yorkshireman, or woman, was ever in danger of regarding his class in finals as a matter of indifference (even if it did not have a lifelong effect on his salary as a school teacher): the poet might ‘sit in the third and laugh’, but the Yorkshire student would not. But he could be, and was, encouraged to play a little, to look outside the ‘syllabus’, to regard his studies as something larger and more amusing than a subject for an examination. This note Gordon struck and insisted on, and even expressed in print in the little brochure which he had made for the use of his students. There was very little false solemnity, except rarely and that among the students.

      …Gordon found ‘English’ in Leeds a departmental subject (I rather fancy you could not get a degree in it alone) and left it a school of studies (in bud). When he arrived he shared a box of glazed bricks, mainly furnished with hot water pipes, with the Professor of French, as their private room. Mere assistants possibly had a hat-peg somewhere. When he left we had ‘English House’, where every member had a separate room (not to mention a bathroom!) and a common room for students: and with this centre the growing body of students became a cohesive unit, and derived some of the benefits (or distant reflections of them) that we associate with a university rather than a municipal college.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        For historical reference: Leeds University was established in the 19th century, initially as two technical institutions- the medical school was established in 1831, and the Yorkshire College of Science in 1874, both funded by local industries in Leeds. Students at the College of Science (which soon renamed itself to simply the “Yorkshire College” after it added classics, literature and history to an initial course offering of only science, mathematics and engineering) initially received external degrees from the University of London.*

        Yorkshire College then became (for a couple of decades) a constituent college of the federal Victoria University, which awarded its own degrees. In 1904, this university broke up and its three colleges, in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, became universities in their own right.

        *A lot of universities, both in Britain and in former colonies, got their start offering University of London external degrees. The programme still exists.

      • Murphy says:

        “if it’s only liberal arts (because they’re cheap) then the reputation you will get is not Hard Cheap College, it’s Easy Cheap College”

        I very much think you’re right there.

        I remember being a bit stunned at the workload of some of the arts dept students. They worked them damned hard. The usefulness of some of the things they had they working damn hard working was debatable but they seemed to have a constant stream of massive assignments and reading lists.

        Meanwhile from my point of view I dossed around making the lab computers do silly things without having to dedicate much of my free time to study while doing very well.

        My hypothesis is that the workload and support level is sometimes linked to how often the lecturer/prof hears the course associated with being low status or easy.

        If you take a course titled “complex quantum chromodynamics and their application in N dimensional field theory”… the room will be mostly empty. They probably have enough trouble attracting students that the class will be undersized and nobody has ever even hinted to the prof that their class might be “easy”… hence they provide lots of support to students and try to make the material as approachable as possible and try to keep the workload manageable with class tutors to help struggling students. The Prof will quietly view every passing student as a testament to their ability to impart knowledge of a tricky subject.

        If you take a course titled “Underwater basket weaving in the middle ages” … the room will be packed on the first day and the prof or lecturer will have made it their mission in life to prove to the world that their course is a “Real Course(™)” to make the mocking voices shut up. As such they’ll fail students at the drop of a soggy basket, the exam will be hard to pass even if you’ve developed an encyclopaedia knowledge of every fluid and weave ever used in relation to weaving and the Prof will quietly view every dropout or fail as a testament to their course being a “Real Course(™)”.

        As such I always made it a policy, when facing a choice between 2 courses, one fluffy, the other scary-sounding… to always pick the most daunting sounding one. It served me well over the years.

        • christianschwalbach says:

          If you throw financial constraints out the window, I heartily agree with this policy. Some of the better instructors and peers I had were in the “daunting courses”. I admit my exposure to this is not nearly as much as some of the other commenters, but I dont regret assuming this as a personal policy.

        • Deiseach says:

          I wonder how often that applies? Throw a fancy sounding technobabble title on a sciences course and everyone assumes it’s Really Difficult and hence high status, even if you can blag your way through it, while an arts course is assumed to be for the types who swan around participating more in protests than in attending classes?

          • albatross11 says:

            I think most every humanities subject has some deep theories/scholarship that looks pretty intimidatingly opaque and leads to unintuitive conclusions, just like physics. I’m not sure that a feminist theory class would be inherently less rigorous-sounding or easy to pass than a physics class. The only difference is in which one has some mechanism making it possible to test its theories for consistency with reality.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @albatross11

            My personal experience as a history (absolutely soft, but not relatively soft among the humanities; probably harder than a lot of the humanities and a decent chunk of social sciences) guy is that there’s a big easiness gap at the lower ends. A random science person will do better in a 100-level humanities course from the general catalogue than vice versa. However, the gap narrows at least a bit at the higher levels, for a whole bunch of reasons. This is on average.

            I think this leads to a problem where some STEM guys think they’ve figured something out, historically speaking, through autodidacticism, when they’ve missed some basic thing someone who’d studied history could tell you. A common one is handling primary sources badly.

          • quanta413 says:

            Some arts and humanities can be really hard.

            Making or performing fine arts involves obvious hard work and mastery.

            I found history courses were fairly rigorous. Upper and lower division history classes were my favorite general education classes. And I actually enjoyed doing the research and writing my final paper for my upper division history course. It was difficult and intellectually engaging.

            I was not impressed by the courses I took in some of the “softer” humanities, but I think it’s partly a sorting effect due to how serious the students are. If a department isn’t willing to fail out the weaker and lazier students, then they can rush into that major and overwhelm it.

            For kind of similar reasons to what albatross11 states above, it’s easier for the hard science professors to justify tossing the weaker students out.

          • Murphy says:

            Typically it would be quite difficult to completely blag your way through such courses.

            They tended to have a U shaped grade distribution where you either passed with good marks or failed entirely with very few people in the middle. But typically I found the workload to get to the passing side was very reasonable, sometimes as little as a handful of evenings study, but requiring a few “ah-ha!” moments that if you lacked you’d just flounder.

            Fluffy courses tended to have an n shape grade distribution, fewer failing but the work required to go from just barely passing to a reasonable grade was huge in comparison to the U courses.

            Getting 90%+ in a “hard” course could be easy provided you passed at all, getting 90%+ in a “soft” course was often close to impossible

          • John Schilling says:

            Some arts and humanities can be really hard.

            Courses, and particularly schools, that teach people how to be successful artists have to be really hard. Being a successful commercial artist is really hard, and if your students are never successful, people will notice and talk and then you won’t have students any more.

            Courses that teach people how to comment insightfully about art, don’t have to be hard at all. Particularly if they are taught at the Right Schools. The output of a Markov generator will be accepted as insightful commentary about art, if the generator has a degree from one of the Right Schools and uses as input all the other certified-insightful art commentary from same.

        • Brad says:

          This sounds really plausible, but doesn’t match my experience. At my undergraduate college everyone knew that intro to jazz and world religions were easy courses. It’s true that there were other courses that sounded easy that weren’t, but the ones that were easy sounded easy. Meanwhile QM had 15+ hours of homework a week and some junior physics majors barely passing (which is kind of a dick move, put your weed out courses up front.)

          • Thegnskald says:

            Quantum mechanics is pretty up-front for physics majors?

            It isn’t like they were getting into chromodynamics before they got hammered. (I go practically cross-eyed trying to read those formulae, and I am really really good at mathematics.)

            That said, plain old Physics 1 and 2 had about twenty hours of homework at the University I attended, because it was the explicit weed-out course for the engineering students. After that shit, thermodynamics was a breeze. So I guess it would be a problem if your physics 1 and 2 coursework isn’t challenging?

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah, I’d like to know where all these “easy” and “U-shaped” upper level science and engineering classes were, because they certainly weren’t at my college. Most of mine in undergrad were explicitly curved- mostly Bs, few As, C was the lowest passing grade so there was a lump there for a few hard workers the prof felt bad for. If you got more than a couple failing grades total, or even more than one C in a semester, you were strongly advised to transfer out and most did by junior year. I guess at that point things might have looked a little more U shaped but only because you’d already weeded out the people who couldn’t master the material.

            Meanwhile even the upper level history courses I took were a breeze if you didn’t mind doing a lot of reading and writing (they’d suck if those things were a struggle for you, but they were basically “A for effort” classes).

          • Brad says:

            Thegnskald
            At my school six courses in: mech I, E&M I, optics/modern physics, mech II, E&M II were sequential prerequisites. You’d also have to have completed Calc I-III, linear algebra, and diff eq.

            A few students from high end magnet or boarding schools had Calc I-III, mech I, and E&M I coming in but it was much more common to just have Calc I&II and mech I.

        • quanta413 says:

          My experience was like Brad’s in that it was mostly the opposite of yours.

          Support for my “hard” courses may or may not have been better on average than the “easy” courses I took. There was too much within group variation for me to just tell you off the top of my head. But the easy courses were often so easy that it’s hard for me to see how anyone in them would need support.

          And the divide wasn’t just science vs. humanities. History department courses were very hard (read 400 pages and write an essay every week) compared to all the other humanities courses I took.

    • phil says:

      Why are we replacing the institution with another institution?

      You know what’s good (or at least underrated) for actually proving oneself intelligent, conscientious, and conformant.

      People’s internet comment history.

      Who do they follow? Do their comment show that they’ve taken the time to cultivate useful inputs? Have they been able to turn their inputs into useful outputs? Do they add value to discussions? Do they play well with others? Do they waste other people’s time trolling them?

      Maybe what we should be doing is investing in analytics to make use of the data points already in existence.

      Instead of creating along hazing signal.

      ———-

      Separately, on an individual scale, its already easy (maybe possible is a better word there than easy) to create these signals for yourself outside of formal education. It largely looks like undertaking showable impressive projects, and showing up at places where people who are useful to network with are at, and having conversations with them.

      Link that gets at this idea https://tim.blog/2011/09/29/8-steps-to-getting-what-you-want-without-formal-credentials/

      An intentionally process like that already has the benefit of significant efficiency gains on formal education (you can target exactly what you want to show you can do, and get to know exactly who you want to try and get to know, without the forced filler and artificial timelines of college).

      • johan_larson says:

        Why are we replacing the institution with another institution?

        In an earlier OT I discussed the problem of proving oneself intelligent, conscientious and conformant more widely, and it was pointed out to me that it would be easier to attract people to a program that seems sort of conventional. It should also be easier to persuade others — notably employers — to take it seriously. That’s why the proposal in this OT fits conveniently within the four-year-college-degree box that people are familiar with.

        But if you’d rather discuss the broader problem, that’s cool too.

        • phil says:

          I did see the earlier OT discussion, and considered making roughly the same comment.

          Anyway, how are we defining the broader problem?

          Roughly something like matching people’s time and talent with a useful avenue for it, right?

          ———–

          Extremely broadly, I think the trend will be that progress looks like removing rent seeking institutions from the process.

          Both the rent seek institutions of (1) University that certifies that this person isn’t an untouchable whom everyone needs to avoid, and (2) Giant corporation without which no economic activity can be coordinated.

          I think we should expect technology to destroy the middle men and rent seekers

          ———-
          ———-

          Extremely narrowly, I don’t know if better mining of internet comments is really the answer, but it is one that seems promising to me.

          Along that stream, one source of potentially very rich training data to learn more about what can truly be derived from internet comments…

          The application form for Y Combinator use to ask for applicants Hacker News user names, it would be interesting to link different founder teams back with whatever data and meta data their Hacker News profiles generated prior to their application.

          I’m curious as to how much that data can be leveraged.

          (Maybe good teams need different commenting types to optimally coordinate, who knows?)

          (maybe Y Combinator already does this in a fairly sophisticated manner, [ie, more than just having a human look through a few pages of comments] idk)

          ——-
          ——-
          ——-

          Just a quick note on what employs will take seriously.

          Who the employers are 20 years from now, will be whoever outcompeted the employers now.

          Solutions the optimize for fitting whatever dumb thing employers do now, will be behind the curve whenever those dumb things get weeded out of the population.

          • johan_larson says:

            Anyway, how are we defining the broader problem?

            Roughly something like matching people’s time and talent with a useful avenue for it, right?

            1. Assume Tyler Cowen is exactly right about what college is good for. It’s not about learning skills, it’s about proving yourself intelligent, conscientious, and conformant.
            2. Devise a program or practice that is better at testing and proving these qualities than colleges are now. (Better here probably means cheaper, faster, or more accurate.)

          • phil says:

            Ok,

            Headhunting, via automated internet comment analytics.

          • Deiseach says:

            Assume Tyler Cowen is exactly right about what college is good for. It’s not about learning skills, it’s about proving yourself intelligent, conscientious, and conformant.

            So does he really mean “When I teach classes, I’m not actually teaching my students anything and they learn nothing from me but by showing up and taking the test they signal that they are capable of being work-ready”?

            In fact the Mercatus Center and its impressive list of programmes are nothing more than adult babysitting? When the brochure says:

            Working one-on-one with renowned George Mason University faculty and Mercatus Center scholars, Mercatus PhD Fellows learn from the great economists of the past, undertake thought-provoking research in the present, and gain the skills they need to educate the economists of the future. Mercatus PhD Fellows are ready to rise to the challenge of harnessing the power of economics in an increasingly complex world.

            it really means “Nah, what this is about is proving you can get out of bed in the morning and show up on time”? Granted, the PhDs probably are teaching themselves, but it seems an awfully expensive in time and money way of signalling “I can wear a suit and tie!” 🙂

          • phil says:

            @Deiseach It’s more ‘are they learning anything usefully transferable’ than ‘learning anything at all, and yeah that’s roughly the thesis of Bryan Caplan’s new book The Case Against Education (he’s pretty closely professionally associated with Cowen (my rough understanding is that Cowan was responsible for Caplan being hired at GMU))

        • Dustin Kasser says:

          If we’re assumming that College isn’t for learning, and it’s purely a signal, I don’t understand why you’re trying to make your new signaling institution a place of learning.

          In other words, people are getting Business degrees to be managers at Walmart, but these degrees didnmt improve they’re productivity. So, we may conclude that people don’t actually need extra business knowledge to be managers. So why include that business knowledge in your institution when all it will do is raise the cost?

          You said that you wanted something like other institutions; I suggest an internship supervising company. You pay some amount of money to get an internship through Internship Corporation (we’ll call it IC). IC gets you an internship at a business, and provides the business with assisstance managing the interns, such as extra supervisors to disipline interns or tutors to help cover areas that the interns don’t know. Then make it not easy to get in, but hard to stay in so that if the interns do poorly they get fired. While this is considered bad for colleges, I think that high firing rates might make a job seem more selective, as a job is more your responsibility than your supervisor’s.

          In all, IC gets you an internship, provides support so the company it contracts with doesn’t bear the costs of training an intern, and fires bad interns.

          Everything I’ve heard about most applied majors is that you’re internships are more important than your GPA, suggesing that they might send a stronger signal. It would show your ability to conform to a new environment, get your work done, and deal with other people still, but since you’d be doing productive work AS your education, I would imagine it would be cheaper than college no matter how you structured it.

      • MB says:

        I agree to this and have a further modest proposal on top of it: select people as a function of their Facebook browsing habits.
        Conscientiousness: do they just give their Facebook feed a compulsory look or go the extra mile and browse their friends’, friends’ friends’, etc., profiles and pages? Do they give feedback or leave a comment on each post they have spent time looking at? How often do they update their stati?
        Sociability: how many thousands of friends do they have? how many groups have they joined?
        Intelligence: Do they take the IQ and “which GoT character are you” tests posted by their friends? How well do they do on those? More generally, Facebook is a great setting for displaying one’s wit and smarts.
        The other great thing is that Facebook has all this information on record. We could abolish college tomorrow!

        • phil says:

          Lol, fair enough.

          I don’t envision it being something you’ll opt in or out of.

          The actors who make decisions will realize that college is a crappy signal, and that people’s online reputations are good signals. (This is already the case, sometimes you hear about hiring based on GitHub profiles)

          The people who are trying to signal will realize that college degrees don’t signal as well as they are hoping to.

          ——–

          Your economic future already swings based on how you conduct yourself irl (some people can get away with acting like jerks irl, but it’s usually not marginally helpful)

          We imagine that how we interact with each other online is a consequence free zone,

          That’s never actually been the case, in the future, I would expect it to be even less so.

    • theredsheep says:

      1. Liberal arts degrees are worthless for job purposes. That’s essentially what the word “liberal” means there. The biggest single mistake of my life was going for English. I get the “college bonus” insofar as I have a degree and can be, er, a substitute teacher, but that’s about it. I could go on to become a professor if I went back for a master’s, but that’s not a good career to get into right now from what I hear. Even if I wanted to, which I don’t.

      2. If something is about signaling, established and well-known signals are vastly better than new ones. What you’re going for is something that says, on a resume, “you know nothing about me but what’s on this paper, but I went through the bother of going here for four years, so I probably don’t stab people, act sexually aggressive, come to work drunk or high, steal, or spread crazy and malicious rumors.” If you actually have a useful and relevant degree, that’s even better, but perhaps best of all is having it be a school the recruiter has heard of so he won’t have to dig around to tell if it’s a diploma mill or something equally sketchy.

      3. If a credential is something everyone is expected to have, it becomes less a positive good than a dead-weight, a hoop you have to jump through before you can be hired. If everyone has to spend four years simply to certify that they aren’t utterly worthless human beings, that doesn’t really serve anyone but the ones running the institutions; it won’t really prove usefulness, since if everyone’s expected to have it it will be watered down so that even useless and crummy people can get it, purely for market reasons. Which is what I think has happened. I would move away from our current bachelor’s-for-all thinking, and send as many people as possible to brutally efficient technical training, as in community college.

      • Syx78 says:

        I think point 2 is really it. It’s all about the Brand. And creating a new University brand may be possible but will likely take over a hundred years (Cornell is still looked down upon in some circles).

        HR Staff will look at whatever Institution is the most prestigious. Not some no name school no matter how difficult it is. The Ivie’s have 400 years of history behind them and will always be the most prestigious. Almost no matter what they do. I’ve even heard it said Ivies suffer from more massive grade inflation than State Schools.

        Now could a new very difficult school become more prestigious than the average state flagship? Maybe, but that hardly matters as there’s basically 2 (or at least 2) tiers of college. The Ivies and the rest. So just getting higher in “the rest” won’t help much at all.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think you’re giving the Ivy brand a little too much weight here. If I was thinking about hiring someone for my team I’d be a lot more impressed by a degree from Stanford or Caltech (which are not Ivies) than by one from, say, Brown (which is). I’m not HR, I’m an engineer, but my word carries a lot more weight than HR’s for questions like that — I don’t think HR even had any input the last time we hired somebody, aside from the due-diligence stuff like making sure they had the degree they said they had and weren’t wanted for twelve axe murders in Montana.

          • Syx78 says:

            Eh, I think the exception proves the rule here. Caltech and Stanford are basically Ivies even though they’re technically not. There are a few other high prestige schools that are similar like say Berkeley but go much below there in the rankings and it all starts to look samey.

          • Protagoras says:

            When I was a grad student at Brown, there was a deal among the Ivy schools (at least among the philosophy departments) that allowed a grad student to devote one semester to taking some classes from another Ivy (I exploited this to take a class on causation from David Lewis, just a few months before his tragic death). Stanford, MIT, and IIRC Chicago were also part of the same deal, so apparently they were regarded as part of the club. As Syx78 says, Caltech and Berkeley are also generally regarded as similarly elite. Though I’ll also add that my experience of Brown undergraduates makes me think you underrate them.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      I guess the question becomes, how cheap can you make it? Most state-school engineering majors probably check your “hard” boxes well enough for employers while also being affordable relative to most other options, and then at the end you have an engineering degree (which you wouldn’t from your HCC, because you eschew expensive, specialized courses). The University of Illinois-Chicago (to pick a local-to-me institution) is about $5900/semester for in-state tuition for engineers. UIC is also probably on the expensive end for an in-state school due to Illinois’ recent budget fights – Georgia Tech, a more highly-regarded school, is $10,000/year for in-state tuition. Can you provide a better value than in-state engineering degrees? I have sincere doubts.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think almost everyone in this debate recognizes that there are “trade” majors (engineering, nursing, computer science) where the value of the major is largely what you learned in school, not just the signaling that you’re a smart guy.

        The point is that a liberal arts degree seems like it’s more of a “let me show you I’m smart and functional enough to get through college” thing than a “hire me so I can apply these directly useful skills I learned in my sociology major to your company’s problems.”

        • theredsheep says:

          Isn’t the answer to stop producing those worthless degrees, or stop producing so many of them, and shovel people into quick training that produces more practical skills? I’m a creative type, I enjoyed a lot of my English classes, but once you get past the 200 level in liberal arts it stops being about the actual arts and starts being people using the arts as an excuse for talking about their pet crank theories. I’m sure we’ve all heard the funny stories. My fave was the scholarly paper arguing that every character in Hamlet is secretly terrified of Ophelia’s vagina.

          So, if you’re just not into medicine or engineering or something involving complex empirically verifiable skills or bodies of knowledge … maybe pursue alternative career options? I don’t know what that would look like, but if I’m going to spend years and money I should come out with hard job skills.

          Okay, maybe that’s obvious. But … (frustrated shrug). Like I said, if everybody’s getting it, it’s not saying anything special about the people getting it, it’s just a kind of rent-seeking, where you have to pay a third party to avoid being presumed an utter imbecile.

          • johan_larson says:

            Isn’t the answer to stop producing those worthless degrees, or stop producing so many of them, and shovel people into quick training that produces more practical skills?

            Sure. I’d be quite happy with a system where general education ends with high school, and from there people go either directly to work or into distinctly vocation-oriented education, for those who need more than on-the-job training. That would surely waste less money than we are wasting right now.

            The question is how to get there. How do you change our entire deeply-rooted culture around post-secondary education and job training? HCC, for all its faults, was at least something that could be implemented fairly cheaply, and didn’t require a comprehensive cultural shift to be useful.

          • theredsheep says:

            But you mentioned teaching English. English isn’t useful, once you’ve gotten past basic compositional competence, except in the sense of providing entry into the mostly useless and parasitic community of English-teaching academics. History is likewise interesting, but has no practical value, and I understand a lot of it’s likewise getting jacked by the cranks. What I’m getting is “continue doing extravagantly worthless thing, but at a lower price.” I don’t think that’s a step in the right direction, but rather an increased commodification of education, which will further reduce the value of getting the credential.

            I’m not one for faith in The Market, but if more and more people are recognizing that lib arts degrees are useless, isn’t that a sign that the market is starting to correct this error?

          • johan_larson says:

            Oh, sure, employers sometimes use college degrees inappropriately as an initial sanity-check, particularly in entry-level jobs. The US military, for instance, insists that its officers must have a college degree but don’t care what it’s in. And that’s a bad thing.

            But this is also not what HCC is supposed to fix. HCC accepts this situation. It just tries a) to deliver the college education more cheaply where possible and b) to provide a stronger signal of worth by being particularly demanding.

            If employers stop accepting liberal arts degrees as signs of worthiness in a general sense, then I agree HCC should stop offering them, since such degrees really aren’t good for much in that scenario.

            I’d be happy to see broader reforms in this area. I’m just not sure how to get there.

        • secondcityscientist says:

          My sister has an engineering degree, but her job is basically just a “you are a smart person” job. She could probably make more money doing what she majored in but she decided she didn’t want to. I don’t think there’s anything stopping most engineers from doing that sort of thing, other than salary concerns and the fact that most engineering majors want to be engineers.

      • Syx78 says:

        UIC can. They just put their Masters in Computer Science degree on Coursersa for half the cost. Some Ivies like Columbia and MIT are doing similar. My guess is that since it’s all brand name the fact that you can get these degrees on line for cheap will not affect the prestiege of the institution.

    • rlms says:

      I think that would have a pretty small market. Most of the intelligent students who could deal well with the high academic standards would actually want good teaching (and be willing to pay for it). Students who are not that intellectually curious would mostly want nice things. So HCC would only cater to students who are smart/hard-working but not really interested in knowledge for its own sake. These exist (Cambridge has a degree for them) but I don’t think there are many of them.

    • johan_larson says:

      I has come to my attention that I have been writing about Tyler Cowen as the supposed source of the notion that universities are about proving oneself rather than learning useful things. The actual source I had in mind is Bryan Caplan, author of “The Case Against Education.” My apologies.

  5. Le Maistre Chat says:

    What made him Unthready?

    • The Nybbler says:

      He’s not wearing pants under that cloak.

    • Erusian says:

      In Old Scottalexandrian, ‘Ready’ actually meant ‘advised’. So Ethelthread actually meant ‘Advised by an old woman named Ethel’. Naturally, the moniker ‘unthready’ comes after the publication of Unsong, which provides an entirely different kind of advice than Ethel’s.

    • johan_larson says:

      You can’t pass him through the eye of a needle, even with a good eye and a steady hand. But that’s true of most men, alas.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      He appears to be rolling some ball bearings in his right hand like Capt. Queeg. That can’t have helped.

  6. Relenzo says:

    I’ve recently become interested in Dempster-Schafer Theory..

    Dempster-Schafer describes quantified expressions of uncertainty called beleif functions. What’s wild is that they seem to be proposed as an ALTERNATIVE to probability distributions (at least as we normally understand them).

    There are some claims, I think, that they allow a better representation of high-level uncertainty. If you observe part of a population of things, what can you say about the rest of the population? Dempster-Schafer allows you to place ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ bounds, of a sort, on the likelihood of observing something in the population as a whole, based on your partial observation. For example: If I draw five red marbles and two blue marbles out of a big sack, Dempster-Schafer lets me write a belief function that says ‘the distribution of blue balls in this bag is at least 5/(number of balls) and no greater than (number of balls – 2)/(number of balls)’ whereas ‘those Bayesians’ would require you to use something like second-order probabilities to describe your uncertainty about the distribution of marbles.

    But it gets weird. There’s also a method for combining independent sources of belief called Dempster’s Rule, which so far as I can find is not rigorously justified by a connection to anything in particular outside of Dempster-Schafer theory. Yet somehow there’s a whole community of papers about this topic.

    Anyway. I’m not sure I fully understand it. The time I spent studying it has been snuck in at work on grounds of this-is-arguably-relevant-to-artificial-intelligence. I’m trying to figure out if there’s actually anything to this, or if it’s a bunch of nonsense.

    Does anyone else around here know about this theory? If so, what do they think of it? Is it nonsense? Definitely interested in the opinions of XRationalists, self-described Bayesians that they are (is that still a big thing in Yudkowsky’s community?), but also all of the fine intelligent folks at SSC.

    • actinide meta says:

      Interesting. I think alternative representations for belief are interesting, because it’s not obvious to me that probability is the ideal such. This one is new to me, though.

      It’s good, from my perspective, that it provides a way to represent a total lack of knowledge, since this seems like one weakness of probability. (What probability do you assign to the proposition that a smeerp is flurblax?)

      The Wikipedia page doesn’t give much in the way of motivation for the inference operator (Dempster’s Rule). But this paper, in an attempt to discredit the rule, actually made it seem more plausible to me. In particular, it gives this example: you have three suspects for a crime (X, Y, and Z), and two witnesses (A, and B). Witness A’s testimony is that there is a 99% chance X is the murderer and a 1% chance Y is the murderer. Witness B’s testimony is that there is a 99% chance Z is the murderer and a 1% chance Y is the murderer. Dempster’s Rule gives a 100% chance Y is the murderer, which the authors find implausible, and they suggest alternative “cumulative” and “averaging” operators that yield ~50% chances for X and Z. Then they show that if the testimony of the witnesses is “discounted” by assigning a small amount of probability to the complete set in the column for each witness, the result of DR comes out more like the average.

      I could be missing something, but this seems like a reasonably good showing for DR in this situation. Applying a belief fusion operator directly to the witness testimony presumably represents perfect confidence in the reliability of the witness. If two perfectly reliable witnesses give testimony whose only possible intersection is that Y is the murderer, then Y is the murderer. (“when you have eliminated the impossible…”) This conflicts with intuition only because we know that witnesses are unreliable, and apparently fixing this fixes the “problem”.

      (This made me somewhat lose trust in the authors of that paper, and I didn’t finish skimming it, so maybe there is a better argument later.)

      Apparently there is a proposed variant of DR where “conflicting” belief mass gets assigned to the empty set rather than normalized away. The idea being that if most of your belief mass winds up there, it’s a sign that you are “probably” confused – maybe the true answer is outside the universe of your set, or maybe you interpreted some of your evidence incorrectly. This is appealing to me.

      On the downside, manipulating these belief functions sounds computationally intensive when the sets aren’t tiny. Maybe they aren’t actually more practical than huge matrices of conditional probabilities representing every possible combination of beliefs?

      On the whole: somewhat promising, but I’m definitely not ready to drink the Kool-Aid.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        It’s probably dumb of me to comment on this since I haven’t read the paper and know nothing about the theory under discussion. But out of curiosity, your initial description of the problem doesn’t say anything about having already established that both witnesses are infallible. Your explanation why the author’s criticism is wrong seems to assume knowledge that they are both infallible. (You say “perfectly reliable” but to be clear it sounds like you have to assume perfect reliability not only as to the honesty of their statements but also as to the accuracy of their knowledge for your explanation to hold.) Is there something in the problem that builds in the extraordinary assumption that the witnesses both have to be inerrant in their claims? And if not I don’t quite understand why the authors are not correct that the inference of 100% Y is extremely counterintuitive. It’s one thing to say that the application of the rule presupposes some degree of trust in the sources of evidence. It seems another entirely to say that it presupposes that both are absolutely infallible and that neither could possibly have made a mistake.

        • actinide meta says:

          In short, yes, the way they represented the beliefs to be fused implies an assumption that they are each infallible.

          The DS representation of belief is a mapping from subsets of possibilities (not individual possibilities, as with probabilities) to weights summing to 1. It provides, among other things, a way to distinguish “the coin is heads with exactly 50% probability” (H=.5,T=.5) from “I have no idea of the state of the coin” (HT=1).

          The paper is applying the belief fusion operator to the beliefs (X=.99,Y=.01) and (Y=.01,Z=.99). These beliefs are “dogmatic”: they assign no weight to the universal set. And each belief assigns a weight of zero to one of the suspects. If you take these seriously as your own beliefs, the only possible conclusion is Y.

          You don’t go about solving a crime by directly adopting the beliefs of witnesses as your own and then fusing them! As I understand it, in DS theory the approach to this sort of inference would be to first decide what belief we would have based on A’s testimony (not the same as the belief expressed by that testimony) and likewise for B, and then fuse those (allegedly independent) beliefs with the DS rule. So even if we trust A and B a lot, we might adopt beliefs more like (X=.98,Y=.01,XYZ=.01) and (Y=.01,Z=.98,XYZ=.01) admitting a small possibility that the testimony of each witness is wrong. And then (as shown in the paper) we get something reasonable looking!

          There probably is something deeply wrong with DS theory; I’m just saying this isn’t it. Any inference method can give you silly answers if you feed it silly assumptions.

          • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

            Interesting. Thank you for the explanation. Apologies for my Dempster fire of a comment.

      • Relenzo says:

        I also ran into that paper, and like your analysis.

        I’m uncomfortable about things like second-order probabilities.

        Sometimes it works. If you observe a sample of some population, you CAN come up with an estimate of the ‘likelihood’ that the next ball will be blue, or green, or whatever. You can assume it follows the distribution you’ve already seen. Moreover, you know that you’re more likely to have seen a representative distribution as you draw more and data. If you know how big the population is, and you have the assumption that you drew completely randomly from this population, then I believe there’s a formula for this. The likelihood of the population have THIS distribution, times the likelihood that I would draw this sample given that distribution…it’s a Bayes’ Rule thing.

        But that still requires you to have a prior over what kind of bag of marbles you’re holding. And there are so many problems where it’s difficult to say if you have that kind of knowledge.

        But I don’t know that DS addresses all of this either. This combination rule needs to connect to something outside itself, or it just feels like it was pulled out of the Dempster at random.

      • actinide meta says:

        Update: I found a survey paper which, though pretty terse, seems like a more trustworthy introduction than the Wikipedia article. The authors also have written a book if you are interested. The survey paper mentions several different approaches to grounding DS theory in probability theory. I won’t try to summarize, because it is already almost too dense to follow. But I think it convinces me that the Dempster Rule can be justified in some model, while leaving me very uncertain that it is a useful model.

        It also proves (in the context of a particular model of DS) that the fusion of a Bayesian belief and an arbitrary belief is a Bayesian belief, and that only a small amount of the information in the arbitrary belief (the plausibility of the singletons) is relevant to the result. The former seems promising to me – it implies that you can get to probabilities any time you want to add priors, and if it’s the case that it gives the same results as Bayesian inference when all the beliefs are Bayesian that would be good – but the latter seems potentially damning: what exactly is all this extra information we are carrying around if it never can impact a probability?

        • Relenzo says:

          After some reading into this, it seems like the authors are saying the ‘support’ and ‘plausibility’, concepts which were frequently misunderstood, are actually like lower and upper ‘bounds’ on the ‘true’ probability of an event.

          I keep going back to marbles. If I take two red and two blue marbles out of a bag, then put them back, I know that if I pull a marble out–well, there’s at least a certain chance of pulling out a red marble. I’d have to make up a ‘prior’ pretty much out of thin air to get an exact probability, but I know that at least two of the marbles are red, so there’s a lower bound. And I know at least two of the marbles aren’t red, so that’s an upper bound.

          In some sense, it seems that DS might not be pointing to anything in reality. From a Bayesian perspective, after all, there’s no such thing as ‘true’ probability. Something is either true or it isn’t, and probability is just how likely we should estimate it given what we know.

          On the other hand, there’s a sense in which DS might be doing something intuitively useful. In the bag problem, I model the drawing out of a marble as ‘truly random’. I’m not considering that I might learn where the marbles are in the bag, or take advantage of determinism to figure out which one I’ll draw. There’s an ‘upper limit’ to the probability of me estimating that I’ll draw a red marble, because I restrict the information I might learn to the collection of marbles in the bag.

          I feel I am still confused, though, so maybe don’t take this too seriously.

    • flylo says:

      I haven’t read the links carefully yet, but this seems relevant for the issue of dealing with “subjective uncertainty”, which has become an issue in environmental economics. Basically, when making projections of the economic impacts of different climate policies there are some variables which are completely unconstrained, and come down to expert judgments. An example is the discount rate: how much we want to push the costs of climate change onto future generations. Taking a steep discount rate means that we expect future generations to come up with technological innovations to deal with the effects of climate change, and we shouldn’t worry about emitting carbon today. A low discount rate implies that we should be doing everything we can to reduce carbon emissions. There’s no “correct” answer to this, so people just go with their preference. On the science side, we know the climate has “tipping point”, but we don’t know how close we are to any of these.

      Since people have different subjective opinions on these issues, they can reach very different conclusions, even given the same data and models. This is also described as the issue of having multiple priors. So the question is, what’s the best way of aggregating over very different opinions? Right now everyone ignores each other, which makes their conclusions seem more certain than they actually are, and is a dangerous place to be. There’s starting to be some theoretical work on how to combine multiple priors, mainly focused on balancing risk and subjective estimates of uncertainty, but this seems to be quite early-stage. I wrote more about this here.

      This also seems relevant for worries about GAI and goal-alignment, or any situation where we’re relying on expert opinion, rather than using conventional statistical techniques to quantify uncertainty.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Dempster shafer theory is a way to aggregate data without being overconfident, and is an established subdiscipline of uncertainty theory. I like its ability to model absolute uncertainty, although it can also be parsed in more objectivist ways for people who like that sort of thing, with upper and lower objective frequencies of events. And if you really like expected utility but don’t want to commit to probabilistic beliefs, Smets’ work on pignistic probabilities allows you to have dempster shafer beliefs but still adhere to expected utility.

        On a practical level, I have some serious reservations about it though. Probability theory on its own can be computationally intractable in many real world examples, and dempster shafer theory is far worse. Even simple problems quickly become entirely intractable. Maybe there are computational shortcuts that are pretty close to working okay, but if so I don’t know them. Also, somewhat alarmingly, if your beliefs are not dogmatic, then compounding perspectives leads (as I recall—it hasn’t been a few years since I seriously delved into this theory) to increased rather than decreased uncertainty. The dempster shafer rule of composition assumes some independence between perspectives—alternatives exist, but the more of them you use the more ad how your conclusions will be.

  7. John Schilling says:

    …and that the bare minimum requirement for a wall being even slightly useful – protection against ladders – is not in Trump’s requirements

    The bare minimum for a wall or fence being slightly useful is that it forces the adversary to bring and deploy a ladder – or two ladders if they want the option of quickly retreating back into Mexico when the border patrol shows up. This buys the border patrol an extra few minutes to respond, and that’s genuinely useful. Hence the Bush-era fence. There’s a useful deterrent value as well.

    But it rapidly reaches a point of diminishing returns, as it doesn’t take that much longer to deploy a taller ladder – at least within the levels we are talking about here. Once you’ve got a fence that can’t be quickly scrambled over or cut through, it’s pretty much over to the border guards to make it work.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Is there any form of passive defense or barrier which would work at least tolerably well at deterring crossers with only a token numbers of border guards patrolling it? Ideally something that would be challenging and expensive for future administrations to dismantle after it has been put into place.

