THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 105.75

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795 Responses to Open Thread 105.75

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    People who think it proves corruption of the system that no bankers were put in jail after the economic crash: did bankers break specific laws? Is there a good discussion of which ones somewhere? Are those laws usually enforced?

    • Randy M says:

      This was discussed a few threads back, iirc.
      Yes, here
      Not to be confused with the discussion of the Culture novels a few posts above.
      Good answers for particular misdeads: Robosigning, foreclosure fraud; possibly look into the book “Chain of Title” for more. But “negligence is rare in white color law”, sayeth Brad.

      • J Mann says:

        I think I said this there too, but IMHO, robosigning was a real issue that had very little to do with the crash.

        If you put bankers, or anyone, through a Ken Starr style examination, the odd are good that you will have found something you can punish them for – I would think you would want to find that the crash itself was the result of wrongful conduct.

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t believe “was responsible for the crash” is entirely necessary to be relevant to Scott’s question. If the increased scrutiny caused by the financial crisis revealed misdeeds unrelated to the ensuing recession, but those were not punished, that may be evidence of corruption unless those misdeeds really do cause no harm, which is a different argument.

          • J Mann says:

            That’s a fair point – do you think there were underprosecuted crimes discovered as a result of the crash?

            I would say that if people’s instinct is “there was a crash; keep investigating until you find a crime,” that’s a little closer to the old Chinese solution of just shooting a couple bankers.

      • Eric Rall says:

        For robosigning at least, there were prosecutions. Out of the five companies that lost civil claims over robosigning, there were two companies where executives were prosecuted over their involvement. One resulted in a conviction and a five-year prison sentence, and the other was dismissed over prosecutorial misconduct. I don’t know why there were no criminal prosecutions at the other three companies.

    • SamChevre says:

      Certainly, some bankers broke some specific laws. However, the overall problem wasn’t caused by the law-breaking–“when the tide goes out you can see who was swimming naked, but that’s not WHY the tide went out.”

      Most lawbreaking was post-crash, and was extremely technical “3 felonies a day” stuff like “did you assign any Montana titles to a company without a Montana registration.”

      The complication is the US title system: the official title and liens are on paper, at the county courthouse, in date order. The actual system banks use is electronic, and lets you (for example) assign your right to collect payments to someone else. Most of the robosigning is related to these assignments–does the person who has the right to collect the money, and is trying to foreclose, have the documents showing that they can foreclose on behalf of the lienholder. (Obviously, by the time you are trying to foreclose, there’s already a problem.)

      The best reference on the mortgage system–not the “was there fraud” question, but the “how does this work” question, is Tanta’s old posts, particularly the Ubernerd posts..

      My single favorite Tanta post, though, is “Information is Power, which is why you don’t get any.”

      My point is that there is, in fact, no party to any transaction—borrowers, lenders, investors, regulators, those menacing sorts who squeegee your windshield at busy city intersections, my Aunt Harriet’s cats—for whom this definition is more useful than an acid flashback. If you do not already know something, it either doesn’t tell you enough or tells you the wrong thing. If you already know something, it doesn’t exactly advance you toward the goalposts. It’s a classic example of a statement that is literally true and perfectly worthless.

      (Tanta was a mortgage banker and blogger, who died in 2008.)

      • SamChevre says:

        I also like DSquared’s posts on the topic, especially When Bad Things Happen to Good People Because of Bad Things Done by Good People and Those Stupid Bankers.

        What it shows is that a combination of the best will in the world, the most cautious and conservative funding structure and an utterly exemplary set of lending practices, will still leave you writing a whole lot of crap and causing huge amounts of suffering if there is a once in a lifetime asset price bubble going on. As I believe I have said both here and on my own blog, big macroeconomic problems like the US housing bubble and recession have macroeconomic causes, not microeconomic ones. And that’s an end to it.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        the official title and liens are on paper, at the county courthouse, in date order. The actual system banks use is electronic

        Instead of “actual”, a more accurate word here is “fake”.

        Suppose I was to offer a service that kept in cold safe storage valuable old comic books. But instead of actually keeping them in a safe, I instead I “improved industry processes” by photographing them, and then shredding them, and then when one of my customers tried to get their stuff back, I gave them a xerographic print of the scans. I think my customer would be right to be upset. “Fraud” is exactly the right word for this.

        • SamChevre says:

          I disagree.

          The actual title–the one that gets updated if the property is sold–is on paper, at the courthouse, just like it always was. The only thing that is kept electronically is the agreement by Bank A that Bank B can collect payments/foreclose on its behalf.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            The difference, if any, between “selling the property” and “selling the rights to who can collect payments / foreclose on someone’s behalf” is hyperfine hairsplit that I am unwilling to support.

            To invoke a different but very similar financial activity, I am forbidden to buy or sell stock in my employer during the trading lockout windows. If I try to weasel with a “I didn’t sell any stock, per se, I instead sold the right to collect the profit or suffer the loss if the price changes”, that doesn’t even merit a laugh. I still get fined into bankruptcy and fired.

            A significant reason why the banks wanted to split that hair is because every time a “sale” entry gets added to the official registered deed, either the seller or the buyer has to pay some tax to the local muni, and the banks didn’t want to pay it.

            Yet another fraud on the fraud.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            The banks were not shredding the titles. They were shredding the notes. The note with the wet ink signatures and the notary’s seal. Remember that? The embodiment of the mortgage, until the laws got changed after the fact.

            People who think “show me the note” was an unnecessary and archaic ritual are the in the same class in my mind as the people who think “habius corpus” is an annoying and archaic pointless ritual preventing the operation of a smoothly running criminal justice system.

            I’m a notary. I have zero mercy toward people who commit notary fraud, or their supervisors, or their executives, especially ones who carefully cultivate plausible deniability about it. And I am not a big fan of anyone who excuses it with any variant of “well, lots of people were doing it.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Mark Atwood

            Sure, because you’re not allowed to sell derivatives with the trading window closed either. That doesn’t mean selling derivatives isn’t different from selling stock.

        • marshwiggle says:

          It sounds like the banks etc were doing something somewhere in the illegal fraud category, but I’ve got a question:

          Did laws and or procedures need to be updated to find a legal way to easily sell mortgage back securities and so on, and banks were breaking the law because there was no easy way to obey it? (Not that this would excuse the lawbreaking, they could have asked for legislation to update the rules) Or was this pure fraud, pretty much only bad reasons for the practice?

          • SamChevre says:

            Procedures more than laws. The issue is that the US system is designed to keep track of land (deeds), and isn’t a good system for keeping track of financial instruments secured by land (mortgages). So the bankers built a system for handling the mortgages, and it worked fine, and everyone thought it was fine–then when house prices fell for completely-unrelated reasons, people looked to see if it had complied with every obscure law everywhere and (surprise) it didn’t.

          • yodelyak says:

            Some of both. My comment below is them not asking for what they needed to do the thing they wanted, and instead just relying on an “advice letter”.

        • yodelyak says:

          I was briefly connected to a class action brought by some municipalities against the banks involved in this. I’ll second @Mark Atwood. I read the legal advice letter that the original proponents of using MERS (mortgage electronic registration system) used to persuade investors and mainstream banks to go along with it. It’s written to sound like it says “this is legal, and I’m a fancy lawyer so I should know–you’re clear!” but what it actually says is “I’m a lawyer writing what I’ve been asked to write, and while this isn’t my honest opinion of what a court is likely to do, and you can’t sue me if a court doesn’t do this, because I wrote you an example of a possible legal argument that could be made, not my opinion of whether that argument is valid, here is an argument some other lawyer could potentially write.” The lawyer writing the opinion was doubtless under some significant pressure to give a real legal opinion… and still didn’t.

          The counties that should have gotten a $20 filing fee and a clear record of title every time a mortgage changed hands instead got… “MERS” printed on a filed record–the actual thing that’s recorded at the courthouse!–and then a long period where the actual owner(s) of the mortgage are often changing multiple times a day, with no $20 paid and no filing made, and resultingly ownership is nearly indecipherable even to a financial forensics expert with a big budget. Many of these houses were eventually–or some day in the future will be–re-possessed by lenders or for failure to satisfy contractor’s liens or tax liens… and the local regulatory agencies and tax authorities and everyone else will bear the expense of not knowing whose house was mortgaged to whom when. Clean title–really clean title–is valuable. Even if you just estimate it as worth $20 per never-disclosed owner… this was a scam of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A repossession due to unpaid taxes will clear the title, right?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Clean title–really clean title–is valuable.

            You’re right. I’ve changed my mind—a great crime was committed. However, I would describe it not as fraud, but as extortion.

          • Eric Rall says:

            A repossession due to unpaid taxes will clear the title, right?

            Not necessarily. From what I gather, you can usually get clear title after buying a property at a tax auction, but doing so often requires additional steps.

          • yodelyak says:

            @The Nybbler

            Uh, I’m not a real estate transactions/title attorney, and I’m out of my depth on how to really describe the specifics of the law. But it’s easy for me to think up big potential expenses. Spitballing, really… I speculate that one thing to worry about is that some of these houses may have arguably “attached security interests” that pre-date the MERS mortgage, but where it’s unclear who was the owner who needs to argue against that said attached security interest never did, actually, attach, or was at some point later surrendered. So someone living in and hoping to sell the property might find that instead of hiring a realtor *only*, they also have to hire a lawyer to conduct a foreclosure on their own house and only then can they sell for full value. If you’ve got a clear enough sense of the law that you can see where I went wrong in that hypothetical I just spun, or if you’ve got $500/hr to ask a title attorney whether or not MERS means anything if it is on YOUR title, feel free.

            @Douglas Knight

            I would describe it not as fraud, but as extortion

            One way to look at it is as a power grab. Banking interests declared that henceforth they would be able to “see like a state” into the mortgage market, and re-shape it however they like, and local governments would no longer be able to “see like a state” into who owned what or when. One of the services that county recording offices, backed by the power of state law, aims to afford to locals is a decent amount of protection from fancy out-of-town lawyers who charge fancy-lawyer-rates just to settle the clouds they themselves raise on people’s titles. I don’t know if MERS will create a market there or not… but the decision to take the risk should have been with state legislatures. I don’t know about every state–for all I know some legislatures did pass laws authorizing MERS–but in some states, at least, the banks that started printing “MERS” as the “mortgage owner” on titles did so without any go-ahead from state legislatures. I guess I’m saying all of this because I’ve a sneaking suspicion some people will read your comment as an anti-government complaint (government extortion!) that county governments can charge people $20 every time they put any kind of mortgage or re-mortgage on their house. My 2c to anyone thinking that way… Stationary pirates are much better than roving ones–county recording offices are not the bad guys. (Douglas Knight, you probably didn’t mean any of that, I’m just snippy.)

          • SamChevre says:

            How is having “MERS” on a title usefully different (in a way that concerns a homeowner or a municipality) than having “OurTown Bank?” (Serious question–link the case and I’ll read it.)

            In either case, which lawyer shows up can change; who the beneficial owner is can change (OurTown Bank stock could be sold to a new person); the records the mortgage owner should have can get lost.

            edit: correct spelling

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Yodelyak

            A tax sale generally clears a mortgage lien. So it doesn’t matter whether the mortgage says MERS or BankOfFools, after the tax sale (and some paperwork) it’s gone. Eric Rall points out there are other liens not cleared by tax sale, but they’re the same in both scenarios as well. The new owner may have to pay these liens or sue to clear title in any case.

            If the lender forecloses, the MERS lien will be removed. I believe this is true whether or not the documents were done properly (provided the foreclosure goes through).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            $20 for a title change. I wish. When I lived in Massachusetts it was $150. To add a line to a database. It wasn’t charging for the service, it was revenue generation.

            So I admit I’m strongly biased against them. I’m hearing the arguments for and I can feel myself moving towards, but I’m not quite there.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            To add a line to a database.

            Speaking as someone who used to maintain a a set of “if it gets corrupted, lost, offline, or an entry doesn’t get updated, people die” databases, paying $150 per update sounds cheap to me, especially for a database that has to date back to the conquest of North America and has to keep working forward in time until the fall of local civilization.

            That “database” is not as simple as it looks either, in that it also references or incorporates the survey for the property boundaries. Creating, updating, and maintaining that data is not-cheap skilled labor. And in many munis it references or incorporates the maps for the utility plumbing and interconnects, and sometimes the original and update blueprints for the buildings.

            Go down to your local title and survey offices for your local muni, and get copies of all the records back to the start of record keeping for property where you live. It’s actually really fun reading. It will go all the way back to original land grants from some European King.

            it was revenue generation

            Of course it is. It’s a property tax, and fairer than most property taxes, and one that was difficult to cheat or game (until the banks tried to bypass it with their fraud).

            You presumably pay an annual title and registration fee for your car(s). That’s “revenue generation” too, for maintaining a database.

          • carvenvisage says:

            paying $150 per update sounds cheap to me

            “Let them eat cake”. 2 and a half 8-hour workdays at minimum wage is not cheap for a tiny database update. No one immediately dies from title updates, it’s not bomb defusal.

            update: google says air traffic control average salary (in america) is 122410 dollars. 122410/365 =335. Lets assume they work 2/3s of the days in the year (iirc often they work near full time due to shortages, but to avoid exaggeration), then they are making about 500 dollars a day handling I’m sure a fair bit more than 3 potential disasters a day under real time pressure, and using knowledge and skills beyond precise typing.

            150 dollars for a database update- which getting wrong once or twice is going to cause a bureaucratic headache not deaths- is extortion no matter how reflexive a salesman you are.

          • John Schilling says:

            No one immediately dies from title updates, it’s not bomb defusal.

            If it were bomb disposal, there’s no way you’d be getting it done for as little as $150, and you could be trivially manipulated into whining about the greedy evil bureaucrats risking innocent lives if they tried to get away with $1500.

            Instead, it is an important part of the foreclosure process, and can wind up with innocent people being summoned to court and told by a judge with all the power of the state behind him, “we’re throwing you out on the street unless you can dig up paperwork from your own files proving you’ve made all the payments on this house”. As with e.g. robosigning, the courts will almost certainly sort through the paperwork and come to the correct result eventually. But judging by the number of people who want bignum banksters to be thrown in jail for all the robosigning, this is a Big Deal, and it’s Really Important to get it right the first time, so if the people who are the most likely targets of the torches-and-pitchforks brigade spend $150 to get it right the first time, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

            So long as they do get it right, of course.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @John Schilling

            Were there significant numbers of cases where banks foreclosed on mortgages that were not in default? That would be a different, and far worse issue, than the wrong bank foreclosing.

            As I understand the MERS system, the official (for the county’s purposes) holder of the mortgage lien was MERS. When the bank owning the right to foreclose (according to MERS’s electronic system) wanted to foreclose, MERS would have to transfer lien officially to them. Apparently in some states lenders could skip this process and foreclose on behalf of MERS, a shortcut which MERS eventually disallowed.

            This is separate than the actual mortgage _note_, which is not recorded by the county and is instead physically held by the lender. Generally the original note showing the lender to be the owner has to be produced in order to foreclose, and every time the note is transferred there’s more paperwork generated, and it’s this paperwork which was a big issue in robosigning (though there was a _lot_ of robosigning).

            If the original note gets lost somehow, the owner of the note can produce a “lost note” affidavit in which they swear up and down that they really had the note; those got robosigned too.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            so if the people who are the most likely targets of the torches-and-pitchforks brigade spend $150

            They bill it to me when I want to refinance. The banks aren’t eating it.

            If BankOfFools has my mortgage, and they want to slice them up with 2000 other mortgages into 100 pieces and distribute them to investors, how is it different to have “MERS” or “BankOfFools” written on the record?

          • carvenvisage says:

            If it were bomb disposal, there’s no way you’d be getting it done for as little as $150, and you could be trivially manipulated into whining about the greedy evil bureaucrats risking innocent lives if they tried to get away with $1500.

            This seems to be said without animus, but it is still just a wilful misintepretation with an insult thrown in for good measure.

            -Of course I didn’t mean that bomb defusal costs precisely $150, and (of course) asserting on this basis that I could be trivially manipulated into whining is a nonsensical feel-good insult.

            _

            If you’re so particular about numbers why not explain why air traffic controllers can do harder vital-to-avoid-mistakes work under real time pressure, day in day out for a fraction of the price?

            I mean if the argument is “not skimping on necessities good, cutting corners bad” then before so much as glancing at the figures we can say that of course $150 is a reasonable price, and also that the $1.5 million preexisting 20,000 website is prudentially not skimping on vital infrastructure.

            But that is not what I’m qualatitively suggesting. -What I’m suggesting isn’t qualitative at all, but only simply that 150$ is an outrageous sum to tweak a database (and Definitely Get It Right). -Yes John, Definitely Getting It Right costs money, and it’s very good of you to say so, but the question is how much.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you’re so particular about numbers why not explain why air traffic controllers can do harder vital-to-avoid-mistakes work under real time pressure, day in day out for a fraction of the price?

            That involves a great deal of up-front and recurrent training, adherence to painstakingly developed procedures, and use of information systems designed and extensively tested to provide all the relevant information, accurately and in an easy to understand formate. And other systems for flagging potential errors, including in their own operation. All of them developed with systemic rigor far beyond the Silicon Valley norm.

            This is very much not cheap. The marginal salary of the air traffic controller on duty during an event, which is the only part you can think would be significant, isn’t even the majority of the cost.

            And when you amortize that cost across the industry, you find that in European countries that use a pay-as-you-go system of air traffic control, standard instrument approaches (99.9+% free of near-miss disasters) come with fees on the order of $100. So I’m not convinced this is an unreasonable fee for reliably and accurately recording a mortgage transfer.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            In re the cost of adding a line to the database when it has to be right:

            It occurs to me that this isn’t a time-pressure sort of emergency. How much does it help to let the person who wants the line added proofread it before it’s made permanent?

          • ana53294 says:

            About the databases: if the American registries are similar to the Spanish cadastre, there will always be paper documental evidence that is kept. So surely a mistake in the electronic database just means you have to find the paper one?

            Paper databases do increase costs, though, so that makes the 150 $ fee sound more reasonable (it’s still too high).

          • carvenvisage says:

            This is very much not cheap. The marginal salary of the air traffic controller on duty during an event, which is the only part you can think would be significant, isn’t even the majority of the cost.

            Firstly, I already asked you once to stop with the casual/gratuitous insults. I (still) assume there is no malice meant, but when you repeat it after such a request you challenge that assumption.

            As to your actual point: Well, air traffic control is pretty lively and pretty high tech, while crunching numbers is not. When the service provided is avoiding typos-super-meticulously, and not live high-tech high-skill operations with immediate fallbacks and safeguards, then the majority of the service really is in the care the employee takes.

            As to why I I didn’t specifically signpost that the wage to the employee is not the same as the charge to the customer, it’s because 1. the above 2. well duh they are not the same, I never said they were.

            And when you amortize that cost across the industry, you find that in European countries that use a pay-as-you-go system of air traffic control, standard instrument approaches (99.9+% free of near-miss disasters) come with fees on the order of $100. So I’m not convinced this is an unreasonable fee for reliably and accurately recording a mortgage transfer.

            1. source?

            2. Air traffic control is far more involved, specialised, and difficult work than reliably recording information. If it is done for 2/3s of the price that proves my point.

            3. Accountants don’t get bonuses every time they type something with several zeros. This kind of work is very arduous for the average person, but that’s why we have specialisation. Hopefully/presumably it’s someone who does this kind of thing day in day out, for whom it is just tuesday, that the task is entrusted to–And then the effort it takes one professional non-mistake-maker to enter the data and two others to audit (glance at, doublecheck) it is vastly less than you would intuit by how arduous it would be for the average person to reach a 100% error avoidance rate working alone. Database entry is not as spectacular as air traffic control but it is something people practice as well.

            4. How disastrous even is it to have your property details misspelled or recorded wrong? If anyone is taking drastic action on the basis of a form tucked away somewhere they should be doublechecking. Usually these things can be cleared up if the department is competent. And probably for less than $150 in most cases if they’re not being extortionate there as well.

            5. Further to 4. if their error causes a disaster, there is this thing called “compensation”. -Such errors, unlike plane crashes, are usually correctable after the fact. (at least when they are rare rather than systematic). The consequences we are so afraid of here can be taken back, they aren’t comparable in the first place to the threat of a plane crash.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If BankOfFools has my mortgage, and they want to slice them up with 2000 other mortgages into 100 pieces and distribute them to investors, how is it different to have “MERS” or “BankOfFools” written on the record?

            I’d like to re-up this question, since I don’t know the answer but suspect it might be why other people think this is important and I don’t.

          • carvenvisage says:

            *punching numbers

      • marshwiggle says:

        Thanks for posting the Tanta links. I too enjoyed the information is power one.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      If the FBI, or any other federal law enforcement agency, really wants to put you away, they’ll do it. Even if you didn’t actually commit any crimes, the investigation itself will create new crimes if you don’t shut up.

      Not bailing out the “too big to fail” companies would have been the best option but if we were going to bail them out then we needed to put the fear of God in everyone left behind. That was the first thing that Obama did that really disappointed me. At the time I had totally drunk the Kool Aid and thought he was actually going to change things, but ultimately nobody ever had to pay for tanking the economy.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        In specific, whose lives should Obama have ordered the FBI to ruin?

        • Evan Þ says:

          Every politician and judge’s, until they’re sufficiently motivated to change the laws so the FBI no longer has such unaccountable power and we are once more a government of laws and not of men.

          (Sorry; I’m being utopian here.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      There are several classes of alleged crimes that people talk about.

      1. The crimes that Icelandic bankers were prosecuted for. These are simple crimes, like embezzling and insider trading, that people are prosecuted for all the time, in good times and bad. There wasn’t a wave of prosecutions for them in America because they weren’t being committed, at least not as blatantly as in Iceland.

      2. Robosigning. Lots of people violated this. But it’s bullshit. Technically many people might be eligible for jail, but virtually no one was defrauded in a substantive way. The phrase “foreclosure fraud” is a lie.

      3. The kind of things that put people in prison in the S&L crisis in ~1990. This is the interesting question. But it’s complicated, so people don’t actually talk about it, but just assert that the only difference is political will / corruption. In fact, they invented Sarbanes-Oxley to make everyone a criminal, so they wouldn’t have to bother figuring out anything. So all banking executives are eligible for jail, on the whim of the prosecutor. But no, it’s not normal to prosecute under Sarbox.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The phrase “foreclosure fraud” is a lie.

        I disagree.

        The only reason why it wasn’t “fraud” is the laws were changed after the fact. I’ve had dinner with the lobbyist in Washington State who lead the work to get the laws changed here. He won an award and a bonus for it.

        • J Mann says:

          You guys can agree by explaining exactly what happened.

          IMHO, it’s literally fraud, in that notaries stated that they saw documents signed by people who they had not actually witnessed and in many cases did not actually occur as purported, and people stated that they saw banking documents that they had not actually seen and in some cases did not actually exist.

          However, if we’re implying that there were many foreclosures where it wasn’t true that (a) the homeowner borrowed money to purchase the home or with the home as security and (b) the homeowner did not pay it back as required, I think that’s much less frequent.

          If we’re implying that the failure to maintain jot and tittle paper records contributed in any meaningful degree to the housing crash, I think that’s false.

          • albatross11 says:

            If the mortgage companies are allowed to make up missing documentation, then how do we know how much actual fraud they engaged in?

          • J Mann says:

            If true, typically the borrower can demonstrate from their own bank records if they either (a) never received a loan or (b) made timely payments. If you have bank records showing either of those, I would be astonished to see a foreclosure no matter what the affidavit from some custodian in Denver said. (Banks had so many foreclosures to do that we are almost never talking about “your payment came in 3 days late”).

            It’s possible that there were a number of actual “I never received the required notice and/or I tried my best to pay,” but my impression is that’s pretty rare too.

          • SamChevre says:

            If the mortgage companies are allowed to make up missing documentation, then how do we know how much actual fraud they engaged in?

            If you limit it to “fraud against people with mortgages”–because the actual, legal record is the recorded deed.

            All the quarrels are over “who can act under that deed?” There may be fraud by servicers against banks, and that would be hard to identify–but you the homeowner have all the records available to demonstrate that you didn’t have a mortgage, or made the payments.

          • Eric Rall says:

            If you limit it to “fraud against people with mortgages”–because the actual, legal record is the recorded deed.

            That’s true in varying degrees in different states, depending on each state’s property law doctrine on mortgages.

            In general, states fall into two categories: “title theory” states, where the bank (or whoever the mortgagee is) hold the title to the property until the mortgage is paid off (there’s a special kind of deed used to transfer the title as security for a mortgage, distinct from the regular deeds used to sell a property outright); and “lien theory” states, where the mortgagee (homeowner) holds title to the property, but the title is encumbered by a “lien” for the balance of the mortgage which must be paid before the property can be sold.

            In a title theory state, the title will show the bank as the title-holder. However, unless the title got updated every time the mortgage was transferred, the bank on the title might be different from the bank that wants to foreclose.

            In a lien theory state, the title will show “bank X says the homeowner owes them money”. There’s a process for contesting liens as erroneous, and there are generally penalties for filing a lien for a debt you aren’t actually owed, but the lien itself is just a claim that you’re owed the debt. And as with title theory states, the lien isn’t necessarily updated when the mortgage is transferred.

            A sloppy train-of-transfer for the mortgage is a problem under either theory, but it’s a bigger problem for lien theory states, since in a title theory state it’s clear that somebody has the right to foreclose, and if all the banks in the chain of mortgage transfers are still around, they can always get together and agree that Bank A (the titleholder) has transferred their rights to Bank Q (the bank that wants to foreclose).

            In a lien theory state, on the other hand, the banks all getting together and certifying that Bank Q now owns Bank A’s rights under the mortgage is only half the problem. They also need to prove Bank A’s right to foreclose, and if the original mortgage agreement got scanned and shredded at some point, then that’s tricky to prove to a court’s satisfaction.

            It’s worth noting that California, which is a large state and which had rather a lot of foreclosures during the financial crisis, is a lien theory state.

            The other problem, which is irrelevant to title vs lien theory, is if one or more of the banks has gone out of business or is just doesn’t care enough to certify their role in the chain of transfer. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but the financial crisis wasn’t a normal time in that respect.

          • SamChevre says:

            @Eric Rall

            But title theory or lien theory, there isn’t a legal mortgage unless there’s a recorded, filed document in the county title record that shows the mortgage.

            If the homeowner doesn’t have a mortgage, robo-signing won’t affect the county record–regardless of whether it maintains title deeds or liens. If the homeowner made mortgage payments, he should be able to get records showing that easily from whoever transferred the money–usually, his own bank statements.