      The only thing coming to mind right now are minefields, which seems like overkill.

      • John Schilling says:

        Minefields definitely would meet the “challenging and expensive for future administrations to dismantle” criteria, but no, there’s not really anything suitable for this.

      • CatCube says:

        No. Digging up the mines is relatively trivial (if dangerous), and then the coyotes will have mines to place to fuck with the Border Patrol. Just like a wall, their purpose is to slow people down, though in a war you’d normally use machine guns and artillery instead of trying to catch people crossing.

      • BBA says:

        As long as any trade across the border is allowed, the wall will need to have gaps for the border stations. Which means a future administration could just change the policy for who gets let in at the stations, making the wall and landmines and whatever else you put there irrelevant.

        • Matt M says:

          Perhaps the bet here is on the notion that the political opposition isn’t willing to go on record and make it official public policy that lots and lots of people are allowed in with minimal/no screening.

          Yes, a future administration could make the wall obsolete by simply declaring open borders to be the new immigration policy. But it seems quite likely that nobody is quite willing to do that (at least for now).

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Matt M said what I was planning on saying, but better.

          If a fence or a wall really is useless without large numbers of armed men patrolling it, future administrations can quietly neutralize it by reducing the number of armed men on patrol. You can have de facto open borders but if anyone calls you on it you can point to the handful of border patrol agents and call yourself “Deporter-in-Chief.”

          If there’s no quiet way to open the border, and you need to send in bulldozers or hang welcome banners on the ports of entry, then it’s much less likely to happen.

          • johan_larson says:

            If you were to build some really enormous structure, say a wall 50 m high and 10 m deep made of reinforced concrete 1 m thick, then only very determined attempts to cross it would succeed. At 50 m, nobody is going to bring a simple ladder to cross the wall. They’ll need to build scaffolding or bring a serious crane or fire-truck. It will be very obvious if there is any surveillance at all.

            Is there a civil engineer in the room? I’d like a price quote on 1000 km of 50-m-tall wall. Also, I want it painted white and to come with a video of me standing atop it saying, “Winter is coming.”

          • Lambert says:

            AKA about 30 Hoover Dams worth of concrete.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s an immigration policy *and* a stimulus package all in one….

          • engleberg says:

            @you need to send in bulldozers-

            Ditches are cheaper than walls. A ditch twenty feet deep, with the dirt piled twenty feet high on one side, would not cost the earth, and you’d have a crappy dirt road to drive along and patrol. Sure, ladders, or just determination and a pointed stick in each hand and a rope for later guys. And there you are on foot tired from the climb watching the patrol cars arrive.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Ditches are cheaper than walls. A ditch twenty feet deep, with the dirt piled twenty feet high on one side, would not cost the earth, and you’d have a crappy dirt road to drive along and patrol

            Doesn’t work on the flood plain of any river, or in rocky areas with little topsoil.

          • engleberg says:

            @Doesn’t work on the flood plain of any river, or on rocky areas with little topsoil-

            Wet underwater mud is easy to shovel, and the river is your moat. Dynamite is cheap and works on rocks. Worst case the road wiggles a little. Maybe a bridge where you put a patrol station.

        • Mary says:

          It would still create a bottleneck.

        • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

          I think the goal of the wall would be to allow in only people lawfully admitted by the government. A future more lenient admission policy would not seem to undermine the purpose of the wall because its policy is neutral as to who gets in so long as the entry is allowed by the United States.

      • Well... says:

        Years ago when I used to read Steve Sailer, he would always talk about the Israelis and their fences and if they could build them then why couldn’t we? (Of course he said it in a much smirkier way than that.)

        I don’t remember if Sailer gave specs on those fences but I remember a few of the photos of them and they looked formidable.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          John’s point was that any fence or wall is virtually useless if its not patrolled.

          Israel is very dedicated to patrolling it’s fence, and even if they weren’t it would be relatively easy to do because it’s relatively short. An equivalent American fence would require more men to patrol properly, and future Democratic administrations would want to make the minimum possible effort patrolling it in order to maximize the number of illegal immigrants coming across the border.

          Hence my question: how could you Democrat-proof border security, by making it very hard to open the border without being obvious about it.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s not a given that a wall without significant personnel increase would be useless. My bet would be that it reduces illegal crossing to some extent. But we won’t really know unless we run the experiment.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. Anything that makes crossing the border marginally more difficult should also marginally reduce illegal crossings.

            While a carefully monitored wall would be maximally effective, a non-monitored wall would still likely be better than nothing.

          • Anatoly says:

            >future Democratic administrations would want to make the minimum possible effort patrolling it in order to maximize the number of illegal immigrants coming across the border.

            Won’t the future Democratic administrations be too busy confiscating all the guns and arresting all the patriots to bother with opening the border?

            Anyway, I’m yet to hear a reasonable explanation from all the “Democrats open borders something something” boo-outgroupers
            of why Obama was so spectacularly bad at it for eight years that the number of illegal immigrants went slightly down over his two terms.

          • Murphy says:

            Any fence will tend to suffer in the face of someone with 5 minutes and some wire cutters.

            Most realistic walls will suffer in the face of someone with 20 minutes and a sledgehammer.

            If you aren’t willing to constantly maintain it the barrier goes away.

            Is nobody else bothered that people are so utterly opposed to democracy that they want to make it impossible for future democratically elected governments of their own state to choose policies based on the wishes of the future electorate?

            Realistically anything like a wall can be undone so the end game seems to be a desire to do away with democracy and replace it with something else because democracy might lead to policies that they don’t like.

          • brmic says:

            @ Murphy
            I’m fine with desiring to limit future democratic governments. The constitution does that, too, and it seems to be working out ok so far. It only really becomes a problem when the mistrust in the future becomes downright destructive of the present, such as when people are for excessive tax cuts, so that future governments are constrained by debt.

            What I find more worrying is the assumption that a future Democratic government would desire to maximize the number of illegal immigrants, which is up there with ‘Pro-Lifers Don’t Give A Damn About Fetuses’ in violations of the principle of charity.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Anyway, I’m yet to hear a reasonable explanation from all the “Democrats open borders something something” boo-outgroupers
            of why Obama was so spectacularly bad at it for eight years that the number of illegal immigrants went slightly down over his two terms.

            It’s not a mystery. His presidency started with a massive recession which much of the country hasn’t recovered from a decade later.

            Obama made every effort to encourage people to illegally immigrate. DACA and the wave of “unaccompanied child” migrants, the DoJ cracking down on border states like attempting to enforce their own borders, the catch-and-release policy that Trump recently reversed to the media’s horror, etc. But he wasn’t able to do much about the economy so ultimately it didn’t draw in nearly as many people as it would have a few years prior.

            Also, the number of illegal immigrants only went down because of our idiotic policy of jus soli. There are now somewhere from hundreds of thousands to millions more undeportable people who never should have been here in the first place. That’s part of the danger here: amnesty or not, the pro-replacement side just needs to run out the clock. It may already be too late.

          • 1soru1 says:

            a future Democratic government would desire to maximize the number of illegal immigrants

            Surely it is _Republican_ governments who have an artificial incentive to maximise the number of _illegal_ immigrants? Illegals can’t vote, but fill up economic roles that would naturally be filled by Democrats, leaving more natives as managers and owners.

            Connecting that to plans for a wall high enough to be profitable for the builders, but low enough to be useless, is perhaps not charitable. But it’s not clearly wrong.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I mean you’re half right.

            The Republican establishment is absolutely in love with illegal immigration because of their ties with business owners. But that’s also why the Republican establishment is so deeply unpopular with their voters. Now that Trump has brought immigration restriction back into the Overton window we might even get a choice in the matter.

          • John Schilling says:

            Any fence will tend to suffer in the face of someone with 5 minutes and some wire cutters.

            Not all fences are made of wire. And even fence that is made of wire, can be made highly resistant to wire cutters.

            It is relatively cheap and straightforward to build a security fence that sets the bar at, “yes, you really do have to bring an extension ladder”. It’s the next part that’s critical, and simply adding concrete isn’t going to be much help.

          • Murphy says:

            @John

            I’m somewhat leery that their fence would stand up to decent bolt cutters. If anything except quite expensive bike locks fail to stand up for more than a few seconds I don’t hold much hope for wire fencing.

            Re: the more solid metal fences, I’ll give you that, for those it’s upgraded to 10-15 minutes and an angle grinder.

            But my point is that if you don’t seriously guard the barrier with humans, it can be significantly dismantled in a very short time period.

            @brmic

            I’d argue that it isn’t terribly absurd.

            many western governments have actively tried to attract immigrants whenever they had a significant labor shortage.

            The US historically has actively set out to attract immigrants during labor shortages. Australia had the Ten Pound Poms, the UK had the Windrush generation

            It’s not exactly an absurd notion.

            In practice the US has a farm labor shortage that natives aren’t terribly willing to fill but has managed to pretend that it doesn’t exist by allowing it filled under the table with illegal immigration.

            It’s nominally fine for the US, it gets cheap labor and the laborers accrue no rights. Any serious disturbance of that status quo would either force them to face the shortage and loosen up immigration officially which would be expensive all round.

            Of course it’s unpopular with the crowd who like to blame their perpetual lack of employment on foreigners… but most of them wouldn’t actually be willing to take those jobs and the minority which might… wouldn’t for anything less than an extremely large multiple of the wages commanded by immigrants to the point that it’d likely make much of the industry uneconomic.

          • JulieK says:

            Israel is very dedicated to patrolling it’s fence, and even if they weren’t it would be relatively easy to do because it’s relatively short.

            The border is shorter, but Israel also has a smaller population and budget, so I’m not sure this is a worthwhile comparison.

          • ana53294 says:

            Israel has a draft, and drafted soldiers are paid something like ~ 5000 dollars/year, whereas US border patrol agents get paid at least 50,000 dollars a year. Israel can afford to have 10x more soldiers than the US, and they still do it for a very small piece of land area.
            It is an order of a magnitude cost in enforcement agents. Are you willing to re-introduce the draft and have draftees patrol the border? Because short of a draft, nobody would be willing to patrol vast swaths of nothingness in Texas heat for less than the minimum federal wage. And a draft would be much more unpopular than any wall, however wasteful.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            brmic:

            What I find more worrying is the assumption that a future Democratic government would desire to maximize the number of illegal immigrants

            Given that there are high-profile Democrats now who advocate open borders and ending ICE, it does not seem terribly uncharitable to imagine that future Democrats might feel similarly.

          • antpocalypse says:

            @Doctor Mist:

            It’s disingenuous (and baffling) to conflate opposition to existing border control institutions with a ‘desire to maximize the number of illegal immigrants’. I think most people who hold those positions right now believe honestly that the humanitarian cost of enforcement exceeds that of an uncontrolled border, which can be believed without having any preference about the number of people who actually immigrate.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Is nobody else bothered that people are so utterly opposed to
            democracy that they want to make it impossible for future
            democratically elected governments of their own state to choose
            policies based on the wishes of the future electorate?

            You have seriously misunderstood the other side. They don’t want to make it impossible for future administrations to change immigration policy. They
            want to make it impossible for future administrations to change immigration policy while lying about it. There is no policy or fence or border
            that would withstand an explicit desire of the US Government to change it.

            The US historically has actively set out to attract immigrants during labor shortages

            We need to stop talking about the UBI if there is a labor shortage, instead of nothing for people to do.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Bolt cutters aside, what about earthquakes ? California gets about one of those per year (though major quakes are more uncommon).

          • Randy M says:

            As a So. Cal native, building-toppling earthquakes aren’t an annual event, and the threat of them isn’t enough to deter other construction projects that we think are worthwhile. It may add to the cost by some amount, but not as much as desirable real estate.

    • Wrong Species says:

      There’s a couple things here:

      The Bush fences don’t cover the entire border. Even if we don’t make a distinction between fence/wall, covering the entire border should have more deterrence than simply letting immigrants cross the desert.

      A fence is probably more vulnerable. Especially since we’re assuming that there won’t be enough border guards to cover every mile, then it’s more important that someone can’t break the barrier easily.

      I have no idea how wall upkeep compares to fence upkeep but that’s something to consider.

      The wall would be a more permanent structure. That could have more deterrent value to illegal immigrants as well as be harder for a future government to take down..

      A lot of the fencing is simply barriers to driving a car across and can easily be hopped over.

      Wall or not, there is much more that can be done at the border without even getting in to added border patrol.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      Why not read about the Berlin wall? People come to the US because they are desperate, just as Ost Berliner germans were desperate to escape.

      I just visited the wall museum in Berlin two days ago, it was quite interesting to read about how difficult it was for the Ost Deutschland government to properly secure a wall that encloses even a single city.

      • Garrett says:

        The people trying to escape from behind the Iron Curtain were in part trying to seek freedom.

        To my knowledge, all countries in continental America are some form of democratic government. (Cuba being the main exception). Thus, the people who live there have the ability to change their circumstances. If they aren’t, I have to wonder about the merits of opening the country to a large number of future voters who are trying to flee a country of their own making.

        • ilikekittycat says:

          Ah yes, all the problems with stable democracy in Latin America… clearly of their own making.

          If only these simple fruit-hatted brown people could get out of their own way! Can’t think of a single reason they’d be skeptical of organizing progressive electoral change and making their own countries better!

        • Placid Platypus says:

          If you define a government as a monopoly on violence, there are definitely areas in Central America with no government at all. Also, you’re conflating the population as a whole having the ability to change things with any single person or family having that ability.

          • By that definition I do not think there are any governments, since some private violence occurs in all societies I know of. You can make it a monopoly on legal violence, but that’s a circular definition, since what makes it legal is that it is authorized by the government.

            My attempt at a better solution to the problem of defining government.

        • Thus, the people who live there have the ability to change their circumstances.

          If “the people have the ability” means “if enough people choose to act together for the purpose,” then it is true of all political systems–a dictator can’t maintain his position if most of the population not only opposes him but are willing to jointly rebel.

          If it means “a person has the ability,” then it is not true in a democracy any more than in a dictatorship. Each individual voter has almost no effect on the government he is under. Even if a considerable majority dislike what the government is doing, it doesn’t follow that they will be able to coordinate on an alternative.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A US border wall is easier in some ways than the Berlin Wall; you won’t have the guards themselves trying to escape, for instance. And in many places there are formidable natural barriers on either side, which was not true in Berlin. And the Berlin Wall did work pretty well.

        Of course, a US border wall is also harder in many ways too. It’s much longer. There’s no way to have as many patrols. And automated machine gun emplacements are right out.

        • Ilya Shpitser says:

          The only way they managed to make the Berlin wall work is to have a clear line of fire, a second wall, guards everywhere, dogs, civilian informer patrols, informant incentives to rat people out to the secret police, etc. You should read about it, it’s very interesting. It took them many years and a lot of money/manpower to reduce escape attempts to low numbers.

          You would have to set up an NK/SK zone, which is not workable.

          There is also the little matter that US wall fans are using NK and Ost Deutschland as role models for America. Apparently that is the sort of place they want the US to be.

          SK and West Germany welcomed refugees.

          • albatross11 says:

            Ilya,

            Various communist hell-holes made it as difficult as possible for people to leave who wanted to leave. Their border guards’ guns were pointed inward. NK and East Germany are extreme cases, but I think a lot of communist countries didn’t want to let their people leave.

            Nearly every country has policies to make it difficult for foreigners to come into their country. Some have fences or walls, others just have border guards and deportation hearings. This seems to me like a completely different thing, morally and practically.

            Which direction the border guards’ guns are facing is a very big deal, in terms of deciding the moral situation.

            The wall may be a bad idea (I think so, FWIW). But it’s not turning the US into East Germany or North Korea, and it’s not even a step in that direction. Confusing the morality of keeping immigrants out and keeping your citizens from leaving seems like it’s kind of blinding yourself, morally. It’s like confusing the morality of slave plantations with the morality of factories with workers paid a wage.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            West Berlin did not turn people away who wanted to run away from their hell-hole, neither does SK. Although I am sure both paid an economic cost for hosting refugees, at least in the short term.

            In West Berlin they had fire fighters with nets, on call, 24 hours a day, ready to catch people who wanted to jump out of buildings on Bernardstrasse that faced both sides. Such was their commitment to saving people from their misery.

            Another analogy from relatively recent US history was folks involved in getting slaves out of the south. This was illegal and dangerous, and slaves were not citizens and had no rights. Slaves were people, though, and that was enough to the folks involved in “the railroad.”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            West Berlin did not turn people away who wanted to run away from their hell-hole, neither does SK.

            Yes, because there was someone else paying for the guards with guns that were controlling the border, so the number of people coming through was going to be minimal in the first place. If Mexico built a wall to keep their population in and shot people trying to escape, that would change a lot of things.

          • albatross11 says:

            Sure, and that was a good thing. Further, I think West Germany would have welcomed everyone from East Germany who wanted to come. I’m not at all disagreeing with you that accepting refugees is humane and laudable.

            What I’m disagreeing with you about is the notion that refusing refugees who want to come from another country is morally equivalent (or really very close) to not letting your people leave your country. The direction that the border guards’ guns are pointing makes a huge moral difference.

            Perhaps we should have true open borders and free movement of people. But not having that–having borders that turn people away who want to come to your country, as most countries do right now–is not the same as North Korea or East Germany or the Soviet Union.

            Trump’s wall (and walls and fences used elsewhere for slowing down illegal immigration) may be a bad idea, but it’s a very *different* bad idea than the Berlin Wall. I don’t think we learn much about the morality of building a wall/fence to keep immigrants out by comparing it with building a wall/fence to keep your citizens *in*.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Ilya Shpitser

            With regard to the German and Korean borders, in both cases, that’s one nation-state that was divided by external powers. People might say “we should take all comers from across the southern border because they are all human beings”; I can’t think of any smaller-scale groupings of people being appealed to. (Nobody seems to be saying that the US should let all people from the Americas in, or should let Mexicans in but not others because they’re North Americans but the rest aren’t). So it’s not an exact comparison – there’s not the same “these are our siblings, separated by us from misfortune; we must help them” rationale, except insofar as all people are siblings.

            With regard to helping fugitive slaves escape: I don’t actually know a great deal about the justification or justifications that those who helped slaves escape, argued for abolition more generally, etc had. So I don’t know whether “these are other Americans, who should have their rights, but are cruelly denied them” was a common reason to be against slavery, to help slaves escape, etc. Anyone know?

          • Nornagest says:

            So I don’t know whether “these are other Americans, who should have their rights, but are cruelly denied them” was a common reason to be against slavery, to help slaves escape, etc. Anyone know?

            I haven’t read a lot of period abolitionist literature, but what I’ve read tends to invoke religious arguments or quasi-religious natural law arguments. The latter does have a lot of “should have their rights, but are cruelly denied them” in it, but the slaves being fellow Americans has nothing to do with it, and at various points many of those abolitionists would have liked to see them stop being Americans. (See the early history of Liberia.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Taking refugees from a country you are in a cold-war-ish position with is a common tactic. “Look, we got these people to switch to our side, even though they could have been shot trying to flee, clearly we are superior.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            That’s a good point. In this context, however, the people who would say “the US is in a quiet struggle with Mexico, and is way better than Mexico; go USA!” (insert other south-of-the-US countries in place of Mexico as needed) and the people who want to accept more immigrants from those countries (one way or another, legal or illegal) are on the opposite sides of the political divide right now. “The US should take more people from south of the border, fewer questions asked, to prove that USA is #1 and better than where they came from! USA! USA! USA!” would be a synthesis I doubt many people hold, ditto a lot of similar positions.

          • Randy M says:

            “The US should take more people from south of the border, fewer questions asked, to prove that USA is #1 and better than where they came from! USA! USA! USA!” would be a synthesis I doubt many people hold, ditto a lot of similar positions.

            That is the typical conservative/neocon/neoliberal perspective–let’s have lots of legal immigration, because America is a land of opportunity, and honest hard working people who come here will quickly see our way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is superior, and let’s keep illegal immigration low to keep out the terrorists and grifters.

            Wanting legal immigration low because immigrants bring in their own cultures, religions, values, etc. and might not assimilate and might even be different in relevant genetic ways is much more paleo/alt right.

            If you get into economic arguments about not wanting an vastly increased low skilled population to compete with native workers even if it drives down prices, that is more of the populist* right and sometimes left.

            All of these may overlap either somewhat contradictory or in convoluted compromises.

            *One sign an argument is populist is when it is derided the critics replace “my” with “muh.”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The US and Mexico aren’t involved in anything like a cold war. More importantly, Mexico isn’t shooting people trying to leave.

            A wall to keep people out is so vastly different in every way to a wall to keep people in that I doubt the sincerity of anyone who claims to not understand how they aren’t the same. A house I can’t go into is just someone else’s house. A house I can’t get out of is a prison.

          • Matt M says:

            A wall to keep people out is so vastly different in every way to a wall to keep people in that I doubt the sincerity of anyone who claims to not understand how they aren’t the same.

            What about the fact that most “walls to keep people in” are sold to the public as walls to keep people out. Pretty sure the GDR loudly insisted that the Berlin wall was to keep out evil capitalist spies.

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty sure the GDR loudly insisted that the Berlin wall was to keep out evil capitalist spies.

            You can actually see for yourself.

            There’s a great deal of vagueness about securing frontiers and keeping Berlin from being the flashpoint of World War III, but the only concrete benefit attributed to the wall is,

            “We no longer wanted to stand by passively and see how doctors, engineers, and skilled workers were induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man to give up their secure existence in the GDR and work in West Germany or West Berlin. These and other manipulations cost the GDR annual losses amounting to 3.5 thousand million marks.”

          • Eric Rall says:

            induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man

            That’s so brazen that it’s not even a lie: I don’t think it’s unfair to characterize the East German government’s treatment of its subjects as “refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            That is the typical conservative/neocon/neoliberal perspective–let’s have lots of legal immigration, because America is a land of opportunity, and honest hard working people who come here will quickly see our way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is superior, and let’s keep illegal immigration low to keep out the terrorists and grifters.

            Is it? The US currently has a level of legal immigration that’s less than half Canada’s per capita (last available numbers I saw have us taking in 0.7 legal immigrants per 100 Canadians; US 0.3) – how many right-wing proposals argue for doubling per-capita legal immigration?

            This would be more easily done with an immigration system more like Canada’s, of course; it’s easier to take more immigrants when you’re selecting for… well, anything better than the US system’s crazy quilt. Last year’s proposed points system for the US would’ve reduced legal numbers, as I recall.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @dndnrsn

            Read about Charles Sumner (an extreme example, but he was far from alone.)

            Way more people believed slaves should be considered Americans than you would probably suppose, though they were not a majority. Massachusetts was particularly notable in this regard – look at how early they integrated many things. A good portion of the north believed blacks should be Americans, but not necessarily granted full rights or integrated with whites. The ones involved with the Underground Railroad almost definitely believed this, as that was a very risky thing to do if you weren’t a true believer. Many well known figures made extremely blunt statements on this issue that for some reason are just never mentioned. Way too many things in history are justified by the idea that “it just never occurred to them in that time period.” The idea of slaves/black Americans deserving full citizenship rights was extremely well known, particularly in the decades leading up to the civil war – most people were wary of it, but it very much occurred to them, and was debated extensively by brilliant minds.

            A larger group of people (particularly in the west), wanted to send them to Liberia etc. and not have them be Americans. This was Abraham Lincoln’s original belief. But even he thought they should all have at least some rights, though he viewed achieving this as kind of a pipe dream due to the widespread racist beliefs.

            One thing to look up is the Dred Scott case. The decision in that case said “the black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.” This outraged large portions of the country, because even if they were pro-slavery, there were free blacks in existence, and most states gave them at least some rights. This declaration was seen as going way too far and interfering with the laws of other states. It was considered a disturbing statement – few people believed that they were entitled to no protections. That decision contributed a lot to the issues culminating in the Civil War. It was designed to end conflict over slavery, but exacerbated it. Non-slaveholding states realized that slavery was going to spread if that was the mindset.

        • Garrett says:

          This is one of the reasons why I advocate making entry across the Southern border at any location other than a marked, official border checkpoint a forcible felony against the US government. It means that should the government choose to not enforce immigration law that “mere” citizens will then be able to use lethal force against the people crossing.

          This means that the illegal crossers either need to go through a marked checkpoint, or the border patrol needs to do a well enough job that the general public doesn’t think that playing The Most Dangerous Game is a good idea.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You can call it a forcible felony, you can make it _legally_ so, but you’re rather unlikely to make people believe it is morally the same thing as the traditional forcible felonies. Especially after your border patrol shoots a photogenic young Mexican mother or some American hikers who got lost and crossed the border twice.

          • John Schilling says:

            What Nybbler says. No matter how reasonable you may think it is to gun down poor Mexican or Central American immigrants trying to sneak across the US border, nor how many people you can find in your bubble to back you up with a “Right On!” or “Preach it, Brother!”, the actual result of that policy isn’t fewer illegal immigrants. It’s fewer Republican politicians, more “deplorables” in jail for murder, and de facto open borders forever.

            If you want to Get Tough on Illegal Immigration, you have to do so with solid understanding that this is the the television age, the smartphone age, the youtube age, and all that this implies. If you aren’t very careful in taking that into account, you lose.

          • albatross11 says:

            What is it with pro-immigration-enforcement people constantly proposing shooting illegal immigrants as a solution to illegal immigration? I guess this is some kind of signaling of how hardcore/serious you are or something, but it tends to convince the rest of us that you’re simply nuts.

            Enforcing immigration laws enough to keep nearly all illegal immigrants out isn’t some kind of unreachable goal that can only be accomplished by acting like the villains in some kind of bad action movie. You just make it uneconomical to hire illegal immigrants by fining employers, and deport people here illegally when they become visible to the authorities. Lots of countries do it.

            The reason we don’t do it is entirely political–lots of people in our society with significant power don’t want to enforce immigration laws very strictly. Proposing ever-more-crazy enforcement strategies doesn’t do anything to solve that problem. The way you solve that problem is to convince your fellow citizens to support the boring non-movie-villain immigration enforcement stuff that everyone knows how to do. Proposing crazy sh-t like this has the opposite effect–it convinces people who might be persuaded to your side that you’re either unserious or crazy. To the extent moderates become convinced that vigilante death squads are the only way to get border enforcement done, you’re just running a campaign for de-facto open borders, because even people who agree with you that illegal immigration should be stopped are overwhelmingly horrified by that kind of proposal.

          • Matt M says:

            I guess this is some kind of signaling of how hardcore/serious you are or something,

            “Refuge in audacity” is certainly part of it, but the other part is that I mainly see this point made against people who disagree with you that securing the border is simply and easily done if only we had the political will.

            Typically, I see the conversation go something like “The border is so wide and so vast and people in Mexico are so poor and downtrodden, there’s nothing you can do to stop them from coming.” To which a reasonable answer is, in fact, “Well, you could shoot them.” Which might not reduce illegal immigration to literally zero, but likely would significantly reduce the amount of families with children you see attempting illegal crossings at the very least…

          • Aapje says:

            @Matt M

            I think that “nothing you can do” implies solutions that don’t violate human rights.

          • Garrett says:

            Enforcing immigration laws enough to keep nearly all illegal immigrants out isn’t some kind of unreachable goal that can only be accomplished by acting like the villains in some kind of bad action movie. You just make it uneconomical to hire illegal immigrants by fining employers, and deport people here illegally when they become visible to the authorities. Lots of countries do it.

            The reason we don’t do it is entirely political–lots of people in our society with significant power don’t want to enforce immigration laws very strictly. Proposing ever-more-crazy enforcement strategies doesn’t do anything to solve that problem.

            Let’s unpack this a bit. The original amnesty/enforcement compromise bill signed by Ronald Reagan had employment verification using a national ID card. That was stuck down by SCOTUS and politicians refused to re-work the enforcement system, so the existing practice continued, only with millions of people now legally citizens and the prospect of yet-another-amnesty bill in-place.

            Additionally, there currently are verification systems in place. However, they are notoriously poor in quality, and employers are required to accept that they are valid. Not doing so can be prosecuted as employment discrimination.

            Next up, as noted elsewhere, one of the problems is that the government will choose to ignore the issue for various reasons. Business lobbies, whatever. You can’t make the government enforce a law that the government doesn’t want to enforce.

            My goal isn’t that the government shoot illegal border crossers. I’m not even looking to have private citizens doing so. My goal is to have the government take their obligations to enforce the border seriously such that private citizens don’t think that driving to middle-of-nowhere with a rifle to shoot people is a good idea. Inherently, the problem is that for whatever reason, the government has long been acting in a way inconsistent with immigration restrictions. Setting up a structure where shooting people crossing the border is legal provides a countervailing force to ensure that the government can’t avoid its obligations.

          • beleester says:

            @Garrett: I’m trying to think of a situation where the government is so strongly anti-immigration that they’ll say “Yes, we’ll allow vigilantes to shoot people crossing the border at will,” but not anti-immigration enough do anything to stop illegal immigrants itself. Call me crazy, but I think “Let’s make E-Verify work better” would be a lot easier to get through Congress than “Let’s shoot illegal immigrants!”

            But even if I concede to all the premises needed to make your scheme a reasonable idea, it’s got a bigger problem. It only works if the number of people who think that illegal immigrants are destroying this country is linked to the number of illegal immigrants that are actually entering this country. But that doesn’t appear to be true – illegal immigration rates have been down ever since the Great Recession, but anti-immigrant sentiment is still on the rise.

            So the most likely outcome to your plan is that the government does its job, illegal immigration continues its slow decline, but we still get vigilantes going out into the desert looking for someone to shoot and occasionally succeeding.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m trying to think of a situation where the government is so strongly anti-immigration that they’ll say “Yes, we’ll allow vigilantes to shoot people crossing the border at will,” but not anti-immigration enough do anything to stop illegal immigrants itself.

            Well, it would solve the issue of people who claim their sole objection to border control is that it is prohibitively expensive.

            Allowing volunteers to shoot illegals would cost the government virtually nothing.

          • CatCube says:

            @Matt M

            That really is the kind of thing I’d rather you have 1) under the control of elected officials and 2) being done by somebody who’s got a salary we can take. A quick glance around what our police get to show that it’s not a perfect solution, but still preferable to the gangs who are enforcing their own order.

            As I alluded to below, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to use lethal force to secure the border, but the point is to secure the border, not use lethal force for lethal force’s sake. If stopping somebody coming across requires shooting them to prevent their escape, fine. However, it’s preferable to arrest them. You won’t get many volunteers for the arrest part, since it’s more difficult and dangerous.

            Legalizing vigilantism is worse than legalizing illegal immigration.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Matt M
            Seriously? You want the government to sanction the killing of an already vulnerable populations?
            There are multiple TV series where some kind of super-detectives go to the border, and it turns out there is a serial killer who kills illegal immigrants, and border patrol does nothing, and then they catch the guy.
            You want to be the guy who says “Well, the serial killer is killing people who have no business being here anyway”?
            And what takes from that to say “Let’s get rid of our city’s homeless population; all of them are petty criminals involved in begging/drugs/prostitution anyway”.
            And then …
            There is a reason why killing civilians intentionally is a war crime.

            I do think that using guns against big groups of people that can overpower you makes sense; after all, border patrol agents go in small groups and can encounter big groups. But to have people we have no control over, is a different thing.

          • BBA says:

            @Matt M: Are you equivocating between border control and The Wall? I’m against The Wall because it’s both prohibitively expensive and incredibly stupid. You want to spend that money on hiring more Border Patrol agents instead, I’d still think it’s mostly a waste but it’s not an incredibly stupid waste.

          • ana53294 says:

            @BBA
            It doesn’t seem like the money is the limiting factor here; they have problems filling up the slots that are already available.
            Being a border patrol agent requires a background check and to be a mentally healthy, empathetic person (you don’t want psycopaths to have power over such a vulnerable population).
            And then you put that person, who has gone through extensive training and has passed all the background checks, in the middle of nowhere, patrolling vast amounts of nothingness alone.
            The cities they live in probably don’t have that much in the way of entertainment. It is a job for a loner who likes the desert.

          • Matt M says:

            There are multiple TV series

            I don’t think we should base public policy based on what hollywood scriptwriters think might happen.

          • ana53294 says:

            OK, but do you want to be the cliche evil guy from a TV series?
            Art shows us how people think; movies reveal quite a bit about its creators values, by showing who are the heroes and who are the evil guys. I have never seen a movie, TV series, or any book where the hero is the guy who goes killing defenceless human beings. This suggests that most people would not approve of such a thing.
            I am pretty sure that nobody wants to be the evil guy.

          • pontifex says:

            Come on, guys. This is a really, really bad idea.

            Vigilantes shooting at illegal immigrants will just turn them into martyrs for the Blue Tribe press to parade around.

            Plus, you know… it’s just a monstrous thing to do in the first place.

            And how would vigilantes even know who is a citizen? Do you travel everywhere with your ID card? Never, ever forget your driver’s license, even once?

          • rlms says:

            America really needs to be stopped.

          • John Schilling says:

            America really needs to be stopped.

            To be fair, the easiest way to stop America from this particular evil is to stop trying to immigrate to it. Trying to force America to take in millions of immigrants that millions of Americans seem to really want to live next door to, and live next door to them without ever treating them badly, seems like it would require implausibly intrusive and forceful measures.

            More generally, the list of nations that need to be stopped should probably start with nations that are doing evil things to other people in other nations, followed by nations that are doing evil things to their own people but not letting them leave, then nations that are doing evil things to their own people but letting them leave if they want, then maybe nations that are publicly encouraging immigrants but secretly doing evil to them when they arrive, with the nations that brag about the evil they are going to do to any immigrants being the lowest priority because just don’t go there. Also, maybe not starting with the nation that has half of the world’s nuclear missiles.

            TL,DR: Kind of looks like you want to solve the lowest priority problem in the hardest possible way.

          • Matt M says:

            More generally, the list of nations that need to be stopped should probably start with nations that are doing evil things to other people in other nations

            I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news…

          • rlms says:

            I expressed myself badly. I meant to signal something like “Stop America” (as in “Stop White People”), or “Cancel America 2k18”, with respect to the callous disregard for human life that is evident in this thread and seems to be a fixed part of American culture. From my perspective (and I expect that of most non-Americans here as well), all lives matter and almost all violent deaths are tragedies. I don’t feel too bad about people being killed in self-defence, and while I disagree with the American view that killing burglars is A-OK, I don’t think it’s completely absurd. But when you expand the set of people whom it is is fine to murder to include simple trespassers, that shows something is really wrong.

            I don’t think believing that some humans aren’t really people and so can be killed freely is particularly uncommon (at least on a global scale). But that’s not what Americans seem to do. They recognise that burglars/illegal immigrants/police officers are people just like themselves, while simultaneously believing that their lives don’t have moral value. Contrast this with civilised groups like Nazis, who take care to dehumanise their victims first. One might claim that this is what e.g. someone who sincerely says “kill the pigs” is using the language of dehumanisation, but they don’t actually believe that a police officer is fundamentally inferior to a normal person in the way e.g. ISIS believe they are fundamentally superior to infidels. At least according to my armchair sociology, the American attitude requires/embodies a culture of violence that is absent from genuinely civilised countries.

    • Erusian says:

      My thought has always been: why not an electronic wall? Buy about a million 360 degree cameras and put them in hardened positions every ten feet along the border. You now have a constant view of virtually the entire border. Pair this with rapid response units behind them. The moment someone passes the border, the border patrol gets in their trucks and tries to stop them. Maybe they can be assisted by a satellite feed or perhaps overhead planes who will keeps eyes on the migrants. If anyone tampers with the cameras, the border patrol shows up and arrests them.

      If each camera (including installation) costs a total of $1,000, this plan will cost a total of slightly more than a billion dollars, less than Bush’s fence.

      This would give us a solid idea of total border crossings. It would be hard to ever wind down since it’s not inhumane in any way. It would not be overly expensive to maintain. We would have specific statistics on the percentage of illegal immigrants the border patrol catches vs doesn’t. It won’t stop all illegal immigration, but it will make it significantly more likely to get caught. Especially if you do it repeatedly, as most criminals have to. Add in a system of overstaying visa checks and perhaps real penalties for hiring illegal workers and you’d have an effective system.

      The only work around I can think of is either a banzai run (put as many people as possible across and hope the border patrol can’t catch them all) which suffers from coordination issues. It is also especially hard for criminal syndicates. A hundred migrant workers might do it, but a hundred drug mules? The cartel would lose all the drugs from everyone caught.

      The other would be a tunnel. We could put seismic detectors down to deal with that. Even without them, tunnels that go for several hundred feet require relatively sophisticated engineering techniques. (And they’d have to start and exit far enough from the cameras to not be seen, so they’d be longer than those going under a wall.) They’re also entirely stationary assets whose location becomes more apparent with use.

      • John Schilling says:

        Pair this with rapid response units behind them. The moment someone passes the border, the border patrol gets in their trucks and tries to stop them.

        Yes, and the moment a stray dog passes the border, the border patrol gets in their trucks and tries to stop them. And almost certainly fails whether it’s a literal or figurative coyote they are chasing, with the miscreant gone out of sight long before the border guards arrive, because we don’t have enough border guards. And nobody has a credible plan to hire them.

        That was the problem we were trying to point out in the last thread.

        • Erusian says:

          Cameras have no great difficulty differentiating a stray dog from a person at a distance of five feet with multiple angles. We could occasionally trim the underbrush to make it even easier. That would be a problem with, say, a laser tripwire, which is why I didn’t propose that.

          Also, “sit in an air-conditioned response station, get in an air-conditioned truck, then drive out to arrest someone” is a lot cushier job than what border guards currently do. If we can’t raise the pay, we can make the job cushier to the same effect. But I’m not aware of the specifics of why we have that trouble, other than underfunding.

        • fion says:

          Wait, are we talking about literal cameras? Because then you don’t need to have the cameras automatically identifying if it’s a human or a dog – the guards can check the feed before they jump in their cars.

          • John Schilling says:

            Literal cameras will be covered in enough dust and/or mud to be worthless when you need them, and they probably won’t be waiting on nature to provide the dust or mud.

            More generally, electronic “walls” have been tried, repeatedly, and they never work – unless you have enough border guards to e.g. chase off everyone who tries to smear mud onto the camera lens, which is roughly the number of border guards you need to chase off everyone who tries to set up a ladder to scale your fence. And you can’t cause a thousand dollars worth of damage to a fence with a pellet gun.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m looking for references for cameras on walls not being effective, but google is drowning me with people having problems with their dropcams. I did find http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3042805/Shocking-images-cameras-Texas-Mexico-border-capture-steady-stream-illegal-immigrants-sneaking-United-States-packages-drugs-guns.html which says that the motion detectors are working well, but it’s the Daily Fail so I don’t quite trust them.

            If you have two fences, the second 10-20 yards behind the first (which is a good way of increasing wall strength anyway), you can line the second fence with camera spheres, only some of which are live. Like retail stores do, so that thieves never know exactly which spheres are watching.

            The call was for “a million cameras.” The border is up to 2000 miles long, depending on who you ask, so that’s a camera every 10 feet, which is way more than is needed. You might want a camera sphere every 10 feet but only 1/3 to 1/4 of them need to be real.

          • Erusian says:

            Literal cameras will be covered in enough dust and/or mud to be worthless when you need them, and they probably won’t be waiting on nature to provide the dust or mud.

            They could be maintained, you know, and hardened in a way to make that more difficult. There’d also be significant redundancy. As for people damaging them, that’s a good way to get border patrol inbound. Plus we could enhance penalties for that, the same way you get treated more harshly if you run from the Border Patrol than if you surrender to them.

            More generally, electronic “walls” have been tried, repeatedly, and they never work – unless you have enough border guards to e.g. chase off everyone who tries to smear mud onto the camera lens, which is roughly the number of border guards you need to chase off everyone who tries to set up a ladder to scale your fence. And you can’t cause a thousand dollars worth of damage to a fence with a pellet gun.

            Evidence? And a wall might make them take longer but it doesn’t tell you where they are.

            Also, you’re ignoring the ‘hardened’ part. We are perfectly capable of making cameras that can’t be taken out with a pellet gun. Maybe put a bulletproof glass bubble, as the US already does outside certain sensitive sites.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            A good challenge to installing cameras would be do ask: what are the current techniques for detecting people hopping the fence? We know that electronic surveillance is already in place from the article I supplied. Maybe cameras are already used where they would be best.

          • John Schilling says:

            They could be maintained, you know, and hardened in a way to make that more difficult.

            By who? The problem, as some of us have been trying to explain for two open threads now, is that walls and fences are next to useless for the US because we don’t have and aren’t going to get a border patrol that can reliably chase down the people who will climb over them. So we certainly don’t have a border patrol that can both chase down the border-crossers and fix every randomly failed or opportunistically sabotaged camera faster than the desert and the coyotes can destroy them.

            Things like radar, acoustics, and capacitance wires don’t need exposed optics to work and so can be reasonably hardened, but A: that costs extra and B: the false alarm rate is intolerable. Unless you’ve got enough border guards to send most of them chasing wild geese, which we don’t.

          • Erusian says:

            By who? The problem, as some of us have been trying to explain for two open threads now, is that walls and fences are next to useless for the US because we don’t have and aren’t going to get a border patrol that can reliably chase down the people who will climb over them. So we certainly don’t have a border patrol that can both chase down the border-crossers and fix every randomly failed or opportunistically sabotaged camera faster than the desert and the coyotes can destroy them.

            Why not? You have insisted this is a problem and one that cannot be solved. You have yet to give a single reason as to why that is. As I’ve said, this would make the job easier and give them more time, making it easier to hire for and meaning we’d need less than we would otherwise. But I don’t even know if that addresses your point because you’ve only said we can’t get enough BP agents, not why or even how many.

            Things like radar, acoustics, and capacitance wires don’t need exposed optics to work and so can be reasonably hardened, but A: that costs extra and B: the false alarm rate is intolerable. Unless you’ve got enough border guards to send most of them chasing wild geese, which we don’t.

            I repeat, cameras have a negligible false positive rate a distance of five feet. I already conceded that something like a tripwire would have a high false positive rate.

            I feel like I’m repeating myself over and over again. You’re just saying ‘Wrong, wrong, it’s wrong! In a non-specific way I will not elaborate on! But trust me it won’t work!’ You’ve ignored me explicitly asking for evidence of your claims. You’ve ignored me asking to elaborate. So while I appreciate people challenging my ideas, I’m going to bow out from replying to you.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why not? You have insisted this is a problem and one that cannot be solved. You have yet to give a single reason as to why that is.

            Here’s seven

            1. Donald Trump doesn’t have anything remotely resembling a plan to do this, so it’s not going to happen
            2. There aren’t enough qualified people who want to be border patrol agents to fill the slots already authorized, much less expand the force
            3. The Border Patrol’s bureaucracy and its existing agents will resist, the way only civil servants can, any plan to dilute their institutional standards and take in unqualified applicants
            4. The Border Patrol’s existing agents will particularly resist, the way only civil servants with a union can, any plan to offer lots of money to attract new applicants that doesn’t also involve lots more money to the existing agents
            5. Donald Trump has yet to secure more than token funding for the yuge physically imposing wall he really cares about, so no way does he get the funding to massively expand the Border Patrol (and see #4)
            6. Even if he did, the next president would zero it out and let all your fancy cameras go to ruin
            7. Donald Trump doesn’t have anything remotely resembling a plan to do this, so it’s not going to happen

          • dndnrsn says:

            @John Schilling

            Surely one immigration issue everyone can agree on is, keep the geese out?

          • John Schilling says:

            Or cooked, one of the two.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I like this idea, because it’s politically flexible. Pro-immigration politicians can selectively defund sections of the wall. Anti-immugration ones can increase the number of mobile guard units. Alt-righters can upgrade the cameras to sentry guns. There’s something there for everyone ! 🙂

      • fion says:

        I feel as though you could do it with less than one every 10ft. Maybe one every 30ft would be fine.

        • Erusian says:

          I think some redundancy should be built in. But yes. My point was that even that stupidly large amount of cameras would be relatively cheaper and cover more territory.

  8. CatCube says:

    As one of the guys pouring scorn on the border wall, let me make sure that my objections to it are clear: it’s not that a wall is useless. It’s that its useless if it’s not properly manned and integrated as part of a larger security plan. If I was in charge of border security, I’d be building walls in places I thought they’d be doing some good.

    For example, if a local administrator of the CBP thought that a wall would increase his guys’ ability to stop illegal immigration in his sector, or to push crossings to an area that was easier to secure or more dangerous to illegal immigrants crossing (like a desert), I’m in favor of funding that section. However, “Build a Wall along the entire border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. And make it Yuge!” isn’t targeting the money to be spent on border security carefully.

    The wall, as currently being implemented by the Administration, has got it backwards; it’s spending on highly-visible infrastructure at the cost of the less-visible payroll increases needed to actually make it work. It’s being pushed as a political sop rather than an actual solution to its intended problem.

    • Matt M says:

      While I appreciate the validity of these sorts of objections – I offer a simple challenge.

      Let’s say an expensive, ineffective wall, is in fact built. Do you believe that would be the single least useful deployment of federal expenditures? I, for one, do not. As pointless as a wall would be, there are tons of government programs that are just as pointless, and many that are probably providing negative utility (most of our military adventurism, for example).

      • Brad says:

        That argument works equally well for sending me a check for a few tens of millions of dollars, right? I mean no one would be getting drone murdered. So yay “Millions for Brad” appropriations bill?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Do you honestly think the idea that a wall would reduce illegal immigration to some extent is just as ridiculous as that example?

          • BBA says:

            Of course it would probably reduce illegal border crossing to some extent. Walking across the Sonoran Desert for three days is harder if you have to bring a 50-foot ladder with you, sure. What I doubt is firstly whether it would reduce border crossings enough to justify the cost, and secondly whether how to reduce border crossings is even the right question to be asking.

          • Brad says:

            Did you mean to post this response somewhere else? It reads to me as a non sequitur.

          • Deiseach says:

            Y’know, what I’m picking up from this entire discussion is that “The US cannot secure its borders against criminals” – and I don’t mean the migrants, I mean the coyotes whom everyone seems to agree are the bad guys and scum.

            This should be what is worrying you, whether you’re pro- or anti-wall: not that Jose the day labourer is getting over the border, it’s that the Gang Boss can operate with impunity. If they can traffic people who want to get into the Land of Opportunity, they can also traffic unwilling sex workers, slave labour, guns, drugs, other bad things. If you’re going to pooh-pooh the wall as “the border is too long and too porous and unless we increase the manpower by a factor of a zillion it’ll never be effectively policed”, then please explain to me why you are not concerned about Real Crime traversing it?

            Part of the UK/Republic of Ireland Brexit fall-out is trying to agree over our land border, and by comparison it’s way smaller, and yes we’ve had the problems with smuggling and crime to worry about in the past (and possibly the future). An open border only works when the governments on both sides are keeping up their end of the agreement, and I don’t really see anything to convince me the Mexican government is trying particularly hard to keep it safe (rather, that they see pushing along refugees and asylum seekers from other Central and South American countries over the border so that they will be the US’s problem to deal with, and not a whole heap of wanting to tangle with gangs and criminals, and a cynical attitude to ‘let our people go work for pennies in the US and keep their families at home afloat by sending money back*, it means we don’t have to overhaul our system’).

            *Ireland too depended on this system of remittances: ‘let the immigrants send their wages from Abroad home to support their families where we cannot/don’t want to support them’, so I’m not saying this is unique to Mexico; we even included it in the lyrics to weepy ballads:

            Goodbye Johnny dear when you’re far away
            Don’t forget your dear old mother far across the sea
            Write a letter now and then and send her all you can
            And don’t forget where e’er you roam that you’re an Irishman.

          • brmic says:

            @ Deiseach
            Your 2nd paragraph is a lot to unpack.
            1) If we’re talking ‘Joe the day labourer’, the coyote that helps him across is the equivalent of a pot dealer.
            2) Trafficking (sex) slaves is wholly different from trafficking ‘day labourers’. The ability to hide someone who wants to hide is wholly different from the ability to hide someone who should want to be found. To the extent that the victims cooperate when they wouldn’t have to, that’s the problem, not the incidental border crossing.
            3) Guns? You mean there are not enough of those in the US? Also, again, the logistics are wholly different.
            4) Drugs: Yes, some people consider the war on drugs pointless and destructive.
            5) What is ‘Real Crime traversing it’? It’s kind of hard to stop mobsters themselves from crossing the border legally unless there is an arrest warrant. Even then, the problem is presumably the crimes they commit while in the US. Which is not a border problem.
            Put another way: Given the length of the border, it’s very, very difficult to stop say a MS-13 member who is young and healthy and has support networks on both sides of the border to stop from crossing. The money necessary to bring his chances of crossing down to 1% (when still 1 of 100 attempts works) is better spent on cops in the communities where he will commit crimes.

          • Brad says:

            Just because it is impossible to hermetically seal a continent spanning country doesn’t mean we have to throw up our hands and live with mere anarchy. Yes, some bad people can traverse the borders—that still leaves plenty of options for apprehending them on both sides as well as mitigating the damage they can do on this side.

          • quanta413 says:

            1) If we’re talking ‘Joe the day labourer’, the coyote that helps him across is the equivalent of a pot dealer.

            Strongly disagree, coyotes are not the equivalent of a low level pot dealer. It’s been a while but I remember a story in the news about coyotes abandoning people locked in a truck in the middle of the desert. Everyone died.

            Or consider the people smuggling humans off of Libya by loading them unsafely into massive rafts that sometimes capsize and drown everyone.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @BBA

            A border wall would cost a small fraction of the US budget. Spending $20 billion to get, just throwing out a number here, a 10% reduction in illegal crossings is definitely worth it. What exactly is your standard to “justify the cost”?

          • Deiseach says:

            If we’re talking ‘Joe the day labourer’, the coyote that helps him across is the equivalent of a pot dealer.

            Ah yes, the notion of the friendly neighbourhood pot dealer who’s generally a burned-out old hippie who only grows for personal use and supplying a few friends and is in it because they really believe in personal freedom and harmless recreational consciousness expansion, man.

            May possibly exist, but most small-scale dealers are hooked into a network where they get their stuff from suppliers who are responsible to someone higher up all the way up to Really Nasty Gang Lords.

            Even if the coyote taking money from Jose is only the local pot dealer, which I doubt, he’s not doing it on his own as a one-man band; he’s linked in to serious gangs who find it one more source of revenue to traffic in people. He either signs on with the big boys or ends up a corpse in the desert.

          • Nornagest says:

            Most pot (and all legal pot) in the United States comes from domestic grow operations; on the other hand, while small-scale growers do exist, by volume I’d expect most of the pot in circulation to be coming from large ones, who are involved in organized crime almost by definition and are not always great guys. On the gripping hand, though, I get the impression that the worst American organized crime networks deal mainly in hard drugs (probably because getting heroin from Taliban-run poppy farms in Afghanistan to junkies in New York requires a global network that’s willing to deal with Very Bad People, so that’s where their comparative advantage is), and even the worst American organized criminals are leaps and bounds above the Mexican cartels in the beheading-entire-villages department. Or below. Whichever one means fewer heads.

        • Randy M says:

          If you can get votes for a “millions for Brad” bill that is tied to an equal or greater reduction in spending elsewhere, more power to you!

          I might have been fooled for a few minutes here and there over the years that the Republican party contained some people whose objections to spending were honestly related to the expense, rather than objecting to the actual object of the expense. The LW-ers have no such chance to fool me.

          • Brad says:

            Is the wall funding coming with greater cuts elsewhere? Have the Mexicans offered to pay for it after all? Seems like you are using a double standard.

          • Randy M says:

            Seems like you are using a double standard.

            In the context the argument was being made… yeah, probably. Sorry.

      • CatCube says:

        I absolutely agree with you that there are US Government projects that waste phenomenal amounts of money. I’m a structural engineer for the federal government working on a few. And if the President were to tell the Corps of Engineers to take over building the wall, and HQUSACE were to do a mass-email looking for volunteers to do the design, I’d consider throwing my resume in. It’d be interesting to work on a stupid right-wing waste of money instead of the stupid left-wing wastes of money that currently occupy a significant fraction of my time.

        However, what I will not do is agree that it’s not a stupid waste of money. I’ve got plenty of projects that aren’t wastes of money that could consume those funds.

      • John Schilling says:

        Let’s say an expensive, ineffective wall, is in fact built. Do you believe that would be the single least useful deployment of federal expenditures?

        Irrelevant. There is no mechanism for transferring money from “the single least useful deployment of federal expenditures”, to the particular allegedly-useful thing you would like to fund. Mostly, Murphy’s law applies: if you manage to cut the budget of something useless, the money goes to something even more useless, even if that has to be invented for the purpose. If you manage to secure a budget for something useful, that money will turn out to have been taken away from something even more useful.

        For a more specific understanding, it is far more politically feasible to move money within an appropriations category, than between categories. Which means Trump’s wall is going to trade directly against the number of and support for border guards, and the whole point of this discussion is that we are already at the point of needing more guards and less concrete.

        The useless things that offend you so much, will continue to be funded no matter what we do with the wall. What useful thing that is valuable to you but not to liberals/democrats/whatever, are you willing to give up for the Wall?

        • actinide meta says:

          +1

          Is there a name for the terrible, but common, argument you are refuting?

          • pontifex says:

            It’s usually referred to as “Whataboutism”: derailing a discussion by bringing up some other issue that’s only tangentially related, but allegedly much more important. A lot of times the other thing is some culture war issue, which makes it that much worse. (Although that isn’t the case here).

            I think a more helpful contribution to the conversation would be explaining what else Trump should be spending the money on, if he wants to reduce immigration.

            I’ll go first: I think targetting employers who employ illegal immigrants is probably the single cheapest and easier way to cut down on immigration. Hit a few big construction sites and farms with multi-million dollar fines for hiring illegals, and the work will dry up fast. (Unfortunately, this probably isn’t politically feasible for the Republicans to do….)

          • Murphy says:

            @pontifex

            If you were really intent on attacking people hiring immigrants then you could turn it into a prisoners dilemma of sorts.

            Make illegal immigrants legally entitled to minimum wage. set it up in such a way that an illegal immigrant can move over, work for 50 cent an hour, and then make a claim once home against the employer for violating minimum wage law and receive [notable multiple of minimum wage] without any fear of penalties themselves.

            Whether you also apply fines to the employer is a matter of taste.

            Thus creating an incentive for employees to dob in employers hiring people illegally.

            Suddenly if you hire someone from abroad illegally for cheap labor you have a huge ongoing risk that some of them will have a budget crisis a year down the road and they’ll dob you in.

            Currently the system seems well set up to unite employers and employees in shared mutual self-interest.

          • Brad says:

            How about rolling out a national ID card with a means tested fee waiver and a provision for the home bound? Then they can get rid of columns A, B, and C on the I-9 and just have one secure document that qualifies.

            Newer social security cards are slightly better, but the one I have has all the counterfeit resistance of a 1980s blockbuster card.

          • Deiseach says:

            Hit a few big construction sites and farms with multi-million dollar fines for hiring illegals, and the work will dry up fast.

            (a) The food producers are already complaining about the shortage of illegal labour, and how they can’t pay enough to make it attractive to legal (American citizen) labour because their margins are too tight and they can’t afford it and would go bankrupt and have to close down if they tried
            (b) They’re looking into farm automation and robotics to make up the shortfall, so the problem may possibly solve itself
            (c) If you do shut down the big farms, then you may also have to deal with the consumers complaining about why their tomatoes/fruit/other foods were not in the shops; you may end up having to import to make up the shortfall and then local producers will be very unhappy with you subsiding foreign (ironically, possibly Mexican) farmers in this manner
            (d) I say “ironically” because, in the same spirit of globalism that sees American manufacturing moved to China as a good thing since it increases global wealth, lifts poor countries out of poverty, and encourages equality, a ban on immigrant labour could do the same for Mexico: if your farm workers can’t work on the Nordamericana side of the border, then more fruit and flower farms on the Mexican side to take advantage of the export market (the US now needs to import what it is not growing itself) will employ those workers and aid the Mexican farm sector to thrive! All the pundits who scolded the Trump voters for their short-sightedness and xenophobia in complaining about white working-class job losses should be calling for stricter immigration controls and deportation of farm workers back to where they can get local jobs!
            (e) ditto for big construction firms; as we’ve seen with the collapse of Carillion over here, and in general from back in the 2008 bursting of the housing bubble, even industry-leaders operate on very tight margins, there is so much sub-contracting going on that Big Firm being hit (even if it’s only in the pocket and not to the point of ‘welp we’re bankrupt now, happy?’) means they can’t pay their sub-contractors and suppliers, who then can’t pay their sub-contractors, and a chain of collapses, bankruptcies and mass lay-offs ensues.
            (e) This means your schools, hospitals and roads don’t get built; there’s already problems with housing squeezes, you think having a major developer go belly-up leaving unfinished project is going to help those?

            I agree that the reliance on cheap labour, and that labour is cheap because it’s illegal so the threat of ‘shut up and don’t look for rights or else back over the border with you’ is in the employer’s whip hand is completely undesirable, but I also think the underlying structure of capitalism that makes it necessary for such tight margins and excesses is going to have to be examined as well.

          • 1soru1 says:

            If immigration law is supposed to be a real law that people get punished for breaking, then an institution that relies on the breaking of that law to remain profitable is an illegal racket and should be wound up and its directors prosecuted.

            If not, not.

            Of course, most immigration law reform proposals do have some kind of sensible provision for agricultural migrant labour. These hit the problem that any kind of written down ‘this is allowed’ statement is going to be less favourable for land and bunsiness owners than the status quo. So it is structurally unable to be passed with Republican party support, and they are going to be at least a blocking minority in Congress for a good while yet.

          • pontifex says:

            The food producers are already complaining about the shortage of illegal labour…

            The food producers are caught in a prisoner’s dilemma. Anyone who doesn’t use illegal labor will be undercut by anyone who does. The solution is the usual: introduce a penalty for defecting, so that it’s no longer the best option.

            They’re looking into farm automation and robotics to make up the shortfall, so the problem may possibly solve itself

            It would be ironic if the solution to illegal immigration came from Silicon Valley. Someone should put up the bat signal for Peter Thiel. 😉

            If you do shut down the big farms, then you may also have to deal with the consumers complaining about why their tomatoes/fruit/other foods were not in the shops; you may end up having to import to make up the shortfall

            The big farms won’t shut down. US technology and natural resources are abundant. Also, we shovel lots and lots of federal dollars towards subsidizing them. Trump can put up more tariffs if any particular sector looks weak. The sugar tariff has lasted decades, and is the only reason anyone farms sugar in Florida (so I’m told).

            …a ban on immigrant labour could do the same for Mexico: if your farm workers can’t work on the Nordamericana side of the border, then more fruit and flower farms on the Mexican side to take advantage of the export market

            Not everything can be grown everywhere. And even if it could, you are assuming that there is free trade. That doesn’t seem like Trump’s endgame.

            ditto for big construction firms…

            In the places where we aren’t building enough housing, the problem is the cost of the land, not the cost of construction. I think it would be good for construction to become a real trade again, where people could make a middle class living. That will take time to happen, but it could.

            …even industry-leaders operate on very tight margins, there is so much sub-contracting going on that Big Firm being hit (even if it’s only in the pocket and not to the point of ‘welp we’re bankrupt now, happy?’) means they can’t pay their sub-contractors and suppliers, who then can’t pay their sub-contractors, and a chain of collapses, bankruptcies and mass lay-offs ensues.

            Most of the construction workers I know are independent contractors. If a big firm went bust, they would just shrug and keep on doing what they’ve always been doing (maybe charging more money to do so). The construction worker shortage is so acute around here that they’re trying to get local high schoolers to help rebuild the north bay.

            If Trump bankrupted a few highly leveraged property magnates in big Blue Tribe cities, I doubt any (legal) construction workers would be harmed. Quite the opposite, in fact.

          • actinide meta says:

            It occurs to me that someone could take my previous comment as support for some particular approach to border enforcement. My actual position is that the globally enforced apartheid based on location of birth is the greatest evil of our age, and impoverishes both its victims and supposed beneficiaries; I’m sympathetic to conversation about how to safely unwind it but utterly uninterested in the “best” ways to enforce it. I think, without hyperbole, that this whole discussion is more or less on par with discussing the best ways to build gas chambers or to recapture escaped slaves. (I’ve used up my energy for arguing about this elsewhere for the moment, so I don’t intend to participate in debating this. I’m just clarifying what was, in retrospect, a poorly thought out comment.)

        • Aapje says:

          @John Schilling

          Mostly, Murphy’s law applies: if you manage to cut the budget of something useless, the money goes to something even more useless, even if that has to be invented for the purpose.

          That seems incredibly fatalistic and a generic argument against trying to make government better.

          • Murphy says:

            You can’t really reason with it because it cuts out all need for defending any policy no matter how stupid and counters all suggestions because it’s all pointless and everything will always end up worse until the government is gotten rid of and thus the world spirit can incarnate itself.

          • beleester says:

            It’s not any more generic than “It’s not literally the worst thing our government spends money on, so we may as well spend it.”

          • cryptoshill says:

            Do we have a particular reason to believe the government will cut taxes instead of spending the money? My prior is here is that the government will find a reason to spend money it is given. So let’s make a narrower but stronger claim – “Is the border wall the least efficient (at immigrant-stopping) way to spend 25b initially, 750m/year upkeep? Is there a limit to how good a wall can be?

            I will say that the current wall prototype (18ft, some anti-climb features, notably weak to ladders although remote desert crossings without a vehicle carrying an 18ft ladder sounds problematic) is probably the cheapest method to build a wall that could even deter the least resourceful illegal immigrants. There are places where a wall of this style would be genuinely useful, and places where significantly more protection would be needed. (I think the admin recognized this and is only planning for physical barriers on some of the border, certain areas being considered “rugged enough” that anyone willing to brave the danger of crossing there just gets to in a “try if you like” way).

            I don’t think we can consider the 25b in a “versus CBP” calculus. Unless there’s some snazzy equipment CBP doesn’t have that could improve their operations amazingly. (They already have helicopters and drones). So for 750m how many border patrol agents can we hire? From google they cost 81,984, ICE agents make about 61k. I’ll split the difference here and say “every border patroller costs $70k for the person”. I’ll tack on $10k per agent for equipment. $80k. Our current CBP and ICE staffing is at about 21,000 and 20,000. So assuming I could magic these workers into existence, 750m annually buys us 9,375 border patrollers.

            I am not ceratin increasing the force size of border patrol/immigration enforcement by 25% will be better than the costs of maintaining the wall. Or to put it as a claim: “The border wall will have to deter or allow border patrol to stop 25% more illegal crossing per agent to be worth the upkeep costs, vice just using the money to hire more agents”

          • John Schilling says:

            That seems incredibly fatalistic and a generic argument against trying to make government better.

            It is in particular an argument against trying to make the government better by spending money. Fortunately, outside of national defense, the things government is best at aren’t really all that expensive.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Once the liberals find out that the yes/no decision on a project is “is this not literally the worst thing to spend money on” there won’t be enough money to spend on a single brick let alone a wall. Turn back.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Could the federal government break even by building a ten foot-high continuous wall, charging admission as a tourist attraction and charging the NBA a finder’s fee for each Mexican who can leap from the ground and grab the top?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Seriously?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          No, not seriously. I think the Great Wall of America is absurd. Obviously the Chinese central government makes tourist money on the Great Wall, but as an ancient/medieval site it has much better optics.

          I think I fully understand why Trump said it on the campaign trail (owning the Democratic reductio of border enforcement), but of all the campaign promises to not break, it’s an absurd hill to die on.

          • Deiseach says:

            Well damn it, now you’re selling me on The Great Wall Of America despite myself!

            When did it being a grotesquely large and pointless work of conspicuous civil engineering ever stop American can-do, moxie, and get-go? Is Mount Rushmore any functional use, and who would have selected Dakota if they weren’t locals trying to gin up tourist trade? In the same way that the Aswan Dam was intended by President Nasser to serve several political purposes, not just “let’s improve crop productivity by being able to control the Nile flooding”, even though it necessitated something as large-scale and imperious as disassembling and reassembling in a new site ancient monuments, so too does the Great Wall Of America serve other ends than the ostensible stated practical one.

            Mount Rushmore. The Statue of Liberty. The Grand Canyon. Old Faithful. The Great Wall Of America. A fantastic tourist trip, see them all for the New Greatest Wonders of the World!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The Statue of Liberty. The Grand Canyon. Old Faithful. The Great Wall Of America.

            “We’re going to have a yuge statue that symbolizes America, and France is going to pay for it!”

          • outis says:

            Pretty sure the Statue of Liberty symbolizes immigration, not America.

          • Matt says:

            Pretty sure the Statue of Liberty symbolizes… liberty? I mean, Ellis Island is right next to Bedloe’s/Liberty Island so for a lot of immigrants processed at Ellis it’s a powerful symbol, but France didn’t give us the statue because of immigration, right?

            But hey… this website says we’re all right!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            France gave us the statue to symbolize liberty/republicanism. It was commissioned in the early 1870s, when the Third Republic (1870-1940) was young and unsteady. It was supposed to be delivered in 1876 for the American centennial, but was significantly late.

          • The verses on the statue are explicitly about immigration.

  9. disposablecat says:

    Is there a way to subscribe to comments on these without posting?

  10. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So I’m going to play Twilight Imperium for the first time in the next week. Does anyone who has played the game have any advice or, failing that, funny stories?

    I’ve looked up some guides and have a basic sense of how the game is supposed to work but it’s roughly as complex as a tabletop RPG and the rulebook is almost entirely useless.

    So far I’m thinking about playing the Kzinti Emirates of Hacan. Their focus on trade seems fun plus they’re spacecats. Not sure if it’s a good choice for a beginner though.

    • Relenzo says:

      There is no good place for a beginner. That said, fourth edition is significantly more beginner-friendly. If you’re playing third edition, try to make sure you have the first expansion–the one that replaces the Imperial Strategy. I also recommend playing with the rule variant that includes exploration counters, and the one that reveals all the objectives at the start of the game. I would avoid the rest.

      Try to have all the players read the rules before you get to the table; I know it’s not always possible, but it’s something to aspire too. Then just be patient with each other. The first game is often…somewhat slow.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        We’re playing fourth edition and most of the other players have played third edition before.

        • Relenzo says:

          You’ll be in a better place then. No mucking about with modules.

          In terms of good factions for new players, then, I’d say they’re all perfectly fine. Maybe don’t use the Nekro Virus or the Saar, since they both require you to be aggressive and take other player’s stuff. Whether they’re any good depends entirely on the personality/vindictiveness of other people at the table. If they’re playing the ‘any slight against me will be answered with a precommitment to your total destruction’ they are very bad, so you want to feel out your play group first.

    • Randy M says:

      I have third edition, and I play it about once a year. I don’t know if fourth edition includes the variant to have random goodies on planets; I invariably use that and regret it. I like variance, but the variance is too high here; if you lose a turn because some insurgents kill your only ground forces, while an opponent gets a free technology, that basically makes the next 3 hours a foregone conclusion.

      In the same vein, and I expect this does hold for fourth edition, you need to ruthlessly politic against anyone with a favorable position; the starting planets’ positions will have a lot impact on production letting someone get away with taking much more than the average because you don’t want to gang up on them or don’t want to start the aggression early, or don’t want to vocally oppose the new player (I’m the game owner and usually playing with at least one other new player–I feel awkward trying to oppose someone’s game with one breath while advising strategy and rules in the next) similarly sets you up for a long, slow but inevitable loss.

      Remember, it is a game of strategy, not tactics. You won’t come back with amazing victories in the dice chucking ship-to-ship combat. If you build more ships (and choose the right roles & technology, etc.) you’ll win.

    • Spookykou says:

      Be mindful of player skill/experience when sitting around the table. Similar to 7 wonders, TI is particularly vulnerable to bad players warping the game. Giving a significant advantage to good players who happen to be sitting near them.

    • rlms says:

      I recently played it (as the spacecats) for the first time, and found it disappointingly simple and quick to play.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        That’s surprising.

        I was told to expect the game to run 8-12 hours and the number of rules is large for an RPG much less a board game. Can you elaborate on your experience?

        • rlms says:

          I didn’t play a proper game really, there were only three players and we didn’t all realise that the Imperial strategy card (in original 3rd edition) was very overpowered so I took more times than I should’ve been allowed to and won fairly quickly (4 hours ish I think). So the quickness is probably atypical, but I did think that the rules were fairly simple (at least if you’re playing relatively casually and not e.g. spending hours deliberating on the optimum technology choices). For instance I was expecting a hideously complicated battle system, but it wasn’t really that much more difficult than Risk. As well as being reasonably simple individually, they’re divided up into largely independent blocks, so you can (if playing a casual game) just consult them as you go rather than learning them all to start with.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            The battle system seems like by far the simplest part. It looks identical to the system in Axis & Allies, right down to the AA Guns and Fighters. No equivalent to submarines, surprisingly, since that is easy to justify as cloaked ships.

          • rlms says:

            Maybe, I don’t play enough games to be able to make a good comparison. But I thought the trade system was pretty simple too.

    • rdplatypus says:

      * * Lurk mode deactivate * *
      New player tips

      A) Focus on objectives. This isn’t Risk or some wargame; try not to get distracted by all the shiny plastic and space battles. In general, you can only claim a single objective in a turn (more requires you take the 8 strategy tile or occupy Mecatol), so if you fall behind, it’s difficult to catch up. Plan to claim one public objective every turn if you want to stay competitive. It’s not a bad idea to look through the objective deck(s) before starting to get a feeling for the potential objectives.

      B) The hardest resource to manage is triangles. You will always have fewer triangles than you want for the strategy, command, and fleet pools. Plan on exhausting your planets for bonus triangles (secondary of the 1 tile) routinely in large numbers, and try not to ignore your fleet supply–it will leave you unprepared for large endgame fleets.

      C) Always buy Tech. This is actually less true than it was in TI3, but tech (and especially unit upgrades) is useful, requires prerequisites, and is nearly always acquired one-at-a-time, making it hard to catch up. Tech is expensive and it will make you sad to spend for it, but lack of tech is worse.

      D) Ground forces are boring but important. Removing enemy GF from planets is a pain, and requires the enemy to bring GF of her own, taking up space in her carriers that she would’ve liked to use to transport fighters. Just 2-3 GF can make a planet prohibitively expensive to invade.

      E) Seize opportunity. TI4 is a more tactical game than it’s given credit for, and it’s often more important to take advantage of openings immediately than keep lockstep on your long-term plans. Never sacrifice your objective-scoring pace, but otherwise feel free to put yourself out there.

      Other Notes

      Action cards vary from pointless to super useful, but there are a few you should be aware of that can truly ruin your day: Sabotage cancels any just-played action card, ruining your clever action card-based ploy. Flank Speed gives all ships +1 move for a single tactical action, making your “safe” systems much less so. Direct Hit destroys a multi-HP ship after you assign it a hit, killing that Dreadnought you were counting on.

      In fleet composition, fighters are great because they’re cheap and can soak hits to keep your capital ships in battle longer, plus you can get more plastic on the board for a given investment in fleet supply. Be aware that fighter screens can be hard-countered by Destroyers, especially the Improved variety.

      Early game, you must claim as many planets as possible as quickly as possible. Since you get planet cards exhausted, you’ll have to hold them for a turn before they’re useful to you. Plan to take control of (at least) two systems in Turn 1, preferably pressing towards the center. Getting a forward-positioned star dock ASAP will help you build more ships closer to the center of the board, and is usually superior to stacking them all in your home system to maximize build capacity. Notice that the Construction secondary has the side-effect of locking down the system in question, whereas the primary will let you build the same turn as placing the star dock.

      The end of the game can come surprisingly quickly, usually when the first or second 2-point public objective is revealed. Once somebody hits 6 or so points, they could be in win-now position. If that somebody is you, make sure you think about turn order to keep from getting sniped. If you’re going to need a particular strategy tile, you ought to plan ahead by taking Politics and becoming Speaker (to give you first choice). If it’s somebody else, remember that they must control their home system to score public (not secret) objectives.

      Races

      Like most games with asymmetric player powers, it’s usually best to lean in to your strengths. Most racial technologies are super-useful and should be considered. Starting techs are often “leading” you toward certain high-level techs or (especially) unit upgrades. Consider targeting a unit upgrade, racial, or 2/3-prereq tech for Turn 2 or 3 in order to get maximum value. If you think you want War Suns, you need to plan for it from the start and not deviate in your tech path.

      Good “beginner” races are generally those with more thematic focus and fewer fiddly rules. Of those, Yssaril (action cards), Jol-Nar (tech), xxcha (literal turtling), Hacan (trade), and Sol (ground forces) are all pretty focused and beginner-friendly. Take a look at the whole package: powers, racial tech, flagships, starting fleet, starting tech, home system planet(s). If your race’s starting fleet has only one transport-capable ship, be very careful on Turn 1 to ensure you can get 2+ systems (Warfare or well-timed Warfare secondary are the usual options). In general, I would stay away from more combat-oriented races because they typically have earlier “windows” and require somewhat bolder early plays.

      In particular, some races play differently with different numbers of players. The game is really designed for 6, so if you’re playing with fewer, there will be more space available. If your race relies on a particular strategy tile (like the Hacan and Trade), you may need to pick the tile yourself or it won’t get taken at all, especially in 5-player games.