            If Sam has a mortgage with Jim, and Joe tries to foreclose, robo-signing may enable Joe to do it. But if Sam doesn’t have a mortgage, or paid his mortgage, robo-signing is not going to enable anyone to foreclose.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Where I work Sarbanes Oxley is just called “Sox”, SarBox does sound cooler.

    • Jesse E says:

      I think the people who act like Obama should’ve put Bank of America CEO in chains are off the rails, but it’s also true our laws are written with so many loopholes that it would’ve been much more difficult than your typical leftist on Twitter (I say as a SJW leftist) thinks to put bankers in jail.

      OTOH, I do think Obama was much too soft on the banking industry, probably because he didn’t want to be accused of being the black Marxist killing off Wall Street. Of course, they did that anyway. Which is why when President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nationalizes the banks in 2037, I’ll laugh.

    • SamChevre says:

      If you want the actual problem, it was here:

      Down Payments 2006

      The National Association of Realtors reports that last year 43 percent of first-time homebuyers purchased their homes with no downpayment. Of those who did make a downpayment, the majority put down two percent or less.

      And here:
      Why Stated Income is a Problem

      What the stated income lenders are doing is getting themselves off the hook by encouraging borrowers to make misrepresentations. That is, they’re taking risky loans, but instead of doing so with eyes open and docs on the table, they’re putting their customers at risk of prosecution while producing aggregate data that appears to show that there is minimal risk in what they’re doing. This practice is not only unsafe and unsound, it’s contemptible.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The issue with this explanation was that home prices peaked in early 2006 and was declining for most of 2006/2007. Whatever the role of no down no doc loans they weren’t responsible for the majority of the run up in prices.

    • dick says:

      First, my gloss on what caused the crash: essentially, this was a goldrush for a new and supposedly-valuable item that later, after many big banks had bought in to it heavily, turned out not to be very valuable. (I say this so you can skip the rest of the post if you think that’s crazypants, the way I would skip the rest of your post if you attributed the crash to George W. Bush’s unyielding thirst for racial justice in housing)

      The item in question was high-risk mortgage debt, and the thing that made it (seem to be) suddenly more valuable was the practice of combining it with other stuff into exotic and opaque financial instruments that (supposedly) mitigated its risk; so the crime would be misrepresenting the value of these financial instruments by understating or fraudulently hiding evidence of their true risk. I don’t know that that happened in the “I am an expert on SEC regulations and know for certain that they were broken” sense; but I know that SEC disclosure rules exist, and I assume that some of those rules were broken due to proof by contradiction: the alternative is to believe that, in the middle of the greatest banking goldrush of our generation, when thousands of different individual Wall Street geniuses were making millions or billions of dollars fleecing (and being fleeced by) each other with new and poorly-understood and inherently risky financial securities which virtually every ratings agency managed to simultaneously mis-rate, nobody did anything criminal. I don’t buy that; my default assumption is that bad acting is probably somewhat normally distributed, so it’s likely that a few of the people involved were blameless chumps, a few were overtly criminal, and the majority were somewhere in between.

      I don’t think this “proves the corruption of the system”, whatever that means. (Did anyone here imagine the pre-2006 financial services industry to be corruption-free?) I assume the main reason for the lack of prosecution was fear of dragging the crisis out, not a bunch of criminal bankers calling up their cronies in government and asking for a get out of jail free card. But I am disturbed that there was no prosecution, and not for reasons of vindictiveness but for reasons of deterrence. When we go through a (hopefully) once in a lifetime financial shitstorm that almost ends the world, I absolutely expect the government to sift through the wreckage and find some of the worst offenders and throw the book at them, to demonstrate that there is a downside to being one of the worst offenders. Hell, even just a thorough investigation would’ve had some deterrent value.

      You also asked, are these laws (meaning, in my case, SEC disclosure rules) usually enforced? I don’t know, but even supposing they aren’t, they still should be in this case. Consider a highway metaphor: everyone breaks traffic laws, and enforcement is pretty lax and not terribly consistent, and most people are okay with that. But if there’s an enormous accident, the biggest the world’s ever seen, with thousands of cars piled up on the freeway, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect *someone* to get a ticket.

      • cryptoshill says:

        My take on the whole thing was that Wall Street had started believing their own nonsense. The basic thesis was that it doesn’t matter how risky these assets are on paper because it doesn’t matter. Mortgagees who were about to default for non-payment would simply sell the securing asset and walk away five, ten, maybe fifty thousand dollars richer for their trouble and go back to renting. Therefore mortgage-backed instruments could’ve been rated at a much lower risk because the whole industry (including construction company stock, and a bunch of other related industries) was currently operating under the opinion: “sure we’re screwed if the housing market drops more than 10%, but that’s IMPOSSIBLE“.

        Of course, historically they have no reason not to believe this is true. But the invisible hand of the market has a way of reaching out and touching people who get cocky like that. Plenty of those Wall St. bankers who were working on commission or heavily invested in these schemes themselves lost their shirts along with everyone else. I personally want them strung up and shot – but not for any criminal activity, for the sheer hubris involved in forgetting basic basic market gospel that is taught on every trading floor worldwide. “What goes up, must come down”.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I think one of the biggest things that prevents much prosecution in this sphere is that although the perpetrators are greedy wall street fat cats, most of the biggest victims were… other greedy wall street fat cats. Those are the people who lost the most.

          Sure, the government lost some too, but that was mostly of their own design. A few scattered individuals might have lost some, but mainly they were co-conspirators rather than victims (perhaps an overzealous banker encouraged you to sign some fraudulent forms… but you still signed them, so how much are you going to demand a criminal investigation here?)

          If we could make some cases wherein some greedy wall street fat cats took action X that victimized some sympathetic non-lying poor person who wasn’t also motivated by a get rich quick promise, I’m sure they’d have been made already.

        • massivefocusedinaction says:

          It’s mostly that there was demand for fake good notes. From Freddie and Fannie who wanted bad notes for goals purposes, but liked the idea that it was risk free.

          And there was substantial demand for nominally investment grade paper, that performed and returned like junk from foreign pension funds who were banned from owning non-investment securities but needed junk like returns to meet their plan’s required rate for return.

          That meant there was enormous profit for anyone who could get rating agencies blessing on junk, and someone eventually found the way.

      • SamChevre says:

        I mostly agree, but I don’t think the high-risk item was mortgage debt: it was houses.

        House prices went up on average for 50 years, and people forgot that they were risky as investments; so loans secured by houses seemed also to be low-risk.

        • cryptoshill says:

          SamChevre – I mostly agree with you, it’s really easy to understate the risk of “leveraged instruments based on an asset” if the market psychology that is operative is heavily understating the risk of the asset the whole sector is based on.

        • dick says:

          I don’t think the high-risk item was mortgage debt: it was houses.

          Are houses a riskier investment than they used to be? Was a plumber with an income of X and a car payment of Y and a credit score of Z more likely to default on a certain loan in 2006 than he was in 1996? No, that’s not what changed. What changed is, after you lend that money to that plumber, in 2006 you could sell it for more than you could in 1996, which made lenders willing to lend him more money than they used to. And the reason for that is an invention that (apparently) made mortgage debt less risky, and hence more valuable, than it used to be. And the thing that made this a global financial crisis is that everyone believed that innovation was real, and it didn’t work.

          It’s also true that the (apparent) innovation caused a bubble, because the (apparent) value of high-risk mortgage debt rose so quickly that the market couldn’t meet the buyers’ demand without doing things that distorted the market and drove up prices. But I think it’s important to understand that that would’ve still happened if the innovation actually worked. If CDOs were magic wands that reduced the risk of debt, the way it said on the tin, the lenders would still have written a bunch of risky loans, and housing prices would’ve still inflated, and then when the market cooled and things reached a new normal, housing prices would’ve still dropped in some places, and high-risk borrowers would’ve still defaulted, some underwater, and some of the buyers of that debt would’ve lost some money, and maybe gone broke. But most of them would’ve still gotten a decent overall return, because that was the whole point of these instruments in the first place, to manage risk and make subprime mortgage debt provide a better return than it used to. There would’ve been a crash, but the new normal would’ve been above the historical trendline. Which it isn’t.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Reselling mortgages was the fix to the S&L crisis.

          • cryptoshill says:

            Something else is operative here that raises housing prices as well: restrictive zoning policies and a growing and shifting population virtually guarantees the appreciation of all land assets (Our supply of “places to live in” is VASTLY artificially restricted by Federal and Municipal governments).

            In the hypothetical historical scenario – housing only goes up. Therefore it doesn’t matter how risky your CDO or MBS is – the risk of default is effectively zero. (I know not one person who wouldn’t sell a house if they anticipated being unable to pay the mortgage).

          • Nornagest says:

            restrictive zoning policies and a growing and shifting population virtually guarantees the appreciation of all land assets

            Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.

          • dick says:

            @cryptoshill

            Something else is operative here that raises housing prices as well: restrictive zoning policies and a growing and shifting population virtually guarantees the appreciation of all land assets

            Do you think this was a major/important cause of the crisis, as opposed to just one of the millions of things that contribute to housing demand generally? With a big complex topic like the 2008 financial crisis, enumerating the contributing factors is basically a free license to bring up anything tenuously connected to the topic that you enjoy complaining about (as illustrated by the comment that got Steve Sailer banned a few threads back).

            Anyway, if this were a major factor I would expect the housing price slump to have been worse in places with restrictive zoning policies, and my impression is that that was not the case. My home town of Portland is famously restrictive, and housing prices barely dropped at all here. Vast sprawl-y suburbs around cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, which I assume qualify as relatively unrestricted, were incredibly hard-hit. I would also expect the crisis to have been preceded by a sharp rise in zoning restrictions nationally, and AFAIK that didn’t happen.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Something else is operative here that raises housing prices as well: restrictive zoning policies and a growing and shifting population virtually guarantees the appreciation of all land assets (Our supply of “places to live in” is VASTLY artificially restricted by Federal and Municipal governments)

            This doesn’t square with what actually happened from 2000-2008 though, vacancy rates went up, not down. Demand side arguments for price increases have to account for this.

        • cryptoshill says:

          @baconbits9 – I hope you aren’t referring to rental vacancy rates. Rentals are an entirely seperate market and “investment” in the mind of investors. The rental vacancy rate would also naturally decrease if we were in the middle of a massive cheap-money fueled home-buying frenzy (more people owning homes).

          @dick – I don’t think this was the “smoking gun” in terms of causing the crisis. However, if you want to create a constantly appreciating asset, artificially limiting supply is one way to do that. The nature of houses as “constantly apprecatiating” is to me, the driver of the market psychology of “the housing market can’t go down”. Cheap debt and government-mandated loans to riskier borrowers does the rest pretty easily.

          The price slump was the worst in the areas that were rapidly expanding *because* the areas that were already in high demand were “full”. The market created excessive demand for houses, mortgages, and mortgage backed securities. That asset class bubble is going to raise prices in Portland, but it won’t raise housing build. So when it pops the native demand for housing in Portland is still there, because it was always there and the supply/demand ratio didn’t change all that much.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @baconbits9 – I hope you aren’t referring to rental vacancy rates. Rentals are an entirely seperate market and “investment” in the mind of investors. The rental vacancy rate would also naturally decrease if we were in the middle of a massive cheap-money fueled home-buying frenzy (more people owning homes).

            Both rental rates and homeowner vacancy rates rose from ~1999 through the beginning of the crises, though the majority were in rental.

            Rentals are an entirely seperate market and “investment” in the mind of investors.

            This doesn’t matter one bit. If you are trying to prove that price increases were driven by a shortage of a good then you have to explain how that good could apparently be in excess. If you think that rentals and owner occupied are different you still have to concede that they are the most likely to be substitutes in the market.

            If you want to claim that the homeowner and rental markets became further separated during this period with people more strongly preferring home ownership your explanation also has to include how rents could have increased while demand was dropping faster than supply (as shown by rental vacancies).

            Finally you have to show how there could be a housing shortage in general while the country had between 1 and 2 million more units vacant than in the preceding years.

          • dick says:

            However, if you want to create a constantly appreciating asset, artificially limiting supply is one way to do that.

            Were sweeping new restrictive zoning laws passed across the US and much of Europe during the 2000s and I’m just unaware of it? You can’t blame a one-time anomalous event on eternal features of the universe. Valuable real estate has always been limited in supply. Zoning laws have always had the effect of driving up prices. No offense but it sounds like you just don’t like zoning laws, and saw a discussion about the 2008 crisis as a good opportunity to complain about them.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I wonder how much of the homeowner vacancy rates were driven by “flippers”.

            My understanding is that traditionally, fix-and-flip was mostly done by development companies and general contractors who 1) were doing construction/renovation as a full-time job and 2) had the expertise and resources to do the job quickly.

            But during the bubble, there were reputedly an awful lot of small-time flippers, and I suspect they weren’t able to turn the properties around as quickly as the professional developers. There were also a lot more flips happening during the bubble (the peak in 2005 had 350k flips per year, up from 100k/year in 2000), so even if the small flippers had the same turnaround time as the big pros, there’d still be 3.5x as many houses mid-flip.

            And after I typed all that up, I looked up the vacancy rates over time (pdf link), and the timing is wrong for this to be the major driving factor: homeowner vacancy rates don’t look like they started trending up until after the flippers had peaked. But the rental vacancy rate peaked around 2004, pretty close to the flipping peak, which makes me wonder if flipper houses are counted as rentals rather than homeowners (if so, it’s probably because they’re purchased as investment properties rather than as primary or secondary personal residences).

          • Eric Rall says:

            Looking at the data some more, it looks like the homeowner vacancy rate rose as the bubble was actively bursting. From the Case Shiller index, it looks like housing prices stopped rising in 2006 and started falling in 2007, which lines up pretty well with when homeowner vacancy started ramping up. That strikes me as a pretty good fit for the hypothesis that house purchased as primary residences were sitting vacant because they were taking a long time to sell in a weak market (especially if the sellers were in denial about the state of the market) or because they were in foreclosure and taking time to process.

          • baconbits9 says:

            In general no one parameter is going to describe all, and probably not even most, of the housing event. It was so large and widespread, with so many potential causes that it isn’t likely to have a single major cause.

            There are still things that every theory has to account for though, and if you want to claim that lack of sufficient supply caused the majority of the price increases you have to explain why some cities, like Cleveland Ohio, saw price increases from 2000-2006 while losing substantial portions of its population, or Detroit or any of a number of other cities.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Eric Rall

            If rental vacancy rates were driven by homes being held by flippers you would expect vacancy rates of homes held by homeowners to fall. You have not only decreased the denominator on that side of the equation but all the people that were living in those homes have to live somewhere.

            Confounding this further is that home ownership rates rose from ~68% to ~70% from 2000 to 2004, and was still above the 2000 mark in 2006.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @dick – I didn’t intend for it to spark as much discussion as it did. I just wanted to suggest that there are more reasons than just “people being greedy/stupid” that people thought housing assets were safer than other assets. At best, I would think restrictive zoning policies could only encourage the asset price bubble but it wouldn’t start it.

            This doesn’t matter one bit. If you are trying to prove that price increases were driven by a shortage of a good then you have to explain how that good could apparently be in excess. If you think that rentals and owner occupied are different you still have to concede that they are the most likely to be substitutes in the market.

            I’ll concede renting and owner-occupied are probably fungible enough to be some sort of substitute in an environment of NINJA loans. If lending restrictions go tighter (as they did in 2008.)

            From the Obama administration 2 years ago: Emerging research has shown that in areas with high-cost housing such as California, zoning and
            other land-use controls contribute significantly to recent sharp cost increases, reflecting the
            increasing difficulty of obtaining regulatory approval for building new homes.

            From their assessment and source data – what strikes me is that in the middle of an asset price bubble, Coastal California homebuilding remained flat. I’m not sure how you can explain no production of the best asset in a class of assets when that asset class is undergoing a historic price bubble without concluding that zoning might have had something to do with the inflated prices (less places to build) and the deflation (demand remained high in San Francisco and LA). Like I said above – I don’t think it’s that strong a contributor but I was trying to explain why “housing always appreciates in value” became a market maxim.

    • pontifex says:

      It’s weird to me how much people want to moralize the 2008 recession. To me it just seems like a classic case of people borrowing a bunch of money to buy a risky asset class, then getting burned when the asset turned sour. In 2001 it was tech stocks, in 2008 it was housing. No Disney villains required, just regular old capitalism.

      I guess people are upset that the government bailed out the banks. But it wasn’t really “free.” The banks got significantly constrained by new rules put in place after the crisis, like the Volker Rule and the liquidity tests. And the government made back all the money they lent, and then some.

      The elephant in the room is that the government has an unspoken policy of encouraging people to take out huge loans on mortgages. We even have a bunch of government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac dedicated explicitly to making mortgage loans artificially cheap. It’s like if the government ran a hedge fund that would lend to anyone investing in tech stocks. Wouldn’t the 2001 crash have been awkward then?

      (P.S. the stuff with robo-signing and improper paperwork is slimy, but not the cause of the crisis.)

      • 10240 says:

        It’s weird to me how much people want to moralize the 2008 recession. […] buy a risky asset class, then getting burned when the asset turned sour.

        I guess they moralize it because a lot of people who had nothing to do with the causes also got in trouble. I’m on the position that it’s impossible to run an economy in such a way that no one ever makes mistakes that lead to a crisis, but people seem to have a propensity to look for someone to blame when bad things happen.

        • Matt M says:

          I guess they moralize it because a lot of people who had nothing to do with the causes also got in trouble.

          Like who?

          Stocks went down, but then they went up again. Some shady companies went out of business due to bad practices, but that pretty much always happens.

          I still maintain the reason we haven’t seen prosecutions here is because of the profound lack of lower/middle class uninvolved potential victims…

          • John Schilling says:

            Stocks went down, but then they went up again. Some shady companies went out of business due to bad practices, but that pretty much always happens.

            And every time that happens, a bunch of janitors and receptionists and clerks and whatnot lose their jobs, and sometimes it takes many months for them to get new jobs and sometimes they can’t pay the rent and wind up homeless in the interim. All of them people who had nothing to do with the causes, all of them in real trouble.

            “Creative destruction” is a necessary part of any successful human economy, but it is destruction and people do get hurt.

          • Matt M says:

            Technically true – but nobody really has a right to a job. I’m not familiar with any cases of janitors suing CEOs because their mismanagement led to the company going bankrupt which cost the janitor their job. Even if the mismanagement involved illegal activities, I find it hard to believe that case would go pretty far.

            In fact, it’s plausible that without the illegal mismanagement, the company never would have been large enough to hire the janitor in the first place! This is sort of what I mean with “uninvolved” victims. Even the janitor is not really “uninvolved” in the sense that he too benefits from the “good times” of the company, such that when “bad times” come around, he doesn’t have much of a right to complain, even if he was personally involved with neither.

          • 10240 says:

            but nobody really has a right to a job.

            I agree, but I don’t expect most people to agree to it. Or, rather, they agree in a technical sense, but not in the sense of the big picture (that is, they will agree that a specific person doesn’t have a right to a specific job, but if there is a large scale economic crisis, they want to blame someone for it).

            it’s plausible that without the illegal mismanagement, the company never would have been large enough to hire the janitor in the first place!

            I think a lot of companies went bankrupt as a result of ripple effects, besides the ones that were mismanaged. Of course you can say that those companies should have handled risk better, too. But the point is, a lot of people have this idea that if the people at the top, the management of various companies, weren’t negligent, there would be smooth economic growth, without crises — so they should be hold responsible for the crisis. Again, I disagree with this view, I was trying to explain why a lot of people moralize the crisis.

          • Matt M says:

            I think a lot of companies went bankrupt as a result of ripple effects, besides the ones that were mismanaged.

            That’s my point though.

            Does an assembly line worker at 3M, laid off because demand projections went down after the stock market crashed, have the right to sue the CEO of AIG over the financial crisis? The CEO of Lehman Brothers? Random employees of some small regional bank who made some fraudulent loans?

            The inability to draw a direct line between the pain caused to an innocent person to any particularly specific guilty person makes this situation impossible.

          • 10240 says:

            Does an assembly line worker at 3M, laid off because demand projections went down after the stock market crashed, have the right to sue the CEO of AIG over the financial crisis?

            No, but he may hope that if the clients of AIG who lost money because of the practices of AIG had the right to sue the CEO of AIG (or if he was sent to jail for his mismanagement), then CEOs would have more incentive not to mismanage and cause crises.
            (I don’t know what exactly AIG did and how it contributed to the crisis, but you get my point.)

          • John Schilling says:

            If the issue is “people moralizing it because a lot of people who had nothing to do with the causes also got in trouble”, then it doesn’t matter whether the people who got in trouble had a right to live happily ever after. People don’t have a right to live happily ever after, but they nonetheless like to live happily ever after, and they like to see other people living happily ever after. If innocent people have happily every after pulled out from underneath them, other people are going to say “that’s wrong, and it’s probably some bad person’s fault, and we should find and punish that bad person”.

            If you’re going to do something that’s profitable and technically legal but likely to turn a lot of other people’s happily-ever-after to ash, then you need to have a good story about how those people are dastardly villains who had it coming, or you’re going to have to deal with the blowback.

          • pontifex says:

            John Schilling wrote:

            And every time [the stock goes down], a bunch of janitors and receptionists and clerks and whatnot lose their jobs, and sometimes it takes many months for them to get new jobs and sometimes they can’t pay the rent and wind up homeless in the interim. All of them people who had nothing to do with the causes, all of them in real trouble.

            With all due respect, this is not a self-consistent moral position. You can’t possibly believe that anything that is bad for the economy is morally wrong. A lot of things could be bad for the economy but morally good. For example, environment regulations that make a polluting factory shut down. Age regulations that outlaw whole classes of laborers, such as child laborers, prostitutes, or slaves. I don’t think even the hardest-core Libertarian would claim that doing something that is bad for business is inherently morally wrong.

            Anyway, nobody sane wants to crash the economy, because it hurts everyone. Maybe a few kooky short sellers would profit, but even they want the crash to be relatively mild, so that there is still enough stability for them to enjoy their wealth. And if you rewind to 2006, nobody believed that there would be an economic crash in a few years, except a few “stopped watch which is right twice a day” type pundits.

        • albatross11 says:

          Also, the fact that so many of the people whose decisions and actions appear to have led to the crisis did well despite those decisions, and are still in positions of great power/influence, along with the existence of large bailouts for some financial companies, means that the incentives are very bad–screwing up in ways that crash the economy potentially gets you bailed out by the feds, but you get to keep the profits in good years. (Though to be fair, plenty of big financial companies lost a ton of money in the financial crisis.)

          • Brad says:

            Exactly. It’s not so much about the companies qua companies being bailed out as the shareholders and the employees. The common of most of these banks should have been wiped out and bond holders at least taken a haircut. That in turn would have had significant implications for prior year bonuses on bank employees and would have meant managers would have taken the appropriate reputational hit. Instead, Lehman Brothers aside, no one much paid any price, at least if they held on.

          • pontifex says:

            I think that is a fair point. There was a (largely correct?) sense that the people who made the bad decisions that led up to the crisis didn’t get their comeuppance. And that led to a lot of anger, which we still have with us today.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          The version I heard was that people who lived near foreclosed houses found that their own houses lost a lot of value.

          Part of the situation might be that there’s a concept of “doing everything right”– getting an (expensive) education and a job, and then having one’s home as a major store of value. This is presented as the best way of getting one’s life to work out well.

          • Brad says:

            There was a not very good TV show many years back whose name escapes me about a team of photogenic con artists. One of them had a sort of signature line about how you can’t cheat an honest man. And the cons on the show tended to exploit the mark’s greed.

            That’s kind of how I feel about the American homeowner. If people were by and large content to borrow money on commercially reasonable arm’s length terms, buy property, live in it for a few decades, and sell it for about what they paid adjusted for inflation, deprecation, and any improvements made, then I’d be sympathetic if things turned against them.

            But when they loudly insist their politicians completely stack the deck stacked in favor of an unearned bonanza and give no consideration whatsoever to what impact that deck stacking has on other people, then no they really haven’t “done everything right” and when things turn against them, I’m inclined to cheer, not commiserate.

          • Nornagest says:

            Leverage fits the description, although it’s not super old and I only got about three episodes into it.

            I think the housing bubble trades on ignorance more than greed, though. The average home buyer might be smart enough to be suspicious of an indefinitely appreciating capital asset in a vacuum, but they’re probably not smart enough to be suspicious when every authority from eighth grade on up is telling them that home ownership is cruise control for prosperity.

          • disposablecat says:

            @Brad: I think you’re thinking of Hustle, which is pretty good and fits your description.

            Not only did they tend to exploit the mark’s greed, they usually gave them an “out” whereby if the mark unknowingly demonstrated honesty, they wouldn’t cheat him.

      • cassander says:

        >and the government made back all the money they lent, and then some

        this wasn’t really a burden for the banks. I’d love nothing better than having the government lend me a few hundred billion dollars at below market interest rates for a few years. I’d make a fortune.

    • Brad says:

      Wire fraud. Specifically fraud in the “representations and warrantees” sections of various ABS/CDO contracts. I absolutely believe such crimes occurred. The issue for garnering a conviction would have been proving mens rea. I’m no small part because of judicially created rules that allow for the destruction of evidence under the transparently false rationale of disk space concerns. Nonetheless, even with those difficulties I think significant convictions could have been achieved if the relevant justice department lawyers weren’t a combination of chickenshit (per Comey), cognitively captured, and corruptly keeping an eye on their future careers as white collar defense attorneys.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Could you be more specific? Are you just saying that because they were lousy instruments, there must have been something fraudulent in the specification? A common rebuttal to such arguments is that most of the companies designing such instruments (leaving aside GS and especially Abacus) kept a lot of them on the books and did badly. So they probably had faith in them.

        That’s treating banks as unitary entities. It probably is true that the executives put pressure on the low-level employees to be optimistic, and so the low-level employees to had mens rea to defraud their own company. Similarly, that’s why Enron turned out to be worthless when the dust settled. But no one called for the jailing of hundreds of long-gone, low-level Enron salesmen. (The bankers weren’t long-gone, if that matters.)

        • Brad says:

          No I’ve read rep and warrantees sections. There were a lot of untruths in them and they were mostly material. That just leaves mens rea. As far as low level, there’s low level and there’s low level. We aren’t talking about tellers or even branch managers. These deals all had managing directors on them. Guys making 7 figures. Sure they might not have been able to get CEOs, but I have no “little guy cog” sympathy for almost anyone working in an investment bank. *Maybe* analysts. Certainly not MDs. In fact that’s probably the level where detterance can do the most good.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            If the people designing the instruments knew that they were lousy and had to lie to package them, why did they keep them? Isn’t that evidence against mens rea? I don’t know, maybe their bonus packages were so short-term, they didn’t care how much they damaged the bank, but why didn’t they switch to another department before it blew up?