      Final note
      This game can be somewhat Diplomacy-ish, despite the lack of secret plotting. I played a game recently where two neighbors had been cooperative and good friends all game. One built a big fleet and said to the other, “We’ve been good friends, right? [beat] I think now we should be the kind of friends where you pay me. [transfer of extorted trade goods]”

      Have fun, and good luck. Try not to ruin all your friendships.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Thanks for the in-depth response!

        The Diplomacy-esque backstabbing is probably the part that I’m most comfortable with. My friends who invited me are part of our standing Diplomacy game dating back to middle school.

        Do you have any tips on how to use commodities / trade goods effectively? One of the main reasons that I’m thinking about playing spacecats is their Guild Ships ability and racial technology to trade action cards. I’m hoping that investment in the weaker side of conflicts can tilt the balance of power away from the strongest players and tie them down long enough for me to eck out a win. Plus bankrolling a “coalition of losers” may also be useful in votes, because someone who is only hanging on because of my trade goods is going to have a hard time voting against me.

        Edit: I misread the Hacan racial technology. I don’t remember how you’re supposed to trade action cards but I distinctly remember it being possible.

        • rdplatypus says:

          I figured most anyone on this board is totally capable to play the meta of player against player and the game theory of managing alliances, etc. That’s the bulk of the game, and it’s usually pretty good here too. The metagame ramps up as the points get closer to endgame.

          I actually played Hacan in my last game (a victory); it’s a lot of fun if you’re up for “shenanigans”. Trading action cards is actually a basic power, but it’s pretty situational. Hacan’s more powerful abilities are 6(!!) commodities, “always adjacent to everyone for trade purposes” and “always get the Trade Secondary without having to beg or pay for it”. Early game, they’ll be the only trade option for some players, and later they’ll be good at balance of power politics and keeping a lid on the game (obviously until they surge forward to victory).

          Hacan’s racial techs are _amazing_ but require lots of prerequisites. The YYY one lets them steal a strategy tile after the tile selection phase. It’s expensive, and the prereqs mean you’ll only use it 1-3 times, but it can be game-breakingly OP. The GG one spins money and gives you a “delay” action. The downside of beelining the awesome racial techs is that it doesn’t unlock the juicier unit upgrades. They start with blue+yellow, so they’re only one bluetech away from upgraded Dreds and Carriers. Plus, blue II is a useful tech in and of itself. Hacan can benefit greatly from a tech-specialty planet that will let them skip prerequisites. Really opens up the tree.

          Trade goods are almost always used for production; much more rarely as influence. There are also some TG-based objectives that are easy-peasy for the kitty-cats. Bankrolling offsetting enemies can be useful, but your own fleet is often just as useful if not moreso. You’ll have enough money to build whatever fleet you like, so build capacity is often a bottleneck moreso than cost. That means you’ll likely be building fewer but larger capital ships in lieu of massive fighter swarms. Double-docking a good 2-planet system (probably not your home system) may be a good idea if there’s one in a good location. Barring that, you could get the star dock upgrade at YY, but I’m not a big fan of it.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Huh, ok so I completely misunderstood how technology works. Thanks for helping me figure that one out.

            I’m going to have to look into the numbers to see how useful Dreadnaughts are compared to carriers; people advise against fighter swarms but this looks very similar to to Axis & Allies where aircraft carriers tended to be the better investment.

          • Randy M says:

            Since the defender decides what ships get damaged in combat, a fully loaded carrier is an effective damage soak. Not sure if that is cost effective, but fighters are cheap.

          • rdplatypus says:

            The reason you may see people advise against fighter swarms is because they were dominant in TI3 and have been brought back to earth with TI4’s balance. Fighter swarms are still great, but minor tweaks (reduced carrier capacity, some minor tech changes that reduce build limits, etc.) mean it’s harder to build up crazy numbers of them.

            Randy is right. Fighters are actually more like Axis & Allies’ Infantry, in that you choose to take them as cheap casualties in lieu of pricier, more dangerous units. Fighters can score kills themselves (especially if upgraded), but that’s not their whole value.

            When you do run your numbers, don’t forget that Dreds can transport one fighter themselves if you like.

            Fleet construction in TI3 is a balance of many things: production resources (planets + trade goods), docks’ build capacities, and your fleet supply. At different times, you’ll have different bottlenecks.

  11. CheshireCat says:

    I plan on trying oral ketamine for treatment-resistant depression. I want to do everything as “by the book” as possible (except for, you know, actually getting the stuff, but that’s a different topic). Is there anything I should read up on regarding proper dosing and treatment patterns? Good studies to look through?

    I’m planning on a dose of .5 to 1.25 mg/kg of body weight, as those are the dosages I’ve seen in the handful of oral studies available. These doses also seem to be significantly below the threshold for bladder damage, from what I’ve read.

  12. adrusi says:

    I didn’t catch last week’s discussion about the separation of children at the
    border, but I wanted to share some notes I distilled from a couple of
    conversations I had on the topic.

    If we take for granted that unauthorized immigration is a crime, and that we
    need to enforce it some way, I see a spectrum of possible approaches:

    1. Handle violations of immigration law the way we handle violations of other
    laws, stick the adults in jail to await trial, and have CPS or equivalent
    find some individual or organization to care for the children while the
    adults are being detained.
    2. Given that in cases of alleged immigration crime, there usually isn’t a
    family member present in the country to care for the children (at least
    none that are willing to alert the immigration authorities of their
    presence), the outcome of the previous option is to put children into
    group homes which aren’t _all_ that different from jails. So in effect
    we end up separating families, and then jailing the whole family anyway.
    How about instead we just establish detention facilities for families,
    since jailing the whole family _without_ separating it would seem to be
    an improvement.
    3. Families detained at the border are put in jail awaiting trial, as opposed
    put in prison after sentencing. In most other cases when someone has been
    charged with a crime but not convicted, there are a number of alternatives
    to spending time in a jail, such as bail or house arrest. These
    alternatives aren’t really available for families detained at the border
    because they are not yet established in the country: they don’t have a
    house to be confined to and they don’t have anyone to pay their bail. But
    there’s no reason that the detention facilities need to look like prisons.
    They could instead look like small towns, where detainees go about their
    lives normally, growing food, constructing houses, while the children go
    to school and have the opportunity to be socialized in a more normal
    environment. These improved conditions reflect the fact that the detainees
    have yet to be convicted of any crime. The town would have to be fenced in,
    and guards would need to be present to prevent detainees from trying to sneak
    out.
    4. Now that families are living in conditions closer resembling a town than a
    prison, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be allowed to be productive
    and work towards their advancement in life. We could allow detainees to
    start businesses and export goods from the facility. In fact, while we
    can’t allow detainees to leave the facility, we could allow US citizens to
    come and go as they please. This would expand the range of businesses
    detainees could pursue to include restaurants and other service
    enterprises.
    5. With modern surveillance technology, we don’t really need a fence and
    guards to confine detainees. If some municipality is comfortable with
    allowing detainees into their community, then instead of establishing
    dedicated town-like detention facilities, detainees can simply be issued
    ankle bracelets and allowed to live in existing towns while they await
    trial.
    6. It seems arbitrary to confine detainees to an area the size of a city,
    rather than, say, an area the size of a state. Instead of leaving it up to
    municipla governments to vote to allow in detainees, that choice could be
    given to state governments.

    Approach #1 is what we’re doing today. We’re sort of also doing #5 in the
    form of sanctuary cities, which are open to would-be detainees who were not
    detained at the border. Approach #3 is similar to Japanese internment camps,
    except that the detainees will actually be awaiting trial for alleged crimes,
    which dissolves the moral equivalence, if not the political equivalence.

    I find approach #4 most interesting. It resembles prison colonies like
    Australia, and could lead to the gradual development of the legal precedent
    needed to establish some kind of archipelagic system if we allowed detainees
    to establish their own governments (while US peacekeeping forces remain
    present to enforce some basic rules). This is realistic only if we allow
    detainees to choose to remain in the “prison colony” following their
    conviction, rather than be deported. There could then be some path for these
    convicts to later qualify for a legal visa to leave the detention facility,
    and start on a path to citizenship.

    I don’t think it’s wise to allow an analogous path to citizenship with
    approaches #5 or #6, as this would be a threat to federalism, and that’s a
    Chesterton’s Fence I want to honor. If we allow states to accept families
    detained at the border while they await trial, and then allow those detainees
    to choose to remain in that state after they have been convicted to avoid
    deportation, then we are left with a system where individual states are
    more-or-less offering international visas, which is clearly not meant to be a
    function of a state.

    • Well... says:

      I have not been following the “separation of children at the border” issue, but reading your list there, I think you lost me at #3 when you said towns. There probably are reasons, having to do with things like security and budget, why the facilities that house these families shouldn’t resemble towns. Simple rectangular dormitory-like buildings seem like they’d serve better.

      Part of the function of how to treat immigrants must surely be a comparison with how immigrants are treated in other countries, just to get a baseline anyway.

    • Doesn’t #4 just reinvent the idea of a ghetto? I mean, sure, in theory there’s no reason why a ghetto need be as miserable as those the Jews lived in. With much more funding, and much less sadism and arbitrary oppression on the part of the authorities, I guess a ghetto could be a little better than an internment camp. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for it. And no matter how nice you made the ghetto, it would get bad PR: from the left for being a ghetto, and from the right for being too nice and encouraging even more immigration.

      That’s kind of the crux of the matter. IF we have decided that we want less illegal immigration, then the most effective means towards that goal will be to do all that is practically possible to make illegal immigration unpleasant for those who attempt it.

    • mdv1959 says:

      I think a problem with #4 is that likely represents an improvement in living conditions for many immigrants and would do little to deter their arrival. In the meantime taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

    • Deiseach says:

      4. Now that families are living in conditions closer resembling a town than a
      prison, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be allowed to be productive
      and work towards their advancement in life. We could allow detainees to
      start businesses and export goods from the facility. In fact, while we
      can’t allow detainees to leave the facility, we could allow US citizens to
      come and go as they please. This would expand the range of businesses
      detainees could pursue to include restaurants and other service
      enterprises.

      So in effect, it’s well worth your while to grab a couple of surplus kids from your cousins, say you’re a family (after all technically you’re not lying, you are blood relatives) and let the US border authorities catch you, because you have nearly all the advantages of being legal without having to go through the tedious process to apply for legal immigration, plus unlike the other illegals you’re not living with the threat of being discovered and deported over your head (the authorities have already caught you, they know you’re here, and they’re putting you in Detainee Town). You get housing, schooling, a chance to work and earn money, sell your goods/services, interact with US citizens, and live in a little township of your own national culture and identity with your fellow-nationals! Where is the downside here? You don’t mention anything about “and if your case isn’t decided within five years, we deport you back home”, so a detainee could live twenty years and raise a family in what is practically [insert equivalent of Chinatown, Little Italy, Spanish Harlem or other descriptor for segregated areas immigrants clustered in].

      I’m not seeing a downside here: I come over the border to live in a safe(r) more secure area and get a job, I’m being housed, educated, and allowed to work and earn money and even set up my own business legally, what is the bad part of all this? I can’t visit Disneyworld because I’m technically in detention awaiting trial and so am confined to the specific area of the detention facility?

    • MrApophenia says:

      Handle violations of immigration law the way we handle violations of other
      laws

      Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor violation. As I understand it, we typically don’t actually arrest people at all for misdemeanors, and if we do arrest them, we don’t keep them in jail very long – we release them and trust them to show up at court on time, and then if they don’t show up we charge them with that too.

      People aren’t freaking out because we’re enforcing the law for this like any other crime, they’re freaking out because we’ve instituted a harsh zero tolerance policy and begun enforcing the law much more harshly than is typical for crimes of this magnitude. If we instituted a zero tolerance policy for other misdemeanor crimes, like petty theft or speeding, and started putting people in indefinite detention and sending their kids to foster care or group homes, people would start freaking out about that pretty quick, too.

  13. proyas says:

    “Belgian boy Laurent Simons heads off to university aged 8”
    https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44668452

    Stories about kid geniuses make me think that we could save a lot on public education expenses if everyone were this smart, since they’d only need 50% as much time as a typical person to finish primary, secondary, and tertiary education. Am I right, or am I missing something?

    • Eugene Volokh started working as a programmer at twelve, got his bachelors degree from UCLA at fifteen.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Thanks to the cost of and mandate for Special Ed, we could save a lot on public education if most kids were just slightly dull, rather than a lot of them being (or claiming) special needs. Everyone being a prodigy would be a huge gain over that. But neither one is going to happen.

      • Brad says:

        If we wanted fewer with expensive special needs claims, not to mention testing accommodations, the best bet would be to eliminate free public education for the 10%.

        • The Nybbler says:

          While I’ve certainly heard many anecdotes about rich parents getting their kids in special needs programs in order to provide an edge of some sort, I’m unaware of any evidence that special needs students are in fact more prevalent among higher-income families. The one study I found searching for this says the opposite, though it was for Massachusetts only.

      • Garrett says:

        Do you know of any research which shows the outcome of the expensive special-ed programs in comparison to no treatment? That is, is sending the severely mentally disabled to “school” resulting in anything of notable value afterwards? Or is it just a money pit to store the kids with applied dignity in advance of needing full-time assistance in life afterwards?

    • James Miller says:

      The social value of educating a child is probably an increasing function of that child’s IQ. If all kids were geniuses, it would cost a lot less to educate everyone to today’s average level, but the socially optimal amount to spend on education would probably increase. Today, we spend far more on educating the geniuses who go to elite colleges and then grad school than we do on average students.

    • BBA says:

      This topic comes up pretty often, and speaking as a former kid genius, I think I’d be less of a social and emotional wreck today if I hadn’t taken super-advanced classes with students twice my age and instead got to be a kid, even if I was bored with most everything I was doing in class.

      Others have suggested to me that this isn’t true, and I’d be miserable no matter how I was educated.

      Still, I think the main point of at least primary and secondary schooling isn’t the knowledge that’s imparted, it’s the social development. Plus, of course, keeping kids off the streets and out of the coal mines.

      • John Schilling says:

        Still, I think the main point of at least primary and secondary schooling isn’t the knowledge that’s imparted, it’s the social development

        Some of us are a bit unclear about how this social development is “imparted”.

        It seems like it is supposed to be an osmotic process that happens by virtue of sitting at a desk adjacent to a bunch of other children being lectured to on various academic subjects, reinforced by half an hour of having balls thrown at one’s body every day, and I’m not actually convinced that this is terribly effective for the stated purpose.

        • Murphy says:

          That description is akin to describing working in IT as “8 hours of sitting at a desk asking people if they’ve turned if off and on again”

          ie: designed to make it sound worthless.

          I’m not a huge fan of the system but learning how to interact with people, including people you don’t like and don’t get much choice about their existence and presence is a skill in it’s own right.

          You don’t learn how to play baseball by sitting reading books about air friction and the physics of objects moving through a gaseous medium. You learn by being handed a ball and having a go at playing.

          Similarly you don’t learn how to cope with large groups of other humans by being told social theory by your parents and the 6 other non-heretic humans they allow you to converse with. You learn by being put in a group of other humans and interacting with them, ideally in an environment where the stakes are mostly relatively low.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’m not a huge fan of the system but learning how to interact with people, including people you don’t like and don’t get much choice about their existence and presence is a skill in it’s own right.

            Socialization doesn’t work this way, it mostly works through interacting with people who are similar enough to you to allow for a relationship to develop. People who talk hierarchies forget that for humans (at least) it isn’t about “I’m on top, I get the money and the women and you work for me”, its about finding roles that work (ie comparative advantage). Relationships require trust, but trust is difficult when people don’t react the way you expect them to. They appear to be random in their reactions if you don’t understand the basis for their reactions, so you need people around you with enough similarities to them that allow you to build those relationships.

            This can get to close for comfort though, if everyone is to similar then the hierarchy does devolve into strict positioning as there is a lot less to be gained from specialization relative to just being at the top.

            The compromise situation is you want to be in a continuum of people where some people are similar enough to you to build a trust based relationship and some people are dissimilar enough to emphasize the value of specialization. Some people end up as middlemen friends where X and Z dislike each other, but Y is friends with both.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not a huge fan of the system but learning how to interact with people, including people you don’t like and don’t get much choice about their existence and presence is a skill in it’s own right.

            Right. Meaning that if it is important for people to learn it, you really need to have someone teach it. I don’t see that being done.

            You don’t learn how to play baseball by sitting reading books about air friction and the physics of objects moving through a gaseous medium. You learn by being handed a ball and having a go at playing.

            Which means the person picked last for the loosely-organized sportsball games at recess, and never actually passed the ball because their dismal performance would hurt the team, doesn’t learn how to play sportsball.

            Unless you’ve got a coach who makes sure everyone gets to play, which is sometimes the case for sportsball but I don’t think I’ve really seen it for the social game.

            Your analogies don’t make for a very compelling argument, I’m afraid. Or if it is an argument, it’s one that should extend to getting rid of all the teachers and classrooms and just locking the kids in a library for six hours a day, because then they’re sure to learn all the academic stuff they’ll ever need.

          • Murphy says:

            Which means the person picked last for the loosely-organized sportsball games at recess, and never actually passed the ball because their dismal performance would hurt the team, doesn’t learn how to play sportsball.

            A system which succeeds for the majority and only fails for the most inept few is still a pretty good system.

            Of course that’s sort of a philosophical thing, whether you judge a system’s results/success by min(), mean() or median()

          • Murphy says:

            @baconbits9

            You think social skills are purely about interacting with people you like/trust???

            Not every interaction is trade or commerce or organizational.

            Learning how to cope with assholes and utter bastards is part of the skillset. Learning when not to trust is important. How to cope with people you shouldn’t trust further than you could throw them is part of the skillset.

            By comparison how to interact with people you like/trust is far easier.

          • John Schilling says:

            A system which succeeds for the majority and only fails for the most inept few is still a pretty good system.

            Not if the question is, “should we put the three-sigma freaks into the system that works for the normals, so they will be properly socialized?”

            Which, you will recall, is the question actually at hand.

          • baconbits9 says:

            A system which succeeds for the majority and only fails for the most inept few is still a pretty good system.

            Not really. Most systems will do reasonably well for the average, you have to actively make it not succeed for the average. Most systems will also do well for talented socialites, but there are many ways for people who aren’t average to appear ‘inept’ in a bad system. One example:

            I have two older brothers, both of whom wrestled for the same high school team. The older one made districts as a senior out of a solid sectional and so was an above average, but not wildly above average, wrestler. The younger of the two never made it out of the sectional, and actually never even got the top spot in his weight class on the team. He was bumped one weight class up into an empty spot because he couldn’t beat the guy one year behind him. He looked like a below average wrestler for his career. The circumstances however were quite different. The guy who beat the younger of the two out for the spot was a state champ as a senior and almost undefeated, and was actually a few months older than my brother due to a skipped grade. If brother #2 had spent his career wrestling at the right weight class and against same aged opposition he probably would have been above average, in his particular, but not wildly exceptional circumstances he finished his career looking below average.

            Systems that cater to the average create more and more of these situations as they get larger or more complex. The kid picked last for sports ball could have been an average pick if he was born in the middle of the school year instead of at the end, the one on the cusp of the advanced classes who gets bumped ahead ends up compared to kids on average 2 SDs above him, and what is worse if he doesn’t he can become ‘wasted potential’ as his general boredom makes him easily distractable.

            Systems built for the average don’t just suffer from these inefficiencies, they create them with arbitrary cutoffs, and plans for how to make things work for 12 out of the 20 students in the room.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You think social skills are purely about interacting with people you like/trust???

            Did I say anything like that?

          • Randy M says:

            Unless you’ve got a coach who makes sure everyone gets to play, which is sometimes the case for sportsball but I don’t think I’ve really seen it for the social game.

            This is kind of what kindergarten is.
            “Everyone come to the carpet and sit in a circle. Today is Johnny’s share day, let’s all listen quietly while he tells use his favorite things, then raise a question, then go back to our desks and write him a thank you note for sharing with us.”

            I don’t know if you’ll find that in the state standards spelled out in detail that “Students should show an ability to listen without interruption. Students should be able to give and accept compliments gracefully and without causing unwanted offense” but there is an effort to model and instruct it, if only for the fact that if kids default behavior was given free reign there wouldn’t be a chance to teach them to add or sound out words.

            There may be a lot of emergent lessens in the structure of school, though, that teach counter social lessens. It’s also questionable whether these lessens are indeed best learned from an instructor with a large group of semi-random peers over twelve years. And how much of “socialization” is in fact just the name given to what occurs maturing in any social group?

          • John Schilling says:

            This is kind of what kindergarten is.

            Right. And then we get the next twelve years of formal education, and it’s that part that people are saying is so extra important because it teaches the wierds and the outliers to be properly socialized. But that part doesn’t really look much like kindergarten.

          • baconbits9 says:

            “Students should show an ability to listen without interruption. Students should be able to give and accept compliments gracefully and without causing unwanted offense”

            Almost all… ah heck, all, of these code for “makes my job as a teacher harder/easier”. You never see criteria like “bold enough to correct an authority figure when they are wrong” on a school evaluation form, despite it being a hell of a social skill to have in some situations.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Right. And then we get the next twelve years of formal education, and it’s that part that people are saying is so extra important because it teaches the wierds and the outliers to be properly socialized. But that part doesn’t really look much like kindergarten.

            I think it is much worse than that, all of those rules in kindergarten don’t work without a central authority figure announcing and enforcing them. Today we learn about sharing, Johnny if you give half of your apple to Janey isn’t that nice? Then you both have half an apple. Janey say thank you, and give Johnny a nice smile. Isn’t that nice to share? Don’t we all like each other now? 10 years later 3 sigma Johnny tries to get Janey to like him by letting her copy his homework, and then she smiles at him and he goes “aha, she likes me”, gotta keep doing this until she likes me a lot.

          • phil says:

            @ baconbits9

            Bold enough to correct an authority figure,

            idk, not a kindergarten skill, but lots of HS (and higher) teachers are pretty receptive to on-topic, respectful disagreements

            ime, significantly more so than first bosses

          • Randy M says:

            @John There is definitely some bait and switch there. And in fact when people champion socialization as a benefit of mandatory public schooling, I don’t think they have any explicit instruction in mind, but rather assume the the fact of being confined with large peer group most of ones waking hours under the occasional guidance of an overstretched and minimally responsive disciplinary force will magically transform the young person into an exemplary citizen.

            these code for “makes my job as a teacher harder/easier”. You never see criteria like “bold enough to correct an authority figure when they are wrong” on a school evaluation form, despite it being a hell of a social skill to have in some situations.

            Sure, I’d agree that most of the explicit instruction of social skills in schools is generally done for the purposes of making direct instruction easier. You’ll occasionally get some teaching on values explicitly for their own sake about honesty or kindness.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Bold enough to correct an authority figure,

            idk, not a kindergarten skill, but lots of HS (and higher) teachers are pretty receptive to on-topic, respectful disagreements

            ime, significantly more so than first bosses

            Actually this is one of the issues I have with current models of schooling, and is related to this post from TLP. Schools don’t teach how to manage conflict, they teach how to avoid it.

          • moscanarius says:

            @Murphy

            You learn by being put in a group of other humans and interacting with them, ideally in an environment where the stakes are mostly relatively low.

            I think the claim is that the very smart children often don’t learn much social stuff from being incubated with the average children in the average school; they are too different in behaviour to fit in, and still too imature to cope. They are also not very interesting to the other kids except as a curiosity, so there goes most of the normal socialization.

            Learning how to cope with assholes and utter bastards is part of the skillset. Learning when not to trust is important

            But depending on which context the learning takes place, the lessons might not be the best. A normal kid who gets assholish behaviour from one or two classmates and support from ten other will learn a very different lesson than the precocious kid with no peer support, for example. And given that the adult world is generally milder than middle school, it may not be the best for everyone to let smart children internalize a bleak, dog world view of humanity.

          • An age segregated environment, where everyone is a direct competitor with everyone else, may not be the best place to learn social rules for the real world.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s not that part that’s supposed to be the social development. The social development is what adults rudely call “bullying”, teaching the kids their place in the social hierarchy.

      • quanta413 says:

        That sucks.

        I wasn’t a kid genius, but I was obviously different from my classmates up through high school and jumped ahead a few years in college once I was in an environment with less constraints. I had the option of skipping some grades when I was young, but it was decided against for various reasons (like social development).

        It’s possible to screw people up by isolating them with books and class, but I have many doubts that the current default is sane for a very bright child. There’s a happy medium between ultra-tiger parenting and just letting god sort it out as your kid gets his ass kicked by other kids. My parents did a great job considering the constraints (in our society, it’s not really a viable plan to just drop out of school to self-study after all) and so did some of my teachers.

        It’s perfectly possible to develop socially doing sports or boy scouts or 4-H or all of the above. I think it would definitely be a mistake for a child to not spend time away from their parents and rigid environments like a classroom, but I don’t think ordinary school contributes much to getting away from this except in that children meet other children there.

        • Randy M says:

          jumped ahead a few years in college once I was in an environment with less constraints

          How do you jump ahead in college? Take extremely heavy course loads versus average? Doing that enough to graduate early is difficult due to scheduling and sometimes impossible. Even if one is intellectually capable of doing higher level work, there is, ime, a substantial amount of non-negotiable prerequisites.

          • quanta413 says:

            I was part of a program at my university that had special privileges like ignoring class prerequisites, higher unit caps, and some of our own honors type classes. Our intro classes in major went at roughly double speed compared to what I’ve seen in classes I TA’d in graduate school. I was also surrounded by people like me in the program although most weren’t quite as full-tilt as I was.

            So I was able to take fourth year classes starting at the end of my first year and PhD level classes starting my third year. My course load was usually 1.5-2x the normal and almost all of it was advanced courses in math or physics. I really enjoyed it, but it was a little discouraging to realize in retrospect how badly behind I had been before college compared to what I could have done. I had known I was very smart before, but not really comprehended the magnitude of the difference. Although I’m sure my family would disagree and say my head was plenty big, thank you very much.

            I think only ran into a scheduling conflict once or twice. But I just registered for both classes and then would only attend one except for midterms and finals obviously. I had to inform professors of course if there was a conflict in test schedules, but that never seemed to be a problem.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Most colleges have a few different pathways that allow skipping freshman-level classes if you already know the material. The easiest is simply doing well on the placement exams for math, reading, and writing: good scores on these tests let you skip the “remedial” classes that many incoming freshmen need, and perhaps the first class or two in the “real” sequence as well.

            Next easiest is to get passing scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams prior to matriculating. These tests are designed for precocious High School students to take classes that cover the same material as a college-level intro class in the same subject, and then demonstrate mastery of the material based on a standardized test. The high school class is not strictly necessary, as you can pay a fee (currently $94 per test) and sign up for any AP exam your local testing center offers: I passed seven AP exams, having only taken the classes for two of them. Almost all US colleges will give credit for intro classes based on at least the most common AP exams.

            Once you’re in college, you can also “challenge” a class with the permission of the instructor. If they agree (and they usually will if you can give a plausible explanation of how you already know the material), they’ll give you the final exam for the course and you’ll get credit and a grade for the course based on the grade you got on the final.

            Some colleges and programs also have “accelerated introduction” classes designed for students who already have a decent level of knowledge of the subject. For example, when I was at Cal Poly, incoming Computer Science freshmen could take either the regular Introduction to Computer Science classes (a one-year sequence consisting of three quarter-long classes(*)) or a single course (Accelerated Introduction to Computer Science) that assumes you already have some programming experience and covers the same material in one quarter and fulfills the same requirements.

            (*) US colleges are generally either on Semester or Quarter schedules. Semester schedules have two 16-week semesters (not counting vacations and final exams), plus a 10-week summer session that most students don’t attend. Quarter schedules have three “quarters” of 10 weeks each, plus a 9-week summer quarter.

      • Others have suggested to me that this isn’t true, and I’d be miserable no matter how I was educated.

        It probably depends on the details.

        I don’t think I qualify as a kid genius, but I entered Harvard at sixteen and the first math course I took was advanced calculus. Socially speaking, I was too young for that environment—but I would still have been too young if I had waited until I was eighteen.

        I was intellectually precocious and socially retarded, and since our educational system doesn’t provide a good mechanism for socializing with fourteen year olds while studying with eighteen year olds, getting half of the pattern right was probably the best I could do.

      • bean says:

        Others have suggested to me that this isn’t true, and I’d be miserable no matter how I was educated.

        I don’t think this is true, but I also don’t think that regular classes would have solved it. I was bored and isolated during my time in regular classes. Then I went to the full-time regional gifted program in 4th grade, and immediately found a peer group. Besides no longer being bored in class, I was no longer nearly as isolated, and got to participate in the sort of stuff that normal kids do. It was great for my social development, and let me transition rather smoothly into more or less normal society as I got older and the program stopped being full-time.

      • proyas says:

        BBA,

        Remember that in my OP, I said “Stories about kid geniuses make me think that we could save a lot on public education expenses if everyone were this smart”

        So in my scenario, you would have taken classes with kids your own age.

        After reading the responses to my OP, I think the best course of action would be to have mandatory schooling until age 16 – 18, partly to benefit social development, but graduating seniors would be educated to the level of PhDs today (or to the level of “master” tradesmen).

        The cost of public education would go down since getting a full education would only take 10-12 years, and no one would need to go to college or technical school after high school

      • Garrett says:

        Alternative option: You take super-advanced classes with kids your age. This way you get to be a kid, dealing with other kids where you don’t have to deal with major differences in abilities, and get to learn lots of stuff faster.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I can’t speak from personal experience, since my IQ is pretty average; however, I do have a couple genius-level friends. From what I’ve seen, extremely smart people tend to be miserable (to some extent) regardless of their upbringing. The problem is that, as humans, we are wired to desire (or possibly even need) the company of our own kind. We’ll, assuming you’re a genius, how many people in the world are on your intellectual level ? 10 ? 100 ?

        You can’t hang out with mediocre people, because you can literally predict everything they will say or do before they do it, so it’s boring. You can’t hang out with smart people, because there are too few of them, and they’re busy just like you are. This all adds up to isolation and loneliness.

        My friends deal with this dilemma by fully submerging themselves in their field of study. Unlike humans, Nature is never boring, and it’s difficult enough to understand to hold even a genius’s attention for a long time.

        • quanta413 says:

          You can’t hang out with mediocre people, because you can literally predict everything they will say or do before they do it, so it’s boring.

          I highly disagree that this is true if we were to make those predictions concrete rather than vague. At least if we’re talking about a typical example of a genius (an Einstein).

          But a lot of things that normal people do aren’t very intellectually stimulating. My metaphor would be that for some geniuses it’s the same way that watching white noise on a TV isn’t very stimulating for most humans. Sure, you can’t predict whether a pixel will be white or black in the next second, but it doesn’t matter because there is no interesting pattern.

          Of course, there’s a lot more structure than that to human behavior, I’m just trying to wave at roughly what it might feel like.

        • fion says:

          I think this is pretty on-the-money. Speaking as a very-high-iq-but-not-genius person, I find that I’m happy approximately if and only if I’ve got regular contact with other very smart people.

          Fortunately for me I’m a theoretical physicist, so my friends and acquaintances are pretty smart.

          Interestingly the “fully submerging themselves in their field of study” thing hasn’t really worked for me. The reason I enjoy going into work every day is the people, not nature.

        • bean says:

          We’ll, assuming you’re a genius, how many people in the world are on your intellectual level ? 10 ? 100 ?

          I think it bears pointing out that there’s a lot of space between a genius and someone with a double-digit number of intellectual peers worldwide. Even someone who’s a 3-sigma genius has about 10,000,000 people at or above their level.

          You can’t hang out with mediocre people, because you can literally predict everything they will say or do before they do it, so it’s boring.

          You must hang out with different mediocre people than I do. I was bored and lonely in school, but not because everyone around me was so predictable. They weren’t. They were unpredictable in the way that made dealing with them a minefield, and they were boring because they cared deeply about things I couldn’t be bothered with.

          • fion says:

            I accept that “genius” isn’t really a well-defined term, but I would argue being 3 sigma above the mean is not sufficient. Maybe four or five.

            However, five sigma puts you at about one-in-a-million, which still gives you thousands of peers, so your point is still valid.

          • moscanarius says:

            I was bored and lonely in school, but not because everyone around me was so predictable. They weren’t. They were unpredictable in the way that made dealing with them a minefield, and they were boring because they cared deeply about things I couldn’t be bothered with.

            Just wanted to say this perfectly describes what I felt. It’s not that I hated my classmates or they hated me (not at all), we just didn’t have much in common to be mutually interesting and to be able to communicate effectively.

        • Matt says:

          I can’t relate to the friends you describe. I have never been miserable in the way you describe. Working in my field keeps me in touch with people ‘on my level’. It may be that I have chosen a particularly good field for this – consider that a stereotypically smart ‘field’ may be neurosurgery. A brain surgeon could be relatively ‘alone’ in a medium-sized city. But other doctors would still be her peers, even if she is the only brain surgeon in town. They would interact often, even if much of the interaction that the surgeon has is with patients, nurses, and techs who are not necessarily going to be peers. It’s even better for me – rocket scientists are also sterotypically smart people, and our industry clusters. There are thousands of rocket scientists in my town, and that’s pretty much how the industry works. Not one surgeon talking to a patient, but groups of engineers and scientists working on a project together, solving problems together. The engineers and scientists I work with tend to range from ‘quite a bit smarter than average’ to ‘that guy may be the smartest person I’ve ever worked with’. People I work with don’t seem sad in the way you describe, though there are some oddballs.

          Maybe the problem you describe is something that goes away with age and maturity. I don’t ‘hang out’ much because my family needs me around. Kids are involved in sports or dance or need rides to their friends’ homes or to/from the swimming pool, etc. My wife needs help around the house or I have a task I need to do around the house. I get off work and I’m pretty busy. These things aren’t intellectually stimulating but they sure keep me busy most nights between work ending and time to turn in.

          Even when I hang out with folks who are average or below on the IQ distribution. Nearly everyone has something interesting to talk about and if you don’t think so that’s probably a flaw you need to work on…

          Think of it this way. LeBron James could play a pick-up basketball game at his in-law’s house with his nephews. It probably won’t be ‘athletically stimulating’. Despite that, I would bet he could have a great time.

          • I don’t ‘hang out’ much because my family needs me around.

            I wonder how much the “smart people are lonely because there aren’t other smart people around” idea comes from considering the situation of a single individual outside a family. A lot of my interaction is with my wife and children, who are about as smart as I am. Growing up it was with my parents and sister, ditto. Add to that a few friends in realspace and places like this blog to interact with smart and interestingly different people online, plus friends who you interact with in contexts less dependent on intelligence, and I don’t see a big problem.

          • Matt says:

            I honestly don’t understand incompatibility with

            …mediocre people, because you can literally predict everything they will say or do before they do it, so it’s boring

            I don’t find this to be true. I worked construction (framing houses) from mid-high school (gray market, because I was too young to be insurable for many of the tools we used) through the first couple of years of college. The men I worked with were mostly sub-average IQ, rough and crude, but not boring. I mean, predictable in the sense that I knew one guy was going to fail his urine test and get thrown back in jail, and another was eventually going to run afoul of the law himself, (he fled the state on a reckless driving charge of all things), a third guy was steady as a rock because he was on probation and supporting his daughter, and the boss was so bad at geometry that I was pretty sure that he was going to lose his business someday (he did).

            I mean, they were sort of predictable big-picture-wise, but up close they were chaotic and interesting.

      • Thomas Jørgensen says:

        Thats not what is being asked – The question is, assuming.. I dunno, a society wide project to eliminate the mutational load entirely and super-folic-acid-like drugs so that the average intelligence is basically.. Ruth Lawrence, would education be cheaper.

        The answer to which is “No, because everyone would pick up several masters, but the cost does not matter because the economy would be in the hardest takeoff you can imagine”.

        More worrisome, school would be in a social situation entirely unlike anything which has ever existed – No solitary prodigies surrounded by people much older than them, but an entire generation learning at a very high pace.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know if you’re working, in college, or what, but imagine this: it’s your first year of university. You’re eighteen. So is everyone else in the class – except for this eight year old.

      He’s as intelligent as you are (maybe more) but in every other way he’s an eight year old with that level of physical, emotional, social etc. development.

      How comfortable are you interacting with him? Treating him as an equal? Imagine he’s twelve, got his degree, now is starting work where he’ll be interacting with people in their twenties and thirties as colleagues. How is that going to work?

      A class of eight year olds who are all smart enough to go to university and finish their degree at age twelve is great for the eight year olds, but then they either go on to further education until they’re older, or they end out in the Real World at age twelve and do – what? Work at home inventing their world-changing inventions is a great idea, but what if they’re only smart enough to be as smart as the average twenty-two year old who got their primary degree in four years? that is, smart enough to go to work but not smart enough to be Tony Stark inventing super-tech at the age of fifteen.

      What is the average adult going to do, faced with a twelve year old work colleague or fifteen year old doctor? (there was a TV show based on this premise). Plus, as I said, they’ll be ahead of their age intellectually, but still having to physically and emotionally mature and grow up, so you can’t put an old head on young shoulders – an eight year old genius is still going to behave like an eight year old when faced with challenges and fears and problems, not like the IQ-equivalent eighteen or twenty year old.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        This is a really good point. Wouldn’t child labor laws cover child geniuses, though? So either stay in university until you’re a doctor or go hone to your parents and be an autodidact?

      • rlms says:

        I don’t think child prodigies end up in the real world after undergraduate degrees; typically they will go into research or something. This works well for people who are just a few years ahead of their peers as a 20-year-old PhD student won’t have the social problems of a 14-year-old undergrad. I imagine the 8-year-old in the question will bounce around various undergraduate programmes until he’s in his mid-teens before progressing to a postgraduate degree between 16 and 20.

  14. proyas says:

    Central banks favor policies that produce low, steady inflation rates partly because thanks to some odd feature of human psychology, people are much more bothered by salary cuts than price inflation, even though both effectively do the same thing to their spending power.

    This got me thinking: Once AIs dominate the economy (e.g. – doing most of the labor and making most of the spending decisions), would central banks stop encouraging inflation? Presumably, the AIs would be too smart and too logical to fall for the “price inflation is different from a salary cut” trick.

    Note that the downside to structural inflation is that it creates confusion among buyers and sellers about the true market prices of goods and services at any given moment. Without it, markets would function a little more efficiently.

    https://www.uni-bonn.de/Press-releases/inflation-felt-to-be-not-so-bad-as-a-wage-cut

    • Jiro says:

      Salary cuts are a lot easier to target at individual employees (who then get particularly screwed) than price inflation.

    • correlatedresiduals says:

      This is not the main reason central banks favor inflation. Let’s consider some reasons why central banks aim for low inflation:

      1) Central banks have less than perfect aim. This shouldn’t be hard to accept given the recency of the financial crisis. The economy is incredibly complex and hard to measure, and the numbers you hear about GDP and inflation are merely estimates that are always adjusted (sometimes substantially) months after the fact. This makes it hard to be a central banker! Therefore, targeting an inflation/deflation rate of 0 is risky, since you’ll basically never hit exactly 0. I hope I don’t have to convince you that deflation is harmful. Further, as you indicate, the issue is not with inflation per-se but with the “confusion among buyers and sellers about the true market prices.” The issue then isn’t that the Fed targets 2% inflation, but that inflation isn’t always exactly 2%. Aiming for 0% inflation instead doesn’t fix the variance problem.

      2) The high-level goal of most central banks is to maintain predictable prices and mitigate the business cycle. To the first goal, any inflation rate will do, as long as it is predictable and stable (as you indicated, the downside is merely the uncertainty, not the inflation itself). The second goal, however, makes inflation a useful tool. First, some background:

      Potential GDP generally grows at some consistent and low rate, while actual GDP is generally slightly above or below, and this difference is called the output gap. This causes problems like in ~2005 where GDP was above potential GDP because of easy lending in mortgages and other nefarious things, resulting in an eventual blow-up via recession. Central banks, therefore, attempt to minimize the output gap by increasing output during recessions and maintaining sustainable growth during booms.

      Their main tool for doing this is setting the interest rate. Ignoring how exactly they do this, the idea is to encourage borrowing and therefore GDP growth during recessions via a low-interest rate, and restricting it during booms via a high interest rate. However, the Fed can only set the nominal interest rate – that is, the rate the bank says I can borrow. Meaning, if I borrow $100 from the bank at a nominal rate of 5% I pay back $105 the next year. However, if inflation was 2%, the bank really only got about 3% interest (since the $100 is now worth $98). This 3% rate is called the real interest rate.

      Bringing this all together, real interest rate = nominal – inflation. When the real interest rate is high, people borrow less (since borrowing is expensive), and when the real rate is low, people borrow more, spurring the economy. Therefore, during recessions the central bank will lower the nominal interest rate (thereby lowering the real interest rate). Sometimes this isn’t enough, however, and in those cases central banks can decrease the real interest rate by increasing inflation. In fact, left to its own devices, the economy will generally experience deflation during a recession (less demand, etc.) and so the real interest rate will rise (making borrowing harder, further depressing growth) without central bank intervention.

      Finally, deflation is also bad in recessions when companies have large debt balances – deflation makes these balances effectively larger and therefore harder to pay back and inflation makes them smaller and easier. It turns out that companies with large debt balances often have a harder time hiring, growing, and all those other things that help the economy.

      In conclusion, central banks have lots of reasons to prefer predictable levels of inflation beyond human psychology.

      • I hope I don’t have to convince you that deflation is harmful.

        I hope you don’t think the claim is so obvious that no argument is necessary.

        In a world of flexible prices and wages and fully rational actors, it’s arguable that the optimal pattern is prices falling at the real interest rate, making the nominal interest rate zero. For the argument, see The Optimum Quantity of Money.

        • correlatedresiduals says:

          This ignores the second point, which shows the value of inflation in spurring business growth during recessions. You can’t just quote vintage Friedman and ignore all the theory improvements since then. As I pointed out in my second point, when nominal rates hit zero, you have hit a lower bound (which prevents you from going lower unless you use inflation). Friedman never got here since he didn’t live in a world where central banks were hitting the zero-lower-bound, but here we are. Maybe you will take the Minneapolis Fed as a legitimate source.

          To quote the source:

          If the federal funds rate were zero and the economy then were hit with a negative demand shock, monetary policy could not respond by lowering the funds rate further, and consequently output would be more variable than at a modestly high inflation target.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This ignores the second point, which shows the value of inflation in spurring business growth during recessions

            The second point is wrong. Money is not invested, it exchanges hands, and increasing real returns INCREASE investment, not decrease them as is claimed.

        • As I explained in another thread, imagine a deflation rate of 5% (-5% inflation) and an expected average rate of profit of -1%. It will be more profitable to hoard money rather than invest it in production or in loans for a nominal loss. This is sort of the “zero-lower-bound” (ZLB) problem that the Federal Reserve ran into during the last recession.

          Compare that to a scenario where the inflation rate is 2% and the average rate of profit is 6%. It is still profitable to invest. No ZLB. No problemo.

          It might even profitable to invest or loan money if the inflation rate is 2% and the expected value from investment or loaning money is 1%, depending on how that inflation rate is calculated. If it is a CPI- or PCE-based inflation rate, then the problem one runs into is the fact that you don’t have the option of easily hoarding a basket of CPI or PCE goods to earn a 0% return in terms of those goods (i.e. a 2% return in terms of dollars).

          You would need a magical costless, compact, secure shrink-ray stasis chamber to obtain a 2% return in this situation. Without such a stasis chamber, you might suffer a -5% or -10% from hoarding those CPI or PCE goods due to those goods degrading, needing to be stored, guarded, insured, etc.

          Compare that with gold. Since gold is compact and does not tarnish or degrade, it is nearly possible to hoard gold for a 0% return in terms of gold (slightly less, because of storage/insurance costs. But among all commodities, these costs are most minimized in the case of gold, so it is bound to be the most practical commodity to hoard, if that is what is called for at any point in time).

          Here’s another way to look at it:

          Let us define the strongest (i.e. most relatively-appreciating) money in any significant time period the “alpha-money” for that time period. In theory, it could be dollars, yen, euros, gold, etc. (in practice it is almost always gold except for the 1920s when the major powers were making a concerted effort to re-valuate their currencies vs. gold in order to re-establish the pre-war gold standards).

          If either interest rates or the average rate of profit in terms of alpha-money ever drops below 0%, the world capitalist economy suddenly has a very big problem. It becomes more profitable to hoard that alpha-money rather than loan money or engage in production.

          Gold is alpha-money, so when the golden prices of commodities fall during the autumn phase of the Kondratiev Cycle (i.e. there is deflation of commodity prices in terms of the golden prices of commodities), there is suddenly an incentive to hoard gold rather than engage in production.

          This is a zero-lower-bound that no monetary authority can easily escape because issuing more paper will have no effect. The fiat prices of goods might increase, but the golden prices of those commodities will be unaffected. The monetary authority would need to have the ability to issue—i.e. produce—more gold at a moment’s notice in order to deal with the problem.

          This was, historically, the point of having a centralized banking system with a centralized gold reserve.

          The problem with that is, if the gold that such a monetary authority throws onto the market is not really coming from new production, but rather from reserves that they were formerly holding back (as with the U.S. during the collapse of the London Gold Pool from 1968 to 1971), then the monetary authority is merely depleting their reserves and thus their ammunition to respond again when the problem returns…inciting even more suspicion that the existing gold peg will not be sustained and that there will be a formal devaluation and/or a complete float of the paper currency vs. gold, which will increase the run to redeem the fiat paper for gold at the existing rate while there is still a chance…thus depleting the monetary authority’s gold reserves even more, and intensifying the vicious cycle yet again.

          I see no way around this golden-zero-lower-bound problem that periodically plagues the world capitalist economy, and which continues to do so, other than:

          A. Prevent the golden prices of commodities from inflating to an unsustainable level during the preceding boom in the first place. And how do you do that? By insisting on payment in gold or a paper note 100% backed by gold. In other words, by outlawing, or refusing to honor in court, the use of credit-based gold-substitutes which artificially inflate the golden prices of commodities above what is sustainable. This sort of measure would create a severe one-time deflation in the golden prices of commodities (on the order of roughly -95%) but it would set the future path of the golden prices of commodities on a more sustainable path in the future, assuming that monetary authorities did not permit the use of credit to re-emerge and thus re-inflate the golden prices of commodities.

          This could be accomplished even alongside maintaining a 2% inflation rate in terms of dollars, if the monetary base were expanded vigorously enough (dollars implicitly backed by the Federal Reserve’s gold assets—I’m not talking about checking account dollars. Those would have to be converted 100% into monetary base dollars).
          And thus if dollars were allowed to depreciate versus gold to the necessary degree (to about 1/20th the previous gold value. I.e. the dollar-price of gold would increase by 20x), then there’s no reason why the one-time horrific golden deflation (the golden prices of commodities falling to 5% of their former level) would need to correspond to any deflation in the dollar-price of those commodities.

          As an investor, there would be no reason to hoard gold once the deflation had already been accomplished because, if anything, there can only be a steady-state path of golden prices or golden-price inflation (if credit is allowed to re-emerge). There can be no further golden-price deflation to warrant hoarding gold.

          The trick would be to spring this on the public with no warning because, obviously, if anyone gets wind of this impending golden deflation and dollar devaluation, they will rush to trade their dollars for gold like you’ve never seen before. Which brings me to Option B…

          B. Confiscate gold, as with FDR’s Executive Order 6102 and the Gold Reserve Act of 1934. There you go: investors must now content themselves with the next-best alternative to hoarding gold (which might very well be to engage in their customary line of production or loaning money), even if that alternative would obtain a negative return in terms of gold. Although ideally you would want to be able to enforce this worldwide, not just in one country as with these earlier actions. And the American public was surprisingly docile in terms of submitting to this regulation. I suspect that a repeat of this sort of legislation would see much more resistance, black-market evasions, etc., especially in Third-World countries where the rule of law is less well established.

          See? I’m such a generous Marxist! I’m actually offering possible ways in which capitalism can save itself from the turbulence of the long-wave Kondratiev Cycle! It’s not my fault if nobody heeds my advice….

          Edit: I am often amused when I read economists during the era of the Gold Standard complain about a chronic lack of world gold production. Little did they understand that the use of credit was inflating the golden prices of commodities—including the golden prices of the inputs to gold production, thereby artificially suppressing the profitability of gold mining. Without the use of credit (i.e. with the necessity of backing all banknotes with 100% gold), gold mining would have been much more profitable and forthcoming, and there would have been no chronic lack of gold reserves, and no chronic worry about the viability about maintaining a certain gold peg. Nor would there have needed to be any worry about needing to periodically arrest the creation of new banknotes and other paper currency because the gold available for 100% backing would be constantly increasing at a faster rate than banks were used to.

          • baconbits9 says:

            As I explained in another thread, imagine a deflation rate of 5% (-5% inflation) and an expected average rate of profit of -1%

            Imagine getting punched in the nose. It hurts, blood might run between your fingers. From that we can extrapolate that all physical contact between humans is bad.

          • 10240 says:

            If it turns out that golden prices of commodities are too high (i.e. gold is too cheap compared to other commodities), people will quickly scramble to buy gold, and (perhaps after a brief period of volatility) gold’s price stabilizes at a new, higher level. There would be no continuous expectation of golden deflation (in your terms), and people would have no reason to hoard gold to the expense of other investments after its price stabilizes.
            You could say that people now have less money to invest in other things because they spent so much on gold. But I don’t think that’s true: the percentage of gold in the world’s wealth has increased somewhat, but that’s because the total value of all gold has increased; the total value of all non-gold wealth is the same as before.

          • The consequences are different depending on whether you are talking about a sudden one-time devaluation (of a paper currency vs. gold) or a continuous threat of gradual devaluation that never goes away. If investors could be absolutely sure that it was a one-off devaluation, then yeah, they all just get used to the suddenly higher dollar-price of gold, and their investment decisions don’t fundamentally change. What can they do? They can agonize over the thought of, “If only I had seen the devaluation coming…” but it’s kind of like the thought of buying bitcoin at $19,000/BTC. You might kick yourself for not buying earlier, but the only reason to buy is if you think BTC is headed even higher.

            The difference between BTC and gold is gold has a “natural price” (or a “price of production” in Marxist lingo) to anchor its exchange-value, and BTC has none. There is no reason to expect BTC to be worth anything several years from now. Whereas gold is practically guaranteed to appreciate vs. paper currencies in the future (NOT faster than equity index funds increase in their value, though. Gold bugs are idiots. If there is one thing to invest in across the entire business cycle, it is an equity index fund. Technically-speaking, if gold is considered as the most fundamental money from the Orthodox Marxist standpoint, then hoarding gold does not actually produce surplus-value or even accrue exchange-value. All it does is preserve exchange-value at times when the exchange-value of everything else is falling. In other words, being a miser who hoards gold like Ebenezer Scrooge is not a recipe for long-term profits across the entire Kondratiev Cycle. The only reason to buy gold is if you think you have a good handle of the Kondratiev Cycle and know roughly when the spurts of declining commodity golden prices and devaluations of paper currencies vs. gold are going to occur).

            Historically, paper currency devaluations vs. gold have never been a one-off, but have had a tendency to recur time and time again. Mainly because the economic forces driving the devaluation (the expansion of the use of credit, and the consequent inflation in the golden prices of commodities) continued apace.

            So, for example, even if gold has quadrupled in its dollar price compared to the mid-2000s, it is of little solace to investors because the same forces driving the earlier devaluation remain in place, making another one in the near future all-but certain…and another one after that, and so on, until the banking system is fundamentally changed.

            Note that I don’t anticipate a dollar devaluation vs. gold imminently. These things go in spurts, and more pressure must first accumulate. If I had to throw out a ballpark number, I’d say to start watching for a major dollar devaluation vs. gold in about 2-3 years. Until then, I expect the good times to keep rolling.

            We must ask ourselves why monetary authorities were so deathly afraid of devaluations of their currencies vs. gold during the days of the gold standard, and why they even went through the pains of re-valuating their currencies vs. gold after WW1 (or why Britain decided to re-commit to its gold standard and re-open the gold redemption channel after the temporary suspension of redemption of Pounds for gold during the Napoleonic Wars). They were also perfectly aware that this placed severe constraints on what they could do with the supply of their paper currencies.

            The Modern Monetary Theory folks are correct in pointing out that any fixed exchange-rate standard (whether you are trying to peg your currency to the dollar, or gold, or whatever) is ultimately a voluntary constraint. There is no legal law written in the universe that says you have to do this.

            But the thing that MMT folks miss is that, before there was a legal constraint, there had to have been a practical constraint that the legal constraint was responding to or anticipating, and which the legal constraint was designed to head-off or avoid running into. Before there was a legal law, there had to be an economic law motivating the practical necessity of the legal law.

            Now it’s possible that there actually was no practical constraint—no negative practical consequence to allowing paper currencies to devalue vs. gold—and thus the legal constraint was superfluous. But I would caution Modern Monetary Theorists to consider Chesterton’s Fence. Why do you think monetary authorities voluntarily embraced the golden handcuffs of a gold standard in the first place? Are you sure that purpose is totally obsolete?

      • baconbits9 says:

        I hope I don’t have to convince you that deflation is harmful.

        You do, and you have to do better than this link.

        Thus, falling prices shift consumption from the present to the future as consumers wait for prices to fall, and the drop in demand can further depress the economy, lead to more price decreases, more cuts in spending — and a downward spiral into a recession.

        I’m not actually typing this right now because I have never purchased a computer, as I looked and saw that prices for computers have been dropping for 60 years and quality has been increasing. I’m not investing in smart phones either, who would ever buy one this year when next years model is going to be better and cheaper?

        Second, deflation raises the inflation-adjusted interest rate, and that can cause consumers to spend less on durables like cars, appliances and houses that are purchased with credit. Rising inflation-adjusted interest rates also increase the cost of borrowing and can depress business investment.

        Raising the real interest rate INCREASES the value of investing. The last line is either intentionally misleading or ignorant of this fact. This point manages to make 3 different mistakes. First is that increasing real interest rates should spur investment, second you only get increasing real interest rates with deflation if you hold nominal rates constant which is not an assumption in a market economy, and finally it assumes that money is invested, which it isn’t. Money is exchanged, labor and materials are invested.

        • correlatedresiduals says:

          See my response to DavidFriedman above

        • Eric Rall says:

          Rising inflation-adjusted interest rates also increase the cost of borrowing and can depress business investment.

          Raising the real interest rate INCREASES the value of investing. The last line is either intentionally misleading or ignorant of this fact.

          You’re talking past the point. The real interest rate is the price of investment capital. Raise the going price without shifting the supply and demand curves, and you tend to get more people “selling” (offering money for investment) but fewer people “buying” (seeking investment funds). It’s perfectly plausible for there to be businesses that are interested in taking out loans at %X to finance expansion, but aren’t interested in taking out loans at %(X+1), regardless of how many would-be investors are offering loans at %(X+1).

          Where deflation causes problems with respect to interest rates is that a safe deposit box full of $100 bills becomes an investment vehicle yielding a positive real return, which competes with more conventional investment vehicles. If the deflation rate is less than the market-clearing real interest rate, this isn’t much of an issue, since you can still get a better return at comparable risk by buying high-rated bonds or CDs. But if the deflation rate is significantly more than the real interest rate, then safe deposit boxes start crowding out other investments.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You’re talking past the point. The real interest rate is the price of investment capital. Raise the going price without shifting the supply and demand curves, and you tend to get more people “selling” (offering money for investment) but fewer people “buying” (seeking investment funds). It’s perfectly plausible for there to be businesses that are interested in taking out loans at %X to finance expansion, but aren’t interested in taking out loans at %(X+1), regardless of how many would-be investors are offering loans at %(X+1).

            That isn’t what Thoma says though, he says

            Second, deflation raises the inflation-adjusted interest rate

            he goes forward with

            That’s not the end of the story. As consumption and investment spending fall, aggregate demand declines

            The first part only holds if you assume that interest rates don’t adjust to inflation expectations. This would be an extremely unorthodox position within the profession, but he passes it off as if its fact, not a hypothetical that would be very unexpected in the real world*.

            The second part is him extrapolating from one sector of the economy to a broad and general statement about total investment. Such an analysis would not hold for companies with cash holdings. All investment is not made with borrowed money, so even if he made a convincing argument on the first objection he would still have to demonstrate that the losses from projects that weren’t borrowed for aren’t offset by the gains from projects that didn’t need borrowing.

            Thoma’s entire approach is just incorrect. Looking at “costs” like this misses the obvious. Every one of his costs is again to someone else, if inflation is negative and real interest rates rise that hurts one group but it helps another. People who hold bonds now have more real purchasing power, and thus would be expected to increase consumption.

            Thoma is basically using half of an accounting identity to try to prove his point.

            But if the deflation rate is significantly more than the real interest rate

            * He could make a nuanced argument where interest rates wouldn’t fall fast enough causing real interest rates to rise, but he doesn’t present an argument for this.

            The deflation rate cannot be more than the real interest rate unless the nominal interest rate is negative. This would violate the zero lower bound issue, and if memory serves correctly (I haven’t bothered reading Thoma for 8+ years) Thoma has written about the ZLB as if it exists.

          • Eric Rall says:

            The deflation rate cannot be more than the real interest rate unless the nominal interest rate is negative.

            And the mechanism by which this is proposed to happen is that “investments” in hoarded cash crowd out investments in debt or equity.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And the mechanism by which this is proposed to happen is that “investments” in hoarded cash crowd out investments in debt or equity

            You can’t crowd out investments by hoarding cash, cash isn’t invested. When you sell your stocks and “pull money out of the market” you are transferring money from someone who didn’t have money in the market to you, and your stock to them. You cannot “crowd out” investment in this way.

      • 10240 says:

        As far as I understand, deflation is not a problem, expectation of (further) deflation perhaps is. But in an efficient market, an expectation of lower prices would appear in the prices immediately, so a rational agent would never predict deflation. (Well, not for products such that you can’t easily shift your consumption in time, such as everyday consumption. But for those products, expectation of deflation doesn’t significantly affect consumption either.)

        • Eric Rall says:

          Unexpected deflation causes problems with sticky prices and wages, especially those that are sticky because of contracts or regulations. If you’re stuck paying sticky prices and wages to your vendors (perhaps because of a long-term contract) and employees (because of a union contract or a minimum wage statute), but you’re selling on a market with deflated prices, then you’re going to be an unhappy business, and depending on the magnitude of the deflation, you might look seriously at scaling back your operations until you can get out from under your sticky input prices.

          Unexpected deflation can also cause big problems with loans. You might have a mortgage that’s readily affordable on a $100k/year income, but if prices suddenly deflate by 20% (and your wages aren’t sticky), then you’re stuck paying the same mortgage on an $80k/year income. If your wages are sticky, you’ll probably be fine with a continued $100k/year income (albeit with much less hope of annual raises), but there’s a significant chance you’ll get laid off and have to take a different job at a lower wage after a period of unemployment.

          These effects probably only become really bad for a large, unexpected deflation. A 1% deflation when everyone was expecting 1% inflation probably isn’t significantly worse than a 1% inflation when everyone was expecting 3% inflation.

          • 10240 says:

            We should link the numbers in all contracts to inflation. Minimum wage too. (Oh wait, employers don’t want to do that because then they can’t silently reduce real wages by giving less raise than inflation. Of course contracts should be flexible anyway, and wages going up or down according to market conditions should be acceptable, and there should be no minimum wage, but that won’t happen.)

            If you’re stuck paying sticky prices and wages to your vendors (perhaps because of a long-term contract) and employees (because of a union contract or a minimum wage statute), but you’re selling on a market with deflated prices, then you’re going to be an unhappy business, and depending on the magnitude of the deflation, you might look seriously at scaling back your operations

            If you can’t cancel your contract with vendors or employees, you can’t scale back operations because you still have to pay them anyway. If you are allowed to cancel the contract, you can just do so, and replace your vendor/employee with a cheaper one. Or tell them that if they don’t agree to a lower price/wage, they get replaced. If firms start to scale back operations, there will be unemployment/vendors with canceled contracts, so there will be people who accept a lower price. (Except if it’s prevented by minimum wage.)
            The problem may be that if deflations are common, and the contracts can’t be canceled (perhaps because of regulations), then companies will be reluctant to enter new contracts (though they’ll have to respect the existing ones).

          • Brad says:

            In the US we used to have a primitive form of inflation linked contracts that were very widespread (they tied repayment to the price of gold).

            The Supreme Court, in a series of unpersuasive opinions, upheld as constitutional a law that struck every one of these clauses down in every contract private or public.

          • baconbits9 says:

            In the US we used to have a primitive form of inflation linked contracts that were very widespread (they tied repayment to the price of gold).

            The Supreme Court, in one of its least persuasive opinions upheld as constitutional a law that struck every one of these clauses down in every contract private or public.

            Is there something about TIPS that avoids this specifically?

          • Brad says:

            The law was repealed at some point, I think during the Nixon administration. But the precedents remain. Congress could refuse to pay the inflation linked part of the TIPS coupons without running afoul of the Constitution per the Supreme Court. Presumably we have to pay a higher rate of interest because of that.

    • 10240 says:

      Once AI does everything, I except that money and all these financial things will be irrelevant, or at least very different from today. When AI does a lot of things but not everything, we will only consider humans in these calculations, much like today. Robots already do many things, but we don’t say things like “humans do 70% of the work today and robots do 30%”, robots don’t have salaries, and when we talk about things like GDP per capita, we only count humans.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      thanks to some odd feature of human psychology, people are much more bothered by salary cuts than price inflation, even though both effectively do the same thing to their spending power.

      People are more bothered by a nominal wage cut than an inflation-driven real wage cut because their debts are typically in nominal dollars rather than real dollars. Unless wages become completely disconnected from inflation, inflation is good for debtors who work for a living, including “people with a mortgage” and “people with a student loan”.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Not just debts, but all of their other contracts as well.

        Arguably, contracts in nominal dollars, and the coordination problems they represent, might explain the entirety of wage stickiness, and in fact “contracts in nominal dollars” might actually be the thing we are calling wage stickiness.

      • Unless wages become completely disconnected from inflation, inflation is good for debtors who work for a living, including “people with a mortgage” and “people with a student loan”.

        Only unanticipated inflation. Anticipated inflation raises the nominal interest rate to balance out the benefit to debtors of inflating away their debt.

        • secondcityscientist says:

          So, if there’s an anticipated inflation rate, and a loan is based on that anticipated rate, and the anticipated rate becomes the actual rate, then everyone gets a fair deal, right? Debtor gets access to capital at a rate he or she is comfortable with, creditors gets a return on their investments that keeps up with inflation.

          Above-anticipated inflation levels would be good for the debtor. Below-anticipated inflation levels would be bad for the debtor. Your objection just changes where the hypothetical “fair deal” occurs from zero inflation to whatever the anticipated rate is, correct? Or is there more to it that I’m missing?

          • Correct. Unanticipated inflation transfers from holders of net positive nominal assets, such as lenders, to holders of net negative nominal assets, such as borrowers.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Above-anticipated inflation levels would be good for the debtor. Below-anticipated inflation levels would be bad for the debtor.

            This is the correct answer to the identity, but in practice both debtors and creditors often suffer during unexpected bouts of inflation/deflation, this is mainly because price changes tend to be lumpy. Many debtors find themselves in default before they can realize the gains from paying back their debt in devalued currency. Germany experienced inflation after WW1, during 1920 food prices increased by over 50% while the price of imported goods declined by over 50%. From May 1921 to July 1922 food prices jumped by over 500%, and imported goods jumped in price by more than 900%, and in the next year food prices rose by over 13,000% and imported goods over 22,000%. During this time real wages fell, as nominal wages failed to keep pace with inflation, real stock prices fell by more than 50% from 1921 to 1922 before rising by 3x in 1923.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, if there’s an anticipated inflation rate, and a loan is based on that anticipated rate, and the anticipated rate becomes the actual rate, then everyone gets a fair deal, right?

            Right, but then the question becomes why there’s an anticipated inflation rate at all.

            If the answer is simply, “deflation is harder to fix than inflation, and fiscal policy has error bars, so we all agree to target +2% just to be safe”, then there’s no problem. But most of the other reasons for having inflation, e.g. getting sticky-waged workers to accept a de facto pay cut, depend on at least some parties not anticipating the inflation to come.

            And if you’ve got an economic force that says, basically, “we need an inflation rate X% above what is anticipated”, on top of an economy that effectively propagates and normalizes the anticipated inflation rate, that leads to rapid positive feedback and the fast track to hyperinflation.

          • secondcityscientist says:

            but in practice both debtors and creditors often suffer during unexpected bouts of inflation/deflation, this is mainly because price changes tend to be lumpy.

            Do debtors suffer under higher-than-anticipated-but-still-reasonable inflation levels? Or do they only suffer the problems you outline in the extreme sorts of cases you provided as examples? Like, the US had double-digit inflation in the 70s and that combined with stagnant wages was bad. Then we had 4-5% inflation with corresponding wage growth in the 80s and that was basically considered a good economic time.

            On the mortgage area specifically, I think there’s a big effect of the fact that most mortgages in the US can be refinanced to a lower rate, while still being 15- or 30-year fixed rates. Changes in the expected rate of inflation would change the interest rates charged. So if anticipated inflation goes up, then rates for new mortgages go up, good for current mortgage holders. But if anticipated inflation goes down, rates for new mortgages go down AND ALSO rates for current mortgages go down as people refinance. Of course this is a big, government-subsidized effect and not a natural feature of economics.

            I specifically excluded creditors from my previous analysis because my understanding is that deflation, while “good” for creditors under the identity in the sense that their money is worth more, tends to induce sufficient defaults to be net bad for creditors.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Do debtors suffer under higher-than-anticipated-but-still-reasonable inflation levels? Or do they only suffer the problems you outline in the extreme sorts of cases you provided as examples? Like, the US had double-digit inflation in the 70s and that combined with stagnant wages was bad.

            Depending on how you pick endpoints, but I would say that inflation became less predictable, and higher than expected around ’66 or ’67 and it ended between ’81 and ’83. In that span there were 4 official recessions (or 3 if you merge the ’80 and ’81 recessions which is not unreasonable) totaling more than 4 years (49 months going by Wikipedia), so about 1/4th of the time the US was in recession. For comparison since the ’81 recession ended the US has been in recession for a total of 34 months, or about 1/12th of the time. From the end of the 1945 recession to the 1969 recession it was 39 total months of recession or ~1/8th of the time.

            Nominal home values did very well, so people who borrowed to pay for their homes did well there, but real home values were flat. Wages are generally viewed as stagnant, medium real household income was basically flat despite rising labor force participation (up from ~60% to ~64%, not sure what total hours worked was). So if you kept your job though the recessions you could probably service your debt and come out ahead. Real market returns during this period were substantially negative and even the nominal returns were the worst for a 15 year stretch between ’45 and ’00 (I think).

            Someone who bought a house with as little down as they could in the late 60s, kept their job throughout and wasn’t reliant on market gains would have done quite well. I think your average debtor though would have been better off under the preceding or following 15 years overall.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I specifically excluded creditors from my previous analysis because my understanding is that deflation, while “good” for creditors under the identity in the sense that their money is worth more, tends to induce sufficient defaults to be net bad for creditors.

            Under some (very specific) circumstances inflation can work in the creditors favor. If nominal values of collateral rise enough you can essentially see the default rate drop to zero, it is rare that this would be enough to make up for the real losses though.

  15. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a Star Wars movie with a budget one twentieth the size of Solo’s, meaning $15 million total. You may assume you are making this for Disney, so the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property do not need to be budgeted for. What sort of film would you make?

    (I have some ideas myself, but let’s hear what everyone else comes up with first.)

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’d start by having most of the action in space or on Anonymous Desert Terrain, allowing us to build comparatively-cheap spacecraft sets instead of filming light spacecraft hovering above trains speeding across snow-covered mountains. Not sure how far that would get me, but it’d be somewhere.

      • Matt M says:

        Um, see my post below. It would get you quite far indeed 🙂

      • engleberg says:

        @I’d set most of the action in space=

        Yes! Steal from NASA or other astronomy sites, blow up a star or two- Poul Anderson’s Mirkheim for something industrial on a planet passing close to a star. Throw in a space princess’ quivering boobies as the stars explode around her and no one will care about plot inconsistencies.

    • Matt M says:

      Uh, this one?

      Snark aside, I don’t feel like ANH was big-budget for its time.

      • johan_larson says:

        ANH, adjusted for inflation, would have cost about $48 million today. Way too expensive (though cheaper than I would have guessed, certainly.)

        • Wrong Species says:

          Special effects are comparatively much cheaper.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I don’t understand how CGI cost works. Black Panther had a budget of $200 million and the CGI in the Wakanda scenes is terrible. What’s going on?

          • Matt M says:

            And yet, I still imagine special effects are more expensive than the alternative.

            Is a CGI R2-D2 really cheaper than a midget in a little suit?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M: at this point I doubt the suit and midget actor cost more than CGI.
            I’d be really interested in learning how this works.

          • Murphy says:

            It’s kinda interesting how well the effects in terminator 2 and Jurassic Park held up to time.

            Probably because they were a bit minimalist and used real props for some scenes mixed with the CGI.

            The problem is that when you can have entirely CGI characters directors decide it’s a great idea and actually do that. When a CGI character remains on screen you have more and more time to spot the flaws you end up with jar jar binks.

            So if you’re gonna use CGI and you want it to look good you either need to go 100% for a fully rendered animation setup or use the CGI as little as you can.

          • John Schilling says:

            Special effects are comparatively much cheaper.

            But the bar for special effects is set much higher. There were only forty spacecraft involved in the final battle in ANH, of only six discrete models, and only a handful on-screen at any given time. Against a backdrop of empty space with maybe a few shots of Yavin.

            If you try to sell that under the “Star Wars” label today, the critics and the fans will be laughing at you. You need hundreds of ships, or at least dozens in a more kinetically interesting environment.

            I am told that The Expanse comes in at about $5E6/episode, so if we assume their effects would hold up on the big screen, you should be able to do a reasonable movie equivalent for $15E6. But their space battles are typically only 1-2 ships visible plus lots of looking at tactical displays. To my eye, that’s a better way of doing SF space battles, and should be encouraged. The bit where you hire talented actors rather than famous ones, also to be encouraged.

            But the Star Wars brand is built around big spectacular close-quarters dogfights in “space”, and if you’re not going to be doing that then it isn’t clear why you are calling it “Star Wars”.

          • liquidpotato says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I’m a Visual Effects Artist, and have worked on a few movies and animations. What can I help you with?

          • Kestrellius says:

            @John Schilling:

            I don’t think this is actually true, and it continues to baffle me. The sequel trilogy films, so far, seem to be really stingy with the action, and I don’t understand why. I mean, in TFA, we had:

            – Two gunfights (Jakku and Takadona)
            – Poe and Finn dicking around in a TIE
            – Some running around in the desert with TIE fighters, plus air chase
            – Some running around with tentacle monsters
            – A halfassed air battle
            – The ten-second-long incomprehensible clusterfuck that was the Starkiller attack
            – A pretty good lightsaber duel

            Then in TLJ:

            – A couple fairly unimpressive space battle sequences involving a couple dozen craft at most
            – The throne room fight
            – That whole mess in the Supremacy hanger
            – The Battle of Crait, which was mostly just some broken speeders flying around for five minutes, then Luke showing off

            And that was it. (No, that business on Canto Bight doesn’t…doesn’t count.)

            So…like…why? This is basically the most famous space action movie franchise in the world, isn’t it? Why aren’t they just going balls-to-the-wall with the battle scenes? Do they not have enough money, when they’re making some of the most popular movies on the planet? What’s going on?

            If you’re making a Star Wars movie, why wouldn’t you have the entire third act be a space battle on the scale of Coruscant from RotS? Actually, screw it. Make the whole movie about that. Do for space battles what Fury Road did for car chases. (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually seen Fury Road, so I don’t know exactly what it did for car chases, but I’ve heard it was impressive.)

            I just don’t get it. Do the people writing these things not like space battles? What’s wrong with them?

            (I may think about this topic far too much.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            The original trilogy wasn’t action packed, space battles and dog fights. ANH is closer to a chase movie than an action move.

            Opens with the Empire chasing a single ship, followed by them chasing a couple of droids. By the time the Falcon leaves Tatooine the sum total of action is

            Massive ship chasing small ship, storm troopers overrunning rebel defense, Obi Wan cuts one guys arm off, Han shoots Guido, Falcon blasts it way through a handful of storm troopers. The Empire blows up Alderaan with no resistance, the heros mostly run and hide while on the death star, one light saber fight and then there is one sub 10 min sequence attacking the death star.

            Empire Strikes back has about the same amount of action with the order shifted around. The big battle opens the movie, then everyone runs, trains or is captured. Some stealth mode on Cloud City, and finally one (bigger and better) light saber battle.

            A lot of franchises start out this way, there is very little boxing in Rocky, or Rocky II and the shark in Jaws in only on screen for like 10 mins.

          • John Schilling says:

            A lot of franchises start out this way, there is very little boxing in Rocky, or Rocky II and the shark in Jaws in only on screen for like 10 mins.

            And Errol Flynn never managed ten solid minutes of swordplay in any of his movies.

            If you make a Jaws movie without the shark, or a Rocky movie without the boxing, the critics and the audience will be laughing at you, not with you, and you won’t be making blockbuster returns at the box office.

            A Star Wars movie needs to have a War, in the Stars, period. It’s not “Star Espionage”, it’s not “Star Horror” or “Star Noir Thriller”, and it’s certainly not “OBTW we just realized that any war actually fought in the stars will be strictly beyond-visual-range tactics”. The stylized space battle sequences are part of the branding, and they don’t come cheap.