          • Brad says:

            I think maybe you are misunderstanding the elements of criminal fraud.

            The perpetrator has to know what he is saying is false and intend that the victim rely on it, but he doesn’t have to think it is ultimately important. That’s up to the victim.

            Let me give an analogy: suppose google builds a self driving car. The manager of the program is sure that it will never require any human intervention—that the computer is far better than any human. But customers insist on an emergency mechanism. So there’s a little wheel placed in the car and the manual and other literature says that when the car senses on impending emergency a bell will sound and a button light up that if pushed allows a passenger to take over. But no such feature is ever implemented—the steering wheel and light aren’t connected to anything and there is no bell.

            It doesn’t matter that the program manager thinks these features would be more dangerous, not less, and that he personally owns two that his family uses for transportation. He has met all the elements of criminal fraud.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Sure, it depends on the specifics, so could you be more specific about the falsehoods?

          • Brad says:

            Basically all these instruments represented and warranted that the securitizer undertook certain due diligence investigations on the securities that were being pooled and tranched. This due diligence either didn’t occur at all, or was so cursory as to not constitute due diligence.

            The above was conceded in hundreds of civil lawsuits. All that was needed to go from there to criminal fraud was the mental elements (knowledge and intent). While those elements are difficult to prove they are not impossible. I don’t think it is the case that each of those deals was carefully looked over by prosecutors and in each case they decided it would be impossible to secure a conviction.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thanks!

            Due diligence is a claim about what the bank did, which is much harder to launder ignorance about than the facts of the underlying mortgages.

          • SamChevre says:

            I’d like to see a case, but I have worked with enough rep and warranty statements to have a good guess. (I’ve researched them, but haven’t signed them.)

            In reinsurance, a typical rep would be “these policies went through standard underwriting using the XYZ manual”–and good due diligence would be asking for that listing and checking it yourself. Now, no one read the underwriting files on each case; no one read even a handful just to check. No, we pulled them the policy numbers off the admin system, pulled the underwriting code, and checked that it was not tagged as an exception.

            It would be utterly typical, if someone died, for the reinsurer to then check the underwriting paperwork. Inevitably, since this happens thousands of times, some proportion of the cases have some sort of underwriting error; underwriters are human, so are data entry people, and sometimes you get the “what the hell this person had a cholesterol of 310–that’s not CLOSE to preferred–you used it as if it were 130?” and have to concede “yes, we made a mistake–give us back our premium and you don’t have to pay the death benefit.”

            But that isn’t criminal fraud by any sane standard.

          • Brad says:

            I agree someone fat fingering something isn’t criminal fraud. Nor is someone else failing to catch that fat figuring after having represented they did due diligence. But that’s not what happened here. If 40% of a reinsurance pool of tens of thousands of policies had cholesterol levels grossly misstated that’s entirely different matter then if 0.2% did.

    • SamChevre says:

      Finally found what I think was the best overall post–another DSquared.

      The Global Bezzle

      Given the amount of money used in financial sector bailouts, it is overpowering tempting to assume that the bezzle must have been located somewhere in the financial sector, possibly in subprime CDOs or derivatives or something too complicated to understand. There is, as I’ve said a couple of times before, a powerful confluence of interests in portraying the crisis as being something incomprehensibly technical in nature. Actually, it was mainly house prices. It had to be.

      It couldn’t have been the subprime market, it’s not big enough.

      It couldn’t have been anything specifically American, it happened in too many different places.

    • Jon S says:

      As always, I think that Matt Levine has the best finance writing, and here’s one of his posts on the subject: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-09-11/prosecution-policies-and-worried-unicorns

      A strange idea that I hear sometimes is that no bankers have gone to prison for all the bank misbehavior of the last few years. It is strange because this stuff is a matter of public record and you can actually just go count the bankers who have gone to prison. Dozens of bank executives have gone to prison for bailout abuses. Others have gone to prison for mis-valuing securities or helping clients evade taxes or manipulating Libor. Others have been convicted for deceiving clients about bond prices, but are appealing and may avoid prison. Other bankers were prosecuted but found not guilty by juries — for the tax evasion stuff, or for misleading hedge fund clients — and there are more cases pending for mis-valuation and Libor manipulation and bond-price deception and probably some others.

      It is true that, you know, senior executives of Goldman Sachs haven’t gone to prison for the financial crisis, but the simple explanation for that is probably that they didn’t commit any crimes. (Disclosure: I worked at Goldman Sachs, and probably didn’t commit any crimes.) The alternative explanation — that prosecutors just don’t want to prosecute individuals for committing financial crimes — seems basically absurd to me, since I’ve met prosecutors, but again, a lot of people really seem to believe it.

      • Brad says:

        I like Matt Levine, but this is pretty lame. The financial crisis was in 2008 and the predicte actions that could have been prosecuted were mostly in 2006-08. He was writing in 2015 and mentions cases that took place after the financial crisis, in some cases way after. And they had either very little or nothing at all to do with the crisis.

        It doesn’t answer “no bankers went to prison for the financial crisis” to make a list of bankers that went to prison for other crimes at other times.

        As for Goldman, there were almost certainly indictable crimes related to Abacus. DoJ didn’t bring indictments. I fail to see what’s absurd about positing that they weren’t brought because prosecutors (up to and including the AG) didn’t want to bring them.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I think that’s unfair to Levine. He’s pretty explicit that he’s talking about different bankers. He isn’t responding to this thread, so if it’s a non sequitur, it’s Jon’s fault, not Levine’s. But he doesn’t quite say what he is responding to. I think it’s something like: “The system is so corrupt that it never jails bankers, even in worst cases, like the financial crisis.” It’s a pretty reasonable response to that! It may be wrong (eg, maybe the prosecutors are more lenient in the worst situations), but the quoted claim is definitely wrong. (And I think it’s a pretty reasonable guess at the meaning of the people Scott is talking about, although that’s even less clear than the position ML alludes to.)

      • dick says:

        A strange idea that I hear sometimes is that no bankers have gone to prison for all the bank misbehavior of the last few years.

        Somewhat undercut by the fact that the only citation to deal with the 2008 crisis is titled, “Why Only One Top Banker Went to Jail for the Financial Crisis”. Here’s the summary:

        American financial history has generally unfolded as a series of booms followed by busts followed by crackdowns. After the crash of 1929, the Pecora Hearings seized upon public outrage, and the head of the New York Stock Exchange landed in prison. After the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, 1,100 people were prosecuted, including top executives at many of the largest failed banks. In the ’90s and early aughts, when the bursting of the Nasdaq bubble revealed widespread corporate accounting scandals, top executives from WorldCom, Enron, Qwest and Tyco, among others, went to prison.

        The credit crisis of 2008 dwarfed those busts, and it was only to be expected that a similar round of crackdowns would ensue. In 2009, the Obama administration appointed Lanny Breuer to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer quickly focused on professionalizing the operation, introducing the rigor of a prestigious firm like Covington & Burling, where he had spent much of his career. He recruited elite lawyers from corporate firms and the Breu Crew, as they would later be known, were repeatedly urged by Breuer to “take it to the next level.”

        But the crackdown never happened. Over the past year, I’ve interviewed Wall Street traders, bank executives, defense lawyers and dozens of current and former prosecutors to understand why the largest man-made economic catastrophe since the Depression resulted in the jailing of a single investment banker — one who happened to be several rungs from the corporate suite at a second-tier financial institution. Many assume that the federal authorities simply lacked the guts to go after powerful Wall Street bankers, but that obscures a far more complicated dynamic. During the past decade, the Justice Department suffered a series of corporate prosecutorial fiascos, which led to critical changes in how it approached white-collar crime. The department began to focus on reaching settlements rather than seeking prison sentences, which over time unintentionally deprived its ranks of the experience needed to win trials against the most formidable law firms. By the time Serageldin [the titular banker] committed his crime, Justice Department leadership, as well as prosecutors in integral United States attorney’s offices, were de-emphasizing complicated financial cases — even neglecting clues that suggested that Lehman executives knew more than they were letting on about their bank’s liquidity problem. In the mid-’90s, white-collar prosecutions represented an average of 17.6 percent of all federal cases. In the three years ending in 2012, the share was 9.4 percent.

        The article, which is lengthy and detailed and very interesting, gives an overview of financial crimes enforcement (or lack of it) over the last thirty years, and argues that a number of factors combined to have the effect of leading the DoJ to prefer settlements against corporations over of prosecutions against individuals. In other words, it argues convincingly against the thesis Levine was trying to make by citing it.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      I think a key thing no one really has touched on is that encouraging risky investment and loans is what politicians do. Specific to the subprime crisis they encouraged subprime loaning, loaning to risky neighborhoods/citys and to risky individuals. This is because politicians are, as a group, shortsighted individuals. Such shortsightedness is seen in every budgeting process where unsustainable programs, pensions, etc are all continued and kicked to the next legislative session. And then if there ever is pain they publicly whine about how they really don’t want to cut automatic 10% pay increases to 5% but are being forced.

      So why would there be a law against risky banking? And even if there was what is the political incentive to enforce it? Isn’t entrapment a valid defense when you are threatened with civil rights lawsuits for being prudent?

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      1. I have you seen The Big Short? From my understanding it’s reasonably accurate in its portrayal of what the big banks were doing.

      2. If my understanding is correct, even if no laws were broken, that still proves corruption. It just proves a slightly different form of corruption.

  2. bean says:

    Today at Naval Gazing: The USS Missouri (BB-63), Part 1. A history of this ship from her laying-down through the end of 1949, including the surrender of Japan.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Woo! The only battleship I’ve ever been aboard, and named after my home state, too. Obviously a far superior vessel to the much ballyhooed Iowa.

      • bean says:

        Heresy! I too labored under this delusion for many years, for much the same reason (where in Missouri are you from, by the way?), but was later enlightened, and now work to spread the truth.

        Missouri only got the surrender through blatant favoritism on the part of the President. Did she ever have to dodge destroyer torpedoes? No. Did she ever fire at a warship, as is the mission of a battleship? No. Does she have a 3-level conning tower? No. Did she ever carry nuclear shells for her guns? No. Did she once get stuck in the mud and become a national laughingstock? Yes. (And now you know why I split her history into multiple parts.)

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          (I’m from all over, really. My grandparents and cousins own a lot of land around Pierce City, in the southwest part of the state – the nearest sizeable town is Joplin. I grew up in Lee’s Summit, often visiting my other grandparents in Grandview about two blocks from the Truman farm. Lived in Kirksville in the northeast for seven years, now live and work in St. Louis – happily not one of the bits that you so memorably nuked a few years ago, although my girlfriends’ parents live less than a mile from the old Chrysler plant).

          Picking a fight with bean on his home turf seems like a really dumb thing to do, but what the hell, maybe he could use a laugh.

          Anyway, please, who cares if she fired her guns on a warship? Everyone knows that by 1944 the proper role of the battleship was as giant anti-aircraft gun and shore bombardment platform, two tasks she was exemplary at. She received the surrender of one of the most powerful maritime empires in the history of the world, one which had never been defeated by a foreign invader, on her decks, because the President knew a good ship when he saw one. She was first battleship to Korea, served nobly in the war, covered the last ship out of Hungnam, and during reactivation she was – I think – the last US battleship to ever fire its guns in anger.

          And if you want to talk about naval accidents, like getting stuck in mud, well, Iowa had her fair share of accidents. :/ I will grant you the conning tower and nuclear shells, though.

          • bean says:

            Cool. I’m a born and bred St. Louisan, and expect to be back up there later in the year.

            Re Iowa, emotionally, I’m absolutely sure she’s the best, regardless of any evidence. She’s mine, after all. But I’m also not going to do more than jokingly insist that others recognize this. (This is a key part of the process that makes military units work.) Intellectually, I agree that her combat career was not particularly distinguished, but if we use that as our criteria, we probably have to agree that Washington or New Jersey was the best.

            She was first battleship to Korea, served nobly in the war, covered the last ship out of Hungnam, and during reactivation she was – I think – the last US battleship to ever fire its guns in anger.

            The first part was due to more presidential favoritism. As for the second, that requires you to count shooting at Iraq as “in anger”. More like “irritation”.

            And if you want to talk about naval accidents, like getting stuck in mud, well, Iowa had her fair share of accidents.

            That was BuOrd’s fault, not our captain being an idiot.

          • Dan L says:

            New Jersey was the best

            Damn straight. I’m not saying that size matters, but it does seem that claimers otherwise are missing those last, critical four inches.

          • bean says:

            I was fairly sure that that had more to do with temrperature than anything else, but I decided to check with math, and I’m no longer sure that’s the case. It looks like there’s about .1″/deg C, which means you’d need to have measured one of the other ships on a very cold day and Jersey on a very hot one to make any difference.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        This inspired me to look up if there was an Illinois – being canceled midway through comes close but true nominative determinism is precluded by the lack of an embezzlement scandal or a captain getting court-martialed.

    • Aapje says:

      @bean

      Is there a plan for if the US ever builds more than 50 large ships and it runs out of states to name the ships after? Will the US split California in North California and South California or does it have a plan to use a different naming scheme for the ships?

      • johan_larson says:

        Annex states of Mexico and provinces of Canada, as the need arises.

      • bean says:

        This is actually going to be an issue in the next couple of years. Currently, submarines are being named for states, but we’re very close to running out of names. I really hope that they start using the names of great submarines of the past (mostly WWII, but we should have a Parche, too), but they’ll probably just name them after Congresscritters.
        (Of course, all of this assumes that the various programs survive Montana.)

        The only place it would cause potentially serious problems is if we were still building battleships, which are I believe the only ships whose naming convention is spelled out in law. But that’s not really a problem.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Montana?

          • bean says:

            The past two Montanas have both been cancelled. (The first was a WWI South Dakota, the second the name ship of the successor to the Iowas.) More specifically, Montana was the only WWI SoDak name not reused. So there’s a running joke in some circles that naming a ship Montana means the program will be cancelled.

        • helloo says:

          Wait, I thought US subs were named after fish, battleships states, and carriers… stuff.

          It is also very common to have ships reuse old names. Does the law require them to never reuse old names? I can understand not wanting to use names of those in service, but haven’t heard anything regarding retiring names (like hurricanes maybe?)

          If they have enough in service to run out of names, then that’s a very different timeline and hard to say even how many states will exist then.

          • Civilis says:

            My understanding is that the current names are as follows:

            Ballistic missile subs inherited the battleship naming convention of states, while attack submarines inherited the cruiser naming conventions of cities. The more recent intermediate class of cruise missile submarines are converted ballistic missile subs, so they have state names.

            Carriers these days are generally named after presidents, though other prominent political leaders are occasionally substituted (USS John C. Stennis and USS Carl Vinson). As he was a submariner, Jimmy Carter got a submarine named after him instead of a carrier, a modified attack submarine with features for use with special forces. Helicopter carriers inherited some of the old carrier names (Essex, Wasp) and names of battles.

          • gbdub says:

            “The more recent intermediate class of cruise missile submarines are converted ballistic missile subs, so they have state names.”

            It’s true that the SSGNs are converted Ohio class boomers, and they kept their names post conversion.

            But the Virginia class boats are explicitly fast attack subs (SSNs) and they all have state names. I don’t know why they went away from the convention of the class they most directly replace, the Los Angeles boats.

          • bean says:

            In WWII, carriers were named after battles and historical ships of the USN, battleships were named after states, and submarines after ships.

            Just after the war, FDR got a carrier named after him. This was the beginning of the current mess. In the 60s, carriers had mostly returned to their traditional names, but no new battleships were coming, so they decided to give the state names to nuclear-powered frigates (now cruisers). They built 6, then stopped, and the state names went to SSBNs (which had previously been Great Americans, later people from whichever state the Navy needed to butter up). At about the same time, the SSN naming scheme went from fish to – briefly – “Congressional supporters of the Navy nuclear program” to the home cities of such congressmen, and then to cities in general. This was the Los Angeles class. The carriers went from traditional carrier names to important politicians, and the Ticonderogas and LHDs split their names. Then, to placate more states, the SSNs started to get state names, too. Only destroyers have remained (mostly) static, with naval heroes. But even that’s starting to slip. Mabus, Obama’s SecNav, made everything above worse.

            I really should write a full post on this.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I had an idea for stretch the state-name convention by naming ships after territories, commonwealths, federal districts, etc, but it looks like a lot of those names are already in use. There’s already a USS Columbia, a USS Guam, and a USS Puerto Rico, at least. And “USS Virgin Islands” would be a confusing name for a ship (also, sailors would have too much fun with the name). It doesn’t look like there’s currently a USS Samoa or a USS Mariana, though. There’re a dozen or so “Minor Outlying Islands”, but most of them have battles named after them and thus probably have ships already named after them as well. Plus, an uninhabited atoll in the middle of nowhere is getting pretty far afield from naming ships after states.

          If you really want to reach, I suppose you could start naming ships after proposed states and former territories that didn’t become states under their original names. That would give us USS Northwest Territory, USS Southwest Territory, USS Sequoia, and USS Orleans.

          • bean says:

            I really, really want them to use historical names. Not because fish, but in memory of the men who brought terror, destruction, and starvation to our enemies. And who occasionally snuck ashore to blow up their trains.

          • Nornagest says:

            The fish names always struck me as a little bit silly, but having a coherent naming convention is certainly better than not having one.

            I’ve always been a fan of the Brits’ naming conventions for their capital ships, myself. Hubristic and kind of pompous, but if there’s any ship that can handle a little hubris and pomposity it’s got to be something mounting 16″ guns. Or, more recently, Trident D5s.

          • bean says:

            Fish names made more sense when submarines were flotilla craft, and basically disposable, I’ll admit. And I’m also in agreement that British naming conventions are basically just better. I probably need to push Andrew’s article on that into publication at some point soon.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I’m the opposite – I like the non-assuming, non-threatening fish names. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the American military historically is that it didn’t take itself too seriously. Whimsical names for operations and for ships, tongue-in-cheek humor, I like that more than the more “refined” British style.

            of course, the British have their own sense of humor. The story goes that the Germans were engaging in some misdirection, attempting to build a fake airfield to draw British bomber raids away from more valuable targets. The German “airfield,” constructed with meticulous care, was made almost entirely of wood. There were wooden hangers, oil tanks, gun emplacements, trucks, and aircraft. The Germans took so long in building their wooden decoy that Allied photo experts had more than enough time to observe and report it. The day finally came when the decoy was finished, down to the last wooden plank. And early the following morning a lone RAF plane crossed the Channel, came in low, circled the field once, and dropped a large wooden bomb.

    • bean says:

      Friday, we return to our discussion on building a modern navy, looking more at the Coast Guard.

  3. dndnrsn says:

    Welcome to the latest installment of my Biblical scholarship effortpost series (previous installments: creation stories, rest of Genesis, Exodus – liberation and covenant, and priestly theology). This time we’re going to look at Deuteronomy. Following a brief summary, we’ll talk about the identification of Deuteronomy with the reforms of King Josiah. After that, we’re going to discuss the arguments for dating Deuteronomy relatively late, and for the dating of the D source versus the P source.

    Caveats: I’m not an expert in this, but I did do a master’s (focusing more on the New Testament than Hebrew Bible). This is about secular scholarship, not theology. I’m trying to present a fair scholarly consensus and explain where there’s controversy.

    Deuteronomy is presented as given by Moses to the Israelites before they enter the promised land. Summarized briefly, it consists of various exhortations appealing to Israel’s history and a code of laws, along with curses and blessings, plus some concluding and miscellaneous stuff.

    For our purposes, the laws are the most important part; the most important laws concern reform of worship, largely consisting of centralization of sacrifice to God and absolute prohibition on worshipping other gods. Other than these religious reforms, an important characteristic of the laws in Deuteronomy is that they generally have a more strongly ethical character than the other laws we’ve seen in the Torah. They are especially concerned about the lot of the poor, slaves, etc, and they are justified on the basis of the experience of slavery in Egypt (cause for empathy) and God’s role in rescuing them from this.

    Considering the religious reforms: God is only to be worshipped through sacrifice and offering at one place. Sacrificial worship elsewhere is prohibited. Slaughtering livestock for food without sacrifice is explicitly allowed. Scholars believe this was not the case previously among the Israelites (in general, as far as I know, societies that sacrifice a considerable number of animals tend not to just throw the meat away – depending on place, time, and religion the priests might get it, or people might sacrifice an animal then take it home and eat it, or whatever).

    Because of these details, the rules in Deuteronomy are frequently identified with the reforms of Josiah (as described in 2 Kings 22-23, a book which scholars link to Deuteronomy – but that’s a story for next time). Josiah’s reforms are sparked by the high priest’s discovery of a scroll in the Temple. The reforms made based on this scroll accord pretty well with the worship-related program of Deuteronomy: Josiah bans the worship of other deities and of God outside the Temple; the new rules are justified by appeal to Moses. Scholars have thus, since the early 19th century, believed the scroll found in the Temple to be none other than Deuteronomy itself – not necessarily Deuteronomy as we have it today but at a minimum part of what would become the book of Deuteronomy.

    Further, scholars, based on the account of Josiah’s reform, as well as the earlier attempt at reform by Hezekiah (see 2 Kings 18), concluded that the account of the centralization indicated that Deuteronomy was not an old collection of laws that had been forgotten or ignored. Rather, it was an innovation (one that would concentrate power in Jerusalem and lead to more central exercise of power in general), presented, however, as something older that had been forgotten or ignored. They also considered links between Deuteronomy and “wisdom” literature (a genre present across the Ancient Near East with its best example in the Hebrew Bible found in Proverbs) to be further evidence that Deuteronomy was the work of scribes in Jerusalem; originally, scribes serving Josiah.

    This argument relies upon internal evidence. First, it requires the identification of Deuteronomy, or elements of what would become Deuteronomy, with the scroll found in the temple – that this not be a mere coincidence. Second, the argument relies to some degree on reasoning based on who benefits: the high priest happens to find a scroll arguing for centralization, and the king acts on it. The effects of this would have benefited the Jerusalem priesthood and the monarch. One does not need to be especially cynical to think that the discovery of the scroll was a little suspicious – but suspicion on its own isn’t proof.

    So far, this evidence is fairly speculative – especially for something as key to understanding the Hebrew Bible as the date of Deuteronomy. This is a major point in the big question we’ve been seeing again and again: is the history of Israel, as seen in the Hebrew Bible, the history of a people recovering old ways of doing things and getting better at doing what they were initially told to do, or is it the history of a society developing and retconning their history to indicate that each new development is in fact something they were meant to do from the beginning? Luckily, we have some hard(er) evidence.

    Since the original scholarly speculation as to the date of Deuteronomy, the seventh-century Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon have been uncovered by archaeology. They were the vassal treaties binding the inferior parties to Esarhaddon, an Assyrian king; Judah appears to have been one of his vassals – it was a vassal to his father, Sennacherib. There are strong parallels (in form and in content) between these treaties and Deuteronomy. Scholars have concluded that it is fairly clear that Deuteronomy in its current form was influenced by these treaties – and thus must date from around the same time. Deuteronomy may, in fact, have been intended to provide a sort of alternative to Assyrian vassal treaties: pledge allegiance to God instead of to foreign powers.

    Some of the material could be earlier – older oral traditions, say – but it would still have to be put together at a given time. Also, it only presents an earliest possible date for the first material that would become Deuteronomy to be written down – there could have been later additions. Finding a date for the book doesn’t lead to the conclusion that it was composed entirely at that date: scholars tend to think that what is now Deuteronomy was enlarged and edited over a period of decades. It may include oral traditions, but it is unlikely that oral traditions were accurately maintained for a long period.

    A major question is whether the D source or P source is earlier. A lot rides on this: if you take the perspective that the D source dates to the 7th century at latest, and that the P source was composed afterwards, then both the D source and P source are considerably later than they would have to be to date to the beginning of Israel’s history, or anywhere near that. Further, they intentionally place contemporary material about contemporary concerns in the past, presenting it as binding rules dating to the beginning. D in the 7th century and D before P, in short, lends credence to the general notion that the accounts given in the Hebrew Bible represent retroactive continuity in a very strong sense, and additionally contributed to the importance of scripture in the religion (compare D and P to J and E for answers to questions like “how should a community behave?” and “how should individuals behave?”). This interest in religious scripture and in scripture as a guide to life and behaviour is fairly unusual – it was probably very unusual in its original context of Ancient Near East religion generally, as well as the later Mediterranean. (Of course, D and P aren’t the only factors here; the loss of the Temple and the Babylonian captivity played a major role in the development of the religion.)

    These arguments tend to revolve around the P source seeming more developed and settled than the D source. Leviticus has a more sophisticated ritual calendar, and things that seem to be of special importance (centralization the most important) in D are assumed in P.

    However, there are also arguments for P being earlier. Early arguments for P being later than D often assumed that P’s interest in ritual and purity were later accretions. This position dated to the 19th century, and the scholars who put it together tended to dislike what they saw as later developments, especially P’s preoccupation with purity and ritual. This was seen as a deterioration from what these scholars saw as earlier modes of the religion. They presumed that legalism had developed over time in Judaism, and saw this as a negative development.

    There is, however, evidence that has appeared since then (the same sort of archaeological evidence that gave us Esarhaddon’s treaty) that ritual and purity concerns were a concern of multiple religions in the Ancient Near East by the second millenium. Arguments based on the development of language also tend to fall on the side of P being earlier. If P is earlier (and one still thinks D to be from the 7th century), while nothing is proved about when it dates from, it certainly can’t be from after a certain point, and elements such as centralization and the codes of law and ritual in P could be relatively early. This means less retconning. It also dates that special interest in scripture earlier.

    Overall, the closest to a consensus that is available is that both sources contain older traditions and were edited over some period of time – there may be overlap, and part of one book being earlier than part of another does not mean one book as a whole is older than the other. With that said, the P source was probably after and influenced by Deuteronomy and the associated reforms, but again, may contain material from before that date. Both are younger than J and E (with which P is far more tightly integrated). Both played an important role in the development of a religion that was heavily based around scripture.

    So, to recap. The closest thing there is to a scholarly consensus is that Deuteronomy dates to the seventh century, based on accounts of Josiah’s reforms (with which it is associated) and comparison to some treaties from that period. P is probably later than D, in the main. Centralization is fairly late, and the heavy interest in scripture likely is too. The religion as a whole became the religion it became later on in part due to Josiah’s reforms and the documentation produced to support them. Next time, we’ll talk about the historical books (the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) which scholars have linked to Deuteronomy.