          • baconbits9 says:

            A Star Wars movie needs to have a War, in the Stars, period

            The name isn’t the branding… otherwise no one would drink Coke without the cocaine, or people would go to Star Wars expecting two giant suns battling it out.

            The first movie was the one called “Star Wars”, and the one following it had no war in space. The closest it got was a battle scene on an ice planet, and yet it wasn’t laughed out of the theaters. It didn’t have the good guys winning and yet it is generally considered the best of the original 3 and even the best of all still (though probably some nostalgia).

            Expectations can be subverted in film with good results, even great results while narrow branding can weaken a saga.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            There was at least one space battle scene in ESB – the chase through the asteroids.

            I don’t recall there being one in Solo, though. But I’ve only seen it the once.

    • beleester says:

      The most obvious answer is a Bottle Episode – a story that’s constrained to a small location, reducing the number of resources and making it so you don’t need to invent a dozen different species of alien to fill your galaxy. You could have a Rebel (or Imperial) commander, who sees the story through reports from the front lines rather than seeing the flashy space battles in person. Princess Leia might be a good canon character to hang such a story off of.

      $15 million can buy you some pretty good movies (that list isn’t inflation adjusted, but you get the picture), but it looks like it won’t buy you good CGI. Again, our Space Commander looking at a tactical map and hearing things on the radio might be a way to stretch the budget. IMO cheap special effects are really visible, so I’d rather go deep instead of wide with such a movie. Save your CGI budget for one big scene at the climax.

      Another idea: Focus on a Jedi character who’s going undercover, and therefore tends to rely on Jedi mind tricks or subtle maneuvers rather than lightsaber combat. You can make a good spy movie for under $15 million, and this would basically be a spy movie on a space station. Set it in the Old Republic (since there aren’t many surviving Jedi in the new series), or just make like Rogue One and say “No, he’s not a Jedi, he’s just a force-sensitive martial arts hero. Totally different.”

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Obi-Wan Kenobi, Tatooine Spy? How much does Ewan McGregor cost?

      • johan_larson says:

        My idea is a bit similar, a cops vs underworld plot where the protagonists are rebels on an Empire-ruled planet who need to carry out an important mission while the adversaries, an Imperial Detective Inspector and his assistants, close in.

        In act one we meet the teams as the rebels break one of their own out of prison and the imperials detain and interrogate various associates of the rebels. In act two, the two teams recover from the events of the break out and consider their next moves, and we get a bit of back story on the leader of the rebels and the Detective Inspector. In act three the rebels infiltrate an imperial engineering facility and send a mouse droid into the walls to get pictures of the prototype for the new TIE fighter. When the rebels exfiltrate from the facility they come within inches of the imperial team, who are entering. The Detective Inspector realizes, too late, who just walked by.

        I figure most of the filming would be in urban environments, with set dressing to indicate that it isn’t Earth, and lots of rain and darkness to cover the seams and set the tone. The special effects would consist of some actors in alien and droid costumes, blaster fire during the jail break, some handheld devices and monitors used by both teams, the mouse droid, a few cars modified to look spacy, and a static model of the prototype TIE fighter. None of that sounds particularly expensive.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Interesting bit of trivia: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was originally written with the intent that it would be used as the basis for a low-budget sequel to the original Star Wars if Star Wars did well enough to merit a sequel (it wasn’t really expected that it would do well enough for a big-budget sequel like actually happened). Per Wikipedia:

      Though Foster was granted a great deal of leeway in developing the story, a key requirement was that many of the props from the previous production could be reused when shooting the new film. Foster’s decision to place his story on a misty jungle planet was also intended to reduce set and background costs for a film adaptation. According to Foster, Lucas’s only request upon inspecting the manuscript was the removal of a space dogfight undertaken by Luke and Leia before crash-landing on Mimban, which would have been effects-heavy and expensive to film.

      That said, this isn’t really an answer to this question because I really doubt this would actually work as a Star Wars sequel these days.

    • Tenacious D says:

      A plot focusing on Wookie resistance as more and more of their people are trafficked into slavery by the Empire (Defiance (2008) in space). Because almost all of the characters will be either in Wookie or stormtrooper costumes faces won’t be visible and unknown actors can be used. Filming can be done outdoors, minimizing set construction.

    • pontifex says:

      I would get David Cronenberg to remake the Star Wars Holiday Special.

    • dpm96c says:

      A middle-of-nowhere farmer—a down-and-out, less eager variation of the type Luke starts off as in A New Hope—boards a crummy public transport as part of a long trip to as far away as something can reasonably be in the Star Wars universe. (That is, this should be a multi-day trip; I’m thinking of this kind of like being in steerage on an old Atlantic voyage.) I’d want to do a kind of Hitchcocky mistaken-identity thing where some people suddenly want to kill him and some other people, probably including a beautiful Jedi woman (or is she?), want him to not die. Perhaps they also want him to continue pretending to be the person the evil types are trying to assassinate, to buy him some time. To ramp up the tension it has to be clear, for easy-to-understand plot reasons, that this MUST be resolved before the ship arrives at its destination.

      Our POV character has no powers and has never been involved in anything with an area of effect larger than this backwater hometown; he’s reasonably handy and can be armed, but when there are fights he’s going to see bits and pieces of them (in the most dramatic but/and also affordable way possible) as he’s running away—at first because he’s scared, eventually because there’s some role for him to play that requires doing something while the two actual sides in this conflict fight each other. For most of the movie both sides are constrained by the sheer dull normality of this voyage, which they need as cover; every passenger COULD be a villain or a secret, incredibly competent hero, but is probably just a guy who has jury duty at some incredibly far-off federal site, is visiting his brother on a jail planet, whatever.

      For me the most exciting part of the first Star Wars trilogy is Luke repeatedly discovering that the world is much bigger and stranger than he thinks it is; I think it’s possible to write a story like this that offers some of that same feeling despite taking place in a huge but very dingy space-bus, in which over the course of a few days our POV character goes from not knowing anything to being initiated by mistake into a very twisty, high-stakes conflict that makes sitting across from the most boring guy in the world in the cafeteria extremely tense.

      I always loved that bit of trivia about Splinter of the Mind’s Eye being a low-budget emergency sequel.

    • Brett says:

      I’d do a “bottle” film set on an abandoned, damaged star destroyer that a smuggler crew is investigating for parts and a rumored cargo. Then they find something . . .

      You could keep the cast low, keep the effects budget pretty low, re-use the same “interior hall ways of a space ship” stuff over and over again, and use bad lighting to cover cheaper effects.

      Also, go cheaper on any space effects CGI, and keep those scenes segregated from any live-action stuff. I’m convinced that you can get away with a lot of cheap-looking CGI, as long as it’s the only thing on screen (i.e. it only starts to look really terrible when it has to be compared to live-action humans and scenery).

    • Civilis says:

      I’d cheat and hire a Japanese anime studio to make an animated film. It’s not unprecedented; both DC and Marvel (owned by Disney) have done anime-esque movies in recent years. I wasn’t able to find the budget for Batman Ninja, so I’m stuck playing with estimates, but it looks like it costs roughly on average $2.5 million for a 1-season (12-13 episodes, or roughly 4 hour) show. On the one hand, I want movie, not TV, quality, but on the other hand, I only want 90 minutes, I can offer $10 million (with $5 million left aside for bringing it to the US) and I’m offering a foot in the door on a still-massive franchise, so it should be worth it to one of the big-name studios.

      The problem is going to be the plot. I have to have something that will pass muster with both the Disney corporate execs and with the fans, because I want this to succeed. The coward’s way out is to make a series of shorts, a la the Animatrix. By making them short, I can touch the established story or characters without disrupting them. It’s much easier to make a 10-15 minute short about Obi-Wan or Boba Fett or the Mos Eisley Cantina or (I can dream) Thrawn than it is to make a full story. There are a lot of scenes that fans would love to see on screen, and the uncertain canonicity of an animated adaptation is a way to present them without worrying about how they will impact the larger canon (or the IP, for the Disney execs.)

      A much harder challenge is to come up with a story that fits in with the larger Star Wars story and adds something to it. I believe the failure of TFA and TLJ to fit in with (or extend) the myth arcs of the original and even prequel trilogies is one of the major failings. Rogue One, at least, tries to bridge the gap between the prequels (the fall of Anakin) and the original (Luke’s journey to Jedi). The best place for a stand alone movie is in the gap between the two. Some options include Leia’s story leading up to her appearance in Rogue One, a continuation of Ahsoka’s story (which I’d immediately discount due to already being animated in a different style), or some other story dealing with the early rebellion.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Others have already covered the basics. No real effects means none of the things people mostly associate with Star Wars, not even the first ‘low budget’ one. I don’t think you can make a movie that fans would recognize as ‘Star Wars’ for such a low budget as a bottle movie, you would basically be making a horror movie in space with a lot of those ideas, which wouldn’t fit fan expectation.

      I think they way to do it is to make the movie about The Force which frames it as a Star Wars movie in a straightforward way. Make it an origin story about a person discovering the force for themselves (maybe even the first person) and you have an excuse to ditch the massive ships, blasters, light sabers and explosions. Strand a group of people in a cheap filming location, push them to a limit by an unseen enemy/evil and have one of them react by discovering the power that was within them all along.

      • 1soru1 says:

        The 2012 _Dredd_ had 3 times this budget, so anything on that scale is out.
        A reasonable baseline is _Attack the Block_ which was 8 million. You are not going to get Finn and Doctor Who any more, but you could get a couple of experienced TV actors and the best of this years drama graduates.

        Stormtrooper uniforms, blasters etc, are affordable on that budget, just stay away from aliens, spaceships and full-scale battles. If you can CGI 2-mile high floating towers into the backdrop, then London can stand in for a Rebel world holding out from New Order bombardment under a planetary shield.

        Are the inhabitants of a run-down, poor region going to support the planetary elite’s decision to stand up to the new Empire in the face of blockades, food shortages and the risk of total catastrophe?

    • WashedOut says:

      I could do it for $15M. Replace all phrases in [brackets] with whatever the franchise-relevant entities are called.

      It’s an 80 minute psychological thriller film noir dramatic dialogue set entirely in a prison cell, along the lines of The Interview. Darth Vader is being interrogated by the [intergalactic space police] for crimes against the [imperium], during which he fabricates an elaborate rationalization for his behavior that the investigators find initially compelling. At the same time, he uses his false testimony and subtle wit to leverage valuable facts about the strategic goals of the [imperium], which he later uses against them without their knowledge. By the end of the film, the interrogators walk away feeling as though they’ve extracted valuable information, and begin preparing [appropriate sentencing/punishment]. However, little do they know DV has orchestrated a plot that will send their plans into disarray….

      Starring:
      John Malkovich as Darth Vader
      Jodie Foster as Interrogator #1
      Ed Harris as Interrogator #2
      Xavier Bardem as Darth Vader’s inside man

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m afraid your film flops and you have masses of outraged fans at your gates.

        One does not interrogate Darth Vader. Any such setup could only be an opening scene, quickly terminated by a double-force-choke and Vader walking out of his cell as if it was made of cardboard.

      • Kestrellius says:

        Ooh, I really like the idea of the Rebels capturing Vader (almost by accident — like, they had a plan to do it but they didn’t really expect it to work), and then the whole movie is about them trying to keep this superpowered nightmare contained, and being terrified about the situation. While Vader’s intimidating everyone who talks to him.

  16. Silverlock says:

    Can’t believe Scott didn’t make the title “ETHELTHREAD THE THE UNTHREADY.”

    Probably too obvious, though.

    • fion says:

      Probably too obvious, though.

      You say that, but I read your suggestion and the actual title twice each before I noticed the difference. At first i thought Scott must have seen your suggestion and edited the title.

      Argh!

      • CatCube says:

        I did the same thing (though I had been early enough to know that Scott hadn’t changed it). I actually had a reply box open and filled with, “That’s what he did title it,” before realizing what the difference was.

  17. Iain says:

    Especially interesting to me was this comment questioning the idea of “enforcing” vs “not enforcing” immigration law.

    For a longer version of the argument, here’s a Vox article where Matt Yglesias fleshes out the tweet I quoted.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      The obvious problem of the analogy is that it ignores the debate is all just a smoke and mirrors proxy from both sides over future voter demographics. This is obvious because most other Republican policies would be generally unaffected by a few million extra low-wage workers, whereas things like the $15 minimum wage, medicare for all, etc require adding more workers who earn above the median income, rather than below.

      In that way, its more similar to the older Connecticut residents who grumble about how they left Mass to escape higher taxes, only for other Mass residents to do so as well (and then those same ones voted for higher taxes in Connecticut as well!).

      You can be sure that if uncaptured bike thieves (and the children thereof) voted 70%+ Republican Mayors DeBlasio and Garcetti would be cracking down hard! Bike thievery would be a major problem constantly addressed and extremely politicized.

      • Guy in TN says:

        Yes, this. I’ve tried to imagine myself in the GOP’s shoes, being faced with an impending demographic wave from immigrants that would radically re-shape society in a direction I was morally opposed to. For example, if most immigrants were far-right, and if we let them in, the U.S. would be far-right majority in some decade down the road. It would be horrifying. I would oppose this far-right immigration with everything I had.

        So, I’ve learned to embrace not having a “principled” position on borders. I support an open border with Mexico because I think their voting patterns will make the US a better place. I expect conservatives to be opposed to this, just as I would be opposed to an open border with right-wing immigrants. This isn’t to diminish my opposition to the current border policies we have: I think we should abolish ICE, grant citizenship to all immigrants, and bring charges against the most egregious enforcers of these laws. And I fully expect, if the tables were turned, for the Right to do the same against the Left. Because all politics is war, duh.

        Which means, debates over immigration are largely a proxy battle for larger left-right philosophical differences. Principled “open border” lefties seem to be awful upset about Israeli’s moving into Palestinian land. And as for the “rule of law” right, the Obama years are still plenty fresh, and we all remember the support of “resisting” the bureau of land management, the issuing of gay marriage certificates, support for mass resistance of gun control laws, ect.

        • quanta413 says:

          Yes, this. I’ve tried to imagine myself in the GOP’s shoes, being faced with an impending demographic wave from immigrants that would radically re-shape society in a direction I was morally opposed to. For example, if most immigrants were far-right, and if we let them in, the U.S. would be far-right majority in some decade down the road. It would be horrifying. I would oppose this far-right immigration with everything I had.

          So, I’ve learned to embrace not having a “principled” position on borders. I support an open border with Mexico because I think their voting patterns will make the US a better place.

          I think this is a misreading of the situation. In many ways, immigrants from outside of the U.S. are notably to the right of maybe even the typical Republican voter. But there happens to be a coalition between various minorities as political interest groups and other logically unrelated issues like gay rights, abortion, etc. Most Republicans probably aren’t that principled but are following incentives from their voters.

          This coalition is historically contingent on the U.S. as it is now. You’d be in for a nasty surprise if you think things would stay this way if the U.S. merged with all of Mexico.

          I think a United Meximerican States would look a lot more like Hungary, Poland, or Brazil than like Sweden. Notably more socially conservative than the current U.S. but possibly with bigger safety nets or more government jobs. Probably more liberal than Mexico itself though. Probably more violent than the U.S. but less violent than Mexico. More corrupt than the U.S. but less than Mexico. Dunno if this is what you want.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I could quibble that open borders and a merger of governments aren’t quite the same thing. But I’ll address your underlying point, that Mexican people are more socially conservative and economically left-wing than the average American, so their integration into the U.S. political spectrum isn’t going to shake-out exactly the way your standard Democrats would like.

            For sure, there’s an ongoing intra-left debate in the U.S. about whether social or economic issues should take precedence, assuming we are forced to choose. You can place me firmly in the camp that economic issues take precedence, especially if abortion/gay marriage are the extent of what we are talking about here.

        • Brett says:

          An open border with Mexico would make it less likely that they’d become citizens and vote. The US is close enough that a fair number of Mexican workers could work seasonally in the US, and then cycle back for a couple of months.

          As for me, I figure we can probably take in about 2.5 million permanent immigrants a year without any serious hit to social or political stability (at that rate, it would take 100 years for the US population to double just from immigrants – meaning that most of the original immigrants would have died off and their children and other descendants would be US born citizens).

          Environmental stability is another issue, though. Do you want to live in a US with a half-billion people, with all the extra strain on land and natural resources that will entail? A billion people? And given this is the US, coming here will probably increase their environmental impact a lot in a bad way.

        • Aapje says:

          @Guy in TN

          Principled “open border” lefties seem to be awful upset about Israeli’s moving into Palestinian land.

          If the Palestinians can’t move into Israel, it’s not an open border policy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I haven’t heard of any open border advocates for allowing free migration into Mexico from the US either. Though I actually have no idea how hard it is to set up permanent residence in Mexico as a US citizen; my prior would be it’s quite easy provided you know how to pay the mordidita (and can afford it), and impossible otherwise.

        • Deiseach says:

          Call me crazy, stupid or anything else disparaging you like, but I do actually think the major problem in this is the “illegal” rather than the “immigrant” part.

          The blathering about “no person is illegal” from one side is cute, but meaningless apart from being an appeal to The Grandeur of The Human Spirit and other uplifting edification (and makes me go ‘well, you guys sure are certain some persons are illegal when it comes to abortion – or at least you redefine your terms so that they’re not persons at all’).

          The other side yammering about demographic take-over and catastrophic cultural failure may or may not have a point, but they’re over-reacting in some instances – the reason that these people want to cross the border is that they want to be Americans, too! Just like the descendants of the immigrant Dutch and Germans and Scandinavians and English and Irish and French all eventually became ‘Americans’ which formed this mixum-gatherum culture that is allegedly under such threat.

          I think that there can be an absorption of immigrants as long as there is a legal process which is adhered to, where everyone in the system knows what they are doing and what is going on, and people are processed in an orderly and timely manner. I think where the real breakdown comes is the ignoring, flouting, and ‘there should be no consequences’ of the law.

          If you really, really believe that everyone has a right to move to the US and that there is no such thing as illegal immigration since there is no basis to make a law against forbidding people to cross borders, then I can understand where you’re coming from.

          In the same way, if your objection really is “too many non-white Americans will dilute and destroy the culture and society we have built up”, okay, that’s something I can understand. I don’t need to agree with either or both points to understand them.

          But I don’t think that saying “the Republicans/the administration/the Trump voters/white people not me and my class-tribe are all racists, the real reason they are anti-migrants is not because of the law-breaking” is helpful. If we can get honesty on both sides about motives, the debate might go somewhere (and yes, this includes “I’m pro-immigration because I believe in open borders, I’m not actually all that concerned if Jose who has crossed the border can only work under the table in exploitative labour jobs now he’s here” because I’m fairly sure if some racists are using this issue as a means to push their agenda, so are some globalists).

          This is the equivalent of those saying “anti-abortion people don’t really care about foetuses (otherwise they’d treat abortion as murder), it’s that they really hate women/women’s free expression of sexuality and are using this as an excuse to control and punish women”. Please consider that when people say “It’s the law-breaking I find abhorrent”, it really is the law-breaking?

          In the same way, saying “no no no, they’re not illegal immigrants, they’re undocumented migrants” is untrue: there is a law and a process to follow, they haven’t done this, they’ve broken the law, they are illegal just as a murderer is an unlawful killer but a soldier in wartime is not.

          • ana53294 says:

            anti-abortion people don’t really care about foetuses (otherwise they’d treat abortion as murder)

            I think the argument you are referring to would be more like

            anti-abortion people don’t really care about foetuses (otherwise they’d provide free healthcare for foetuses and unborn children, give parents of disabled foetuses a disability pension that is generous enough to be able to take care of them, would not complain about giving single mothrs welfare checks, etc.)

            It is a consistent view to require to put your money where your mouth is, and actually help pregnant women in vulnerable positions keep their baby.

            Please consider that when people say “It’s the law-breaking I find abhorrent”, it really is the law-breaking?

            Sure, but if it was just the law breaking, wouldn’t cutting legal immigration of family members be inconsistent with that?

            Most of the people who care about illegal immigration also care about legal immigration by poor, uneducated and religious people; quite a few of them openly advocate for a Canada or Australia like system, where mostly rich or educated people are accepted.

          • The Nybbler says:

            the reason that these people want to cross the border is that they want to be Americans, too! Just like the descendants of the immigrant Dutch and Germans and Scandinavians and English and Irish and French all eventually became ‘Americans’ which formed this mixum-gatherum culture that is allegedly under such threat.

            Do they? Or do they just want to be in a wealthier Mexico/Guatemala/El Salvador? Aztlan, MEChA, La Raza, “Make America Mexico Again”? OK, the last is probably just satire, but the other three are all real, even if La Raza did rebrand.

          • Deiseach says:

            Aztlan, MEChA, La Raza, “Make America Mexico Again”?

            I do think a lot of that came out of the identity politics pushing; if you can milk the Sympathetic Party (that only wants your votes so that it can get into power to be good to you, honest!) for goodies by presenting yourself as a bloc (and the bloc part is important) that can be mobilised for votes, be it unions or Hispanics, then that is to your benefit to create, disseminate and enforce that group identity.

            And a good chunk of it comes from the 60s and 70s when minority groups were flailing about looking for ‘authentic roots’; just as you got the invention of Kwanzaa (and the idea of Islam being more ‘authentic’ as a religion for African-Americans than Christianity given the false impression that Islam was somehow autochthonous to various African countries whereas Christianity had – let’s all sing in chorus here! – been imposed by white colonial oppressors), in the same way you got the academic and political cohort of Hispanic and Latino movements looking back to some Golden Age of pre-European America. That this, in the context of North America, means just as much supplanting, dispossessing and replacing the aboriginal Indian tribes by the south Americans as done by the Europeans, in order to claim a right to national territory, is somehow overlooked.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think the argument you are referring to would be more like

            anti-abortion people don’t really care about foetuses (otherwise they’d provide free healthcare for foetuses and unborn children, give parents of disabled foetuses a disability pension that is generous enough to be able to take care of them, would not complain about giving single mothrs welfare checks, etc.)

            No, the argument I am referring to is a “gotcha” along the lines of “call it murder and you are a monster who hates women/don’t call it murder and you are a monster who hates women”.

            Those making the argument you quote (“if you cared you’d provide good support for pregnant women and poor mothers”) never address the counter-argument that if they are the ones who really care, why are they so enthusiastic that the solution to being a poor mother is not to attack the poverty, it’s to enable the woman to not be a mother?

            Otherwise they wouldn’t be so horrified by the notion of crisis pregnancy centres.

          • ana53294 says:

            As a pro-choice woman, I think that crisis pregnancy centers actually help women make choices, so I applaud the logical consistency of those who oppose abortion and try to help women who do not want to abort but cannot afford to be pregnant.
            However, it seems that they frequently lie about it, posing as abortion clinics, and try to convince women who are planning to have an abortion not do to so by either convincing/guilt tripping them or by lying to them about how many weeks you can abort at. I think that’s what pro-choice people find reprehensible, not actually giving women choices.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Could it be that political factions are diverse, and various people can oppose immigration for different reasons? You are against the law-breaking aspect. Others are opposed to immigration due to the demographic voting threat. Some people are just racist.

            Likewise, its true that many people on the left (including myself) advocate for an end-goal system with no borders. We can’t say this in public, of course, due to the Overton Window. But that doesn’t mean we can’t simultaneously care about the plight of illegal immigrants working in a two-tiered system, without labor law protections.

          • cryptoshill says:

            I think when a large majority of the people coming in fly the flag of their home country, that could be reliably termed “an invasion” if you’re concerned about cultural issues. Either way, I think it’s a solid indicator that the class of immigrants that we are assimilating wind up being “Mexicans in America” and not “Mexican-Americans”. I think this distinction is of critical importance, particularly to the Right. The Right notably does pretty well among Hispanics versus other minority groups, and there are a lot of right-wing Hispanic politicians. (Weirdly, Trump is up ten points among Hispanics from before).

            Re: The abortion comment, I do not think it being anti-abortion requires being pro “free healthcare for vulnerable mothers”. For an anti-abortion person, abortion is literally murder. A policy that enables murder must then be pretty high on the abhorrent list. Vulnerable mothers who would rather commit murder than raise a child should be pretty high on the abhorrent list to the same person, but since these people believe in the morality of choice it doesn’t get the same priority that illegalizing the murder does.

          • baconbits9 says:

            In my neighborhood people fly the Irish and Italian flags all over the place. A few decades ago the Slovenian church (since closed) up the road had a school taught in a native tongue, by immigrants from Slovenia! I cannot believe that we have let these invasions of foreigners go on for so long unchecked!

          • ana53294 says:

            Well, maybe if you actually consider abortion as murder, preventing murder goes before helping somebody who is so poor that their only option is murder.

            But it is the next logical step. There is a reason we have safe haven laws; because some women end up in states of mind where they end up dumping babies into dumpsters. And I see denying help to pregnant women and disabled children while denying them a painless euthanasia (which is what abortion is, really), making them suffer, as a really inconsistent view.
            You cannot say “Women should carry the responsibility of their babies, and go in front of a judge and … (a lot of legal complications) to give up their baby” and at the same time say “we have to prevent babies from being dumped into dumpsters, but we should do everything except giving women a safe opportunity to do so”.
            Note: I do not view foetuses the same as babies, and I do not think abortion is murder, however, I favour empowering women by giving them better economic opportunities so they can avoid an abortion and can afford an unplanned pregnancy or a disabled child.

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            How does this argument look different if you assume abortion is acceptable but infanticide is not? It seems like it’s the same kind of moral issue either way–sometimes a mother realizes she just can’t take care of her kid, what should we do?

            I agree we should have mechanisms to let her give up her kid in some relatively low-overhead way if she reaches that situation, for both her good and the good of her child.

            But I don’t think it makes you inconsistent or a hypocrite or anything if you support laws against killing your 6-month-old baby but don’t support having some mechanisms to make it easy to give babies up.

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            Does it actually often happen that women go to a crisis pregnancy center and don’t know whether it offers abortions? And that they somehow can’t, say, realize that they’re in the wrong place and leave and go find an abortion clinic? I really don’t know, but I’ll admit that this seems unlikely to me.

          • Deiseach says:

            This is what pisses me off about the sanctimony on the pro-choice side: the solution to poverty is death.

            And yet the conservatives are the bad guys in all this.

          • ana53294 says:

            albatross:
            Well, I don’t have statistics, but it does seem to happen. After a cursory googling, I get this: 1, 2 and 3.
            I personally don’t object to a crisis pregnancy center that tells the women from the beginning that they don’t offer abortions, and then talk about the choices they do offer. Being pro-choice does mean supporting women in whatever choice they make, such as when Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter had a child, or when a young woman in a similar position decides to have an abortion. These choices should exist.
            Pro-lifers have the option to steer women towards the choice they want them to make, by incentivizing them to do so, or they can prohibit abortions. Sure, banning abortions is a cheaper option, but it will not stop abortions from happening; women will just choose more dangerous black market options, or resort to self harm, such as drinking bleach or whatever. I think that no law will stop a person desperate enough to drink bleach from doing whatever they feel they have to do. So banning abortions is just inefficient, it doesn’t work, and it turns into gruesome deaths of women. So if you know that the law does not matter in the end, and banning abortions will not save the foetuses of rich women who want to have an abortion (they can afford to travel to Canada, so that won’t work), but will result into deaths of poor women, who will be pushed into more precarious situations.
            So when they say “we want to stop abortions because murder, and we don’t care that when people are so desperate they drink bleach, they don’t care about jail, so we just end up virtue signalling without actually improving the lives of the foetuses after they are born, because we want to do it on the cheap”, I think it is not consistent with the stated objective of saving foetuses.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Call me crazy, stupid or anything else disparaging you like, but I do actually think the major problem in this is the “illegal” rather than the “immigrant” part.

            The Trump administration appears to disagree, since the policies they are pushing right now also very heavily cut back on legal immigration, as well as illegal immigration.

            Over the past few months, they have revoked legal immigration status from hundreds of thousands of people who were here legally up to that point. Not only that, but the immigration bills they have been pushing for also sharply cut back on the amount of legal immigration allowable.

            The standard Republican rhetoric on this has typically been that they are only against illegal immigration, and I think many traditional conservatives do actually hold that view – but the Trump administration has now quite openly flipped to arguing that the problem is immigration itself, legal or illegal.

            (Of course, Trump being Trump, he has spiced things up a bit more by tactfully pointing out in his trademark colorful that he really just has problems with immigration from the *bad* countries – you know, like Haiti or any of the ones in Africa – and that he wishes we could get more good immigrants from Europe or Scandinavia.)

          • ana53294 says:

            @Deiseach
            That is not what I am saying; I am saying that if you consider abortion murder, and you want to stop poor, desperate, probably slightly insane people from commiting murder, the best solution is to help them out of poverty.

            The same way infanticide is mostly stopped by providing safe haven laws, because banning infanticide does not work, because it has been illegal in the Western world for a very long time, and it still happens. You need to enforce infanticide bans, for sure. But you also need to give people other options.

            So even if you somehow manage to ban abortion, you need to give people the safe haven option, otherwise you will end up with dead women in adition to the murdered foetuses.

          • theredsheep says:

            Re: abortion, I’ve heard from multiple sources that, prior to Roe, most illegal abortions were done by licensed doctors simply ignoring the law, and that to get figures where loads of women were dying from abortions each year you have to go back before antibiotics.

            Also, http://blog.secularprolife.org/2018/07/which-decreases-abortion-rates-more.html

            Abortion and contraceptive access both seem to increase risk-taking behavior, at least among young white women, and the effect is substantially stronger for abortion because it has an essentially zero risk of failure.

            Also, it’s not 1970; you don’t need bleach, just a supply of misoprostol. Tell your doctor, while winking broadly, that you need an NSAID but are prone to ulcers. There’s your abortion. Or just order it over the internet. I’m sure that, were Roe reversed, you’d see an explosion of black-market abortifacients, and most likely the bulk of them would be safely ordered from Canada or somewhere.

          • J Mann says:

            Call me crazy, stupid or anything else disparaging you like, but I do actually think the major problem in this is the “illegal” rather than the “immigrant” part.

            It’s really hard to tease out. I assume the pro-enforcement crowd is made up of some coalition of people who (a) don’t have a problem increasing legal immigration numbers, but think that illegal immigration poses special problems; (b) would be open to discussing immigration numbers, but currently think legal immigration is about where it should be and are opposed to illegal immigraiton and (c) want less immigration. Similarly, the anti-pro-enforcement crowd probably breaks into a few groups. (There’s also potential disputes about whether immigration should prefer skills, family reunification, or refugee assistance).

            I personally would gladly double legal immigration in return for an aggressive stance against illegal immigration, but I don’t know how the polling shakes out.

          • albatross11 says:

            ana:

            I’m sure banning abortions doesn’t prevent 100% of abortions, but I would be very surprised if it didn’t prevent a substantial fraction of abortions. If you believe that less-serious restrictions on abortions (like requiring women to see an ultrasound of their baby, or restrictive licensing schemes that reduce the number of abortion clinics per state, or parental notification laws) reduce abortions, presumably you also believe that a 100% ban would reduce abortions even more.

            Some of the women who couldn’t get legal abortions would make other choices. Some would travel to another state/country to get an abortion. Some might get an illegal abortion, but I suspect that wouldn’t be very common, because travel is pretty cheap[1]. Basically the cost of getting an abortion would go up by $300-400 to cover travel and lodging costs.

            [1] And illegal abortions in the US in 2018 would be done by a medical professional in clean conditions, or would simply be done by taking a pill which would be legal in more than half of the US.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The standard Republican rhetoric on this has typically been that they are only against illegal immigration,

            We have a motte and bailey, with several overlapping baileys.

            You can have people who say “I don’t want illegal immigration, but I’m fine with immigration” who are fine with any level of immigration, up to and including replacement level, as long as the people check in as they come over the border.

            You can have people who say “I don’t want illegal immigration, but I’m fine with immigration” who think that our current legal immigration levels are just about right, but want to stop the overflow that are sneaking in.

            You can have people who say “I don’t want illegal immigration, but I’m fine with immigration” who think that our current legal immigration levels are just about right, for now, but worry that if we wanted to stop immigration for some reason, we would not be able to do it because of de-powering the institutions that could deal with it / empowered the people who would deny enforcement even if the country legitimately and honestly desires it as policy.

            You can have people who say “I don’t want illegal immigration, but I’m fine with immigration” who want a small amount of immigration, noticeably less than we have now, but they still want some amount of legal immigration each year.

            And then you have people who say “I don’t want illegal immigration, but I’m fine with immigration” who really want to end all immigration and don’t want to say so.

          • ana53294 says:

            @ albatross
            Well, strange as it sounds, I think that legally complicating something while still leaving the option on the table discourages the undesirable activity more than completely taking the option from the table. Because most people in states where they have to listen to ultrasounds are probably not aware how horrible it is to go through that, and get an abortion, so they are discouraged by that.
            But if a woman wants to get an abortion, and she knows there is no legal way to do it, she will probably just google the abortifacients, and mail-order from Canada.

            Consider how much more effective than the Prohibition the Swedish approach to alcohol consumption is: prices are ridiculous, you cannot buy alcohol after six on workdays and not at all on Sundays, except in bars and stuff. Alcohol consumption has reduced drastically in Sweden, without the social cost of the prohibition.

            Also, tobacco: while the consumption of illegal drugs has not decreased by making it illegal, the consumption of tobacco has decreased by making it more expensive and more unattractive. At the same time, black market prices for cocaine have gone down. Last I heard, you can buy a snort of cocaine for less than a coffee in Starbucks. So keeping it legal has allowed us to control it better.

            I think abortion is the same. Ilegal alcohol has methanol in it; ilegal abortions are unsafe.

          • 10240 says:

            @ana53294 Your arguments are applicable to most things we ban. E.g. property crimes:

            “Property rights people have the option to steer poor people towards the choice they want them to make, by incentivizing them to do so, or they can prohibit robbery. Sure, banning robbery is a cheaper option, but it will not stop robberies from happening; poor people will do it anyway, resort to violence such as mugging people at gunpoint. I think that no law will stop a person desperate enough to rob people (and risk getting hurt themselves) from doing whatever they feel they have to do. So banning robbery is just inefficient, it doesn’t work, and it turns into gruesome deaths of robbers who get shot by their victim.[…]

            So when they say “we want to stop property crimes because property rights, and we don’t care that when people are so desperate they resort to violence, they don’t care about jail, so we just end up virtue signalling without actually improving the lives of the law-abiding people, because we want to do it on the cheap”, I think it is not consistent with the stated objective of saving people from property crimes. […]

            That is not what I am saying; I am saying that if you consider robbery wrong, and you want to stop poor, desperate, probably slightly insane people from commiting robbery, the best solution is to help them out of poverty.”

            Btw I support the right to abortion, but your argument is wrong.

          • ana53294 says:

            @10240
            I actually think it applies to armed robbery too. Regions with high crimes frequently don’t offer much in the way of decent legal employment, which reinforces criminal activities.
            Gunning down all of them would be less effective than helping them get a job and then gunning down those who choose not to take the carrot. Not giving any carrot will be less effective.

          • 10240 says:

            @ana53294 Yes, reducing poverty reduces most crimes, but most of the time we wouldn’t use this to argue that something shouldn’t be banned at all, or that those who want to ban it don’t actually care about its occurrence.

          • Matt M says:

            the reason that these people want to cross the border is that they want to be Americans, too!

            No, they quite clearly don’t. If they did, this wouldn’t be a problem.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            You think illegal immigrants would refuse American citizenship if offered it? That is contrarian indeed.

          • Matt M says:

            You think illegal immigrants would refuse American citizenship if offered it? That is contrarian indeed.

            They want citizenship sure (well, some of them. probably NOT all). But they don’t want to “be an American” in any sense other than that.

            Which is really what this debate is all about. Does “being an American” actually mean something apart from “a person who is registered with and pays taxes to the US government?”

          • MrApophenia says:

            There have been a number of studies showing Latin American immigrants assimilate just as fast as every other wave of immigrants in the past.

            Did existence of Little Italy mean Italians aren’t real Americans?

          • quanta413 says:

            @Matt M

            Does “being an American” actually mean something apart from “a person who is registered with and pays taxes to the US government?”

            The paying taxes thing is not actually anywhere near a requirement. Children, people consuming more welfare than they pay in tax, people who make no money, etc.

            In theory it might be nice if “being an American” meant more than “is a citizen due to legal rules”, but I don’t think I’m going to agree with anywhere close to enough people on what “being an American” should be that I actually want “being an American” to be anything other than “is a citizen due to legal rules”.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M

            But they don’t want to “be an American” in any sense other than that.

            What other senses are there? Are the Amish American in those senses?

          • Matt M says:

            What other senses are there? Are the Amish American in those senses?

            Culture. Values. Language. Among others. And no, I’d say the Amish aren’t really “American” in any meaningful sense. I’d say that they do their damndest not to be American. They don’t seem to want much of any part of our government, state, society, and they only participate in it to the extent that we threaten them if violence if they refuse.

          • MB says:

            “In my neighborhood people fly the Irish and Italian flags all over the place. A few decades ago the Slovenian church (since closed) up the road had a school taught in a native tongue, by immigrants from Slovenia! I cannot believe that we have let these invasions of foreigners go on for so long unchecked!”
            The difference is that the Ireland and Italy have no claims on US territory and immigrants from those countries do not live predominantly in portions of US territory adjacent to Ireland or to Italy.
            Better watch out for those French immigrants, though — maybe they want their Louisiana or Detroit back!
            An Irish flag is a milder statement, like the religious symbols still present on US banknotes and in judicial proceedings. It’s not that they aren’t Irish, but that they are not militant about it and nobody cares.
            By contrast, flying a Mexican flag can, depending on context (e.g. while burning a US flag next to it), be a very strong and controversial symbol, just like a host of other flags that many people consider controversial (e.g. Confederate, hammer and sickle, Japanese pre-WWII flags).

          • They don’t seem to want much of any part of our government, state, society, and they only participate in it to the extent that we threaten them if violence if they refuse.

            That’s a considerable exaggeration. Amish buy from and sell to the non-Amish around them–that’s participation in the society, and it isn’t done due to threats of violence.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            They have to, to pay their taxes, don’t they?

          • Matt M says:

            That’s a considerable exaggeration. Amish buy from and sell to the non-Amish around them–that’s participation in the society

            “Nothing to do with” might be a bit of an exaggeration, for the “society” part at least.

            But they distinguish between Amish and English for a reason. I highly doubt that they consider themselves to be members of the same society that the English are…

          • @Aapje and Matt:

            As best I can tell, the Amish position is that they should obey the government’s laws except when those laws pose an unacceptable threat to their principles or society. The only case I know of where they were willing to engage in mass civil disobedience was against compulsory attendance in (non-Amish) high schools, which I think they realistically viewed as a threat to their survival as a society, a way of forcibly inculcating their children with an alien system of values. The Supreme Court eventually came down on their side in a unanimous decision.

            Other than that, they have generally negotiated with the non-Amish authorities to get mutually acceptable terms.

            They certainly distinguish between themselves and the English, meaning the rest of us. American blacks, orthodox Jews, Mormons, Romany, and a fair number of other groups similarly distinguish between ingroup and outgroup.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @DavidFriedman, I’m not sure which was more recent, but I know the Amish also stood up to the government against getting social security numbers and paying social security taxes.

          • mdet says:

            Matt M (and possibly quanta?), you sound like you’re opposed to large scale immigration from Central America even if it were to happen legally. So if I could ask — what would satisfy you that these immigrants were properly “becoming American” that you don’t currently see happening? As MrApophenia pointed to, all the studies and polls I’ve seen say that currently, something like 85% of 2nd generation Hispanics are fluent in English, and large numbers of them intermarry with non-Hispanic Americans. What more would you like to see? (My guess: “Less identity politics”. But that seems to me less like something that they’re bringing over from Central America, and more so something that they pick up from us after they get here)

            Edit: Pew Research from 2017 with a few polls related to Hispanic identity among foreign-born vs second gen vs third gen Hispanics. I may have actually underestimated English fluency among second gen Hispanics, since Pew says only 6% are Spanish Dominant. And 18% of married Latinos are married to a non-Latino.

          • Matt M says:

            I would like to see legal immigration conducted under some sort of points system that is completely blind to ethnicity or former nation of residence.

            My guess is that the result of this would be exactly what the left predicts when they tell us why this sort of program would be evil and must be opposed – significantly more immigration from European and Asian nations, and significantly less from Central America. Wealthier immigrants more able to support themselves and more interested in assimilating quickly, rather than waiting 3 generations and hoping the public schools and reality TV do a good enough job of it for us.

            I see no logic in a system built to favor those who are most easily able to get here and most willing to violate our laws in the process of doing so.

          • mdet says:

            Depends on what we’re awarding points for. If we reach a point where there’s minimal illegal immigration, we might need to bring in legal immigrants to fill the low skill farm worker positions. But I do agree on “some sort of points system that is completely blind to ethnicity or former nation of residence” and that the current system favors the people who can cross the border most easily — if we want to bring in low wage workers and/or uplift people from countries with low standards of living, why are we allowing Central Americans to sneak across the border and steal spots from, say, African immigrants?

            But it sounds like you don’t dispute that Central American immigrants now are assimilating at the same pace as European immigrants a century ago, you just think that there’s an even better option available.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If we reach a point where there’s minimal illegal immigration, we might need to bring in legal immigrants to fill the low skill farm worker positions.

            Doesn’t need to be immigrants for this, just non-immigrant temporary workers with permanent residence outside the country that they’re required to return to periodically.

          • rlms says:

            @Matt M
            And is the Amish lack of Americanness a problem? It seems positive/neutral to me, which means lack of Americanness is not intrinsically bad.

          • quanta413 says:

            Matt M (and possibly quanta?), you sound like you’re opposed to large scale immigration from Central America even if it were to happen legally.

            To clarify, no I’m not for or against. At least not without nailing down numbers. 10 million per year or more would legally would be too many people bar some crazy reason like Central and South America are sinking into the ocean so we’ve all got to huddle up in North America. On the order of 1 million per year legally might be fine. Depending a lot on the rules and who, it could be positive or negative. Not all individuals are equally desirable people to live adjacent too.

            When I say it might be nice in theory for being American to mean more than the legal definition, I mean really far out in theory. Like in theory it might be nice if perpetual motion machines were possible. I mean it would be nice if Americans were coherent in a way that probably doesn’t even apply to a significant chunk of my countrymen whose ancestors have been here for centuries. It might reasonably not apply to me depending how I defined it rather than just holding a vague thought in my head.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @Quanta – I think making “being an American” be something more than the place you happened to grow up is one of the better arguments FOR immigration control. I’m not sure if I’ve made this argument here before, but if I could tell with 100% certainty that a given immigrant was extremely culturally similar to the current makeup of Americans, I would have zero problems with them immigrating, legally or illegally (although one of the cultural markers of “American-ness” is begrudging respect for the law). An argument that usually gets caught up in accusations of being a “white nativist” racist is that “we should be importing Americans who happen to live in other places, not making more foreigners who happen to live in America”.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          and bring charges against the most egregious enforcers of these laws

          Wait. Whut? Tell me you don’t mean what it sounds like you mean.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The far-left isn’t well represented in this board, so I can understand how such views are surprising.

            Obviously, prosecuting everyone involved in immigration enforcement is unrealistic and counter-productive. But we could go after the masterminds, Nuremberg-style.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Obviously, prosecuting everyone involved in immigration enforcement is unrealistic and counter-productive. But we could go after the masterminds, Nuremberg-style.

            Not unless you’re going to have an old-fashioned revolution, because without that you’re violating the badly-battered but not quite dead “ex post facto law” prohibition in the Constitution.

          • CatCube says:

            @Guy in TN

            I’m probably going to regret asking this, but what exactly are you imagining the charges to be?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Not too worried about the details. If there’s a strong enough will to act against someone, then savvy lawyers and judges will find a way. “something something Spirit of the Constitution”.

            Obviously, if it gets to the point where we are bringing charges against Trump-era officials, then restrictions on ex post facto may no longer apply (probably would be for the best imho)

          • fion says:

            I’m not quite sure I understand the implications being discussed here, but I just wanted to wade in to say that not all of us on the far left believe in prosecuting people for enforcing the laws of their time. I kind of feel as though Guy in TN implied this and I want to push back on it.

            I guess there’s a bit of a grey area when it comes to things like Nuremberg, but I feel as though that’s such an edge-case that we should maintain the norm that ex post facto laws are bad.

          • Brad says:

            We couldn’t even get the torturers prosecuted during the Obama administration. Heck, they didn’t even lose their jobs.

            This proposal seems so unrealistic to me that it isn’t even worth debating whether it would be a desirable outcome.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Guy

            I believe the term you’re looking for is “Reign of Terror”, not “Spirit of the Constitution”.

          • John Schilling says:

            Can we get the “prosecute all the ICE agents” people and the “shoot all the illegal immigrants” people together in one place, and then build a wall around them? Or at least a fence?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @John Schilling

            Call it a “cage”, and we can put it on Pay-Per-View.

          • Matt M says:

            They occasionally gather of their own accord in the streets of large, progressive cities. Perhaps you’ve seen the recent viral videos!

          • Guy in TN says:

            Did you guys see that video of the border patrol guy dumping out the gallons of water he found hidden in the desert, that was supposed to be used as a supply point?

            Give it twenty, thirty years, and this era will be remembered as a stain on U.S. history. It’ll be in the texbooks beside Jim Crow.

            “It’s cool to imprison children, even kill people, if its not against the law”- This will hold up super well, definitely.

          • CatCube says:

            @Guy in TN

            I think they should be doing more of that. We’ve got a premade “wall” in that the terrain is dangerous to cross, and having a couple of CBP guys spend a few hours driving around in the desert with a box cutter is way cheaper than building an actual concrete wall.

          • beleester says:

            @CatCube: Deliberately destroying someone’s water supply in the middle of a desert is basically murder. It’s more deniable than shooting them, you can pretend that they just “accidentally” ran out of water mid-crossing, but you’re still deliberately taking an action that you know and intend will end with someone else’s death.

            If you’re going to take that stance, I’d rather you just shoot them, then at least you wouldn’t be able to lie about what your goal is.

          • cryptoshill says:

            CBP is in a tough spot there. If they allow “supply pipelines” to make the natural barrier *easier* to cross (given, the rough desert is the primary barrier here) – they are literally not doing their job. Do I hold you personally accountable for murder even though your actions probably caused the death of some third-worlder?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Do I hold you personally accountable for murder even though your actions probably caused the death of some third-worlder?

            Causality is weird, sure. Would you hold a man accountable for pulling trigger on a gun, which activates a mechanism, which sends a bullet through the air, which just happened to hit another person? There’s like, three steps of removal from the trigger-pulling.

            “Taking away a person’s water in the desert” seems right up there with “slashing holes in a liferaft”, or “barricading the doors of a burning building” in the of-course-its-murder-dont-be-pedantic category.

            CBP isn’t in any more of a “tough spot” than the guards at Auschwitz, caught between “following orders” and killing another person.

          • CatCube says:

            @beleester

            I don’t have any moral problems with shooting people that cross the border*. It’s just that you have to have people nearby to actually take the shot, which is expensive and time-consuming. Destroying supplies is far cheaper and will increase the difficulty of crossing.

            To make sure my stance is clear: the United States has an absolute right to defend its borders, and that includes the possibility of using lethal force. The form of lethal force is largely irrelevant, and should be based on tactical considerations.

            Now, I do oppose a policy change for the CBP to start erecting guard towers and shooting at illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border. However, my objections to that are entirely practical. Truly sealing the border will be a very land-, manpower-, and fiscally-expensive process. Look at the amount of land and obstacle effort required on the Inner German Border, then multiply that by at least 4. We haven’t even come close to the cheapest, easiest, more moral**, and more politically-palatable method of reducing illegal crossing, which is to jump up and down on employers by heavily fining them for employing illegal immigrants. Physically stopping people at the border is always going to be a rounding error compared to getting them to leave voluntarily by making them unemployable. However, if we can make it even more dangerous to cross by destroying supply points, that’s a cheap gimme we should be employing.

            Note, however, that if the CBP comes across a group of illegal immigrants in the desert they absolutely do have an obligation to give them water after arresting them, just as once a police officer has shot somebody they’re required to render medical attention after they’re no longer a threat.

            * To make sure I’m clear on this, because there’s discussion of vigilantism in other threads, I don’t support vigilante groups manning the border and shooting crossers. However, properly-sworn border guards are another matter.

            ** All things being equal, I’d like to eliminate illegal immigration through the use of non-lethal methods, but that we haven’t enacted literally every non-lethal methods doesn’t foreclose the use of cheap lethal methods like increasing the danger of natural obstacles.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Deliberately destroying someone’s water supply in the middle of a desert is basically murder. It’s more deniable than shooting them, you can pretend that they just “accidentally” ran out of water mid-crossing, but you’re still deliberately taking an action that you know and intend will end with someone else’s death.

            Well it’s a good thing that the fine upstanding coyotes who set up the depot had all their build permits in order so that the border patrol can call them up and inform them they closed it down. Since they have a rightful claim to the land they could even take the border patrol to court over it.

            And I’m sure those same nice responsible citizens would never bring their customers through a desert without regularly checking that their supply lines are intact and having a plan to account for a disaster.

          • bean says:

            How about the Border Patrol destroys the water and leaves a radio so that the unfortunates can call for pickup when they find the water destroyed?

          • Nick says:

            I’m with beleester here. I cannot believe we’re even having this discussion.

          • rlms says:

            Physically stopping people at the border is always going to be a rounding error compared to getting them to leave voluntarily by making them unemployable.

            Unfortunately the latter hurts the wallets of rich white people, whereas the former (at worst) merely kills poor brown people and so is considerably more feasible.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Physically stopping people at the border is always going to be a rounding error compared to getting them to leave voluntarily by making them unemployable.

            Unfortunately the latter hurts the wallets of rich white people, whereas the former (at worst) merely kills poor brown people and so is considerably more feasible.

            There’s no need to drag race into it. Plenty of poor white people would benefit from the rich having to actually play by the rules.

            But money is power so here we are.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We’ve heard a bunch in this thread about how hard it is to secure the border. What are the efforts to put the screws on employers that we should be doing that we aren’t?

            I hope I don’t get shitty answers like “obviously not enough because they continue to hire people” or applause lights.

            Is it just to require EVerify? Do we have anyone here arguing against that?

            (edit: I found this argument against EVerify https://www.cato.org/blog/serious-problems-e-verify but if you are suspicious that it’s the big businessmen stopping EVerify a Cato source won’t be very persuasive. Is it much harder to get EVerify-proof papers? I don’t want a national biometric database, but if “just use EVerify” is the fake stalking horse we could end up empowering the people who want to create it if we go towards EVerify and it doesn’t work )

            I’ve said before that I’d be fine with letting workers turn in their employers for some kind of amnesty, depending on how it’s designed and implemented.

          • CatCube says:

            @bean

            Yeah, I don’t see why that would be a problem. It uses the terrain to our advantage and keeps people from coming over. I’m not out to kill people who try to cross illegally, I’m just indifferent to it so long as the method of stopping them is effective.

            Just like the Russians have General Winter, we’ve got Border Patrol Officer Desert. Whatever lets him do his job.

            @rlms

            Oh, no argument that powerful economic actors will prevent any actual effective enforcement of the border. As a matter of fact, I think it’d be real interesting to do an immigration sweep through a Trump construction project and a Trump hotel and see what the results are. I’m not sure that the President’s hammering on a wall isn’t just a “Bread and Circuses” sop to his base by doing a mostly-ineffective yuge construction project that looks “good” on camera while not actually doing anything to change the facts on the ground.

            @Edward Scizorhands

            For the Cato article, the last reason they give (unintended expansion of the system) is the most compelling, and one I’d have to think on. Most of the rest are not terribly good.

            I’m especially underwhelmed (to the point of almost laughing) about how they say it won’t be “free”–no kidding. I’m OK with the government spending money on this. Securing the border is one of the things the federal government is supposed to do, and I don’t have any problems with spending money on well-founded programs. The costs they quote are also cheaper than the wall we’re currently talking about.

            For the lack of compliance they talk about: what are the consequences for lack of compliance for employers? My proposal is if they get caught with illegal immigrants as part of their workforce, they get fined (say) $30,000 per head for everybody they didn’t do E-verify on.

            I do tentatively like your proposal about encouraging the employees to blow the whistle. However, I’m not sold on amnesty (assuming you mean amnesty to stay in the US). I’d prefer to go with the whistleblower getting deported, but with a large bounty in cash. Possibly go with a 50/50 split on the fine–the whistleblower would get $15,000 per head. The downside, of course, is if the coyotes found out who was informing, they’re probably going to murder them. That would push towards your idea of amnesty, but that’s still somewhat of a problem even if they stay in the US.

          • Lambert says:

            On the ‘Workplace enforcement’ front, the critical question is: ‘How much money does the employer save by hiring illegally vs legally?’
            This is the threshold for the amount of money the gov’t has to fine or whatever per illegal immigrant.
            It also opens up the other prong: making legal work (whether from citizens or immigrants) cheaper to obtain.

            But I’m with CatCube on the Wall is a Circus front, so it’s really all a moot point politically.

          • Guy in TN says:

            And I’m sure those same nice responsible citizens would never bring their customers through a desert without regularly checking that their supply lines are intact and having a plan to account for a disaster.

            It’s like shooting someone, then claiming it was a suicide because they didn’t think to wear a bulletproof vest. Amazing.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            To be clear, I didn’t link that Cato article because I believed those arguments. I just hadn’t thought much about the negatives of EVerify and went looking for some. I don’t like the government getting in everyone’s business but EVerify doesn’t seem that much worse than “you submit your I-9 forms like you already do, but we honest-to-God check them in real time.” So your documents at least need to be based off of some legit stolen identity which seems to raise the bar.

            For “amnesty” I was thinking, in very rough terms, “we forgive your initial trespass and give you a two-year work visa.” Not necessarily give them citizenship (which people have used before when talking about “amnesty” so it’s my fault for using that term). Giving them a portion of the payout could work as an alternative. It’s the standard way the government catches people who are defrauding it, and you make conspiracies really unstable if multiple parties can flip at any time.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            I have been toying with the idea of passing a bill that says if you can prove you were in the country before day X you can stay forever but no citizenship. If you were <18 on day X (or prove you were in the country before you turned 18) you can be a citizen through the normal means. Figure out how much it would take to drop illegal immigration to <10 a day, and pay for it out of the military. Seems like something democrates couldn't complain to much about but I am not sure if republicans would be willing to give amensity in exchange for a "wall"

          • Matt M says:

            I think mandatory everify can be objected to from a libertarian stance quite easily in that the state has no business getting in the way of free and voluntary labor arrangements between consenting individuals.

            “Going after the employers” sounds to me very much like the government refusing to do one of the very few things it is specifically tasked with doing, and then seeking to blame it all on those dastardly capitalists.

            Let the state clean up its own mess. Greater interference into free trade is not the solution here.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t have any moral problems with shooting people that cross the border

            In case anyone was wondering what lawful evil looks like.

          • Matt M says:

            In case anyone was wondering what lawful evil looks like.

            How about strangling people who attempt to sell loose cigarettes without paying the proper task?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Matt M

            If they’d deliberately strangled him for not paying the cigarette tax, and this was policy, that would be lawful evil. Since they did it just because, as police, they could get away with it, I think it’s probably neutral evil.

          • Iain says:

            @Nick:

            I’m with beleester here. I cannot believe we’re even having this discussion.

            Yeah. It’s kind of depressing to see how willing people are to place effectively zero value on the lives of other human beings. Like, hey, maybe a marginal reduction in the number of illegal immigrants making it into the country doesn’t actually justify deliberately killing a bunch of desperate people. Or maybe I’m just a crazy leftist hippy.

          • CatCube says:

            @Brad

            Your lobbying for open borders is a perfect example of chaotic evil, if anybody needs an example.

            @Matt M

            1) That would be a lot more compelling if I was a libertarian.

            2) Stopping illegal immigration at the border is difficult bordering on impossible due to the size and terrain involved. Defense in depth is really the only way, and once you’re inside the country outside of a very narrow strip that puts you on notice that the CBP can arrest you using lethal force if necessary, “defense” must absolutely be a legal process.

            3) If the terminal goal is that illegal immigrants are free to contract with anybody once they make the 50-yard dash across the border, then why the hell bother to stop them? If doing the only effective thing to stop illegal immigration is intolerable, then stop trying to prevent it with huge, expensive, but useless infrastructure.

          • Brad says:

            The difference is you needed to dishonestly set up a strawman but all I had to do is quote exactly what you said.

          • CatCube says:

            @Iain

            It’s kind of depressing to see how willing people are to place effectively zero value on the lives of other human beings.

            I don’t place zero value on their lives. I just place less value on them than I do on other values. Here, that value is that the United States of America has the right and the obligation to its citizens to control entry to its territory by non-citizens. That is more important than the lives of people who want to enter illegally.

            Preventing somebody from coming across the border with lethal force is no more surprising or immoral than a prison guard shooting somebody climbing over the fence. Nor does it mean that the escaping prisoner’s life has “zero value”. If it did, then that would mean that the guards should just put all of their prisoners against a wall and shoot them, to save the cost of guarding and housing them. It just means that preventing them from freely moving over that fence is more important than their lives.

            Note, also, that if our prison guard shoots somebody who has surrendered, that is straight-up murder. To tie in with comments above, the purpose of the lethal force is to stop movement across the boundary (prison fence here, or national border in the larger discussion). If the movement has been stopped, continuing on to lethal force is not appropriate and should be punished.

          • CatCube says:

            @Brad

            The argument, of course, is if it was really a strawman. My characterization was intentionally very flip, of course (as was yours, by divorcing it from the context of the discussion). But you’re going to have to argue that it was wrong. As @Matt M was alluding to with his crack about loose cigarettes, if you pass a law you’re accepting that people are going to get killed for breaking it.

            If you draw a line on the southern border and tell people to defend it, some people who try to cross it are going to get killed. If you’re not willing to bite that bullet, then just admit you don’t want to stop people from crossing it. I agree that the deaths should be minimized, which is why I think the primary method of enforcement should be by reducing employment (along with the fact that primarily relying on border defense will be ineffective). However, I’m not willing to permit free movement, and I’m not going to pretend that people aren’t going to die because of that stance.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            If you draw a line on the southern border and tell people to defend it, some people who try to cross it are going to get killed. If you’re not willing to bite that bullet, then just admit you don’t want to stop people from crossing it.

            I don’t think it needs to be that black and white; you can be willing to accept one level of risk but not another. You’re also eliding any distinction between accidental deaths, having to kill in self-defense, and intentionally killing a presumed offender rather than risking them escaping.

            (Personally, I have no problem with border guards shooting back if they’re being shot at, and there’s no way of preventing every possible accident. But if it really comes down to a choice between letting someone get into the country illegally or deliberately killing them, for God’s sake just let them in.)

          • Brad says:

            for God’s sake just let them in.

            It’d be interesting to find out if there are any self professed Christians in the group that endorses murder over having strangers sojourn among us.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Brad, see also. 🙂

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Going to back to the “prosecute Trump and company” topic:- presumably all those you would want to prosecute would have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and there’s that whole “cruel and unusual” thing they’re pretty much outright ignoring. Granted that this would set a terrible precedent and is an all-round bad idea, are there any laws on the books regarding the breaking of said oaths?

          • Brad says:

            No, not really. It’s a political question, the remedy is impeachment and removal.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Brad, this was in the context of later on, after Trump is out of power. Or at least that’s how I was interpreting it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Harry Maurice Johnston

            Its true there’s not really any precedent in the U.S. for prosecuting high-level officials for things they have done while they are in power. This is to our detriment, as their autocratic power grows unchecked with each passing administration.

            For example, no one prosecuting the Bush admin for torture, or the Obama admin for killing U.S. civilians overseas. If you can do that, is there any limit on what you can do? If no one is willing to prosecute the Trump administration for their handling of immigrants, then god save us from what the next Republican president has in store…

          • pontifex says:

            I thought we were chaotic neutral here at SSC. Except for Scott, who is neutral good. Does anyone remember that long comment thread from a few OTs back where some anarcho-capitalists were trying to defend the idea of a “chaotic neutral” ancap state?

            Re: punishing employers of illegal immigrants. It seems like a fair (and possibly politically popular) punishment would be making them pay the illegal immigrants a full minimum wage salary (or possibly some multiple of that) for the work that they had done. If you do it right, the cases will come to you. And then illegal immigrants become something businesses won’t want.

            Of course, we also need to provide a usable infrastructure for identifying people.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            Someone was saying (not here, IIRC) that the main reason it wasn’t possible to implement a workable identification system in the US was that the evangelical Christians believed it would lead to the apocalypse, number of the beast and all that. I’m guessing that “main reason” is flat out wrong, but any thoughts on to what extent this is a factor?

          • Brad says:

            @CatCube

            The argument, of course, is if it was really a strawman.

            It was. Open borders means just that. Advocating no restricts whatsoever on who can come, live, and work in the United States. A return to the pre Chinese Exclusion Act status quo ante. Nowhere have I advocated for anything like that. On the contrary, I’ve argued on SSC for among other things making e-verify mandatory and eliminating the DV category.

            I’m not quite sure why this strawman is so attractive to those of you on the immigration restrictionist side. I’d guess because you want to set up a false dichotomy where not supporting your preferred policies (in most people’s cases the wall, in yours murder patrols) can only be compared to the most extreme possible alternative rather than to the many obviously superior options in the middle.

          • Matt M says:

            But if it really comes down to a choice between letting someone get into the country illegally or deliberately killing them, for God’s sake just let them in.

            Do you acknowledge the terrible incentive problem this creates?

            You end up with a situation where the de facto law is “closed borders for those willing to obey rules, open borders for anyone willing to resist enforcement to the extent that lethal force may be necessary.”

            Quite quickly, word gets out among the unwashed masses of the world that the way to ensure free entry into America is to credibly convince the border patrol that they’ll have to kill you in order to stop you.

            Do you not appreciate how untenable of a situation this becomes for enforcement authorities? Do you not understand how this will affect the mix of immigrants we receive?

          • bean says:

            But if it really comes down to a choice between letting someone get into the country illegally or deliberately killing them, for God’s sake just let them in.

            This logic frightens me, because you’ve just announced your willingness to be blackmailed. Somebody wants in? Do it in a way that looks dangerous enough and we’ll help you. How can I be sure it won’t escalate to the Border Patrol having to leave caches? Or taking the concertina wire off the fence, because somebody died in it? Installing a bridge over a section of river where lots of people drown? Ultimately, yes, I’m willing to kill someone over illegally crossing the border. Because the law has to escalate more than the other guy. Or it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

            For that matter, AIUI a lot of these are being placed by “do-gooders” on our side of the border. Your logic suggests that any government interference with them is tantamount to murder. If the border patrol comes across someone setting up a cache, can they morally arrest the people involved? (I’m not sure of the relevant law. Pretend we’re discussing making it illegal if you have to.) If the water is already deployed, do they have to leave it? Are they obligated to put it out themselves if they make the bust before it’s deployed?

            I suggested destroying the cache and leaving a radio. That seems to solve both sides of the problem. Everybody at least has the option of going back to Mexico alive instead of dying in the desert. Weirdly, CatCube is the only one who acknowledged it. Are you sure that safety is your only objection to this scheme?

          • bean says:

            It’d be interesting to find out if there are any self professed Christians in the group that endorses murder over having strangers sojourn among us.

            1. I have no objection at all to legal immigration, and think we could probably do with more of it. Please drop the stupid strawmen.

            2. Romans 13:2-3: “Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.”

          • BBA says:

            Romans 13:2-3: “Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.”

            Happy Fourth of July to you too.

          • Everyone in this thread seems to take it for granted that restrictions on immigration in general, and prevention of illegal immigration in particular, is obviously a good thing. That is not at all obvious to me.

            As Brad correctly pointed out, open borders would be “A return to the pre Chinese Exclusion Act status quo ante.” With regard to everyone except Asians, it was pretty much the situation until 1924, with a few exceptions such as restrictions on anarchists, disabled and diseased persons, and the like.

            Open borders with regard to New World immigrants would be a return to the legal situation pre-1965 (The Hart-Cellar Act, which for the first time set a quota on immigrants from the Western hemisphere, although there were occasional efforts a little earlier against undocumented immigrants from there).

            I don’t think many people would argue that the first century of open borders was a mistake, although there was certainly a good deal of anti-immigration sentiment at the time. I’m not sure that many would argue that unlimited immigration from Europe for the next 40+ years and from the western hemisphere for most of the next century was a mistake, although that seems to be something most people are unaware of.

            What has changed since then to create an almost unanimous opposition to open borders? I can only think of two obvious candidates.

            The first is the growth of the welfare state. In a laissez-faire system immigrants can be expected to be a net benefit to those already there, although they may be a cost to some subgroups. That seems consistent with past U.S. experience.

            In a society with a substantial amount of redistribution, on the other hand, there is at least the possibility that immigrants from poor countries will come to a rich country not to engage in productive work but to live off welfare, which provides a higher income than work in their country of origin. My impression is that that is part of what is happening now with African and Middle Eastern immigration to Europe, although the subject is so controversial that it’s hard to be sure.

            One obvious compromise, and the one I suggested forty-some years ago, is open immigration with new immigrants not qualified to receive welfare payments and the like–and, ideally, with their taxes reduced to make up for the tax-funded benefits they are not getting. That, plus a reasonably lengthy period to qualify for citizenship, would seem to eliminate the argument for restrictions based on redistribution.

            From this standpoint, poorly enforced immigration restrictions with lots of illegal immigrants looks like a possible second best, a way of achieving much of what I described de facto if not de jure, although it has a sizable downside due to attempts to enforce the restrictions.

            A second thing that arguably has changed is the lower cost of transportation, making it easier for people to come. That isn’t relevant to the case of immigration from Mexico or central America, which doesn’t require airplanes, is to some degree true for immigration from Europe and Asia. But 19th century technology included steamships, and water transport, although slower, is cheap, so I am not sure how large the difference really is.

            What remain, and what I suspect are the main motives for the current anti-immigration attitude, are the same arguments that fueled 19th century anti-immigration sentiment, hostility to people different from us coming here to change our society and steal our jobs.

          • johan_larson says:

            In a society with a substantial amount of redistribution, on the other hand, there is at least the possibility that immigrants from poor countries will come to a rich country not to engage in productive work but to live off welfare, which provides a higher income than work in their country of origin.

            Or, a step down from that, they are coming to do work, but can’t do work of high enough value. It seems pretty plausible that unskilled immigrants will despite their best efforts be less productive than the natives, because the natives are more highly trained and educated. That sort of thing becomes more and more important the higher the degree of welfare state the natives want to run. You just can’t afford Norway if your labor force is that of Guatemala.

            This scenario seems more likely to me than the notion that immigrants are coming to lie about on the dole. The stereotypical immigrant does not go on the dole; he works like a dog doing nasty work for peanuts.

          • Nick says:

            Happy Fourth of July to you too.

            I don’t know what you mean by that, since bean is of course right about the general principle. The state has a right and duty to use force, including lethal force and including to protect borders, and as a Christian I’m committed to that too. Where I perhaps differ is in how I think that force ought to be used. To respond directly to bean,

            This logic frightens me, because you’ve just announced your willingness to be blackmailed. Somebody wants in? Do it in a way that looks dangerous enough and we’ll help you. How can I be sure it won’t escalate to the Border Patrol having to leave caches? Or taking the concertina wire off the fence, because somebody died in it? Installing a bridge over a section of river where lots of people drown? Ultimately, yes, I’m willing to kill someone over illegally crossing the border. Because the law has to escalate more than the other guy. Or it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

            I don’t buy that it has to escalate more than the other guy. If someone is attacking you with lethal force, can you use lethal force back? Of course. But if someone is attacking you with nonlethal force, can you use lethal force? No. And sometimes you can’t escalate to the level of the other person; if someone else were shooting our children, it doesn’t mean we can shoot their children to stop them. Given that illegally crossing a border is not of itself such an escalation, I don’t see how lethal force is justified there.

            I’m concerned about incentives here too, but your argument is not the way forward. And for the record, I thought your solution to the water thing was not bad.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What remain, and what I suspect are the main motives for the current anti-immigration attitude, are the same arguments that fueled 19th century anti-immigration sentiment, hostility to people different from us coming here to change our society and steal our jobs.

            And what’s wrong with objection to people coming here to “change our society”? Suppose they were all basically totalitarians at heart and came here intending to institute a totalitarian state? Or democratic socialists, coming here to expand the welfare state enormously? Or Spanish-chauvinists, coming here to change the common language to Spanish? What’s wrong with objecting to people coming immigrating in order to change the country to something inimical to the incumbent citizens?

            This scenario seems more likely to me than the notion that immigrants are coming to lie about on the dole. The stereotypical immigrant does not go on the dole; he works like a dog doing nasty work for peanuts.

            Even if so, they bring and bear or father children. Who for at least a couple of decades, are going to be a net economic drain, thanks to all the programs for poor children.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Such a system would probably break down very quickly. Do parents of citizen children who don’t have citizenship themselves not get stuff? It’s gonna look terrible when one kid who’s a US citizen gets treated better than another because their parents can access xyz services and the other kid’s parents can’t. What about stuff that’s in the public-health interest? It’s gonna look bad when there’s an outbreak of some transmittable disease that started among people not covered by, say, low-income health care cost assistance.

            From my perspective, the US needs to unfuck its immigration system, in general. The current system is a confused mess that (if my brief Googling is correct) selects most immigrants on the basis of family reunification. It uses work visas for high-skilled workers who, as far as I know, in Canada would be straight-up immigrants. If there’s a need for low-wage seasonal workers in some fields, then there should be a seasonal worker visa system, not illegal immigration providing a pool of easily-abused labourers. It’s completely unclear what the US immigration system – how the legal system for selection of immigrants works, how illegal immigration is dealt with, etc – is meant to do, as far as I can tell – what’s the objective of the system?

          • Iain says:

            @bean:

            2. Romans 13:2-3: “Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.”

            This is a claim about what you should do when you are subject to the authority of another. It doesn’t address what the ruler should do.

            If you want to start citing individual verses, the pro-stranger side is going to have a lot more ammunition. The Bible is not subtle on this issue. If the constant drumbeat of “for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” doesn’t do it for you, take Matthew 25:31-46:

            Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me‘.

            PS: Romans 13 was historically a cornerstone of the “Biblical” case for slavery. In your shoes, I would be careful not to be too confident I was interpreting Romans correctly.

            Edit to add:

            @Nick:

            Happy Fourth of July to you too.

            I don’t know what you mean by that, since bean is of course right about the general principle.

            While it is true that rulers have both the right and the duty to enforce laws, and the ruled have the duty to obey legitimate authorities, it is at the very least a little bit ironic that bean was arguing that it’s wrong to rebel against authority on a day set aside for celebrating such a rebellion.

          • bean says:

            I don’t buy that it has to escalate more than the other guy. If someone is attacking you with lethal force, can you use lethal force back? Of course. But if someone is attacking you with nonlethal force, can you use lethal force? No. And sometimes you can’t escalate to the level of the other person; if someone else were shooting our children, it doesn’t mean we can shoot their children to stop them.

            I wasn’t advocating for that kind of unilateral escalation. But there isn’t a sharp line between lethal and non-lethal force, and some people will be killed even by supposedly non-lethal means.

            Example: A cop goes to pull someone over for speeding. The person ignores them and speeds up. They continue to ignore attempts to pull them over until the cop is forced to do the Pit maneuver. The resulting crash kills the person. This is an entirely predictable outcome of trying to stop people for speeding. A few will decide that a car chase sounds like fun, and a few of those will be killed in the attempt. There was never a concrete intent to kill any single person, but there was a conscious choice to escalate to potentially lethal methods, to enforce the rule that your best option when the cops try to pull you over is to cooperate instead of running away.

            Given that illegally crossing a border is not of itself such an escalation, I don’t see how lethal force is justified there.

            I think that the use of the term “lethal force” here is disingenuous. We are not talking about shooting everyone who we see crossing the border illegally. We’re talking about destroying the logistical support for illegal border crossings. This will result in deaths. So will not banning coal mining. But it’s not an action targeted at causing deaths. I do think there are things (leaving radios) we can and should do to reduce the death toll. But I also think that taking this to its logical conclusion means that we no longer can take action against someone trying to make crime less dangerous.

            @Iain

            I honestly can’t remember if you’re in favor of open borders or not. Brad, who I was replying to, isn’t, so he’s already ceded the basic premise that the government has some authority on who comes in or out.

            As for “sojourners in Egypt”, I’m not sure that follows. Should we treat immigrants/foreigners well? I believe the Bible absolutely teaches that. Abuse of illegal immigrant labor absolutely contradicts those verses. Do those verses equate to a case for Open Borders? I’m very not sure of that. The government acting under its delegated authority is different from me acting in my private capacity. And there’s Old Testament precedent that they didn’t have to let in absolutely everyone (see Throwing Off Invading Armies).

            And while I appreciate the irony of the timing of my making this case, I’m not going to not respond to something because this happened to be July 4th.

          • Nick says:

            While it is true that rulers have both the right and the duty to enforce laws, and the ruled have the duty to obey legitimate authorities, it is at the very least a little bit ironic that bean was arguing that it is wrong to rebel against authority on a day set aside for celebrating such a rebellion.

            Thank you, that embarrassingly sailed over my head.