    Postscript: If I’ve made any errors, let me know, ideally in the next ~55 minutes so I can edit.

    • Evan Þ says:

      So why is the scholarly consensus still that P is later than D, after purity was discovered to be a major concern of the Ancient Near East, and after linguistic evidence points to its being earlier?

      Also, I remember some arguments in the replies to one of your earlier posts that Deuteronomy bears more similarities to older treaties than to Assyrian treaties. If so, this would refute the main evidence you cited for Deuteronomy’s date; do you have anything more to say on that?

      • dndnrsn says:

        1. I can expand on this a bit if you want, but not right this moment. I was kind of bumping up against the word limit.

        2. I think it’s something like this – Deuteronomy specifically resembles the Esarhaddon treaties, which aren’t just in the right century but within the right couple decades or so, while looked at more generally the Torah or parts of it resemble Middle Eastern vassal treaties in general, and scholars argue over whether they resemble Hittite or Assyrian more.

        Spitballing, but it’s plausible to me that bits and pieces of old traditions and sources from the 13th century found their way into later documents. Not necessarily orally, either – maybe oral traditions from 1350 or whenever get written down within a few decades and then enter the documentary record, probably changing over the centuries. This is used to write later documents, which inform D or P or whatever source, or inform a source that gets used in that source, blah blah blah. Due to the ravages of time on organic materials, we know a lot more for this sort of discussion of sources with the New Testament than the Hebrew Bible. This would explain why there’s stuff and descriptions of stuff that really make sense if they’re vaguely about the 13th century, but in stuff that as a whole is probably from at least a few centuries after that, at the earliest. I reiterate that this is just my opinion as to a possible explanation. This is not scholarly consensus, just what I sort of get from what I’ve read.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I can expand on this a bit if you want, but not right this moment. I was kind of bumping up against the word limit.

          Sure; when you have time, please do.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The strongest argument to me seems based on the calendar. The P source calendar includes a couple festivals the D source calendar doesn’t; it wouldn’t make sense for it not to include festivals celebrated when it was written. It also includes Passover as a pilgrimage, which seems to show up first in Deuteronomy.

          • Aron Wall says:

            I don’t understand. You seem to be saying that we know P is (mostly) later than D because P copied D’s requirement that the Passover be celebrated with a pilgrimage.

            But why isn’t it equally plausible that D was copying P’s pilgrimage requirement? Even after the speculative division of the Torah into specific sources, the text only indicates which of these sources had the requirement, not who was the first to do so.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If P influenced D Passover, it raises the question of why D leaves out festivals that are in the P ritual calendar. Some scholars also think that the statement in 2 Kings 23:21 (yes, this requires identifying the scroll with Deuteronomy) that “no such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel” is tendentious – Judges portrays a time that either didn’t know or wasn’t following other stuff from Deuteronomy (mostly involving prohibited religious activities); the argument goes that the insistence it hadn’t been done in such a way since a past time was covering for it not having been done in such a way before, period. I may be garbling this a bit. I’ll think about it a bit more when I’m freshly rested and maybe flip through the books again.

          • Aron Wall says:

            This assumes that the list of festivals would only get longer with time, not shorter.

            Or it could also be that Deuteronomy, being a second iteration of the law, focuses its attention only on the festivals which were most important from the perspective of lay Israelities—namely the ones which required them to go on pilgrimage.

          • dndnrsn says:

            There’s some evidence from Nehemiah that those two festivals in P but not D weren’t observed in Nehemiah’s time, and Nehemiah is usually dated to the 4th or 5th century. Both of the festivals are pretty important ones.

          • Aron Wall says:

            And what is that evidence? I hope it does not take the form: if a festival is not mentioned by a particular author then it didn’t exist.

          • Aron Wall says:

            One of the festivals mentioned in Leviticus but not Deuteronomy or Nehemiah is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

            The instructions in Leviticus for this feast involve the high priest sprinkling blood on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. However, the Ark was destroyed in the Babylonian Conquest and never rebuilt, even though they rebuilt the rest of the furniture for the Second Temple. This seems to imply that Yom Kippur preceded the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, because why put in instructions for what to do with the Ark if the Ark isn’t there?

          • dndnrsn says:

            The reasoning is a bit more complex than that, but boils down to being pretty close. It seems odd that a book that is so intently focused on proper worship would leave out major festivals, pilgrimage or no. The relevant bit of Nehemiah is organized chronologically – so the absence of a major festival is highly suggestive. Yes, this is pretty speculative. It’s a clue, not really huge proof.

            However, it might be the best we can do – if you cut back to only what can be proven by hard evidence, you end up relying entirely on archaeological evidence, which is limited. However, a high bar like that does tell us that the institutional history as given in the Hebrew Bible doesn’t match up with the archaeological record. It’s hard to avoid that the least-likely-to-be-accurate presentation is that of, in this case, the framing material of the laws.

            I could give my own opinion, which is probably a bit friendlier to the date of parts of the D and P source than the conventional (that meaning, as it usually does, German) scholarly account, but it’s more just “hey this passes the smell test” than anything else, and may be distorted by my NT scholarship focus (where there’s much better textual evidence to support these theories).

        • marshwiggle says:

          The scholars you’re drawing on are in the tradition of Weinfeld, the guy who wrote Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic tradition yes?

          Weinfeld isn’t exactly the most careful with evidence. People may have liked his results, but his arguments are rather poor.

          For instance Weinfeld relies very heavily on the curse formulas in Deuteronomy having the same punishments as Esarhaddon in the same order. Specifically, he says there is no reason to have Deuteronomy 28:27-28 in that order, except that Esarhaddon does, and Esarhaddon has in that order because of the deities Sin and Shamash. The curses on the Code of Hammurabi have those same deities right next to each other, but Haummurabi puts Shamash before Sin. Hammurabi is way way older, 1000 years older. It’s got a much bigger resemblance to Deuteronomy than the order of Shamash and Sin – it’s got a whole pile of laws and non-divine punishments that the curses are in reference to. And this is the kind of thing Weinfeld counts as major evidence.

          A much bigger problem for Weinfeld is the absence of historical prologue (justifying the treaty) in the Esarhaddon type treaties. It’s kind of a big deal in Deuteronomy. It’s kind of a big deal in older treaties – if I recall, even Weinfeld admitted that the Deteronomy historical prologue stuff resembled the much older Hittite treaties. The historical prologue stuff is just plain not there in Esarhaddon. This isn’t a minor difference in pattern. It’s a major one, and in my judgement at least it torpedoes the entire Esarhaddon/Deuteronomy argument. Weinfeld knew this was a problem, but he just sort of glossed it over.

          In short, I think the scholarship on this matter was in love with the Josiah’s scribes/priests/whatever wrote it idea, and ignored evidence against it. People after him seem to have quoted Weinfeld approvingly as if he proved the case. Mind you, if there’s scholarship in the last 10 years that deals well with the prologue, Hittite, and Hammurabi stuff, do let me know – I’ve not kept up with the latest scholarship hardly at all.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Lemme look a bit more at it and I’ll get back to you.

            EDIT: It’s entirely plausible they fell for a theory because they liked it; the 7th C D theory would have gone along generally with the “primitive cool religion/developed boring religion” split that the scholarship applied to both HB and NT.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Yeah, Weinfeld’s in there; I don’t know the extent to which he has a tradition. I’ll acknowledge I’m not super equipped to discuss the VTEs – someone wants to know what’s in there? If it were in Greek, maybe I could tell you firsthand. If you’ve got any secondary (tertiary?) sources attacking him, I’d be interested to see them.

            Leaving Esarhaddon aside entirely, yeah, I think many made their decision based on the earlier internal arguments. I find them rather more plausible than the “institutional history” but that’s not much in the way of actual proof. But hey, if they find actual proof, that puts a lot of non-zero number of Biblical scholars out of work.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Is this the Esarhaddon treaty we are discussing? There are a couple notable similarities, but on a causal read-through I don’t see any sort of detailed correspondence between the outlines of either the terms (which as mashwiggle says, are not a detailed code of legislation like Hammurabi or Deuteronomy, just multiple ways of swearing political loyalty to the new crown prince) or the curses (a couple of which correspond, but most are different.)

            The two most striking parallels I see are the curse about eating your own children, and the command to “love” (but this is for the crown prince, not the deity as in Deuteronomy).

            Also, in Deuteronomy 28-30 (as well as Leviticus 26, a closely parallel passage from a “preistly” book), the curses are preceeded by a list of blessings for obedience, and followed by a promise to restore Israel after they are exiled due to disobedience.

            By the way, if Deuteronomy was forged by King Josiah’s scribes to justify his central authority, then how come they forgot to put in a single provision about obeying the king or remaining loyal to him? (The things that any other ancient ruler would be most obsessed with getting divine support for.) The only direct reference in the entire text to the monarchy is 17:14-20, and is almost entirely about placing restrictions on the monarchy! It specifically prohibits the king from acquring large amounts of wives or wealth, and requires him to be obedient to the law and not to regard himself as better than other people. That sounds like it was written by somebody who didn’t like centralization of power, and wanted a very limited constitutional monarch. Thematically, this passage has a lot more in common with 1 Samuel 8 (the prophet Samuel’s predictions about all the bad things a king will do) than anything to do with Josiah, except perhaps the bit about not returning to Egypt.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Attempts to explain the last point usually try to explain stuff restricting the monarchy as a later addition. Yep, a little speculative and hard to disprove, perhaps even shading into ad-hoc hypothesis a little. (I could get behind an approach that looks at the religious authorities rather than the secular authorities; after all, it’s not the king who finds the scroll)

            Also, I think “forgery” is a bit of a charged term. I can attest to this more for the period the New Testament comes together in, but there’s some evidence that the ancient world didn’t think about it in the same way we do. Forging coins probably got you put to death or whatever, but writing something and saying someone from an earlier time said it was legitimate, at least in some circumstances (consider that Deuteronomy as we have it now does a lot more than enable a power grab by someone or other; it’s a pretty humane law code by the standards of the time and place – if some human author put that in hoping to create support for more humane laws, was that a bad thing?). We shouldn’t import modern concerns. I suppose an analogy might be the only-relatively-recently dropped habit of putting Roman soldiers at the crucifixion in paintings, etc, in contemporary garb – “historical accuracy” is a relatively modern concept.

          • Aron Wall says:

            The moral valence of the forgery wasn’t my main point there. It’s just the verb I was using.

            As for the theory that Deuteronomy is about bolstering the power of the monarchy, except for the parts about the monarchy which were added later and represent a completely different perspective—to state this theory seems sufficient to show its absurdity.

            Your alternative idea that it represents the perspective of the religious authorities (who might not want a strong king to rival their power) makes considerably more sense. Of course, we have an apparent prior reference to restrictions on the monarch in 1 Samuel 10:25, but I suppose this is just taken as evidence that this passage also postdates Josiah…

          • dndnrsn says:

            The going scholarly theory is that Samuel is part of the “Deuteronomistic history” – a bunch of the historical books are associated with the “Deuteronomistic school” and present history through the lens of Deuteronomy (do what God wants you to do, which largely involves not worshipping other deities and following some ethical rules, and you will flourish; if not, you’ll get yours eventually). More on this next time.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Of course, we have an apparent prior reference to restrictions on the monarch in 1 Samuel 10:25, but I suppose this is just taken as evidence that this passage also postdates Josiah…

            The best evidence that the so-called Deuteronomistic history postdates Josiah is that he is mentioned by name in it.

          • Randy M says:

            But that specifically isn’t evidence that “Deuteronomistic history” contains Deuteronomy.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Off the top of my head, I think the scholarly explanation is that Deuteronomy got bundled together with the stuff that would become konwn as the Deuteronomistic history, got edited by the same tradition of scribes, etc. More precise (and possibly more correct) information next time.

          • Aron Wall says:

            It seems like this technique insulates the theory from falsification. Anything I could possibly point to in ancient Hebrew history before Josiah that matches the Deuteronomic code, is simply evidence that the Deuteronomists got to those historical documents first.

            And when the evidence is in “P”, that is just taken as evidence for the lateness of P, notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the original evidence for the Deuteronomistic hypothesis was supposed to come from characterization of what elements D adds to the rest of the Torah.

            The theory seems to involve taking one very narrow snippet of historical analysis and then privileging that over all other available data. It’s consistent, but only because it has very quick reflexes for disposing of counter-evidence.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Honestly, I ain’t gonna lie, might be true. Arguing about a subject where there’s so little evidence results in a lot of circular arguments and ad-hoc hypotheses. It gets less shaky the further forward you go; by the time we get to my old stomping grounds of the first century CE/AD, we’ve got very good sources for the Judaism of the time, early Christianity, and a generally clearer archaeological picture of the Hellenistic world.

            Plus, there’s a bias in scholarship that goes back to the (to be frank, at least partly anti-Jewish) German belief that there was an authentic, more ecstatic, religion based around prophet figures (I think like what’s described in Judges, kinda-sorta?) that was supplanted by a law-obsessed, ritual-obsessed, purity-obsessed legalistic religion (overemphasizing the degree of this in contemporary Judaism was an anti-Jewish thing; this can be read as that read back in time).

            I’m so spoiled by the textual evidence in the 1st century that I can score a lot of these scholarly controversies regarding the HB a draw in good conscience. The scholarly reasoning regarding the Judaism of the time and early Christianity has many fewer places where it’s circular and ad-hoc.

          • Randy M says:

            Wait, the German scholars were saying the mystical, ecstatic original religion was stealthily supplanted by the staid legalistic one? And that that was bad? I’m going to have to update my cultural stereotypes of Germans.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Randy M

            The Germans have a really strong Romantic streak, in the capital-R sense. It’s the same reason that in NT scholarship there’s often a hostility to Paul, etc etc.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m going to have to update my cultural stereotypes of Germans.

            Oh, you have no idea. Early to Mid 19th century English/Scottish (and Anglophile American) opinion of Germans was of dreamy metaphysicians, all perpetual university students drinking beer, smoking meerschaums and courting blue-eyed, blonde-braided frauleins in between talking philosophy and romantic notions into the night (no good collection of ghost stories lacked a Gothic-type tale of a German university student running into the supernatural).

            Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus is a parody of the perceived German metaphysics:

            Perhaps it is proof of the stunted condition in which pure Science, especially pure moral Science, languishes among us English; and how our mercantile greatness, and invaluable Constitution, impressing a political or other immediately practical tendency on all English culture and endeavour, cramps the free flight of Thought, —that this, not Philosophy of Clothes, but recognition even that we have no such Philosophy, stands here for the first time published in our language. What English intellect could have chosen such a topic, or by chance stumbled on it? But for that same unshackled, and even sequestered condition of the German Learned, which permits and induces them to fish in all manner of waters, with all manner of nets, it seems probable enough, this abtruse Inquiry might, in spite of the results it leads to, have continued dormant for indefinite periods. The Editor of these sheets, though otherwise boasting himself a man of confirmed speculative habits, and perhaps discursive enough, is free to confess, that never, till these last months, did the above very plain considerations, on our total want of a Philosophy of Clothes, occur to him; and then, by quite foreign suggestion. By the arrival, namely, of a new Book from Professor Teufelsdrockh of Weissnichtwo; treating expressly of this subject, and in a style which, whether understood or not, could not even by the blindest be overlooked. In the present Editor’s way of thought, this remarkable Treatise, with its Doctrines, whether as judicially acceded to, or judicially denied, has not remained without effect.

            “Die Kleider, ihr Werden und Wirken (Clothes, their Origin and Influence): von Diog. Teufelsdrockh, J. U. D. etc. Stillschweigen und Cognie. Weissnichtwo, 1831.
            “Here,” says the Weissnichtwo’sche Anzeiger, “comes a Volume of that extensive, close-printed, close-meditated sort, which, be it spoken with pride, is seen only in Germany, perhaps only in Weissnichtwo. Issuing from the hitherto irreproachable Firm of Stillschweigen and Company, with every external furtherance, it is of such internal quality as to set Neglect at defiance…. A work,” concludes the well-nigh enthusiastic Reviewer, “interesting alike to the antiquary, the historian, and the philosophic thinker; a masterpiece of boldness, lynx-eyed acuteness, and rugged independent Germanism and Philanthropy (derber Kerndeutschheit und Menschenliebe); which will not, assuredly, pass current without opposition in high places; but must and will exalt the almost new name of Teufelsdrockh to the first ranks of Philosophy, in our German Temple of Honour.”

            Mostly this was a Bavarian Thing, the Prussians with their Cold Military Discipline put paid to that notion and then two wars cemented the “strictly efficient humourless technocrat” view of Germans 🙂

          • dndnrsn says:

            The Germans were actually pretty inefficient in WWII, largely due to competition between party and state, and Hitler’s general management style (or lack thereof). The whole “voelkisch” thing is pretty mystical and capital-R Romantic.

    • Iain says:

      You nearly got me in trouble at pub trivia last night.

      The question was something along the lines of: “According to scholars, the Jahwist, written in 1000 BC, and the Priestly source, written in 700 BC, were combined around 500 BC to form what book?”

      “Crap,” I think. “I remember that the beginning of Genesis was J and P, but there were other sources as well. Were they in Genesis? I think I remember that they occurred later in Genesis. What book has exactly J and P in it? Leviticus, maybe? Or maybe he means the Pentateuch?”

      The answer, obviously, was “The Bible”. (“Or”, the trivia guy continued, “technically ‘the Old Testament’.”)

      Fortunately my team talked me out of getting too specific.

      • Randy M says:

        Saying the answer is “The Bible” is just so wrong. Jews don’t call the book the Bible, or even the Old Testament, though that might be fair as a sort of translation. But no Christian refers to just the OT as the Bible, and the whole book was not formed in 500 BC by any accounting.

        And if you are in a *trivia* contest, why is any answer other than “technically” correct ones allowed? Isn’t that the whole point of trivia*, knowing obscure facts? They need to change the name to “Somewhere in the ballpark of common knowledge” Pursuit, I say.

        *The point other than having an excuse to hang out and drink with friends, which admittedly** I may be missing here.

        **Is it weird that “admittedly” sounds right to me at almost any point in that clause? English is not usually so forgiving.

        • Iain says:

          I am doing the dates from memory, so it’s possible that the actual question was slightly less wrong.

          Hanging out and drinking with friends is definitely the primary purpose of pub trivia. (It certainly isn’t the food.)

          • Randy M says:

            Still, in no sense is “The Bible” formed from 2 sources, let alone those two. I give you permission to feel superior.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Would have been great if you had said “the Tetrateuch”, and seen what the host said.

            Randy M:

            I think Jews are happy to refer to the “Bible” as roughly analogous to “Tanakh”; certainly I don’t think twice about it. After all, even within Christianity, different denominations take “the Bible” to refer to slightly different sets of books.

            I agree with you about trivia, but unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon for hosts to ask imprecise or poorly worded questions that can admit multiple answers, or to gloss over technical details that can change the meaning of a question. The version of correct that matters isn’t “technically correct”, it’s “matches what the host has on their answer sheet”.
            You have to get used to trying to find the answer for the most reasonable interpretation of what the host is trying to ask.

          • Randy M says:

            Someone has to:
            “Nope, the correct answer is “The Moops.”

        • yodelyak says:

          Many adverbs work at any point in the clause they modify, whether it is a main clause, a subordinate clause, a question, or an exclamation.

          Add “tomorrow” to “I am going to do that.” I count 5 choices that do not seem to me to be incorrect, although some sound strained and I would use only for poetic effect or if I wanted to seem like I wasn’t a native speaker.
          Tomorrow I am going to do that. (I would guess this is second most common)
          I am going, tomorrow, to do that. (Sounds like tomorrow was dropped into the sentence as the idea came to the speaker. Sounds like, “Well, let’s see… I am going–tomorrow!–to do that. Or it sounds like the going is something that will be done tomorrow, in order that the doing of that may then be done. E.g. “I am going, tomorrow, so that I will be able to do that.)
          I am going to tomorrow do that. (This feels like a poetic announcement of a policy of procrastination, or else is incorrect, but tastes may vary.)
          I am going to do that tomorrow. (This is most common I would guess.)
          I am tomorrow going to do that. (Sounds emphatic about the tomorrow-ness of when the “that” will get done.)

          Sometimes the small change makes some people here mystic chords of deep significance at the same time the make others cringe. E.g., add “boldly” to “To go where no one has gone before!”

          (Count me with the people who likes splitting the infinitive here, though normally I don’t.)

          [Help, I’m trapped in a grammar comment.]

      • dndnrsn says:

        This is the opposite problem of not knowing the answer enough in an academic context. The solution there is to vaguely mention scholarly disagreement and then present the first plausible thing to come into your head as something you definitely remember reading one place or other.

      • marshwiggle says:

        Other people have touched on the details, so I’ll just add… wow.

    • hls2003 says:

      As I preface most of my posts on this topic, thanks for putting this together. I very much appreciate reading your synopsis of the scholarship even though I often disagree with the conclusions of said scholars.

      One thing I am struck by is that the evidence doesn’t seem to be terribly strong on any of these points, no doubt because of the antiquity of the source material. Having a similar structure to a set of treaties does not strike me as implausible at all, regardless of which was written first, if the purposes of both were similar and both arose in a generally similar cultural milieu. To rebut textual and oral traditions to the contrary, it strikes me as less compelling than I would expect – but then, what would I really expect? As you note, evidence is hard to come by.

      One question that arose on reading – you mention that part of the scholarly arguments rest on the relative decay rate / inability to maintain an accurate oral tradition. I’m rather surprised by that, given (a) things like Homer exist, and (b) we’re dealing with societies probably far better versed in the mechanics of maintaining and passing oral traditions. Do you know what methods or assumptions scholars have used to try to calculate a mutation or decay rate for an oral tradition in a culture with low literacy?

      • dndnrsn says:

        I’m not well-versed in the textual history of Homer, or about the relation between oral and textual sources, etc etc. In this regard, I can talk about the New Testament the most confidently – the first written sources which we have about Jesus don’t appear for a while after Jesus is executed, and most scholars think there was a period where various oral traditions about him circulated. They appear to have varied a great deal, given the different traditions we have about him written down (especially once you start cutting out noncanonical stuff that’s really late, which just tends to be kinda wacky). I doubt there’s something unique about Jesus that would cause fragmenting, changing, diverse oral traditions, followed by texts that were better-behaved, but not hugely. What reason do we have to think that the Iliad now is the original version? I don’t know; I’m not a classicist or whatever.

        I don’t know about oral tradition mutation/decay stuff. I imagine that’s something anthropologists or sociologists have taken a stab at, but it’s not my wheelhouse. Best I can do is talk about the one source I can talk about.

        • marshwiggle says:

          Isn’t there in the text itself a reason completely separate from mutation for the differences? Namely, different eyewitnesses providing different traditions? Add on to that different theological emphases and different writing styles and I’m not sure why we need any more explanations for the differences. As for fragmentation, I would think a sufficient explanation would be the gospel writers grabbing bits and pieces from the tradition to fit their emphases and their large scale structure. I’m not saying there was 0 mutation, only that the differences we do see are already readily explainable and thus don’t count much as evidence.

          Meanwhile, I’m hoping that somehow we do have someone reading these posts who is an expert in Homer. Not only would I love to read a response from someone like that, it would make me smile.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Consider that’s over the timeframe for the NT, though. If there’s any mutation for the NT, presumably there will be more in the HB, which was put together over a longer period, and probably has longer gaps between historical events and what ends up in the text in (sometimes very vague) reference. Anyway, let’s not spoil the New Testament bits. There’s a lot of fun there. And by fun, I mean textual criticism, the best kind of fun.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Fair enough on not spoiling the fun. I mean, I think it’s fun. I asked one of my kids since he thought I was having fun, perhaps because I laughed at ‘the best kind of fun’.

            Kid: What kind of fun?
            Me: Textual Criticism.
            Kid: No thanks.

        • hls2003 says:

          I’m no classics scholar either, so we’re both in the same boat on that. I’m basically just drawing analogies. I also thought of the Islamic Hafiz, who memorize the Quran for transmission; of course in that instance there are also written records to back up their recollections, but it’s a data point on cultural/religious memory traditions.

        • Aron Wall says:

          In the case of Homer, there was a class of professional “rhapsodes” whose job description involved memorizing long texts in order to be able to recite them back verbatim. If the rhapsodes are good enough at this task, this seems more analogous to writing the text down, than to any “oral tradition” which involves passing down stories without fixed verbal form.

          Courtesy of Wikipedia on the Homeric Question, here is a nice non-bibilical example the sort of historical argument I find completely speculative and absurd:

          Further controversy surrounds the difference in composition dates between the Iliad and Odyssey. It seems that the latter was composed at a later date than the former because the works’ differing characterizations of the Phoenicians align with differing Greek popular opinion of the Phoenicians between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, when their skills began to hurt Greek commerce. Whereas Homer’s description of Achilles’s shield in the Iliad exhibits minutely detailed metalwork that characterized Phoenician crafts, they are characterized in the Odyssey as “manifold scurvy tricksters”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Would they have had a written text by that point? I don’t know when the first complete Iliad dates from. Wikipedia seems to be telling me that the oldest full Iliad dates from the 10th century CE/AD.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            We all know that my favorite Greek is the heliocentric Aristarchus. I recently learned that he also contributed to the Homeric question, again fighting the dogma of the day, which was that the Iliad and the Odyssey must have different authors because they eat fish in the Odyssey but not the Iliad.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Regardless of what you think of their original authorship, I think it’s uncontroversial that the Homeric epics were recited orally prior to them first being written down. Wikipedia says “The orally transmitted Homeric poems were put into written form at some point between the 8th and 6th centuries BC.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Aron Wall

            Oh, certainly, they were definitely recorded orally prior to being put to paper.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Wikipedia seems to be telling me that the oldest full Iliad dates from the 10th century CE/AD.

            I think they’ve just announced a find from the 3rd century with some lines from the Odyssey on them.

            I also thought of the Islamic Hafiz, who memorize the Quran for transmission; of course in that instance there are also written records to back up their recollections, but it’s a data point on cultural/religious memory traditions.

            I have no expertise on this, but just from introspection I imagine having a written text to refer to makes a huge difference: it makes it possible for two people to compare which of their memorized versions is correct and it must make it much easier to reinforce the weak bits in one’s memorization.

          • Aron Wall says:

            If you just want a few lines, Homer is quoted all over the place by Attic Greeks such as Plato.

    • Jayson Virissimo says:

      How do scholars rule out the Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty as being influenced by Deuteronomy (or the “found” scrolls) rather than the other way around?

      • dndnrsn says:

        I haven’t seen this addressed, but I imagine it would be very unexpected for the big dog in the region to have its treaties modelled after the (rather idiosyncratic) religious texts of a subject people. If the Hebrew Bible in places is modelled after various treaties, the message is clearly “don’t swear allegiance to this foreign monarch, swear allegiance to God!” while the other way around doesn’t make much sense.

        I think it’s also easy for us to ignore how idiosyncratic the Hebrew Bible and the associated religion was in its context. From what we know about Ancient Near Eastern and Hellenistic Mediterranean religion, it doesn’t much look like the other religions: it appears a lot more textually focused, a lot more morally focused, etc. However, I know more about this in the Hellenistic context; will talk further about it when we get to the New Testament.

        • Jayson Virissimo says:

          That makes sense, but is still pretty weak, since have plenty of clear examples of the “big dog” modeling cultural artifacts after creations of idiosyncratic subject peoples (the Romans borrowed liberally from the conquered Greeks).

    • AlphaGamma says:

      . Slaughtering livestock for food without sacrifice is explicitly allowed. Scholars believe this was not the case previously among the Israelites (in general, as far as I know, societies that sacrifice a considerable number of animals tend not to just throw the meat away – depending on place, time, and religion the priests might get it, or people might sacrifice an animal then take it home and eat it, or whatever).

      AFAIK in Classical Athens the only meat from domestic animals that was eaten was from animals that had been sacrificed. I think farmers living far from a city would still slaughter animals for food at their farms rather than going to a temple, but they would perform the rituals that turned the slaughter into a sacrifice.

      In Athens itself, the meat in the markets came from the large public sacrifices. These were butchered in a way that prioritised giving everyone an equally sized portion over having specific cuts of meat. This, in turn, meant that high-class cooking in Athens tended not to include meat from domestic animals (as you didn’t know whether you would get filet or shin until you were given your piece of meat!), and instead focused on fish and wild game, which were not sacrificed.

      (Related point/question: AFAIK Jewish law effectively forbids eating hunted animals, as they are only kosher if they are trapped without harming them and then slaughtered in the approved ritual manner. Does anyone know when this prohibition came in? For comparison, Islamic law allows the meat of wild animals that were shot to be eaten in certain circumstances)

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        AFAIK in Classical Athens the only meat from domestic animals that was eaten was from animals that had been sacrificed.

        I think dndnrsn is saying that the same was true in ancient Israel before the Deuteronomic reforms: since the reforms banned sacrifice except at the Temple in Jerusalem, without loosening the restrictions on eating non-sacrificial meat this would have effectively banned eating meat outside of Jerusalem, hence explicitly allowing meat without sacrifice.

        As to slaughtering, the Bible has to say about slaughtering only that slaughter should be done “as I have instructed you”–without the actual instructions. Both this and the prohibition on eating carrion are from Deuteronomy, and the prohibition on eating carrion reappears in Leviticus, likely written by Priests, and as dndnrsn says, probably later than Deuteronomy, so probably the Deuteronomic version is earlier. Exodus 22:31, usually attributed to the E source, about a hundred or two hundred years earlier, forbids eating meat from animals “torn in the fields”, although in context it doesn’t sound like it has much to do with hunting.
        Ezekiel, who lived shortly after the Deuteronomic reforms, and died likely shortly before the Priestly version of the Torah, says he has never eaten carrion or “torn” meat, and later restates the prohibitions, but only applied to the Priests–since Ezekiel was from a Priestly family, it makes sense that the he would have followed these prohibitions.

        So it seems possible that an earlier (8th century BC) prohibition on eating livestock that had been mauled by predators was strengthened into a prohibition on eating any non-ritual meat, but only for priests (7th-early 6th century BC); and that prohibition later was generalized (mid-6th century BC?). I think the full-on kosher slaughtering method is only written down in the Talmud (200s AD), but we know at least a few Talmudic practices were current in the two or three hundred years prior.

        I can’t find any more information on Jewish slaughtering practices pre-Talmud, so I’d be interested to hear someone more informed.

        • Aron Wall says:

          As to slaughtering, the Bible has to say about slaughtering only that slaughter should be done “as I have instructed you”–without the actual instructions.

          Leviticus 17:13-14 sure sounds like instructions for slaughter to me:

          13 “‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, 14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I’m not sure about that; the instruction not to eat blood is already in Genesis, and supposedly dates to Noah; the only addition here is to cover the blood with earth, which is not really an instruction for slaughtering. Compare to the laws of shechita, which are much more detailed, and involve actual descriptions of the slaughtering process itself.

          • Aron Wall says:

            The instructions don’t have to be detailed to be instructions. The prohibition in Genesis would also count as “instructions”.

            I think the shechita stuff is probably mostly of later rabbinic origin, a “fence around the law” of not eating blood.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I recall reading something way back when to the extent of some heroic figure or other having conned the Greek gods into accepting the crummy bits of the slaughtered animal as sacrifices so people could eat the good bits. So, yeah, I imagine that was the norm. A subsistence agriculture society is not going to survive for long if they’re throwing away good meat.

        • Randy M says:

          Just as a weird point of interest, do they say what the crummy bits were? We tend to prefer steaks and muscle meat, but I think hunter gatherers prefer organ meat, which makes some nutritional sense.

          • Deiseach says:

            Just as a weird point of interest, do they say what the crummy bits were?

            Yes. For the Greek gods, it is the thighbones of the animal wrapped in fat, and the bones of the tail, burned on the sacrificial fire. The legend retconned to explain this ritual blames Prometheus who played a trick on Zeus to fool him into accept the fat-wrapped bones and leave the meat for mortals.

          • Randy M says:

            For the Greek gods, it is the thighbones of the animal wrapped in fat, and the bones of the tail, burned on the sacrificial fire.

            Ah, well, Vons seems to agree, at least based on chicken thigh prices.

    • dark orchid says:

      Fascinating as usual, thanks for posting!

      If I remember by biblical history right, the line of kingly succession went something like … Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah … and before Manasseh the Israelites were sort of figuring out what was proper and what not but generally at least the Temple in Jerusalem was pretty monotheistic. Then Manasseh decides actually, no we’ll put an idol to Asherah in too and tells the Levites who complain something along the lines of “I hear Egypt is nice around this time of year”. Amon continues in his father’s ways but Josiah reverses the situation again, burns the idols to the ground and scatters their ashes.

      It would sound about right if in this situation Josiah lays down the law again, possibly stricter than before to stop anything like idolism ever happening again. Sacrifice ONLY in Jerusalem and ONLY at this Temple and ONLY to the one God.
      (Of course, if Josiah genuinely found a scroll, this might have been the event that pushed him to implement these reforms.)

  4. honoredb says:

    The Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? had a lot of fascinating details that are suggestive to a reader of Unsong:

    * He kept his weight consistently at 143 lbs. for numerological reasons (1, 4, 3 are the lengths of the words “I love you.”)
    * His ability to charm someone seems to have been at peak human levels, at least (watch his congressional testimony on YouTube for video evidence).
    * His son refers to him in the doc as a “second Christ”, and he’s shown washing someone’s feet to make a point.
    * They describe him as identifying more in the beginning with the Daniel puppet, and towards the end of his career with the King puppet.
    * At one particularly emotional moment he unexpectedly breaks into Hebrew.

    • disposablecat says:

      Mr Rogers was this timeline’s Comet King, confirmed.

    • Lillian says:

      * His ability to charm someone seems to have been at peak human levels, at least (watch his congressional testimony on YouTube for video evidence).

      There’s something about the way Mr Rogers talks that raises my hackles and makes me take a strong and immediate dislike for him. Not sure what it is, but i suspect that it might be class related, since the only other person i know with a similar reaction has very upper class sensibilities. The specific cause is, i think, that he combines working class plain speaking with upper class genteelnes and i haaate it. It’s like he managed to hit my personal speech pattern uncanny valley or something.

      Another reason might be that i trust people in direct proportion to my knowledge of how they intend to take advantage of me. The better i know someone’s ill intent, the more inclined i am to trust them. Since Mr Rogers reads as utterly unduplicitous, my instincts assume he is a perfect liar, and therefore utterly untrustworthy. The aforementioned friend who doesn’t like him either also has her own trust issues, which fits with the theory.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Odd. I have exactly 100% opposite reaction.

        If you can speak plainly but genteely with warm calmness, I will hear you out. If you can’t, stick to text.

        As for Mister Rogers being a “perfect liar” theory, every detail of his life reinforces instead the theory that the character on the TV show *is* the man he was in every part of his life. *Nobody* buries themselves under false pretenses that completely in every detail for that many decade to build up a credit account of trust that deep, to then “trick” kids into… learning that it’s nice to be nice.

        I grieve for Mister Rogers for two things: one, he helped raise me, I was a “Mister Rogers kid”, nearly every day of my young childhood, and two, men like him appear to be, at most, one in a billion.

        • John Schilling says:

          *Nobody* buries themselves under false pretenses that completely in every detail for that many decade to build up a credit account of trust that deep, to then “trick” kids into… learning that it’s nice to be nice.

          Clayton Moore may have; I don’t think he started out playing himself as the Lone Ranger, but he did make it his life’s work to live the role 24/7 as a role model because the alternative was to have lots of kids see “the Lone Ranger” as a B-list movie villain.

        • Lillian says:

          You misundernstand, it’s not that i genuinely believe Mr Rogers is anything but what he purports to be, it’s that my social instincts are not calibrated to handle truly honest men. They are after all, so very rare.

        • Aron Wall says:

          This reminds me of the comment a couple threads ago about how you could know you’re dealing with a hyper-charismatic person if they make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.

          The difficulty with that test, is what if you meet somebody who really does sincerely love everybody like that? I’ve met one such person in real life (an Eastern Orthodox priest in Santa Fe), and it’s the most attractive and impressive personality trait I’ve ever seen.

          Charisma is apparently the fake version of what I would call holiness.

      • Matt M says:

        My reaction isn’t nearly as extreme as yours, but I also was never a fan of his general tone or manner of speaking. Something about it reminds me of a well trained psychologist using the clinically proven best method to convince a raving lunatic to put his gun down. Like everything he says is telling me to “calm down” and my gut reaction is to shout out “I AM CALM, DAMN YOU!!!”

      • Randy M says:

        Are these reactions from now or from when you all were children? Most of your exposure to him was probably of when he was talking to children in a characteristically straight but simple manner.

        • Lillian says:

          The first time i heard Mr Rogers, i was already an adult. It’s very likely i wouldn’t have liked his show as a child though, since i disliked most PBS programming and outright hated both Barney and Sesame Street. As for my friend, i think she also first heard him as an adult, since her family had links to the Birchers, PBS was verboten in her household.

      • engleberg says:

        In Dean Ing’s Silent Thunder the gimmick is an electronic voice enhancer for politicians to make them more charming, believeable, commanding. It is part of the story that every voice tone that makes some people trust and love you makes others distrust and hate you.

  5. Randy M says:

    I asked awhile back what people here would think of a novel that spanned generations and skipped over many years at a time, and got some recommendations of works that had done this, such as Asimov’s The Last Question.
    With the disclaimer that I’m really not trying for novelty for novelty’s sake, I had another interesting idea after reading an article on mapping for RPGs. What would you think about a story told as a series of maps and charts? Perhaps combined with the time jumps, so in some cases you’d see the evolution of a settlement over many years.
    Obviously it’s not filling the same role as a novel. You don’t have thrilling dialogue or action scenes. It would be more like a puzzle. Considering why a particular detail is called out and labeled, what the relevance of various names are. Tying that in to changes in the environment. Ultimately piecing together a whole history.
    I think if this were done well this could be fascinating. I’m not sure I have this capability, but it might be fun to try.

  6. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write a speech praising the personal qualities, accomplishments and legacy of Adolf Hitler. Obviously, this is going to be a rather short speech and a very selective one. For instance, you may wish to mention his stirring skills as an orator, and omit the whole bit about leaving Germany a smoking ruin.

    • bean says:

      He did an excellent job discrediting mass antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, and was crucial to dismantling the toxic nationalism that had gripped Germany since the days of Bismarck.

      • gryffinp says:

        Ahh, the old “But he DID kill Hitler.” gambit.

        Does that have a proper name? The idea that a person might have done good by doing bad badly and setting an example for the rest of the world?

        • Lillian says:

          Ahh, the old “But he DID kill Hitler.” gambit.

          On the other hand, only a committed Nazi would do something so despicable as avenge Hitler’s death by killing the man who killed Hitler.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        The irony is that it is precisely this discrediting that gives the chancellor of contemporary Germany the moral authority to issue ultimatums to the Poles & Czechs to the effect of, open your borders to foreigners or face the consequences’ — Lebensraum indeed but not for the Germans.

        On a more serious note, I recall someone saying that ‘Had he died in 1938 he would have gone down as one of the greatest statesmen of all time’; that seems about accurate; though it’s hard to know exactly how the government would have peacefully handled the inflation/foreign exchange issues that were creeping up prior to the outbreak of war.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      “I admire men who stand up for their country in defeat, even though I am on the other side. He had a perfect right to be a patriotic German if he chose.” — Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm

    • Nornagest says:

      He made toothbrush mustaches as socially unacceptable as they always should have been.

    • Matt M says:

      His speculation that international interests would collude to make Europe a distinctly less European and more “multi-cultural” space was largely correct.

    • cryptoshill says:

      “Hitler successfully turned a nation ruined by debt and social disarray, unified it and turned it into one of the premier powers of the world in an extremely short period of time.”

      Continuing on to say what Hitler really did “That’s when it all went to shit.”

      • albatross11 says:

        I suspect that if Hitler had died of a heart attack in 1936, he’d still be remembered as a great political leader in Germany, albeit with some unsavory rhetoric and allies. And this makes me wonder how many other leaders with towering reputations were saved by losing power/dropping dead when they did.

        • James C says:

          Certainly, people have argued that being assassinated was the best thing to happen to JFK’s legacy. I imagine Cesar benefited a lot from not having to clean up the mess he made of Rome.

      • Randy M says:

        Would it have remained a premiere power if it hadn’t gone to war, or would the expense of maintaining the army have crashed it?

    • keranih says:

      Obviously, this is going to be a rather short speech

      Is it? Obvious, I mean.

      I can say “the man seized upon the distress and talents of a battered country, and engaged the biases and ethno-phillic nature of the age, to spearhead one of the millenium’s three great slaughters of human beings” in a rather brief space. I could go on all day about the love of a man for his dog and his mistress, the depths of his passionate intensity, his wartime valor, the soaring oratory skills, and the establishment of the nation of Israel, which owes its existence almost entirely to Hitler.

      But maybe that’s not a wise course. It might start convincing people that maybe there is something to this “line that cuts through every human heart” divide between good and evil – all people, all evil, all good. And God knows we can’t be having *that*.

    • James C says:

      Don’t have the time to do the legwork, but I seem to recall that there was an Adolf Hitler in the US at about the same time as it wasn’t a super uncommon name. A cheat would be to write about some other Hitler.

    • 天可汗 says:

      The inspirational story of a homeless failed artist who became the leader of a major world power.

  7. gbdub says:

    Drinking thread: With really hot weather in the US, what are your favorite summer adult beverages?

    For me:
    1) Gin and Tonic, with lots of lime and a few dashes of orange bitters.
    2) the Paloma (reposado Tequila or mescal, grapefruit soda, lime juice)
    3) Saisons

      • gbdub says:

        Not had that one, but I do love a good Gose. AZ Wilderness out here has an excellent Blood Orange version, and the Modern Times (San Diego) Passionfruit Gose is also great (and I think they distribute relatively widely).

        Sour beers are getting a bit overdone lately though, market is a bit flooded.

    • dodrian says:

      1) Mojito
      2) Margarita (preferable frozen)
      3) Pimm’s no 1 Cup (with cucumber, orange, strawberry and mint, topped up with lemon soda)

      • Nornagest says:

        Mojitos are the right answer. But margaritas should be drunk on the rocks, not frozen.

        Ridiculous tiki drinks can be fun — imagine the type served in a coconut or skull-shaped mug, with little umbrellas, a fruit salad’s worth of garnishes, and a suggestive or ominous name. They’re more fun after you’re already slightly drunk, though.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Mojito, mojito, mojito. I grow a massive amount of mint, just for mojitos.

      Mint is an invasive weed, so keep it inside a pot.

      Blue Moon Mango Wheat and Sam Adams Cherry Wheat are both quite fruity summer beers that are quite delicious.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’d never been a fan of flavored beer before, but a number of decent fruity beers that’re good for summer drinking have been coming out in the last couple of years. Lagunitas’ Citrusinensis is on the stronger side, 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon on the weaker.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Favorite summer beer: Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Brewing.

      I’m not a wine drinker but a few weeks ago on a hot night I had a chilled Chardonnay (Barefoot) and it really hit the spot.

      Mixed: Lightly spiced Bloody Mary

    • andrewflicker says:

      I stick to blended margaritas when it’s VERY hot and gin-and-tonics with lime when it’s merely 100F (I’m in Phoenix), though I’ll occasionally have a traditional daiquiri if I’m making one for the wife anyway (rum, lime juice, simple syrup though I usually swap for a very little agave syrup).

      • gbdub says:

        As a fellow Phoenician, for G&T I would highly recommend the local “Commerce Gin” by AZ Distilling (in Tempe, but they distribute), as well as the gin by Paradox Distillery (not sure where to get other than the distillery near Lake Pleasant).

        • andrewflicker says:

          Commerce Gin is good- I’ll have to try Paradox next time I head out to the lake. My usual staple is Leopold Bros, but I switch around a lot trying different things. Actually going through a bottle of the Kirkland right now- I found their vodka to be a tremendous value, so I was hoping their gin stood up. It’s ok, but doesn’t stand up to the better mid-value gins out there.

    • rahien.din says:

      Dogfish Head’s Sea Quench

    • The Nybbler says:

      Beer, usually a lager, or a margarita, on the rocks, with salt.

    • AnarchyDice says:

      -Cranberry or Blueberry Mules (homemade cranberry or blueberry vodka with lime juice and ginger beer over ice)
      -Roasted Pineapple Margarita (using homemade roasted pineapple anejo tequila, on the rocks with salted rim)
      -Baileys over ice.
      -Oatmeal vodka over ice.
      -Plum liqueur over ice.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Pimms (with what we would call lemonade but you wouldn’t, and sundry vegetable matter, mixed strong)

      Fruity American-style IPAs (I’m a particular fan of Tiny Rebel’s Clwb Tropicana, though sadly in this case drinks are very much not free)

    • SpeakLittle says:

      1) Cold beer (I can’t recommend Black Tooth’s Copper Mule enough)
      2) Whiskey smash

    • Odovacer says:

      Beer-Shandy like Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, or something like a Koelsch, easy to drink, but still has flavor

      A pina colada or mojito can be good on a hot day.

  8. J Mann says:

    If I can make a request, I would like to hear from polyamorists or supporters of polyamory only regarding what they think about Jaskologist’s look at the SSC survey that indicates that at least for the most recent survey, success in a monogamous relationship is associated with decreased depression, while success in a polygamous relationship is associated with increased depression. (Last time I asked, I heard from a lot of non-polyamorist critics of polyamory, so I think we have that covered, or we can take back up in 106.25)

    Jaskologist wrote in relevant part:

    18.08% of the single monos are depressed, making them more depressed than “in relationship” monos (15.01%) and married monos (11.60%).

    25.19% of the single polys are depressed, making them the least depressed polys. Most depressed in this group are married polys (31.18%), but “in relationship” polys are close (30.15)

    I wrote the following in relevant part, but I’m bad at science:

    Presumably the explanations are (1) success in poly relationships contributes to depression, (2) depression contributes to success in poly relationships, (3) they’re co-variant on some other factor, and (4) it’s just a statistical fluke?

    • Skivverus says:

      These are hypotheses, less assertions or opinions, but:
      Polys apparently have higher depression rates overall, which may reflect pre-existing differences in how well their preferences match up with their ability to fulfill them. As the obvious example, “ability to find and sustain relationships with ideal number of partners without acting in socially stigmatized ways”. This likely applies to some people who consider themselves “in a relationship” or “married”, when the number of people they’re in a relationship with (or married to) doesn’t match their ideal number of partners, especially if their current partner(s) are not known to share these ideals.
      Or, to rephrase: if your partner thinks it would be cheating, you will probably not be happy about this (either through guilt at actually cheating, or frustration from having to hold yourself back), and “in a relationship” may not be as good a dividing line as “in an ideal number of relationships (one for mono, N>=1 for poly)”.
      Actually, that cheating comment made me think – would previously-mono people who find themselves tempted to cheat re-evaluate as poly (i.e., from priming on the survey)? I could see an archetype of such a person being depressed, but I don’t know that it would be anything more than a just-so story.

    • Matt M says:

      Total speculation, but maybe the known fact that polyamory is rare causes polys to be more willing to be accepting of potential relationship candidates. Basically – they know that the size of the pool is limited, so they lower their standards? Possibly unconsciously.

      Poly by definition also means 2+ partners to maintain harmonious relationships with. I always joke that I could never be poly because it’s hard enough for me to find one person who doesn’t annoy me and who I don’t annoy on a daily basis – imagine finding two! Perhaps polys simply have more “points of failure” in terms of relationships as contributing to overall happiness, if that makes sense. As they say, a happy wife is a happy life, but I have two wives, it’s twice as likely that one of my wives is mad at me!

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      Somewhat speculative try at an explanation:

      1. Poly people are disproportionately likely to be social misfits and rebels, since polyamory is unusual and of tenuous social acceptance status at best.

      2. Social misfits and rebels tend to be more depressed (multiple possible mechanisms for this), thus the higher baseline rate.

      3. The married-vs-single thing is some combination of statistical fluke (note much smaller difference between married and single than between poly and non-poly) and covariance on something else (e.g. raising kids, which affects poly people’s relational lives differently).

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      Would be interesting how this splits male-female.
      Ok, looked it up myself:

      “Breaking it down further by sex:
      33.63% of poly females are depressed, 27.78% of the males
      25.67% of the mono females are depressed, 14.05% of the males.”

      Actually, more interesting might by a split in polyandry and polygamy. Maybe sharing a partner makes you depressed.

    • J Mann says:

      I guess I’m not eligible to respond to my own question and hereby amend the response filter to include people who are neutral or have no opinion on polyamory.

      —–

      With that said, I took a look at the survey, and I guess that some people may well have answered that their relationship style is “preferred polyamorous” but are actually in monogamous relationships or marriages.

      Scott, if there’s a clean way to do it, it might be interesting to know whether the people in relationships are in monogamous or polyamorous relationships next time.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Haven’t checked to make sure Jask did everything right (eg his results are actually significant) but assuming he did, my guess would be filters.

      I would expect more unbalanced people to be less conformist, so poly people should be more depressed than mono people.

      I expect many people sort of think polyamory would be fun, fewer people actually get in poly relationships, and very few people remain poly even into their marriage. That means married-poly is a stronger filter than single-poly and might be selecting harder for whatever characteristics make you want to become poly (eg being unbalanced).

      I admit the straight explanation (being poly makes people depressed) is also possible.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I’ll attach my usual disclaimer: all I did was use pivot tables to get percentages in each group. I don’t know how to calculate a proper p value. Anybody wanna effort-post that?

        • J Mann says:

          If someone does, I would also be really curious to know how the results break down by gender (i.e., does success in relationships appear equally associated with reduced depression in monogamous preferring cis male, cis female, trans male, and trans female, and the same for the poly preferring participants?)

          I’m looking at it, but don’t quite get the survey results. Let me know if there’s a post I should read on the following.

          1) Is the downloadable data (e.g. the .csv) the best dataset, or is there a way to query the entire dataset, including people who said they didn’t want their individual responses released?

          2) The depression column (CI) has both some text entries and some integer entries. Is there a key I can use to convert that to something consistent?

          Sorry if I missed it earlier, but thanks!

          • Aapje says:

            Is the downloadable data (e.g. the .csv) the best dataset, or is there a way to query the entire dataset, including people who said they didn’t want their individual responses released?

            Presumably, only Scott or very trusted henchmen who sign a NDA can do analyses with that data.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      As a polyamorist, I consider this weak but real evidence that polyamory is depressing for most of the people who practice it. I say ‘weak’ because there are lots of ways it could be confounded.

      My top candidate explanation is that poly selects for people who are weird in at least way, and depression is one of the less romantically-impairing weirdnesses.

      To test this hypothesis, one would probably check the correlation of depression with self-rated social skills among poly people (and also mono people). I’m going to try to do this but might get lazy and not bother.

      ETA: I suck at pivot tables, but it kinda looks like depressed people have lower self-reported social skills (and higher incidence of autism), to a similar extent among mono and poly people. So my hypothesis was wrong according to my preregistered form of testing.

  9. baconbits9 says:

    Medical question.

    My wife is almost 6 months pregnant and today the midwife found a heart arrhythmia (not even close on my first spelling attempt), about once every 10 beats. Obviously the midwife is going to be soothing, and “try not to worry”, but I prefer more facts to fewer. We are a few weeks away from being able to get the ultrasound to figure out how bad this could be, does anyone feel comfortable giving me percentages for scenarios?

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Anyone who knows enough to really have an opinion is unlikely to be willing to offer one in this sort of forum with limited information, of course. 🙂

      I have no idea about fetal arrhythmias, but I am given to understand that (some kinds) in adults are common and no big deal at all. I was on a date a few years back with an er doctor who laid her head on my chest (because she wanted to, but also to demonstrate that stethoscopes were just for convenience) and listened to my heart; she remarked that I had one. I went “what the fuck?” She said “Yeah, every doctor you’ve ever had heard it, but it’s totally unimportant, some huge fraction of athletic people have one. They didn’t bother to tell you because, well, see how you’re freaking out now?”

      (I am not a doctor; I have no idea if the same is true for babies; don’t take any of this as medical advice.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Same as Andrew Hunter – if it’s an adult, doctors seem to take it remarkably casually; I’ve had the guys in the A&E assure me “Oh, I could have it as well!” which is not very helpful when you’re freaking out over “but it’s skipping every so many beats plus my blood pressure is through the roof!” Basically if you’re not fainting or collapsing, they ain’t worried.

      No idea about foetal heartbeats, so I suppose just try not to worry (if the midwife was all ‘don’t be bothered about this’) and wait and see. Good luck!

      • baconbits9 says:

        I appreciate the links, but they are more of the same. Willing to put numbers on the % of babies with arrhythmia but when it comes to the significance of the arrhythmia it comes down to “most are benign” or “many will resolve themselves before birth”.