          • Nick says:

            bean,

            I think that the use of the term “lethal force” here is disingenuous. We are not talking about shooting everyone who we see crossing the border illegally.

            You weren’t, but others in this thread were, and I wanted to separate myself from that position. I’m sorry if I made it sound like you were with them on that.

            We’re talking about destroying the logistical support for illegal border crossings. This will result in deaths. So will not banning coal mining. But it’s not an action targeted at causing deaths. I do think there are things (leaving radios) we can and should do to reduce the death toll. But I also think that taking this to its logical conclusion means that we no longer can take action against someone trying to make crime less dangerous.

            I agree that not being an action targeted at causing deaths matters, but that’s not enough to justify it. If we’re going to permit foreseeable deaths, the old double effect rules apply:

            1. that the action in itself from its very object be good or at least indifferent;
            2. that the good effect and not the evil effect be intended;
            3. that the good effect be not produced by means of the evil effect;
            4. that there be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect.

            I seriously doubt that just going around destroying water drops gets by this, and I took it from above that you agree: it’s leaving far too great a risk of deaths, and border security is not proportionately serious enough. I don’t even see it as sufficiently different from the “puncturing the rafts” example someone gave above: the only relevant difference is that that’s less direct, but the indirectness does nothing to affect the certainty of the outcome, so it’s just as wrong. Your leaving-the-radio solution is much better because it’s actually taking necessary and reasonable precautions to minimize chances of death.

            Use of the Pit maneuver is, as far as I can tell, in line with this analysis, though I think your justification is a little loose. Just glancing at wikipedia:

            Because of the police department’s potential liability for the injury or death of not only of the occupants of the target vehicle, but also bystanders, most departments limit its use to only the most high-risk scenarios. Most departments specify that the PIT should only be used to stop pursuits that are immediately dangerous and ongoing…. At speeds greater than 35 MPH, the technique still works, but it is considered potentially lethal and normally would only be used if lethal force is justified against all occupants.

            So correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like use of the Pit maneuver does require a proportionately grave reason and sufficiently low risk of death.

            If we can all agree—as I take it you already do, bean—that “by whatever means necessary” approaches are fracking terrible, the conversation would be much advanced.

          • Iain says:

            @bean:

            I honestly can’t remember if you’re in favor of open borders or not. Brad, who I was replying to, isn’t, so he’s already ceded the basic premise that the government has some authority on who comes in or out.

            I am not in favour of pure open borders. I agree that the government has legitimate authority over who enters the country. But I disagree with those people who claim that this authority justifies any and all extreme measures. (To be clear, I don’t think you are one of them.) If you want me to get specific, I’d say “shooting anybody who tries to cross the border” and “destroying caches of water and leaving people to die of thirst” are morally wrong. Building a giant wall is not morally wrong (just really dumb). Replacing water caches with radios is not morally wrong insofar as you trust the border patrol to arrive on time and not, for example, “forget” to charge the batteries on the radio. Nevertheless, I don’t think it would be worth the cost.

            I continue to think Matthew Yglesias’s bicycle analogy is relevant here. Bicycle theft is illegal, and the government has a legitimate interest in preventing it. Nevertheless, many people get away with it, and we do not dedicate infinite resources to eradicating it. This doesn’t mean we have an “open bicycles” policy; it’s just basic cost-benefit analysis.

            In a country that is already spending twice as much on ICE and CBP than it does on the FBI, where the rate of border apprehensions was down 82% in 2017 vs its peak in 2000, I think the onus is on the people pushing for stricter border control to explain why the marginal decrease in illegal immigrants would justify the marginal cost of keeping them out. Indeed, I think that any reasonable cost-benefit analysis would find that the American status quo spends way more money on immigration control than can be rationally justified.

            (I also suspect that the current panic about Hispanic immigrants will look, in retrospect, no better than the historical panic about the Irish.)

            As for “sojourners in Egypt”, I’m not sure that follows. Should we treat immigrants/foreigners well? I believe the Bible absolutely teaches that. Do those verses equate to a case for Open Borders? I’m not an OT scholar. I don’t know for certain how borders worked in those days. I do know that there wasn’t an obligation to accept absolutely anyone (fighting off invading armies was allowed), but I don’t know how that applies to our current situation.

            I’m no longer a believing Christian (although I remain, in many ways, a deeply Presbyterian atheist), and while I still have strong opinions about the correct way to interpret the Bible, I try not to get too pushy about them. That said, my preferred framework for thinking about this sort of thing is as follows. There are a lot of verses in the Bible making extreme demands on our generosity: “If you have two coats, give one to the man with none”; “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”; “what you do for the least of these…”

            Many of these, taken literally, are incompatible with a functioning society. (To borrow from your earlier post: nothing announces your willingness to be blackmailed like Matthew 5:39-40.) Nevertheless, they are not just present in the text, but repeatedly emphasized. To me, it makes the most sense to see them as aspirational goals. As much as possible, turn the other cheek. As much as possible, give your extra coat to the man with none. God does not ask that you turn yourself into an easily exploited punching bag, but he wants you to edge your way right up to that line. When you err, err on the side of loving your neighbour. (And on the side of an expansive definition of “neighbour”.)

            In the context of immigration, applying this approach to the verses about strangers would push for borders to be “as open as you can reasonably make them”. I don’t know where that line is, and I think there’s lots of room for honest disagreement, but I have a hard time believing that the line is stricter than the American status quo.

            My two (apostate) cents.

          • BBA says:

            It’s completely unclear what the US immigration system – how the legal system for selection of immigrants works, how illegal immigration is dealt with, etc – is meant to do, as far as I can tell – what’s the objective of the system?

            As I understand it, the 1965 Immigration Act was a compromise between progressives who wanted to end the national origin quotas and nativists who saw nothing wrong with them. The result was a facially neutral law that favored “family reunification” as a way of keeping the ethnic makeup of the citizenship more-or-less the same as it had been.

            Latin American countries (and Canada), which had never been subject to the pre-1965 quotas, were brought into the new system without much thought. As far as I can tell the focus of the immigration debate in the 1960s was still Southern and Eastern Europe.

            In the years since then, the geography of immigration changed dramatically, while the laws remained almost exactly the same. (The biggest change since 1965 is the “diversity lottery” introduced in 1990, apparently because we weren’t letting in enough Irish. It’s still a tiny fraction of legal immigration.) Somehow the nativists have gotten it into their heads that the 1965 law is what brought all the Mexicans in, when in fact it made legal immigration from Mexico much more difficult.

            Why haven’t we changed the laws? Because while the parties have gotten more uniform on other issues, they’re both deeply fragmented on immigration, and there’s no proposal that can get a majority in Congress. So we’ll carry on with the increasingly absurd 1965 system forever.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How many people here are open-borders other than Friedman? The open-border right might be better represented here than the left. It’s kinda disappointing to see people who I generally put in the same basket as myself (boring left-liberals or social democrats) get assumed to be open-borders.

            @bean
            Romans is best understood in the context of the author trying to show a community in Rome that the message isn’t sketchy. He’s going to say “yeah do what the authorities say” because “I’m respectable, ps overthrow your government” is a weak claim on respectability.

            It’s also unclear whether a lot of the injunctions from Jesus, Paul, etc were meant to be permanent injunctions, or short-term heavy-duty emergency injunctions. Someone who thinks (I accept the argument of the character of Jesus’ preaching to be basically apocalyptic) that the world is going to change in some radical way (not necessarily come to an end) soon is not going to be concerned about the behaviour of governments, given that they expect those governments to come to an end soon.

            This is like saying “you’ve only got another month in prison so behave yourself and you’ll be out soon” as a general injunction to behave one’s self in prison.

            EDIT: And Paul’s letters are all him dealing with some specific situation. Getting universal instructions from them is a bit like trying to conclude rules of effective business or command from a most-likely-incomplete selection of their emails or orders. You can sort of puzzle it out, but Paul’s instructions are all part of him trying to hold communities he’s associated with together, not lose them to competitors preaching different messages, etc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @BBA

            I’m semi-aware of the history. I should have been clearer – that is the problem, that a policy was sort of put together as a compromise rather than to serve some objective. Not that any other system is some beautiful perfect thing outside of history, but the US seems to do particularly badly for some of these things.

          • bean says:

            @Nick

            I seriously doubt that just going around destroying water drops gets by this, and I took it from above that you agree: it’s leaving far too great a risk of deaths, and border security is not proportionately serious enough. I don’t even see it as sufficiently different from the “puncturing the rafts” example someone gave above: the only relevant difference is that that’s less direct, but the indirectness does nothing to affect the certainty of the outcome, so it’s just as wrong.

            I have a couple of problems with this analysis. First, life rafts are emergency gear. Someone in them is out of the fight. This isn’t true of water caches, which are being used to aid and abet the activity. Second, it seems to quickly lead back to moral blackmail. If the caches are being placed by an organization of pro-new-undocumented-Americans citizens, can we take action against them? How is arresting someone trying to plant caches different from removing them after they’re planted? What if they leave it in a National Park? Or on someone else’s private property? Does the Border Patrol have to refill them when they get empty? Not doing that can also kill someone, although I suppose you could dodge that one under double effect. But what’s to stop them from trucking people out to drink them dry? In a weird way, I think that caches planted by coyotes as part of a deliberate plan have more moral weight than ones planted by do-gooders with no coordination with anyone actually crossing the border. Someone might actually be counting on the former. On the later, someone who takes off without sufficient water and hopes to hit a random cache is sort of bringing it upon themselves.

            @Iain

            I don’t really disagree with you about immigration in general, both as a Christian and from a practical perspective. I do think that attacking water sources is a reasonable option, because disallowing it leads to absurd conclusions.

          • It seems pretty plausible that unskilled immigrants will despite their best efforts be less productive than the natives, because the natives are more highly trained and educated.

            Many of them will. But the question is whether they will be below the level of the lowest paid not-on-welfare workers, which strikes me as unlikely for anyone in reasonable shape and willing to work hard. There are a lot of lawns to be mowed, houses to be cleaned, factories who can use a few low-skilled workers for low-skilled tasks, and the like.

            The problem gets harder if there are high minimum wage laws being enforced against them. Fifteen dollars an hour is about $45,000/year for someone willing to work a sixty hour week, which is surely well above the welfare level.

          • And what’s wrong with objection to people coming here to “change our society”?

            My point was not that the argument was obviously wrong but that it was the same argument used by opponents of immigration in the 19th century and that the historical evidence suggests it turned out to be wrong then.

            You can argue either that I am misreading the historical evidence, that we would have been better off with much less immigration over the history of the U.S., or that something important has changed. I offered some responses to the latter argument.

          • johan_larson says:

            But the question is whether they will be below the level of the lowest paid not-on-welfare workers, which strikes me as unlikely for anyone in reasonable shape and willing to work hard. There are a lot of lawns to be mowed, houses to be cleaned, factories who can use a few low-skilled workers for low-skilled tasks, and the like.

            I don’t think that’s quite right. The lowest-paid not-on-welfare workers are almost certainly getting more in benefits than they are contributing. The highly productive pay more than they get; the minimally productive pay less than they get.

            The question is whether the immigrants can contribute more than the benefits that accrue to them as members of the society. And that’s a higher bar.

          • Matt M says:

            How many people here are open-borders other than Friedman?

            I would support open borders in the context of an AnCap society.

            In other words, if we privatize all “public” property and guarantee the freedom of association, I’d be all in favor of open borders.

            But until we do that, nope, not interested.

          • John Schilling says:

            We haven’t even come close to the cheapest, easiest, more moral, and more politically-palatable method of reducing illegal crossing, which is to jump up and down on employers by heavily fining them for employing illegal immigrants.

            One of the biggest problems with this solution, aside from the bit where it looks like a basically venal “let’s punish the Other Tribe’s heartless money-grubbing capitalists rather than Our Tribe’s poor oppressed People of Color, is that it isn’t actually going to be the perfect solution that makes 100% of the illegal immigrants go away. Even 50% would be a stretch.

            Which means, the 50+% who remain will by necessity be working for the most unscrupulous employers, often explicitly criminal and/or black market, or be left unemployed as a pure drain on society. And, insofar as they are economically dependent on criminals, quite vulnerable to exploitation.

            Securing the border but turning a blind eye to what goes on within it, gives us a mix of failed immigrants who live in their home countries with approximately the same civil rights as everyone else, and “illegal” immigrants who are basically indistinguishable from other Americans including the bit where they are productive law-abiding citizens who might even wind up voting Republican.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Thing is, that “not interested in open borders with the status quo what it is” position covers a lot of ground. I’d suspect it’s the majority opinion among Democratic voters.

            People aren’t upset at what must be done to enforce immigration laws because they don’t like the laws, they dislike them because the things that would need to be done are often unpleasant and depending on your morality may be immoral. People haven’t necessarily thought everything through, because we (people) generally do not do that.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m not open-borders. I suspect a country can’t have all three of disproportionate wealth, a high-sharing society, and open borders.

            I think the US should implement the Australian/Canadian model of high but selective immigration, plus substantial border controls that aim first and foremost at catching and prosecuting the coyotes, a verification system that makes it very difficult to hold a legitimate job while unauthorized, and make a serious effort to deport perhaps 80% of the illegals who are already present.

          • CatCube says:

            @Brad

            I’m not quite sure why this strawman is so attractive to those of you on the immigration restrictionist side. I’d guess because you want to set up a false dichotomy where not supporting your preferred policies (in most people’s cases the wall, in yours murder patrols)

            Probably the same reason that you characterize what I said as advocating “murder patrols”–by carefully dodging any nuance, you get to assume your conclusions. Here, the argument is whether the use of any lethal force to guard the border is “murder”. It isn’t (I mean, morally. IIRC you’re a lawyer, so what current law says is more your wheelhouse than mine.) To clarify things, because at its base, “murder” is defined as “unlawful killing”, but has a secondary connotation as “immoral killing” (the sense I was using, but I’ll leave you to state which one you were using). I’ll use the term “immoral killing” here to remove the ambiguity.

            A) If the USG erects a double fenceline, erects guard towers on the near side, and the guards challenge somebody between the fences who doesn’t stop and escalates to shooting them coming over the near fence: not immoral killing. (Though as I said above, the land, construction, and manning requirements would be so immense that I don’t support this as a solution–but the crucial distinction here is it’s not immoral, just a stupid use of money same as the wall.)

            B) If they erect the fenceline as above, but when challenged the intruders halt and put their hands up. The guard shoots anyway: immoral killing.

            C) The fenceline exists as above, but the guard sees somebody well behind it that he suspects came across. He tells them to halt, and when they run he shoots them: immoral killing (Once you’re outside a very well-defined control zone it’s a police matter at that point. Roll patrols there to arrest them.)

            D) The guards don’t erect a fence, because the desert terrain means that crossing that particular section is already perilous. However, they come across a supply point to enable people to breach the border at that point. They destroy it, and at some point in the future people attempting to cross assuming its there die: not immoral killing. If they’re allowed to actively shoot people crossing, passively increasing the chances of failure isn’t immoral either.* (As an aside, I think that the people who leave the water there are acting immorally here.)

            Now, as a practical matter I think @bean’s proposal to leave a radio is something that should be done, but its crucial to understand that this will reduce the possibility of people dying but not eliminate it. You can’t guarantee that the radio will work months later after being in the desert, if that ends up being how long until somebody comes trying to use that supply point. There’s certainly no obligation to set a watch on that point, and creating one would enable malefactors to spam a bunch of supply points to stretch the Border Patrol beyond their limits. 5 gallon jugs of water are way cheaper than two-man teams sitting in an observation post 24/7.

            E) Just to be complete, the Border Patrol destroys a supply point as in (D), but a patrol happens on the people who were counting on that point while they’re still alive. The patrol waves to them and drives on: immoral killing. They’re no longer trying to breach the border at that point, so killing them is wrong.

            @John Schilling

            I’m not really sure what you’re saying, since the capitalists in this scenario are My Tribe, as we usually use the term here. However, just like why I didn’t vote for Trump, just because something is better for somebody who’s nominally on my side doesn’t require me to support it. The benefit to them from dodging around immigration laws isn’t sufficient reason for me to give them what they want on this issue.

            Anyway, I’d be thrilled with a 50% reduction. It’s way more than you’d get from border patrolling solutions.

            * Note that this was what kicked this whole thing off, because when I said that the Border Patrol should be doing this, @beleester said that it would be more honest to just shoot them and at least then you can’t deny what you’re doing. My response was basically that I’m not interested in denying that, just not doing it because (A) takes a lot of money and effort and (D) takes almost none.

          • Nick says:

            First, life rafts are emergency gear. Someone in them is out of the fight. This isn’t true of water caches, which are being used to aid and abet the activity.

            I had in mind rafts used to cross from Cuba to America or to cross the Mediterranean, not rafts from shipwrecks. But I’d say they’re more similar than you think, since the water caches are being used as a necessary element for crossing the border area.

            Second, it seems to quickly lead back to moral blackmail. If the caches are being placed by an organization of pro-new-undocumented-Americans citizens, can we take action against them? How is arresting someone trying to plant caches different from removing them after they’re planted? What if they leave it in a National Park? Or on someone else’s private property? Does the Border Patrol have to refill them when they get empty? Not doing that can also kill someone, although I suppose you could dodge that one under double effect. But what’s to stop them from trucking people out to drink them dry? In a weird way, I think that caches planted by coyotes as part of a deliberate plan have more moral weight than ones planted by do-gooders with no coordination with anyone actually crossing the border. Someone might actually be counting on the former. On the later, someone who takes off without sufficient water and hopes to hit a random cache is sort of bringing it upon themselves.

            I agree about prioritizing caches planted by American charity organizations and stuff. Make it a matter of policy that these caches will be targeted and destroyed by border patrol and ban organizations from setting these up, because, once they are known to be there, there’s a risk folks will start depending on them—and as I said, I think destroying it and leaving a radio is fine. I doubt anything can be done about planting them on private property, and I’m not sure about the case of a national park—is there some special jurisdictional issue with border patrol entering those? Geez, don’t tell me rangers are setting up sanctuary parks—but would this ever be more than a fraction of cases? I’m not sure what you mean by “trucking people out to drink them dry.”

          • bean says:

            I had in mind rafts used to cross from Cuba to America or to cross the Mediterranean, not rafts from shipwrecks. But I’d say they’re more similar than you think, since the water caches are being used as a necessary element for crossing the border area.

            The key difference with those is that you’ll figure out they’re slashed when you’re still on the other shore. I’d have absolutely no problem sabotaging a bunch of rafts that I expected to be used to try to cross the Med, so long as I was certain they wouldn’t find their way aboard a boat to be used in an emergency.

            I doubt anything can be done about planting them on private property,

            Say I’m a rancher. Someone sneaks onto my land, and plants a cache. Can I remove it? Do I have to leave a radio? I agree we can’t do anything about people doing it on their own land, but I’m trying to expose what I see as the absurdity of making us leave them alone/give them special status, as it interacts weirdly with other laws.

            and I’m not sure about the case of a national park—is there some special jurisdictional issue with border patrol entering those? Geez, don’t tell me rangers are setting up sanctuary parks—but would this ever be more than a fraction of cases?

            Not what I was thinking at all. This is tied into the previous one. If it’s immoral to remove them as “slashing life rafts”, what about ones we’d remove for reasons not having to do with border enforcement? You aren’t allowed to leave stuff in a National Park, period. So can the rangers take it out under those rules, or do they have to leave it because it’s a water cache?

            I’m not sure what you mean by “trucking people out to drink them dry.”

            Tell the border patrol agents. “Hey, if you can, use the caches to provide your water. Oh, and we’re sorry, but we had to drain the emergency supply in your truck, and haven’t gotten around to filling it up again.”

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            @Matt M,

            Do you acknowledge the terrible incentive problem this creates?

            Well, perhaps I’m missing something. What specifically do you anticipate people doing as a result of such a policy that they aren’t doing already?

            @bean,

            I don’t see any willingness to be blackmailed either. If someone has tried to swim over a river and is drowning, I’d want them to be rescued (if possible) rather than shot at; but that doesn’t mean they get to stay in the country afterwards. I don’t want the water caches destroyed, though you can go ahead and keep them under surveillance. (I wasn’t aware that any of these were being placed at random by people not directly connected with the smugglers; that does complicate things somewhat.)

            I see no reason why you would imagine any obligation to remove the concertina wiring or to build bridges. Not the same thing at all, IMO.

          • Matt M says:

            Well, perhaps I’m missing something. What specifically do you anticipate people doing as a result of such a policy that they aren’t doing already?

            I suspect an increase not only in attempted crossings, but an increase in the amount of force and violence used in attempts to resist apprehension by border control agents.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            I have no objection at all to legal immigration, and think we could probably do with more of it.

            Shouldn’t that come first? I mean, presumably the main reason so many people are choosing to immigrate illegally, despite the costs and risks involved, is that they correctly judge that they have basically no chance of getting in any other way.

            If that changed, such that most of people choosing to immigrate illegally are those you actually have a sound reason to keep out, the “prison guard” analogy suddenly becomes a lot more compelling.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            I suspect an increase not only in attempted crossings, but an increase in the amount of force and violence used in attempts to resist apprehension by border control agents.

            I did say I had no problem with the agents using lethal force to defend themselves. This isn’t at all the sort of situation I was talking about.

          • Brad says:

            @Iain

            In a country that is already spending twice as much on ICE and CBP than it does on the FBI, where the rate of border apprehensions was down 82% in 2017 vs its peak in 2000, I think the onus is on the people pushing for stricter border control to explain why the marginal decrease in illegal immigrants would justify the marginal cost of keeping them out. Indeed, I think that any reasonable cost-benefit analysis would find that the American status quo spends way more money on immigration control than can be rationally justified.

            Exactly. There aren’t any kinds of numbers to justify the moral panic.

            @CatCube

            A) If the USG erects a double fenceline, erects guard towers on the near side, and the guards challenge somebody between the fences who doesn’t stop and escalates to shooting them coming over the near fence: not immoral killing. (Though as I said above, the land, construction, and manning requirements would be so immense that I don’t support this as a solution–but the crucial distinction here is it’s not immoral, just a stupid use of money same as the wall.)

            If you shoot people because it’s cheaper and more convenient than arresting them, I’d say that’s pretty damn immoral.

            I also reject the analogy to prison guards. Escaped prisoners are assumed to be dangerous. Perhaps not every last one is, but it is a decent enough guess. I have no reason to think that most people entering without inspection are especially dangerous.

          • engleberg says:

            @David Friedman- What has changed since (a hundred twenty years ago) to create an almost unanimous opposition to open borders?-

            A half-century bipartisan agreement to maintain a semi-legal helot class of illegal immigrants to hold down wages. R party donors get to pay less wages, D party activists get to make crimethink accusations to preach down the hearts of sinful workers who don’t like lower wages: the stupid party and the crooked party get a bipartisan agreement for something too stupid and crooked for either to get by themselves.

          • yodelyak says:

            @John Schilling

            Securing the border but turning a blind eye to what goes on within it, gives us a mix of failed immigrants who live in their home countries with approximately the same civil rights as everyone else, and “illegal” immigrants who are basically indistinguishable from other Americans including the bit where they are productive law-abiding citizens who might even wind up voting Republican.

            I have heard and made arguments about punishing employers so many times, and never heard this argument you make, or anything like it ever. Huh. Sheesh I need more friends who know how to argue.

            Edited to add: It seems to me this shouldn’t have felt like a novel, unexpected argument. Maybe I’m persuaded to rethink through my thoughts on immigration policy.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It’s like shooting someone, then claiming it was a suicide because they didn’t think to wear a bulletproof vest. Amazing.

            No, it’s confiscating someone’s illegally-possessed bulletproof vest and then being blamed when a criminal shoots them

          • IrishDude says:

            There’s a few comments in this thread referencing the right of the rulers to rule and the duty of the ruled to obey. With respect to state agents, it’s not clear they have the right to rule or that citizens have a duty to obey, and arguments that support political authority don’t stand up to scrutiny.

            I’ll add my voice in as another proponent of open borders, for both moral and economic reasons. Given the existence of the state, I’m supportive of keyhole solutions that would restrict welfare and voting rights for immigrants.

          • Guy in TN says:

            No, it’s confiscating someone’s illegally-possessed bulletproof vest and then being blamed when a criminal shoots them

            Nope. The difference is, they have set out the water as a necessary part of their survival. They aren’t setting our the water “in case they end up thirsty in a desert”. They set out the water, because they are going to the desert. It’s not a fall-back contingency, it is a necessary part of the plan. And the people destroying the water know it is necessary.

            Disabling a sprinkler system isn’t murder. Setting someones house on fire and barricading the exits is. Do you get it?

            Back to bulletproof vests. If I said “I am going to need this bullet proof vest. I am going to wear it while I get shot as part of a stunt for a film.” here we have the two factors, just like with the water: the necessity and the certainty. So, if you switch the bullet proof vest out for a fake, that would be murder, to any reasonable outside observer.

            I appreciate the straightforwardness of the posters who say “its not murder because I think immigration is immoral, and killing someone to stop an immoral act as a last resort is not bad”. I do wonder, however, what their response would be if I said that I thought that preventing immigration was immoral, and in order to keep border security and ICE from doing these immoral things, as a last resort…well, you get the idea.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Back to bulletproof vests. If I said “I am going to need this bullet proof vest. I am going to wear it while I get shot as part of a stunt for a film.” here we have the two factors, just like with the water: the necessity and the certainty. So, if you switch the bullet proof vest out for a fake, that would be murder, to any reasonable outside observer.

            No, it’s more like “I am going to need this bulletproof vest, I am going to get shot while robbing a bank”. The is no obligation to tolerate illegal acts on the grounds that they make other illegal activity more survivable.

            More importantly, there is some amount of blame that can be assigned to the Border Patrol dumping the water. But the primary responsibility for any deaths ultimately lies with the coyotes. It takes a special sort of stupid to get shot at for realsies with a vest as your only mitigating factor, and on top of that to not bother to inspect the damn thing beforehand.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Are you guys are having the debate about whether the bulletproof vest is for robbing-a-bank versus doing-a-stunt-in-a-movie because you disagree about the legality of crossing the border in the first place?

          • Guy in TN says:

            Are you guys are having the debate about whether the bulletproof vest is for robbing-a-bank versus doing-a-stunt-in-a-movie because you disagree about the legality of crossing the border in the first place?

            I didn’t think that was the angle he was going for, initially.

            @Gobbobobble

            The is no obligation to tolerate illegal acts on the grounds that they make other illegal activity more survivable.

            So you would say then, that Stalin deserves no blame for the people he killed in the USSR? I assume most of them were violating some sort of law. And since “law violators = culpable”, and “law enforcers = blameless”, we can conclude that the dead essentially chose their own fate? [edit: I acknowledge that you said that some responsibility lies with the law enforcers, but maintain that the primary responsibility is on the law-breakers]

          • Guy in TN says:

            The legality vs. illegality of immigration plays no role in my judgement. Law can be terrible and immoral. See: slavery, the Holocaust. That argument is such a dead end, I didn’t think it was seriously being deployed.

          • J Mann says:

            @Guy in TN – I disagree that legality is a dead end. I won’t argue if you don’t find it personally convincing, but:

            1) Our legal immigration quote represents some kind of rough legislative compromise among the citizens of the country through their legislators. You can argue that the compromise was de facto “X legal immigrants plus a variable number of illegal immigrants Y to account for the fact that you can’t practicably prevent all illegal immigration,” but some of the country thought we had an agreement to get Y as low as possible, and or an interest in getting it low.

            2) More importantly, IMHO, the wider we allow the door for illegal immigrants, the more unfair it is to legal immigrants sitting on wait lists, and the less control we have over who we allow into the country.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the very concept of border control becomes primarily identified with, A: a yuge ineffectual wall that everyone understands is just a symbol of Trump’s ego and his supporters’ insecurities and, B: a bunch of people talking about how it’s perfectly cool for them to gun down immigrants, then we’re going de facto open borders and that’s the end of the story.

            That wouldn’t be my first choice, but I can live with it.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @J Mann

            We’re bouncing around a bit here. Initially, we were on the meta-level causality question, of “does destroying water in a desert make you responsible for that person’s death”. It should be easy to answer that question without getting into the specifics of what a person thinks of immigration law. The question of causality, whether your action results in something happening, is entirely separate from the normative questions of whether any of this is good or bad.

            On the object-level, it’s a little late in the thread for me to make a robust case for why I support illegal immigration. But the run down is:
            1. Diminishing marginal utility of money; immigration transfers wages from the wealthier to the poorer (average Mexican in Mexico makes ~$10,000 a year)
            2. It is good for people to escape gangs and corrupt governments
            3. It erodes U.S. nationalism. Lots of reason why this a good thing, makes war more difficult, diminishes the ability of whites to position themselves a the “true Americans” to the exclusion of others
            4. Our current enforcement apparatus involves building concentration camps, separating children from parents, and building an environmentally-destructive border wall. Even if I thought the immigration was bad (say, if they were Nazi-immigrants), the cure is worse than the disease.
            5. This enforcement is also turned against U.S. citizens. Mandatory checkpoints dotted across U.S. highways, surveillance, getting thrown in jail until you can “prove your citizenship”. An excuse for the police to continue to expand their powers. [I recognize that this and #4 are arguments for supporting legalized immigration, rather than illegal immigration per se]
            6. Mexicans have better voting habits than the average U.S. citizen. This is evidence of better moral character. I make no apologies for supporting people who make America a better place.

            In regards to your primary objections:
            1. Re: democratic compromise. I am sympathetic, at least, to the argument from democracy. “This is what the people wanted” is normally pretty strong. In this case though, since illegal immigrants can’t vote, and this issue is directly about their status, it undermines the extent to which the people collectively chose the system we have. Also, the people of Mexico who want to immigrate to the U.S. can’t vote in U.S elections. It’s like saying “well, at least slavery in Mississippi is democratic”. Even with the dubious assumption that democratic is always good, the argument is incorrect on the merits! [Edit: I know you said the citizens chose it, not the people in general. But I don’t understand that argument. “But it’s what [x subset] of the population chose!” Is even less persuasive than the argument from democracy.]

            2. Re:Unfairness to those who played by the rules. Were slaves who ran away unfair to those who legally achieved their emancipation? I’m interested in making the world better for anyone that I can, not spreading human misery out even.

            3. Re: ability to choose who we let in. It’s true, that by dismantling our immigration enforcement apparatus, we are undermining our ability to enforce immigration if we ever decided it would be a good thing to do. That’s a loss I’m willing to write off. The current system is so bad, and the leadership of both parties so untrustworthy to make sound moral judgements, that we are better off taking away their ability to enforce immigration at all. It’s like an alcoholic saying he needs wine to reduce his heart disease- tough luck, for you! If you had used the power you had responsibly, we wouldn’t have to do this.

          • disposablecat says:

            @Guy in TN:

            Mexicans have better voting habits than the average U.S. citizen. This is evidence of better moral character.

            I’m extremely confused by this statement – it seems like a very broad generalization and I’m not familiar with any facts on which you might be basing it.

            Do you mean “better voting habits” in terms of “they tend to vote for my tribe’s interests/concerns”, or in terms of higher turnout, or what?

          • J Mann says:

            @Guy in TN – Thanks!

            1) Super-meta: Yes, it’s tough to keep track of discussions this far down. Sorry for responding to the last thing I saw if it was unclear or a derail, but thanks for your clear response.

            2) I agree with you about destroying water. IMHO, the best argument in favor of the Trump mandatory arrest policy is that it will hopefully discourage people from going through the desert.

            3) I understand your point, but you can probably understand why some people don’t like your policy of trying to erode their vote against their will. You may be right that it’s an accident of history that they get to vote about US policy and Guatemalans don’t, but that’s not much consolation to them. I like localized democracy because it’s an orderly process.

            4) I’m also skeptical that open borders is as positive or harmless as proponents suggest. On a prudential basis, I’d rather someone else try open borders for a few decades so I can see how it turns out.

            5) I’m much more likely to be convinced by arguing that the illegal immigrant inflow is better addressed in other ways, or that the costs of specific policies aren’t worth their benefits.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @disposablecat

            Do you mean “better voting habits” in terms of “they tend to vote for my tribe’s interests/concerns”, or in terms of higher turnout, or what?

            I mean they vote Dem, which results in better legislative outcomes from a utilitarian perspective. I’m not interested in maintaining a false equivalency both-sides-ism.

            I can understand how this is distressing to the 24% of Americans who identifies as a Republican. But its a plus for the 31% who identify as Democrat, so I see no harm in saying it openly.

          • disposablecat says:

            Thanks for confirming – that’s the only way I thought you could possibly have meant it, but I wanted to try to be charitable and see if you meant turnout or something.

            You see, that, right there, is the sort of naked “My Tribe ™ is on the Moral Right Side Of History and the Other Tribe ™ are dinosaurs who don’t realize they’re obsolete yet” rhetoric that I come to the SSC comments section to avoid, and when you state that to be your position so honestly it lowers my prior that your future comments are based on anything other than your dismissal of people across the aisle from you as having opinions worth considering.

            (For the record, I identify as neither D nor R, being as I am a gay man in an extremely rural area who nonetheless fits in culturally here – and while I am opposite you on the immigration issue, I am sure there are other areas of policy on which we would substantively agree, which is a relativism that I try to keep in mind when my interlocutor is of the “other tribe” on the issue we’re talking about.)

          • Randy M says:

            I see no harm in saying it openly.

            It’s quite appreciated, in case anyone says “claiming left-wingers want to demographically replace natives in order to gain political power is a strawman.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Guy in TN

            It erodes U.S. nationalism…makes war more difficult…

            Not really relevant to the topic at hand, but I want to question this, because both assumptions here seem a bit flimsy.

            1. Does illegal immigration, or immigration in general, dilute US nationalism? Back when it was Anglos-vs-everyone-else, did immigration of continental Europeans weaken US nationalism?

            2. Is there any predictable relation between US nationalism (I don’t know exactly how you’d measure that, but opinion polls presumably could give clues) and US warmaking habits, or % of American population that is in the country illegally and US warmaking habits? Are the descendants of illegal immigrants, or more recent immigrants, considerably less nationalistic than the US norm? The US is probably less nationalistic from the mid-to-late 20th to the early 21st century than it was from the mid-to-late 19th to the early 20th – at the very least, US aggression against other countries has to be phrased a lot more politely (there’s nothing as blunt as manifest destiny). Has the US been less involved militarily worldwide now than then?

            I think that the nature of the US as a global power with interests all over the world is primarily behind warmaking; if the US was more nationalistic but more isolationist, it would be making war less than it is now.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            What political side doesn’t want more of people who vote for them, and fewer of people who vote against them? Note also that in countries where the major parties are equally good at appealing to immigrants, this doesn’t happen…

          • 10240 says:

            A note on votes: It’s not only a question of which party they vote for, but also what policies the parties adopt to gain their votes.

          • Randy M says:

            What political side doesn’t want more of [the] people who vote for them, and fewer of [the] people who vote against them?

            Ones that claim to represent the interests of their citizen constituents, I suppose.

            I guess I am bad at modeling left-wingers! I would have thought that you would disclaim the view that it is ethical to encourage immigration in such numbers and from such groups that policies that current citizens dislike are able to be implemented over their opposition in lieu of actual persuasion. Compared to that, being for open borders is merely naive or altruistic.

            I suppose that’s the nature of being progressive versus conservative. If you are progressive, that is, you think the culture and policies need to change in general, you are going to favor outsiders different more different from the nation, whereas if you generally like the way things are, you want people who fit in with the culture as it currently is.

            edit: Although I recall that GWB or conservatives at that time argued for immigration or amnesty on the basis of Hispanics being generally more conservative, so I guess I need to admit there is some of that on both sides, even if one side seems to be wishcasting.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            An idle musing to followup dndnrsn re: nationalism:
            I wonder, are Hispanic Americans (legal or otherwise) more or less likely to support the US mounting up again to go (help) deal with Mexico’s cartels?

          • albatross11 says:

            What is the moral difference between:

            a. Welcoming mass immigration into your country because you think the new immigrants will help your side win its political battles?

            b. Welcoming an actual military invasion into your country because you think the invaders will impose policies more to your liking than you can get under the current political system?

            If Alice supports intentionally weakening border enforcement and immigration laws to achieve (a), and Bob supports intentionally weakening military budgets and restricting defensive preparations for war to achieve (b), how do we decide which of them is behaving properly?

          • albatross11 says:

            Gobbobobble:

            My unscientific impression is that hispanics in the US very quickly start thinking of themselves as Americans, except maybe when we’re playing Mexico in the World Cup or something. And their grandkids will completely identify as Americans.

          • albatross11 says:

            Guy in TN:

            You have crossed the Poe’s Law horizon.

          • Randy M says:

            What is the moral difference between: Welcoming mass immigration… [vs] Welcoming an actual military invasion

            The people and property that are destroyed in the case of a military conquest.

            A better comparison for encouraging violating the law to effect political change would be to encourage faithless electors in the electoral college or something similar.