        • Randy M says:

          You are looking to see what fraction of the arrhythmia is dangerous and how to tell, rather than just assurances that “on rare occasions, irregular heart rhythm can lead to death”. Makes sense. Of course I’m not going to tell you what to follow up with a professional with or what to relax about.

          But let’s see, from the nih link:

          Irregularities of the cardiac rhythm belong to the most common rhythm anomalies at any age. In the fetus this finding is almost always associated with isolated premature atrial contractions (PACs). … Irrespective of whether PACs are conducted or blocked and are frequent or rare, they are usually well-tolerated and resolve spontaneously with no need of treatment. In rare cases, nevertheless, progression to supraventricular tachycardia is possible. Therefore, intermittent heart rate monitoring (e.g. once per week for the next 2–3 weeks by the obstetrician) is recommended to exclude the development of a major tachyarrhythmia.

          Has the Midwife scheduled a follow-up within the next couple of weeks to double check this condition?

          PACs have also been associated with structural heart disease in up to 2% of cases, intracardiac tumors and redundancy of the atrial septum which are detectable by echocardiography.

          I don’t know anything about these conditions. It sounds rare and possibly genetic. Any family history of heart disease, cardiac tumors, miscarriage, SIDS, or something else that might be worrying here?

          I didn’t mean to give the same link twice before. Here’s one I left off
          http://www.revespcardiol.org/en/fetal-arrhythmias-diagnosis-treatment-and/articulo/90436032/
          Possibly hopeful excerpt:

          The most common heart rhythm irregularities are premature atrial contractions, which are benign and which are often related to maternal stimuli, do not require treatment, and resolve spontaneously. Between 1% and 3% of cases progress to SVT, but this did not occur in any of the fetuses in our series.

          From a scanning of these, it seems you will also want to note the actual heart rate. If the fetus is skipping beats, it seems like it could have a lower than normal rate; <100 bpm is called Fetal bradycardia, and you can look into that, although the midwife would probably have said something if this was the case.

          Obviously the midwife is going to be soothing, and “try not to worry”

          About this, in general given the legal climate and importance of the services, I think medical professionals and related services like a midwife are going to try to error on the side of caution. Birthing centers in our area will often refer cases to OB/GYN if there are any of a number of risk factors.
          I don’t know the experience/competence of your midwife, but we used the service of one for two births.

          • baconbits9 says:

            We have an ultrasound to check the heart schedule in 2 weeks, the midwife* wants to see us after that.

            I didn’t mean to give the same link twice before. Here’s one I left off

            This one is just what I wanted, thank you.

            * To clarify I wasn’t at the appointment, all statements are 2nd hand. I would also like to state that I am not angry with the midwife, or unhappy with the quality of care. When we went with a midwife it was to avoid specific parts of the medical establishment as much as anything, we just happened to hit a case where a specialist’s knowledge would be preferred but it would be unreasonable to expect her to be one as she is a generalist.

    • rahien.din says:

      100% : ask an obstetrician.

    • Garrett says:

      I volunteer in EMS. I am not a doctor. I’m not your doctor. And I haven’t examined you or your wife. Take the word of any medical professional who’s seen you before me.

      First: You haven’t provided enough information about the arrhythmia. Did they provide a name or description of it? As with anything else, it can be anything from academic interest to “wait here while I call an ambulance”. Given that they didn’t do that, it’s not obviously immediately serious. But more information will be needed to provide any information. Also, the organs (including the heart) are still growing so it’s entirely possible that this will go away on its own before birth.

      Second: absent any other information, I would view this as slightly increasing the risk of the pregnancy. It wouldn’t surprise me if your medical professionals become more likely to recommend that you give birth in a hospital rather than a birthing center or a home birth if that’s what you were previously contemplating.

      Ultimately: ask more questions of your medical providers. It is my personal opinion that they should be able to provide you the level of information that you want, up to which medical science has advanced. Just be aware that many of the answers become probabilistic rather than definitive at this stage.

  10. neciampater says:

    I recently came across this: http://geoffboeing.com/2018/07/comparing-city-street-orientations/

    I was born, raised, and currenly live in the most unique (or odd) city in that list. The roads here randomly change names.

    And it reminded me of city planning like http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/03/16/book-review-seeing-like-a-state/

    Which reminded me of an interesting post on a site I can’t seem to find. The writer was looking at wasted space in urban planning and comparing cities’ living areas and outdoor spaces. I remember it being posted on here or Status451. Anyone know or have a link to what I’m remembering? I’ve looked everywhere in my Google since I remember sharing it with people. I’ve looked at the comments on the post above.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Here is another website about the orientation of street grids.

    • bassicallyboss says:

      I don’t have time to find links right now, but a search for “Place and non-Place” should get you there. IIRC the term comes from the author of the blog New World Economics who has a good post about it. The best illustration of wasted space I remember seeing in urban planning (with lost of satellite images shaded by use/waste) was on some other blog.

    • The Nybbler says:

      That’s pretty cool.

      IME, Washington D.C, despite the normal grid-appearing look in those diagrams, has the grid interrupted enough that it’s considerably harder to navigate than Philadelphia (where the multiple grids are in different city sections) or NYC.

      Looking at the odd city of Charlotte, it looks like it does have a coherent grid in the center, but it’s dominated by every-which-way suburban arterials with developments gridded at random angles between them. Probably easier to navigate than the diagram would indicate.

    • neciampater says:

      Thanks!

      Douglas Knight:
      Something beautiful about those neon colors. Love to recreate for other urban areas…

      I think you nailed it Bassicallyboss (down to the title and source!) Will look for the illustration to which you refer:
      http://newworldeconomics.com/place-and-non-place/

      Nybbler:
      Charlotte is probably the biggest city with the cutest “center-city”. The grid in the center is of very little weight considering Charlotte has larger land area than most populous cities. We refer to our streest as “wheel-and-spoke”. Allegedly, the roads lead from church building to church building.

  11. fion says:

    In a recent discussion it seemed to me that there was a symmetry between motte-and-bailey and straw-man. I’d be interested if anybody else has had this thought or if anybody thinks I’m just wrong about it.

    What I mean is this: Suppose Alice and Bob are having a debate. Alice makes a very strong and hard-to-argue-with argument. To Bob, this looks like Alice is employing a motte-and-bailey, currently defending the motte. He’s certain he’s heard Alice, or people of the same ideological ingroup as Alice making a much more bailey-like version of the argument. But to Alice, who is probably either unaware that she’s using motte-and-bailey or actually isn’t doing so, it will seem like Bob is arguing against a straw-man if he attacks the bailey.

    I think it’s easy to do both motte-and-bailey and straw-manning without realising it, and you might find yourself accusing your opponent of doing one of them when in fact you’re doing the other. Does it just come down to whether Alice actually did make the straw-bailey argument? If she didn’t it’s a straw-man and if she did it’s a bailey?

    • Randy M says:

      Does it just come down to whether Alice actually did make the straw-bailey argument?

      Largely. Or else someone she relies on as a source or expert opinion.

      I think if Bob suspects Alice has a larger territory she defends but is taking refuge in her castle at the moment, he can say something like “What you’ve said so far is pretty agreeable, but I would take issue with anyone who might extend that principle further into positions such as government confiscation of viable fetuses or universal basic handgun guarantee.”

      • The nice thing about online arguments, as opposed to arguments in realspace, is that Alice can challenge Bob to find something she posted where she actually made the argument he is attributing to her. Either he does, in which case that’s evidence for the motte and bailey interpretation, or he doesn’t, in which case it is evidence for the straw man interpretation.

        The intermediate case is where he finds someone else who he thinks is very much like Alice making the argument.

    • Matt M says:

      I think I personally did this in a recent discussion here. That is to say, I said “straw man” when “motte and bailey” probably would have been more appropriate.

    • beleester says:

      Scott brings up exactly this issue in the post where he popularized the term:

      So weak-manning is replacing a strong position with a weak position to better attack it; motte-and-bailey is replacing a weak position with a strong position to better defend it.

      This means people who know both terms are at constant risk of arguments of the form “You’re weak-manning me!” “No, you’re motte-and-baileying me!“.

      • fion says:

        Oops. I guessed my point wouldn’t be original, but I didn’t realise it was already discussed in the post where I learned about the concept!

        Thanks for highlighting.

    • Viliam says:

      Suppose there is a weaker (and true) statement S1, and a stronger (but false, at least according to you) statement S2, which sound related, e.g. S1 is a subset of S2.

      A strawman is when Alice says “S1” and you say “you certainly also believe S2, which is wrong, therefore you are stupid”.

      Motte and bailey is when Alice yesterday said “S2” in absence of skeptics, but today she knows her statements are going to be examined critically, therefore she only says “S1”. (But her friends are not paying close attention to details, so if you accept her statement, it will sound to them as if she actually won a debate about S2 against you.)

      How do you distinguish these two cases if you have no idea what Alice said to her friends yesterday?

      I would recommend asking Alice directly: “I agree with you on S1. However, I have heard some people using a stronger version, S2. What is your position on S2?” Don’t make it sound like you suspect her to believe in S2; just say you want to make sure you are not misinterpreting her.

      Now, if Alice is playing fair, she can say e.g. “No, I don’t believe in S2” and the debate is over. It will only become a problem if Alice actually said “S2” to her friends yesterday, and her friends are listening now; if she admits it, you can start discussing S2; but if she denies it, it will sound weird to her friends.

      • fion says:

        Yeah, that sounds pretty reasonable. The biggest problem I have is that “S2” is never so clearly defined that I can say “do you believe S2” and get an unambiguous answer. There are different ways to phrase the same thing such that they sound different, and there are statements that are different but sound the same unless you’re very careful (and everybody else will just think you’re pedantic).

        But I guess that’s a different, more general problem with discussing complex issues.

  12. roastingcanopus says:

    Stuart Ritchie’s recent meta-analysis of the IQ gains from school includes one estimate that the boost a kid gets from becoming one year older are two-thirds due to school and one-third due to other developmental and experiential gains (the statistical strategy is to look at the IQs of kids in one grade level and extrapolate that linear model to how smart the kids in the grade below would be if they had that extra year of schooling.)
    This is in stark contrast to unschooling estimates that a year of schooling is like a sixth of a year of other development (so one tenth as important as in Ritchie’s model.)
    The simplest explanation is that the unschooling advocates’ estimates are biased. Can someone explain what’s going on? Naively extrapolating, Ritchie’s summary implies that someone who’s unschooled would be something like 25 IQ points stupider at 1-5 points lost per year (an eighteen year-old would be like a ten year-old going off of the the first model I gave.) Maybe that *is* true for things like reading skills for people who aren’t naturally drawn to reading?

    • quanta413 says:

      I’m going to be lazy and not go read the meta study right now but tentative thoughts.

      Given a random piece of data with no care taken to restrict the range, linear extrapolation will do terribly pretty often. One issue to keep in mind is that IQ is not g. Boosting IQ might not matter if the underlying factor g is what actually leads to any gains that humans care about.

      From how you describe Ritchie’s strategy (basically comparing children who are only one year apart and finding a linear coefficient from that), I would be stunned if you could extrapolate that out for a decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if it failed for a two or three year difference. How many children exist who just happen to be shifted two or three years (not failed and held back)? That’s a sample you would want to test if his model extrapolates at all.

      • roastingcanopus says:

        The meta-analysis considers three quasi-experimental methods that all point to 1-5 IQ points per extra year of school (one method looks at changes in compulsory schooling rates, and another looks at people who were initially matched for IQ and then sought different amounts of education.) Extrapolating out to ten extra years of school indeed seems super sketchy, but still plausible (e.g. consider someone never learning how to read or do arithmetic.)
        I don’t know. I feel like if you improve IQ scores on a wide battery of tests then you must be getting some real kind of gains, although probably not as strong as pure g gains, sure.

        • quanta413 says:

          Extrapolating out to ten extra years of school indeed seems super sketchy, but still plausible (e.g. consider someone never learning how to read or do arithmetic.)

          On the extreme end, perhaps you could knock 25 points or much more off an IQ test by having someone be illiterate and innumerate. It seems like at that point a test not loaded on preexisting knowledge should be used, but it’s probably harder to find good samples of those tests. I’d estimate only something like 10-20% of school time is probably spent learning how to read or do arithmetic though so that still leaves a mystery as to what all those history classes children forget by the time they get a year older could possibly be doing to their IQ scores.

          In theory, children would get practice reading in their other classes, but my observation is that they don’t read. They mostly sit bored while the teacher is speaking. Or chat about things they are actually interested in during group activities or whatever.

          I’m not familiar with unschooling, but if you wanted to know the effects of that it’d seem simplest to see how unschooled children do. I imagine they usually learn to read and do addition. Learning those things is probably the most important part of school so maybe if you really blocked someone from learning any of the things that people learn partly in school they’d lose 1-5 IQ points a year, but in practice if they don’t go to school they’ll do something else that closes most of that gap.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Without knowing anything about the statistics, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that Ritchie’s data is pulling a very different sample than people who are doing unschooling

      • roastingcanopus says:

        Yeah, my conclusion is something like, “Just letting your kid veg for 12 years is borderline child abuse, but liberating an intellectually curious kid who would be stunted in the local school system can be a compassionate and enriching move.”

        • quanta413 says:

          This seems like a safe conclusion. It doesn’t really seem ethical to do a controlled “12 years of TV” experiment, so we’ll probably never be certain.

  13. keranih says:

    A question *about* CW topics, but not wanting to engage in CW…

    (like what I want matters!)

    Is it possible to discuss a SCOTUS decision that is not CW, or is that baked in?

    • Matt M says:

      If it’s a well known decision that people would actually want to discuss, it’s probably baked in.

      That said, I imagine they take a fair bit of highly technical cases that the media ignores because they aren’t interesting, and “not interesting according to the media” is basically a synonym for “non-CW”

      • MrApophenia says:

        There definitely are. It’s easy to tell the difference, because they’re the ones that tend to be ruled unanimously, or on a non direct-partisan basis – like, you’ll a 6-3 decision where there are liberals and conservatives on both sides.

        There are lots of those every year, but nobody notices, because on all the stuff people actually care about, the rulings tend to be strictly partisan.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Not all cases are CW, but certainly the most well known ones are. I was very interested in the Wayfair case decided this year, which allows states a lot more leeway to tax out-of-staters. Of course I am a tax accountant, so I am more interested than most folks would be. But I do think the decision could have a quite negative effect on small businesses done out of a basement or such, so I think people should care a lot. But there’s no particular reason that this should be a partisan issue, much less CW. I did notice that it was the rightists who voted in favor, and the leftists against, but I have no idea why that was the case.

      In summary, there is no particular reason SCOTUS decisions have to be CW, but CW usually means there is lot more interest.

    • BBA says:

      As I’ve expressed before, I consider most constitutional law to be Calvinball, with the rules being made up and changed on the spot whenever there’s a convenient test case. The only constraints on the Court are that the rules at any moment have to be coherent enough that lower courts can follow them and that the decision doesn’t piss off enough of the country to start a shooting war.

      You can have an interesting discussion when the legal doctrines underlying the case cut in the opposite direction of the culture war. For instance, in Gonzales v Raich the issue was whether the DEA could enforce federal law against state-legal medical marijuana concerns. The court’s liberals (plus Kennedy) begrudgingly admitted that yes, it was a valid exercise of necessary-and-proper powers, while most of the conservatives dissented with the begrudging admission that no, the federal government had no right to interfere with purely internal matters of state law. Scalia broke from his usual legal principles to side with the liberals, I assume due to his personal opposition to marijuana, and I lost a bit of respect for him because of that.

      Then there’s Bush v Gore in which every single member of the court took the opposite side from their previously stated views on federalism in order to support their preferred partisan candidate, and swore up and down they’d never do it again. And we all shrugged and went along with it.

    • yodelyak says:

      Popehat is a good role-model for how to do that. His most recent, because it’s about a Supreme Court nominee’s jurisprudence, is inevitably CW-adjacent. But it’s all light, no heat.

      You’ll Hate This Post On Brett Kavanaugh And Free Speech

      • The Nybbler says:

        Here’s the bullet: Kavanaugh has been an appellate judge for 12 years and has written many opinions on free speech issues. They trend very protective of free speech, both in substance and in rhetoric.

        That’s enough to convince me the title is wrong.

      • Deiseach says:

        Interesting article, especially because I’ve already seen a few online fainting fits about how this means the entanglement of church and state and (of course) the overthrow of Roe vs Wade so The Handmaid’s Tale is another day closer to reality.

        I don’t know if it counts at all that Kavanaugh seems to be Catholic, so maintaining the Catholic majority on the Supreme Court; I haven’t heard any “the dogma lives loudly in you” about him yet, so he mustn’t have written anything to disturb the right-thinking.

        • Matt M says:

          They already took their “not allowed to nominate this person because they’re just a little too catholic” shot at Amy Barrett…

          • albatross11 says:

            You know, after reading the first couple paragraphs of that story, my assessed probability that I would actually become more knowledgeable about anything reading the rest of it fell dramatically. Like if I were reading something on a white supremacist site discussing whether some Jewish guy who was very serious about his faith should become a supreme court justice.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      United States v. AT&T

  14. cryptoshill says:

    I am not sure if this is a no-Culture War thread, but someone brought to my attention that there’s a growing body of research that racist beliefs are often caused by a lack of cognitive ability, leading to news stories like this.

    I have no problem having a prior of “people who are prejudiced are using biased or motivated reasoning more often” , but I’m almost certain there are forms of prejudice that exist within other subgroups that aren’t analyzed because it doesn’t let politically motivated actors create shiny headlines.
    I am also quite certain that linking “prejudiced or racist thinking” to right wing politics is fallacious, given the relatively low number of true white supremacists etc that are around, even in the most racist places of the United States.
    Is someone who is much better at parsing sociology papers up on this particular topic?

    Please delete if I am Culture-Warring in a non-Culture War thread.

    • Evan Þ says:

      The “N.5” threads are non-Culture-War. As an “N.75” thread, you’re fine to go here!

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Some thoughts [in no particular order] — I will try to be as polite as possible here.

      1. IQ and political affiliation; lower IQ tends to predict views which are more “socially conservative”, (such as the relationship between IQ and religiosity) but self described libertarians have higher measured IQs then self described liberals.

      2. IIRC there’s a positive correlation between IQ and openness, which might explain the reason for the difference at least on some issues. A higher IQ person might be less likely to have a viscerally negative reaction to a person or lifestyle that is un-common. (even if by some agreed standard that lifestyle is bad)

      3. People that are drunk tend to become less politically correct (“Drunken peasants” phenomenon). One explanation given is that individuals need to exert more mental energy to maintain socially acceptable, but counter intuitive, standards of behavior.

      4. Actual tests of stereotypical thinking seem to show that Stereotypes are more accurate then non-stereotypes. It could be that forcing yourself to negate stereotypes (in your own mind) requires abstract reasoning, the more of it you can manage the easier it will be to do on a regular basis. Taking more concrete and observable categories like ‘Men/Women’ or racial/ethnic groups and abstracting them into individuals and assigning them random or identical predispositions is counter-intuitive if this attitude contradicts personally observed behavior. (just like trying to read this paragraph backwards takes more effort) This relates to a point made about prejudice.

      I say stereotypes rather than prejudice because most stereotypes are generated from accumulated postjudice. Calling a stereotype a pre-judgement that must be false is, in lieu of any data, itself a prejudgement.

      5. Whether PC retrains your thinking or gives license to your own visceral biases depends on part on what group you are a part of. Which implies that it might be less predictive of higher reasoning ability depending on what group you’re measuring and how much license to think and act as one pleases is given.

      7. “True Supremacists” — Not sure what is meant by this. Just as I don’t understand what is meant by “Real Racists” you get 3 people in a room they’ll give you 4 definitions of what a ‘True X’ is. The people that wrote that article you linked have their own ideas about what those words mean. You have yours. I used to have mine and then I realized that the entire exercise is pointless. I’ll just forgo using those terms and spare people the confusion.

      __________________

      TLDR; low IQ people have a harder time convincing themselves that 2+2 = 5 for the same reason they would have a hard time understanding that the sum of all natural numbers equals -1/12. Certain people have taken to using this fact to claim that 2+2=5 is the smart, (and therefore correct) conclusion.

      • cryptoshill says:

        I don’t have any substantial objections to your points. One thought that I might have:
        If the universe went topsy turvy all of a sudden, and the “educated” mindset was that of xenophobia and religiosity – do you predict that this would change the low IQ/high IQ distribution? I predict this would almost exactly predict a shift in “low IQ linked to religiosity etc” to “high IQ linked to religiosity etc”.

        My reasoning is that religiosity and social conservatism are mostly taught by dogma and contain a lot of counterintuitive views and wonky idiosyncrasies. Resisting that dogma actively would be highly indicative of a more intelligent person. So if say – the zeitgeist became dominated by a group of dogmatic social liberals, you would see a shift of smarter people away from that viewpoint. Unless a significant third viewpoint was available (which in US politics is unlikely given the tribal nature of our political system) that would lead to more smart people moving towards those viewpoints.

        As to point 7, I was trying to use a definition of “real racists” akin to the one Scott used in You Are Still Crying Wolf (ie: people who would actively vote for an ethnostate supporter). My intuition is that there are some number more of people who want an ethnostate who wouldn’t vote that way to avoid looking bad or because they want the candidate to be more effective, but that this number can’t be extremely large.

        • albatross11 says:

          Deciding what “racist beliefs” are for the sake of a study like this is half the battle, right? I recall a widely-quoted study during the 2016 election that showed substantial numbers of both Republicans and Democrats had racist attitudes. The racist attitudes were saying that blacks were more likely to be criminals than whites and that blacks were less intelligent than whites. Which is fine, if that’s your definition, but those are also just the answers you would get by looking at readily available crime and IQ statistics.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @albatross

            Yes but in order to achieve the yawning heights of intellect you have to be able to realize that the data is meaningless as those discrepancies are the result of a discriminatory legal system rather than any fundamental differences in human behavior.

          • albatross11 says:

            It requires a high IQ to construct a truly evidence-proof worldview.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @RalMirrorAd –
            Not all of them are due to fundamental differences in how the legal system treats black people either. Some of them are due to poverty, other bits to culture, etc, etc and on down the line. Accounting for every factor in sociology and psychology is hard, which is why most of these studies fail to be replicated.
            @albatross11 – One of my problems with studies like that is that it’s such a loaded question. A subtle variation in black IQ could *easily* be caused by food insecurity, a variation in criminality to poverty (oops, poverty is also related to food insecurity!). The part of the question that isn’t on the survey at all is “Are blacks more likely to be criminals than whites because of their race?” which is the real question they are trying to represent the answer to for the purposes of establishing “racist” views.

          • quanta413 says:

            @cryptoshill

            A subtle variation in black IQ could *easily* be caused by food insecurity

            As far as African-Americans in the U.S., we already have comparison countries where people are certainly poorer in an absolute sense or comparison groups in the U.S. with similar levels of poverty yet different test scores. Food insecurity is an unlikely hypothesis for differences between populations in the U.S. Poor people are typically heavier than rich people in the U.S., not starving. Which is the reverse of differences across countries.

            As far as African populations in African countries with extreme poverty, I think it’s pretty well accepted that these populations’ IQ scores can be tanked by extreme deprivation because this level of physical deprivation can stunt or kill you, and they score well below related groups who aren’t malnourished or suffering from endemic malaria etc. When people have been adopted in the past from the third world into the first world (whether the third world was Korea or Africa), they made very significant gains compared to what you’d expect compared to the counterfactual where they grew up in their home country.

            Basically, I think food insecurity is either a poor hypothesis or an obviously accepted fact depending on what group comparisons you are making.

          • John Schilling says:

            A subtle variation in black IQ could *easily* be caused by food insecurity,

            “Food insecurity” sounds like the kind of thing that could cause an increase in IQ, by motivating people who would otherwise be vegetating on a couch to exercise various sorts of hustle in pursuit of their next meal.

            Starvation, of course, is a well-understood cause of IQ deficiency, as are some forms of malnutrition. But “food insecurity” is usually a weasel-word for people who want to Do Something for the Starving Masses but can’t seem to find the evidence for starvation or even serious malnutrition.

            If the argument is that black people in the United States are malnourished to the point of noticeable IQ deficiency, that is important enough that it needs the strong words, adequately supported.

          • cryptoshill says:

            @quanta413 – Food insecurity, probably not (I don’t think there are enough starving people in America for food insecurity to be a real contributor, unless we find something out about nutrition and iq development that is groundbreaking). But to skew the stats of a population of “blacks” in America by 2 or 3 points across a distribution, you only need to import a very small number of starving refugees.

            Either way, I was just pointing out that it is *generally* accepted that there is more to your IQ development than your genetics. Also, doing studies where we rip babies away from their parents to measure their IQ with a controlled development environment sounds highly unethical to me, so it is unlikely that we have a good idea exactly what these are.
            Thus, we have no reason to believe that black people have lower IQ scores because of their genetics or because of some factor. We do however know that group IQ scores are lower. So:
            “Black people on average across a large sample size score marginally lower on measures of general intelligence” – Not necessarily racist.
            “Black people on average across a large sample size scores marginally lower on measures of general intelligence primarily due to African genetic factors” – probably racist. At the bare minimum motivated reasoning (given that I don’t think we have a very good idea of what factors *other than genetics* influence IQ development.).

          • albatross11 says:

            cryptoshill:

            Note that by your definition, there are scientific results which, should they come out, will oblige you to become probably racist. To the extent you’re using “racist” to mean some moral set of beliefs–dislike of nonwhites, desire to discriminate against them, etc., that’s probably not a great definition.

          • quanta413 says:

            But to skew the stats of a population of “blacks” in America by 2 or 3 points across a distribution, you only need to import a very small number of starving refugees.

            The difference is ~10 points from “whites” (somewhat nebulously defined) and the standard deviation within population is lower among African Americans than “whites”. This is the reverse of what you’d usually expect if there were two populations making up the African American population and one was dragging the mean down.

            And starving refugees aren’t imported into the U.S. in meaningful numbers or into samples as far as I’m aware.

            Either way, I was just pointing out that it is *generally* accepted that there is more to your IQ development than your genetics. Also, doing studies where we rip babies away from their parents to measure their IQ with a controlled development environment sounds highly unethical to me, so it is unlikely that we have a good idea exactly what these are.

            Sure. But the generally accepted things that deeply affect an individual’s IQ are pretty rare in the U.S. African Americans are poorer than whites as a group, but most African Americans are not in poverty. 1/3 of African Americans made north of 50k in the 2010 census which is solidly middle class and up. And differences in income distribution don’t explain the differences in things like SAT score distribution although I’ve read that differences in wealth distribution might.

            Cross country adoptions aren’t a controlled experiment, but they’re probably good enough for the purposes for giving a lower bound of how much difference a massive environmental change can make. Like, maybe there are environmental changes that could make a larger difference, but we know that in extreme cases (even excluding bludgeoning someone in the head) the environment can make standard deviation or two of difference.

            Thus, we have no reason to believe that black people have lower IQ scores because of their genetics or because of some factor. We do however know that group IQ scores are lower. So:
            “Black people on average across a large sample size score marginally lower on measures of general intelligence” – Not necessarily racist.
            “Black people on average across a large sample size scores marginally lower on measures of general intelligence primarily due to African genetic factors” – probably racist. At the bare minimum motivated reasoning (given that I don’t think we have a very good idea of what factors *other than genetics* influence IQ development.).

            There are reasons to argue for or against various causal routes and interactions between causes. My vague memory is some ultra-orthodox Jewish groups have mean IQ scores 10-20 points lower than secular Jews. It’s possible these population are genetically different in some way I’m unaware, but I really, really doubt that’s the difference.

            Similarly, the North has always scored better than the South even after controlling for race. Even though you can find a cline genetically across the U.S. I have a lot of doubts about this being causally related to genetics either. So massive cultural differences seem like they do matter, but we have little clue of how to take advantage of this knowledge. It’s not like puritanical or progressive Northerners haven’t tried to get their culture adopted by people with cultures they view as inferior. Famously, they’ve been rather… forceful.

            Third example, Nigerian immigrants and their children in the U.S. often do very well. Nigerians are a group from West Africa. African-Americans are a group whose ancestry is mostly from West Africa and Europe. Nigerians often obtain advanced degrees in highly technical subjects. There’s an obvious selection effect here in that Nigerians who manage to get to the U.S. are not a random sample of Nigerians, but the differences in outcome and culture are so enormous that I have trouble believing that it’s just a selection effect.

            On the other hand, twin studies seem to point to the dominant form of environmental differences between people being stuff we clump into non-shared environment between siblings not shared environment between siblings. This doesn’t extend directly to group comparisons, but it’s discouraging to the idea that any top down interventions already tried will make any difference.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Note that by your definition, there are scientific results which, should they come out, will oblige you to become probably racist.

            This comes under ‘when the facts change, I change my mind; what do you do?’.

            For example, it’s plausible to judge Aristotle as sexist due to thinking women have fewer teeth than men. A belief that men were the default and women a lesser copy has a certain predictable failure mode, and he fell in the way predicted by that model of his thought process.

            But if he and his wife belonged to a species, like horses, where male and females have different number of teeth, there would be an alternative explanation: ‘he believes it because it is true’.

            Now, some people, hopefully including famous philosophers, mostly believe true things, with a few errors caused by preconception and bias. In such a case, then reasoning backwards from their failures to the biases that caused those mistakes is not a bad rule of thumb. ‘He was sexist’ is more plausible than either ‘he was a horse’ , ‘every modern doctor is wrong’ or ‘he was an idiot who regularly said wrong things’.

            In short, everyone _says_ they believe things because they are true; some people are wrong. In order to know who they are, you need to know what the facts of the matter actually are. You can’t expect judgement of mental bias to be fact-independent for much the same reason you can’t expect your left hand to stay pointing south after you turn around.

          • There’s an obvious selection effect here in that Nigerians who manage to get to the U.S. are not a random sample of Nigerians, but the differences in outcome and culture are so enormous that I have trouble believing that it’s just a selection effect.

            Nigeria includes the Igbo, a minority ethnic population with the reputation of being unusually smart. They lost the Biafran war, with estimated civilian casualties of about a million, which led to a good deal of emigration by survivors.

            When I was studying theoretical physics at Chicago, there was one black in the group of grad students doing theory–an Igbo. I don’t find it at all unlikely that Nigerian immigrants to the U.S., heavily weighted towards Igbo and rich, are enough smarter than the African average to explain the phenomenon. Add in the fact that, for immigrants who are not rich, the enormous gains in opportunities coming from the Third World to the U.S. are likely to result in people working harder than the American average.

            “Black people on average across a large sample size scores marginally lower on measures of general intelligence primarily due to African genetic factors” – probably racist.

            I disagree. What the cause of the difference is is a complicated question, and all you have offered are reasons that there might be non-genetic causes. That someone else makes a different judgement call than yours on a question on which you have no special expertise is no more evidence of his ideological bias than the fact that you make the judgement call you do is of yours.

          • quanta413 says:

            @David Friedman

            Nigeria includes the Igbo, a minority ethnic population with the reputation of being unusually smart. They lost the Biafran war, with estimated civilian casualties of about a million, which led to a good deal of emigration by survivors…

            That’s a good point, and it likely narrows the range of explanations that should be searched (for this subcase).

          • cryptoshill says:

            I disagree. What the cause of the difference is is a complicated question, and all you have offered are reasons that there might be non-genetic causes. That someone else makes a different judgement call than yours on a question on which you have no special expertise is no more evidence of his ideological bias than the fact that you make the judgement call you do is of yours.

            Thinking further I think you’re at least on to something. My ideological bias here is that a non-expert who answers a complex question with a simple explanation is more likely making that judgement based on bias rather than a conscious thought process. I have no idea how accurate that intuition is however. A test would be to see whether or not people who are more interested in community cohesion are more likely to give the second answer than the first.

          • My ideological bias here is that a non-expert who answers a complex question with a simple explanation is more likely making that judgement based on bias rather than a conscious thought process.

            I agree that few people will have gone through a careful evaluation of the evidence for and against a genetic cause, but racial prejudice isn’t the only relevant bias–or, more properly, prior. Suppose I have observed–as in fact I have–a fair number of cases where a child was a lot like a parent, possibly including one or two where the parent wasn’t the one who reared the child. My prior will then be that differences among people are largely genetic. Add to that the observation of IQ differences by race and the natural conclusion is that it’s probably genetic.

          • cryptoshill says:

            I agree that few people will have gone through a careful evaluation of the evidence for and against a genetic cause, but racial prejudice isn’t the only relevant bias–or, more properly, prior. Suppose I have observed–as in fact I have–a fair number of cases where a child was a lot like a parent, possibly including one or two where the parent wasn’t the one who reared the child. My prior will then be that differences among people are largely genetic. Add to that the observation of IQ differences by race and the natural conclusion is that it’s probably genetic.

            Wouldn’t someone who was smart enough to bring out observations of black/white IQ studies also at least generally be cognizant of the potential attribution objections?

            It also would be an easily observable prior that people with different upbringings have a lot of other behaviors that aren’t due to their genetics. So even at that base level the leap isn’t quite justified. At least not to me.

            @albatross11 – Absolutely there are scientific results which , if determined credible – would make me be more racist. If I had credible evidence that everyone who was Jewish was secretly a lizardperson working with Cthulu – that would absolutely change my priors on Jewish people. There are some people on the internet who claim to have such evidence, but as of now it isn’t considered credibly. But let’s pretend for a moment that it is true.

            Would Hitler not be doing a great service to humanity?

            Almost all evil genocidal dictators essentially start the wheels by convincing people of something similar to the above. Which is why I think it’s fine to be more-skeptical of race research than other research – but if I engineer a scenario where the Jews are actually evil lizardpeople trying to end the world and this isn’t just made up, I don’t think you can make the claim that this “racism” is nasty and evil in the same way that other racism is.

            Or to put it more plainly – we reject racism precisely because we consider it unlikely for that sort of thing to be true.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This is all begging for an exploding brain meme.

      • Skivverus says:

        Expanding on point 4: if low IQ means “less capacity available for mental models”, lower-resolution models will be more useful when you have to deal with people beyond your Dunbar’s number. Race and sex seem to be roughly as low-resolution as you can get while still having different behavior towards different strangers (though you could probably also add “build”; not sure the surveys ask for opinions about “scrawny” versus “burly” or “fat” though).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Race and sex seem to be roughly as low-resolution as you can get while still having different behavior towards different strangers (though you could probably also add “build”; not sure the surveys ask for opinions about “scrawny” versus “burly” or “fat” though).

          Though to be blunt, sexism will always be a useful heuristic while race is usually constructed too vaguely to be useful. Male and female humans are far more different from each other on average than different ethnic groups.

          • veeloxtrox says:

            Though to be blunt, sexism will always be a useful heuristic while race is usually constructed too vaguely to be useful. Male and female humans are far more different from each other on average than different ethnic groups.

            I would respectfully disagree. The difference between a man and a women from the same culture are relatively similar but race has been and will be for awhile a very good proxy for “This person had a different upbringing from me.”

          • albatross11 says:

            I think stereotypes based on broad, easily-seen groups are often useful in situations where you’re interacting with someone with very little information–especially interacting with strangers you’ll never see again. Knowing 20-year old men are a lot more likely to mug you than 60-year-old women is useful when you’re walking down a dark street, but by the time you’ve gotten to know your 20-year-old male neighbor pretty well, you probably have a much better estimate of whether he’s likely to mug you or not.

            The other place they’re useful is in making predictions about large groups. You can use race/IQ statistics to make good predictions about how black vs white students will do on this year’s ACT on average, but if you want to know how smart your black coworker is relative to your white coworker, the group statistics are *way* less informative than talking with them and evaluating the quality of their work and thinking. A black physicist or neurologist is going to be really smart, and if you judge him on racial IQ averages, you’re going to make a fool of yourself.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I would respectfully disagree. The difference between a man and a women from the same culture are relatively similar but race has been and will be for awhile a very good proxy for “This person had a different upbringing from me.”

            Sure, but there are many different upbringings different from yours.
            Say you live in a country with a demographic legacy of African slavery and black people are overwhelmingly Christian and genetically 2/3 West African coastal and 1/3 European on average, then suddenly the government invites in enough Somali Muslims to change your city’s demographics. Your ability to generalize about “black people” without making a fool of yourself goes down. Whereas the differences between men and women are more stable because those categories are less socially constructed.

    • John Schilling says:

      I am not sure if this is a no-Culture War thread, but someone brought to my attention that there’s a growing body of research that racist beliefs are often caused by a lack of cognitive ability, leading to news stories like this.

      Absent telepathy, there’s no reliable way to no what people believe. And people with high cognitive ability are very likely going to figure out the unwritten rule that says they have to lie about whatever racist beliefs they may have, Or Else.

    • JulieK says:

      someone brought to my attention that there’s a growing body of research that racist beliefs are often caused by a lack of cognitive ability, leading to news stories like this.

      The beliefs are correlated with cognitive ability, but that’s not the same as being caused by them.

      This theory assumes that each person formulates his own beliefs from scratch, to the best of his cognitive abilities. I would say instead that most people adopt whatever beliefs are prevalent in their social group. Charles Murray has written about how (in America) elite whites have a totally different culture from working-class whites, and I daresay the same is true in England.

      I’m almost certain there are forms of prejudice that exist within other subgroups that aren’t analyzed because it doesn’t let politically motivated actors create shiny headlines.

      Good point. Maybe someone who wouldn’t mind a neighbor of another race would be unhappy with a neighbor who was a redneck or a Hassidic Jew.

      The survey, which compared childhood intelligence with political views, is bad news for David Cameron, the Conservative Party Prime Minister but should give a lift to Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband

      This reminds of the joke Atlas shared in the previous open thread:

      Adlai Stevenson was making a campaign stop when a woman called out: “You have the vote of every thinking person in this country, sir!” To which he responded: “That’s great, ma’am, but we still need a majority.”

  15. johan_larson says:

    It wasn’t that long ago that going to high school was a bit of a big deal. I think my grandparents in central Finland had grade six educations, gained through the local “folk skola” (folk school, or common school). I’m trying to figure out how much material such institutions would actually have covered.

    In math, I’m picturing a curriculum that covers counting, arithmetic with whole numbers, decimals, fractions, weights and measures, time and money, geometric shapes, and formulas for areas and volumes. And that would pretty much be it. Someone going on to an upper school would first hit integers, algebra, and straight lines.

    Does that sound about right?

    • SamChevre says:

      Well, I had an 8th-grade education intended as a complete education, and that’s all most of my family has. The one thing you are missing in math that I had is percents and percentages, assuming that “arithmetic with …time and money” includes the whole list.

      In English, we learned English grammar very thoroughly–parts of speech, words that are frequently confused (lay|laid vs lie|lay, it’s vs its, etc), sentence diagramming, case and tense; punctuation; how to write a formal letter; but very little about textual interpretation.

      • Nick says:

        In English, we learned English grammar very thoroughly–parts of speech, words that are frequently confused (lay|laid vs lie|lay, it’s vs its, etc), sentence diagramming, case and tense; punctuation;

        My sample-size-of-one experience is that this sort of thing is frequently neglected these days, or for some reason fails to stick. I observed in my Latin classes in college that a lot of students were only just then learning person, number, tense, etc. And looking back, the discussion of tense in my English classes in middle school was just inept. My teacher was a devotee of Strunk & White, which should tell you everything you need to know. 😀

    • Well... says:

      I don’t know about Finland, but I remember somewhere online being able to take the same 8th-grade proficiency exam that was administered to kids in a one-room schoolhouse in the late 19th century in the US. I took it in my 20s after graduating from college and scored something like 37 out of 100.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Answered here.

  16. keranih says:

    From the Atlantic:Anti-vaccine sediment against equine Hendra in Australia.

    With an interesting review of the discovery of the disease.

  17. Mark V Anderson says:

    Myth #8: That Republicans support the free market. Most politicians believe they can run things better than others, including private businesses. It’s because they believe the government to be the most important institution in America that they became professional politicians in the first place. Oh sure, there is the occasional official who runs for office just to keep the government out of everyone’s affairs. But such amateurs rarely succeed at being elected, and when they do, usually get tired of it after one term.

    Republicans do often make claims of being for small government, but those are tactics for getting elected, not deeply held beliefs. How many people would make a living at something they were trying to minimize and make less relevant in the lives of people? Very few could devote their entire professional lives to such a thankless task. Some Republicans may believe government should be slightly smaller in some aspects (less business regulation perhaps), but it makes no sense to believe more than a tiny proportion of politicians are for radically shrinking it. And experience bears that out, since government has continued to increase in size, whether under Democratic or Republican administrations.

    • Jiro says:

      Since you have not listed myths 1 through 7, that means you’re quoting someone but pretending it’s your own words. (Or maybe quoting yourself and pretending you’re saying something new.) Why are you doing this?

    • Guy in TN says:

      The converse myth is true as well, that Democrats are not necessarily opposed to market institutions. That the Democrats controlled both the presidency and congress in 2009-2010, and declined to implement full-communism (despite having the legal power to do so), should be evidence enough of this.

      As a positional description, the “pro-market” and “anti-market” labeling of the parties is an a pretty accurate description of their differences in economic policy. It would be correct to say the Republicans are “pro-market”, in the sense that it means “the Republicans are more inclined to support distributing resources via market mechanisms than Democrats.” As an objective description, however, it can be said that both the Dems and the GOP support both market and non-market distribution mechanisms, so describing either party as strictly “pro-market” or “anti-market” is inaccurate.

      Also, how are you defining “size of government”? If its related to state-ownership, you should bear in mind that the percent of national wealth owned by the U.S. government has declined since 1980.

      • ilikekittycat says:

        Anyone who thinks there are serving Democrats who would take the football and run with full communism even if given unprecedented majorities and a mandate doesn’t pay serious attention to politics. You can count on your fingers the Dems that would even try to play FDR and turn us into something like Sweden or the Netherlands

        • engleberg says:

          Heinlein said that every spoils system was an example of running the government like a business. You can’t support the 2018 D party and oppose spoils systems. Should public service union donations be mandatory? Or should that spoils system at least be voluntary?

          Donor money for the R party has at least made its peace with crony capitalism, which is hard to tell from socialism if you aren’t the right brand of socialist.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I would agree that Republicans are more pro-market then Dems, but just slightly. Mostly because the Reps need to pretend so to satisfy their constituents.

        And it also true that Dems are not nearly as anti-market as the Reps like to claim. Of course a lot of that is to make the Reps look more pro-market by contrasting with those commie Dems. What both sides seem to be the most consistent on is that the other side will lead the country into Hell if left unconstrained. I tend to think they’re both right. 🙂

        Of course I am talking about national politicians, which need to compromise a bit with the other party. In my very blue city of Minneapolis, it seems that business is only allowed to stay in the city begrudgingly, since they do at least provide some jobs. Whenever a Minneapolis politician discusses business, it is almost always to say how they will endeavor to regulate them much more, because no business will ever be a net benefit to the city without a constant struggle to constrain their profit-making impulses. They have close to zero belief in the benefits of the “invisible hand.” I think such Dems may make up about 1/4 of the US population. If they got full control, I think the country would become close to a full socialist country.

        I found it interesting in your link that the US actually has negative assets. So it owes more than it owns. No I don’t think that tells us much about the size of the US government. Is the government negative in size?

        I think the traditional method is to look at spending. See here. Spending has increased greatly for the last 20 years, and of course it went up more during Bush’s reign (six of which he had a Republican House and Senate). I think I’ve also heard that state and local spending increased at an even higher rate, but I am too lazy to look that up now.

    • Aftagley says:

      A couple of things:

      1. I think I’ve only seen myths number 5,7 and 8. If you intend these to be consumed, or at least considered as a whole, I might recommend making a repository of them somewhere.

      2. I don’t quite get how you link “republicans aren’t actually for dramatically reducing the size of the federal government,” a controversial, yet defensible position with “republicans don’t support the free market.”

      3. This claim in particular strikes me as weird:

      Republicans do often make claims of being for small government, but those are tactics for getting elected, not deeply held beliefs. How many people would make a living at something they were trying to minimize and make less relevant in the lives of people?

      The government isn’t some unified whole that grows or shrinks it’s power in unison, it’s a collection of loosely affiliated organizations that all trace their power back to the same source. It’s entirely possible that a republican could get elected to congress and have a very rewarding career trying to destroy the dept. of education or the CFBP, or a democrat could get elected and get personal satisfaction out of trying to get rid of ICE. A politician isn’t going to lose any personal power or prestige or job satisfaction if some random department they don’t like gets abolished.

      4. Your basic idea that politicians have no deeply held beliefs and everything they say is just red meat they’re throwing to the yahoos seems way too cynical to be believable. Doesn’t it make more sense that maybe what seems like a black and white issue when they have no power (shrink the government!) turns complex and potentially insurmountable when they’re actually confronted with the ramification of their decisions? Maybe I’m leaning too far into charity here, but I find it way more likely that they get to Washington and realize, holy crap, making the government small is really hard.

      • pjs says:

        > How many people would make a living at something they were trying to minimize and make less relevant in the lives of people?

        I would guess billions.

        Can you clearly distinguish this from doctors/health-care-workers, or the police, for instance. It’s true that an idealistic doctor is probably not trying, at least not directly, to minimize the size of the health-care industry per se, but to the extent she’s trying to encourage healthy habits and preventative care that reduce future demand I don’t see a practical difference.

        Or a different tack: anyone working in an industry trying to innovate to make that industry more efficient/automated/commoditized- they may hope for more $ for themselves (if they succeed) even if the industry as a whole shrinks as a result of their innovation.

        Even for politicians, yours seems like an astoundingly cynical view. If I see government expanding, whatever that means, why can’t I be sincerely motivated in trying to retard the trend (which, ever so slightly ironically, might mean joining government, but so what?)

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Both Afta and pjs seem to think I am very cynical here. I think I may appear more cynical than I am. I think most people think they are improving the world in their daily lives somehow, and politicians are part of this group. And in fact I think politicians on average are more idealistic than others. But there are two reasons that our elected officials nevertheless fall into certain camps despite most of them sincerely wanting to improve the world:

          1) The politicians that get elected are only a subset of those that run for office. Generally the most idealistic do not get elected, unless they are also very charismatic, since there will always be others that are willing to state beliefs that appeal to everyone, and they are more likely to get elected. I suppose it will work if the idealist happens to have the exact beliefs of their voting jurisdiction, but that becomes less likely as politicians move to higher office.

          2) Usually most politicians have a few key areas they are interested in, and they are perfectly happy to build their elect-ability in other areas by following the crowds. I don’t think this is particularly cynical — it is the practical thing to do. And as I said in #1, those that don’t probably never get elected in the first place. So the Republicans may have some important issues such as national defense, public safety, or strong business environment. But they need to mouth the free market thing because they are Republicans. Actually, I think understanding the benefits of the free market takes some intellectual skills, and I don’t think most politicians of either party are both smart enough and intellectual enough to understand it.

          It is a good point that people like doctors are in the business of trying to put themselves out of business. And in fact I have heard that dentists are actually somewhat succeeding at this, with better teeth care resulting in a smaller industry? But it still is true that being a politician to put yourself out of business is pretty unlikely. Not only are politicians in favor of shrinking government lowering their own prospects, but they are going contrary to their fellows, which is a very hard way to live.

          My theory as to why politicians don’t want to shrink government flows out of my experience that government almost never shrinks. So I think it is clear that few politicians want to shrink government. I am just looking for the reasons why.

          • Guy in TN says:

            My theory as to why politicians don’t want to shrink government flows out of my experience that government almost never shrinks.

            If we take the “size of government” to mean federal spending as a percent of GDP (essentially what you had suggested earlier), then this is not the conclusion one should reach from the data (Recognizing that this does not take into account state and local sending.)

            Spending has fluctuated through the years, and comparing 1968 directly to 2018 shows no difference.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Spending has fluctuated through the years, and comparing 1968 directly to 2018 shows no difference.

            Ah, we’ve got competing statistics. Admittedly, yours is a little better than mine, as it goes back further and is a % of GDP. It seems my statistics, starting in 1996, began at a low point, making it look like it went up a lot. OF course your starting point, in 1968, is likely a high point, after all the spending on Vietnam and Great Society. But it is still impressive that spending as a percent of GDP hasn’t changed a lot in 50 years.

            I went looking for spending by state. I was surprised by this cite, which seems to indicate that even state and local spending as percent of GDP went down since 1960 (exhibit 6). That sounds totally wrong based on everything I’ve heard before, and with all the new taxes since 1960, so I am skeptical. But I really need to find better statistics to know what is really happening.

            Edit: Actually the exhibit 6 I discussed above must mean something different than I thought. It shows dramatically different taxes as a percent of GDP using current dollars and constant dollars, and now it occurs to me that a percentage of GDP should not be adjusted at all for inflation, since taxes and GDP are both at historic dollars. So it is either showing something different than I thought, or the writers of this piece are totally non-numerate.

  18. a reader says:

    Regarding Brad’s proposal in a former Open thread, to eliminate SAT from college admissions:

    Consequences of meritocracy: Caltech dominates in fraction of undergrads who go on to win Nobel (incl. Lit and Econ), Fields, or Turing prize. 3x Harvard rate, and >100x the rate of many good public universities.

    https://twitter.com/hsu_steve/status/1000056789667319808

    One intriguing result is the strong correlation (r ~ 0.5) between our ranking (over all universities) and the average SAT score of each student population, which suggests that cognitive ability, as measured by standardized tests, likely has something to do with great contributions later in life. By selecting heavily on measurable characteristics such as cognitive ability, an institution obtains a student body with a much higher likelihood of achievement. The identification of ability here is probably not primarily due to “holistic review” by admissions committees: Caltech is famously numbers-driven in its selection (it has the highest SAT/ACT scores), and outperforms the other top schools by a sizeable margin. While admission to one of the colleges on the lists above is no guarantee of important achievements later in life, the probability is much higher for these select matriculants.

    https://qz.com/498534/these-25-schools-are-responsible-for-the-greatest-advances-in-science/

  19. tenoke says:

    Does anyone know of any good write-ups on Tencent, Alibaba and respectively Pony Ma and Jack Ma?

  20. johan_larson says:

    The US military services use a multi-part written test called the ASVAB to decide what recruits are fit for what jobs. Different types of jobs need different aptitudes and therefore use different portions of the test to rate the recruits, but all of them have minimum total scores for the sections they use. You can see a list of minimum scores and jobs for the army here:

    https://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/asvab/asvab-and-army-jobs.html

    What I find odd about the list is that the primary infantry combat jobs, like infantryman, have almost the lowest required scores in the list. Infantrymen need CO:90; only three jobs have requirements lower than that. I have to wonder if that’s wise. It means the folks wandering through Afghan villages or Iraqi streets trying to discern the good guys from the bad are some of the least capable folks in the entire service. And that seems like a good way to get people killed unnecessarily.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      “Different types of jobs need different aptitudes and therefore use different portions of the test to rate the recruits …”

      As far as I know, the g factor in cognitive ability predicts performance in subfield better than subtests designed for that subfield. So the above, while intuitive, might just be suboptimal.

      If not infantrymen, who should have the lowest requirement according to you?

    • Matt M says:

      Well, that’s also why they’re trained with strict and absolute discipline to unquestionably obey the orders of their superior (and more capable) officers.

      Sure, we can lament that front-line infantry might not have the best decisionmaking capabilities, but the whole system is designed such that front-line infantry aren’t supposed to be making any decisions in the first place.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Well, that’s also why they’re trained with strict and absolute discipline to unquestionably obey the orders of their superior (and more capable) officers.

        I don’t think that’s why, actually, though it doesn’t hurt. Many “specialized” or technical military jobs–and I think this includes a number of officer roles–come with a giant binder that spells out exactly what to do in any scenario, not because the workers are necessarily stupid, but because they’re on a 2-year tour to do this before they move on to a totally different role. They’re not experts and training them to be high quality Foobar Technicians would be a waste of time when they all get reassigned to be quartermasters by the time you’re done. So instead you teach them to Read The Instructions and make sure all of these jobs have great instructions. (Or at least instructions.)

        At least, this was given to me as an explanation for why we were building a particular anti-hacker tool with what I thought was a terrible ux paradigm when I interned for Aerospace. No one was ever going to use this for real, but the theoretical users would have been USAF “sysadmins” who had no idea how computers worked.

        • Matt M says:

          Even so – there’s a difference between “the manual tells you what to do and you’re expected to read and understand it” and “there’s a big dude over your shoulder screaming at you telling you what to do at this exact moment.”

          Even at lower ranks, supporting jobs tend to have more “trust” in their people than infantry are allowed. Trust me, I know, I was an enlisted admin guy in the Navy for 9 years. I helped write a lot of those binders!

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            That’s interesting, and I can believe it. Coming from SV tech land where “your manager gets to tell you what feature you should work on” is considered mildly controversial authoritarian practice, I rounded off the description given to me for “technical” personnel to the same level of supervision, but I can see how that’s probably not true.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Tech-land is kind of unique.

            The average corporate IT drone probably has more power than the average mid-level manager – maybe not to make hiring and firing decisions, but to make the sort of decisions that will later lead to hiring and firing.

            In other specialized fields – medical testing, for instance – you can have assembly lines of PhD-holding specialists doing the same tasks their entire careers.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      If you don’t like that, you’ll hate this.

      That said, I’m…mostly with BKFM here? Assuming we don’t have sufficient buying power to fill all military jobs with high-IQ types, where would you rather put them? There aren’t that many dishwasher/janitor/makework jobs in the military (at least that aren’t just done by 11Bs and their equivalents anyway, if Terminal Lance is to be believed.)

      • bean says:

        In terms of Stupid Things Robert McNamara Did As SecDef, which could reasonably be called his follies, the Animals, Vegetables, and Minerals probably don’t even crack the top 10. But I’m a sucker for anything that says bad things about him, so I may put that on my amazon list.

        • cassander says:

          that reminds me bean, I meant to ask, you mentioned a norman friedman history of the TF-X program you were reading, and I wasn’t aware that he’d written one. Was that in Fighters over the Fleet, or was it something else?

    • Randy M says:

      I think perhaps that assumes that everyone is at least an infantry man. Radio technician, or what have you, are expected to stand in for infantry if the need arises, and to fulfill their tasks in addition to this.
      Also, if you have a group of men trained to work together and do the exact same job, it’s probably fine if some of them are less bright than the average infantryman.
      Third, you might be right in that in counter insurgency type wars the Infantry on the scene is expected to do a lot more than in prior wars where the targets were easier to identify and more problems could be solved by application of firepower.

    • dndnrsn says:

      It means the folks wandering through Afghan villages or Iraqi streets trying to discern the good guys from the bad are some of the least capable folks in the entire service.

      Counterinsurgency isn’t the reason for being of the US infantry, or US combat arms in general, or US military in general. The criteria for infantry are based on other things.

    • albatross11 says:

      An important consequence of this is that there’s an effective floor (I think around a standard deviation below the mean IQ) below which they won’t accept you for military service. That means that a lot of the visible success that the military has with taking folks from very rough backgrounds and turning them into successful citizens probably comes down to selecting the ones who are likely to be successful via an IQ test.

  21. ana53294 says:

    Was this article in the Atlantic commented here? I find it’s quite a neutral way of looking at Trump.
    I personally prefer a parliamentary system to a presidential one. I guess that cannot be changed in the US, but it does seem like the POTUS has too much power. This isn’t a criticism of Trump, by the way. If Obama didn’t get into the Iran deal without having it ratified, it would have been harder for Trump to get out of it (politically, that is).
    Although according to this article, getting the Iran deal ratified wouldn’t help much if Trump still decided to pull out of it. I do think that the ability of presidents to get out of treaties that have been ratified by the House of Representatives is a bad thing. Only the House of Representatives should be able to break ratified treaties.
    The reason I don’t have much hope of this changing is that, if the next president is Democrat, they will be quite happy to get those powers, even if they don’t want Republican presidents to have them. Same if the next president after Trump is a Republican.
    But Trump has destroyed a lot of the things that were traditional for the President’s role. I do think that is an overall positive thing, and the next guy after him doesn’t start again consoling widows (that’s what counselors and pastors are for).

    • CatCube says:

      The Senate ratifies treaties; the House has no formal involvement in the process. (I think there will be issues if the treaty requires new laws to be passed or funding to be implemented, both of which *do* require the participation of the House.)

      • albatross11 says:

        The president has a lot less formal power spelled out in the constitution than he exercises in practice. This is largely because Congress is dysfunctional and unable or unwilling to exercise its powers. (And that is partly because of flaws in the constitution, and partly because of the current state of politics, law, Congressional rules, incentives, party power, etc.)

      • ana53294 says:

        OK. I find the US naming system confusing. I thought that Congress was the general manner to refer to both houses; then I was told several times that no, that is not correct. So what is the name of both houses?

        My point is not about which part of the legislature should approve any deal; I just think that one of them should be able to reign in a president’s power to do so.

        • Randy M says:

          You were right. The congress is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

        • albatross11 says:

          The Congress consists of the Senate (two per state, six year terms) and the House of Representatives (more-or-less apportioned by population so there are lots from California and fewer from Montana; two-year terms). Laws have to pass in both houses to get passed; some functions are specific to one house or another (presidential appointments get confirmed by the Senate). The president gets to veto laws he doesn’t like, but then Congress can override his veto with a 2/3 majority.

          Unlike a parliamentary system, its pretty common for the president and one or both houses to be controlled by opposing parties, in which case it’s really hard for any laws to get passed. Congress can remove a president from office, but it’s very hard and it’s never been done. This requires that the House of Representatives vote to impeach the president (with a simple majority vote) and then the Senate vote to convict and remove him from office (with a 2/3 majority).

        • Nornagest says:

          Congress is both houses. The House of Representatives is the lower house of Congress, and currently has four hundred people and change in it, who all represent districts of roughly equal population. The Senate is the upper house, has a hundred people in it, and each state elects two senators.

          Theoretically, the Senate has more say in foreign policy and administrative stuff — it’s the body that approves the President’s appointments for judges and positions in the bureaucracy, for example. The House controls funding. Either can propose laws, which need to be passed by both to take effect. In practice, though, all of these questions are heavily influenced by messy soft-power considerations that cut across the formal divisions of government — the Presidency wields enormous power but almost all of it is informal.

        • ana53294 says:

          OK. Thanks for the explanations – I meant Congress here.

    • cassander says:

      the article seems starts with the assertion that trump isn’t making deals because he isn’t reaching out to democratic senators. Why would he? It’s the senate, sure, the minority is far from powerless, but anything trump wants to get done needs the approval of senate republicans first and foremost. It follows that up with this rather absurd line “He has also shed responsibilities in a job that traditionally only accumulates them, neglecting allies, his own employees, and even the oldest presidential aspiration, telling the truth.” which is so sanctimonious as to be laughable.

      But putting that aside, the whole piece is rather meandering. It routinely makes the mistake of conflating the power of the presidency with the power of the executive branch as a whole, and the two are not the same. In fact, to a substantial degree, they are inversely correlated. The more the executive does, the less control a president can exercise over it. It repeats, multiple times, the myth that republicans refused to work with Obama when the reality was that obama was terrible at working with congress, regardless of party.

      The “solutions” it proposes are even softer than the analysis. A “better” transition process is a good idea by definition, but the author has few specifics and a better transition will do little to improve the remainder of the presidency. Most of the other suggestions amount to calls for people to be better, which is always the first recourse of someone with few actual ideas, or vague to be meaningless.

      In sum, I’m not impressed. There is a core decent idea in this piece, the presidency does need reform, but it’s buried under a lot of silly fluff.

  22. Thegnskald says:

    I brought this up once before, but it was late in the thread, so my apologies for repeating an idea; I am curious about feedback.

    Basic goal: Create an infectious (if successful) corporate entity that dissolves rent.

    Implementation: A corporation founded so that it owns itself. Profits are split between paying the workers an additional profitability bonus, paying past workers proportionally to their total wages, and purchasing stock in other companies. This is all done by a guiding board, similar to a board of directors, who are paid for their work as ex employees with a fictional base salary (that is, they are paid a proportion of future profits).

    Core tenets of the structure of this corporate entity is that it can only be owned by itself and companies operating on the same charter, with poison pills in the charter that aim to prevent a company’s debts from spreading ownership of their charters. The corporation could found new corporations under it’s charter, or buy out other companies and reorganize them under the charter.

    Any thoughts? I never did get an answer previously on the question of a corporation owning itself, but this is the end-goal: A leftist corporate structure, like copyleft, but designed to take over and destroy rent.

    • Hey says:

      How would your corporation make money (especially at the level required to buy every other company) ? Why use such a weird system to pay past employees instead of simply buying as much stock as possible ? Also, isn’t a corporation without owners just a non-profit ?

      It sounds like a mix of Berkshire Hathaway (for the “using profits to buy other companies” part) and Google Will Eat Itself (for the “leftist project unlikely to work” part).

      I don’t see your corporation destroying capitalism anytime soon but it sounds fun.

      • Thegnskald says:

        You pay past employees as a mixture of a retirement system and a mechanism to incentivize certain hard choices that otherwise cooperation businesses run into – namely, laying off less productive employees. The goal is to try to align the long-term interests of the employees with the long-term interests of the business. If I can get an equivalent job somewhere else, getting laid off is a net win for me – because I am getting paid at my new job, and also my profit sharing component at my old job gets that much better.

        ETA:

        And other than the corporate charter, the goal is for individual companies to make money doing the same thing every other company does – which is to say, selling things, and interacting in the general capital economy. An individual company might be a publisher, or an insurance company, or the manager of rental properties, or a manufacturer of gyroscopes. Doesn’t matter.

    • ana53294 says:

      How is this company different from a worker’s co-op*?

      To my knowledge, there aren’t that many Big Co-ops. Most of them are in banking or agriculture. Now, I don’t know much about banking co-ops, but most agricultural co-ops are associations of small farmers that collectively decide what to plant and where to market; some of them share big farming equipment, but not the really big ones. The small or medium sized agri co-ops do share farm equipment, but really big ones don’t, because this kind of sharing does not scale that well. They mostly unite to be able to negotiate with big buyers, to get fair prices, and help each other by providing insurance, etc. The nitty-gritty details of how to run the farm are left to the owners. This kind of setup doesn’t let the farmers slack off; sure, somebody else is going to do the marketing and sales part, but he still has to produce the product.

      The biggest industrial co-op in the world is Mondragon Group, and they have tons of problems because they are a co-op. The problem is, if every worker is an owner, it is very hard to fire an owner. When they retire, there is usually a kind of forced sale of the shares, but there is an option of transferring the shares to a family member who becomes a worker of the co-op. So the father who has a useless son who is a dimwit but can come on time and do the minimum, and another son who is really bright and a good worker and can do fine on his own, will make sure that the dumb son works in the co-op, and get his shares on retirement.

      Also, if the workers are the owners, how do you handle downsizing and layoffs during hard times? Usually, in a co-op, worker-owners first downsize those who aren’t. If you suggest everybody, even the intern, is a worker-owner, that is not wise. Most co-ops in the Mondragon Group require a worker to work for 7 years before they allow you to buy shares, to avoid lazy, unmotivated workers.

      Co-ops do have the ability to cut salaries in bad years and increase them in good years. For a lot of big companies, reducing salaries can be harder than downsizing worker. So the flexibility of reducing salaries without firing people is great, if you cannot fire people. But this kind of attitude doesn’t scale well across cultures. Worker-owners of Mondragon Group are mostly Basque; they have a shared identity and common values, which is the reason why I think it works well. When Fagor, one of the companies of the group, expanded to Poland and IIRC, the US, a lot of problems started. It is difficult to convince Polish workers, a lot of whom are not owner-workers (because of the 7 year rule), to lower their salaries because sales aren’t good, when they haven’t interiorized the co-op values.

      Another problem is executives’ pay. Most co-ops limit executive pay to about 40x the lowest salary in the company. This sounds great, but they have a real problem to get and retain talent. Most executives are thus people who have risen through the ranks and like the co-op system (which is much smaller than the potential bigger pool of outsiders).

      *if workers own the company, it’s essentially a co-op. If I misunderstood, who are you saying should own it? The company is too broad: the executives? the workers?

      • Thegnskald says:

        The workers don’t own it – in an individual case, the corporation owns all of its own shares. As more companies get added to the conglomerate, they all own shares in each other, providing cross-company and cross-industry profit sharing. The goal is to align everybody’s incentives in the same direction – the problem with a co-op is that there are lots of cases where the incentives aren’t aligned (such as when considering laying off unnecessary employees).

        I don’t find the executive salary thing to be that interesting. People focus too much on income – the real long-term disparities arise because of wealth, not income.

        • ana53294 says:

          Even if the company owns itself, there is still the problem of decision-making: who makes the decisions for the company? As you agree, employees’ incentives frequently don’t align with the company.
          I think that in the end, the owners of the company are those that make the decisions for the company. If they are shareholders, who have invested in the company and have long term interest in it and receive a part of its profits, they are interested in the long term existence of the company. Or not; they can also decide to just sell off all profitable parts and scrap the whole company.
          But however convoluted the decision making is (you can have CEOs who can fire workers but who can be fired by the board of directors; the board can be fired by some other board; etc.), the person who makes the ultimate decision, the last link of the chain, has to have a stake. So let’s say you give him a part of the profits; why wouldn’t he change everybody below him, and sell the whole company, by changing its bylaws and ownership structure? Sure, a part of the earnings is a nice thing – but why stop when you can have all of it?
          If nothing puts a check on CEO pay, they will eventually eat all the company’s profits. Somebody, at some point, needs to be able to stop this, and then you need somebody to stop him.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The workers elect and can fire the board of directors, perhaps. I had a scheme for this laid out in the last thread I posted this on, which also included logic for handling changing the charter, and forking out conglomerates that want to stick to the old charter, but the specific implementation details aren’t actually that important to the idea.

            Effectively, every worker has a stake, every executive has a stake, and the goal of designing the charter is to bring all incentives into alignment.

          • ana53294 says:

            If the workers can fire a board of directors, then again it’s like a co-op. Workers will vote in block against any board that doesn’t fire a CEO that does downsizing.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Attempts to revolutionize the existing economic system by finding a “hack” within-the-system are futile IMO. The system is not designed to be able to destroy itself. On the off-chance that you do find a small legal hole that starts to become troublesome for the status quo, it can be “patched” legislatively.

      Regardless, I don’t understand the left-objection to rent. As libertarians are quick to point out, most welfare spending, and labor law, and other economic regulation all qualify as economic rent. That the elderly and the disabled produce essentially no economic value, yet still receive money, is also rent.

      I’m not deeply familiar with Marx myself, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t he say “From each according to their ability, to each according to their economic value created“.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Rent is an ineffiency.

        And Marx was…not exactly kind to the idea of welfare, which he regarded as the upper classes buying loyalty on the cheap from the lowest classes, using the money of the working classes.

        This is a proposed mechanism of subverting capital to the interests of the working classes. It might work, it might not.

        • Guy in TN says:

          What is the non-rent, non-welfare way that someone in “need” receives wealth in excess of the economic value they created?

          • Thegnskald says:

            In Marx’s thought (the phrase originated elsewhere), this would be the state of affairs when labor had entirely been supplanted by capital – that is, when “work” was reduced to “productive hobbies”, and everything else was machinery.

            This wasn’t something Marx proposed as the organizing principle of a society, but as a natural product of a society in which work had become obsolete.

          • Guy in TN says:

            I didn’t know that, but it appears you are right.

            It’s times like this that I’m glad I don’t identify as a Marxist.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          Rent is not an inefficiency if the thing being rented would not have existed but for the ownership stake that the rentier counted on receiving.

          Without the rentiers your company could never have come into being because without the ability to extract rents they never would have created the company. So rents are necessarily less than the dead weight loss of not ever having the company be created. This holds unless a law or regulation after the inception of the company solidifies rents at a price higher than the first legal setting would have contemplated (such as zoning restrictions on building housing creating unfairly large rents to landlords).

          • Guy in TN says:

            I’m curious how you (and Thegnskald) are using the word “efficient” here. Are you talking about Pareto efficiency, or something else?

            I’m struggling to understand the relationship Pareto efficiency has to rent. If rent (along with property) is part of the initial allocation framework that Pareto improvements operate under, then it shouldn’t count either way in terms of efficiency (because the question of Pareto improvements assumes an initial allocation as its starting point).

            If the question is, does additional rent act as a Pareto inefficiency, then the answer seems to be “yes” for obvious reasons (the introduction of a non-market power that makes someone worse off than they would be otherwise).

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @guyinTN

            So, its pretty simple. Rents are any payment to an owner in excess of the costs needed to bring that factor into production. It has almost nothing to do with Pareto efficiency which deals with the optimal distribution of goods already in existence. However, when we are discussing prosperity generally, we are interested in goods not yet in existence.

            Take a simple classic example. A person named Jim with $1million decides to build a 10 unit apartment. He spends $1million on land, materials and labor, and on completion the building is worth $1.5 Million. Ignoring inflation and the time value of money (for the time being) he has earned a $.5million rent, the world is now $.5 million richer because of his investment. Jim can sell all the units and get that profit immediately, or can rent out the units and accumulate it over time. Either way, Jim gets his expected rent.

            Now, one of the main reason Jim may choose to rent it out instead of selling is that he has a different understanding of the time-value of money than the average person (this is on top of his previous determination to build the building to begin with, which no one else was going to do, so now hes very unique in that way). They value $150k right now more than he does, and they value the $200k in rent that could accumulate over 10 years less than he does.

            Thus we see he actually isn’t really “passively” accumulating rent, he is trading current dollars for future dollars for a price, because most people prefer current dollars. And, on top of that we discover that what actually is happening in this economy is a lack of investment in condos/apartments. Because if there were more Jims in the world, the cost of construction would go up, and the cost of the units would go down, eliminating his initial profit on the construction. If there were more Jims, rent would go down because there would be more people who are willing to defer gratification, and the time-value of money would decrease.

            Now I don’t really understand what you mean by “additional rent” other than my hypothetical of a new zoning restriction that prevents other Jims from building to compete with our initial Jim.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Rents are any payment to an owner in excess of the costs needed to bring that factor into production. It has almost nothing to do with Pareto efficiency which deals with the optimal distribution of goods already in existence.

            It sounds like we’re largely in agreement here. The question of Pareto efficiency assumes a distribution of resources (and the corresponding ownership powers) beforehand for its analysis.

            So with the classic example, of rent in the form of a toll on boats traveling down a river. Given the assumption that the toll already exists, you cannot say that the toll is Pareto inefficient (it is neutral, the ownership of the river is part of the initial allocation). Instead, you can only say it is Pareto inefficient if we begin with no toll on the river, and then we change to a situation where there is a toll (or vice versa).

            The same reasoning applies to zoning restrictions. If the government’s authority to regulate land-use is part of the initial allocation of powers, then the zoning authority is Pareto efficient-neutral. If we were to redistribute the power of zoning away from the government, it would in this case be Pareto inefficient, since you are making Jim better off by making the government worse off.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            More or less, yes. Rents being in conflict with efficiency is not in direct control of renters or rentiers, rather the efficiency of the system lies with rule makers.

            What is somewhat funny about the rules is that, generally, a rule that is short term good for renters is long term good for rentiers, and vice versa.

    • baconbits9 says:

      There are a series of issues here about ownership without the ability to sell, and the lack of homogeneity across workers.

      Say you have a pension plan that pays X% of profits to its retired workers so that each worker gets a share annually until they die. You have functionally pitted this class of people against the current workers, the retirees can increase their wealth by raising profits, but also by raising the percent of profits that retirees receive or by reducing/restricting the number of retirees. A consistent Marxist would identify this as setting up a class struggle between workers and retirees*.

      Say you try to remedy this by just dividing profits by total people, now you have an age distribution problem. The 90 year old retiree has a different risk/reward profile than the 60 year old about to retire worker who has a different one from the just entering the workforce member.

      And people have wildly different risk profiles, and workers don’t want profits, they want salary. This is the old “would you flip a coin for a million bucks or take $500,000?”, almost no one flips the coin even though the payouts are the ‘same’. Most people would take a pretty steep discount on the $500,000 rather than flip a coin. There is always a tension between ownership and workers, where workers want higher salaries which would come at the expense of profits. That tension still exists here, every dollar in salary to a worker is a dollar less in profits to be split between the 2 (or 3 counting the board) groups.
      *And this is ignoring the super villain retiree who bumps off his fellow retirees

      • Thegnskald says:

        Retirees don’t get a vote, only current employees.

        And since the pension is aligned with salary received, there is still a tension of wanting more salary – I want this tension, just as I don’t want the conglomerate to have non-compete rules with one another, because such competition is necessary to a functional capitalism. (The goal isn’t to destroy capitalism, but simultaneously subvert it and advance it along the revolutionary track by getting into the “Capital throws off the bonds of the rentier class” phase.)

        There is something of a problem in the “incentivize killing retirees” domain, particularly if a company as a whole is retired (I/e, it no longer has any workers, and it’s workers are just receiving wages from its dividends from other corporations in the conglomerate – once there are only two employees left, when the other guy dies you get twice the income.). Not certain how to handle that one.

        • baconbits9 says:

          So why can’t employees just vote that retirees get no share of the profits?

        • baconbits9 says:

          Here is the issue, there is always tension between “classes” because there is tension between people. There isn’t some incentive structure that will align everyone’s long term goals with the companies because individuals have different goals (even the same goals but on different timelines creates conflicts). You don’t even have a way to found such a company outside of a donation by a wealthy philanthropist. People who create startups almost always take major pay cuts (at least theoretical ones) to gain access to the future profit stream. People who want stability look for paid positions within established companies*, the only way to create a stable situation for your company so that workers who want salaries feel comfortable there is to reduce risk, and the way to do that is to prevent competition, and you have effectively killed capitalism.

          One of the things that capitalism does is allow for people with wildly disparate wants to work together by opening up multiple structures that they can work together under. Proposing a pre made solution strips out the innovation and diversity that is necessary to keep the damn system running. You may be able to work it into a small niche in the market, like co-ops have done, but you won’t be able to replicated and expand it without killing the goose.

          *Yes, there are a thousand other considerations, but these make the issue more intractable.

    • actinide meta says:

      As far as I can tell, the structure you are asking for is just a mutual-benefit nonprofit corporation. I think you could charter one to be incapable of using debt if that’s what you want. Forget about circular ownership structures.

      People have managed to build somewhat successful businesses as co-ops of various kinds, and more power to them. But you will always be at a disadvantage because of the exact things you want: you can’t raise capital, so other businesses with access to capital markets will be able to grow faster to take advantage of new opportunities, and your employees have an incentive to eat the seed corn and there is no one with a good incentive to defend it. You aren’t going to take over the world because your structure doesn’t work better than the existing social technology.

  23. iamthad says:

    I added a comment early yesterday to the (first) melatonin article linking to the patent and some related info, as well as gwern’s article on melatonin, but it still does not show up. Did it get eaten by the spam filter?

    EDIT: When I submitted the comment I didn’t see it. Perhaps it never went through at all?

  24. johan_larson says:

    Direct primary care: doctors who don’t take insurance.

    https://reason.com/reasontv/2017/10/16/doctors-direct-primary-care

  25. Andrew Hunter says:

    So we’ve all probably heard about the latest racial slur controversy. However, I only just learned what he actually said (“Colonel Sanders called blacks *censored*”) and I have an important question about practical philosophy: is there any hope of teaching the general public what the use-mention distinction is? Because seriously.

    • The Nybbler says:

      is there any hope of teaching the general public what the use-mention distinction is?

      No. As a former commenter was wont to say, “all is lost”.

    • albatross11 says:

      I assume that there was some ongoing power struggle at the top of the company, and that this was a handy stone with which to bash the current leader’s head in and take over. (That’s what it usually looks like to me when some pretty minor unfortunate word choice is used to push someone out–they were looking for a reason to justify getting rid of the person, and finally found it.) It’s the standard manufactured outrage over nothing story, as far as I can tell.

      Eventually, we will get the fruits of this way of handing out outrage for random shit–either we’ll get a million Trump/Camacho types who say outrageous things all the time and nobody cares because they’re swamped with outrage, or we’ll get everyone talking through a mouthpiece that vets every single word and phrase in writing or spoken in public, ever. Both of those will make the world a much worse place, but that’s not relevant for the incentives of people either using this weeks outrage story to get clicks for their website, or using it to win their local office politics battles.

      • Randy M says:

        I assume that there was some ongoing power struggle at the top of the company, and that this was a handy stone with which to bash the current leader’s head in and take over.

        This would make sense as the person in question (not Colonel Sanders) brought some controversy on the company for prior remarks about the costs of Obamacare and it not being financially feasible to provide health insurance to his customers [edit: lol, make that employees] while still competing on price. He may well be right given the large number of employee a national chain has, but it looked bad given his personal wealth.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          the person in question (not Colonel Sanders) brought some controversy on the company for prior remarks about the costs of Obamacare and it not being financially feasible to provide health insurance to his customers

          Insert joke about fast food companies providing health insurance to their customers being an ethical obligation because they cause obesity.

    • mdet says:

      I don’t think the distinction matters much here.

      In my understanding, there was a discussion about how the brand and image of Papa John’s has taken a hit after John’s comments against kneeling NFL players. John brought up, unprompted, that Colonel Sanders used to say the n-word, yet black people still eat KFC without backlash.

      There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for him to bring that anecdote up. There was no real reason for him to say the word itself. And even in context, I strongly disagree with the implication that he gets to say whatever he wants because Colonel Sanders said worse back in the 60s.

      I do recognize that neither this statement nor his position on anthem-kneeling necessarily make him a hateful bigot. But this isn’t like he was just innocently reading a historical document out loud. We do only have this one sentence from a broader conversation, so I’m not 100% confident in my reading here, but I’m reading his statement to suggest that he thinks he *should* be able to say offensive things up to and possibly including racial slurs without receiving backlash.

      • Iain says:

        Yeah, I basically agree with this.

        There are times and places where the use-mention distinction is a legitimate defense, but “as an embattled chairman trying to answer the question ‘how will you distance yourself from racist groups?’ during a conference call as part of a media training exercise to smooth over a previous controversy you’d set off, which had forced you to resign as CEO” is not one of them.

        • albatross11 says:

          Give me several hours of recordings from unscripted discussions and Q&A, and I bet I can find something at least close to this offensive from most people. It’s a bit like whether Joe McCarthy could find evidence that suggested you had Communist sympathies–he usually could, but it didn’t really prove much about whether you were, say, selling secrets to the KGB or taking orders from the Kremlin.

          • Iain says:

            He didn’t resign because he’s racist. He resigned because he can’t be trusted to open his mouth without putting his foot in it, and that’s not an acceptable trait in the chairman of the board.

            This wasn’t some secretly recorded private conversation. He was acting in an official capacity, during an exercise that was organized as damage control for his earlier comments.

            If you insist on making McCarthy comparisons: this is like making positive comments about Lenin in the middle of your Senate hearing. It doesn’t prove you’re a communist, but it should certainly make people question the idea of letting you serve as the public face of a company.

          • 10240 says:

            this is like making positive comments about Lenin in the middle of your Senate hearing.

            No, it’s like saying that someone else has made positive comments about Lenin.

            He resigned because he can’t be trusted to open his mouth without putting his foot in it,

            That this counts as putting your foot in your mouth is a big enough problem in itself. Under McCarthy, too, one could say you didn’t get fired for being suspected of being a communist, but for putting your foot in your mouth by saying something which raises a remote suspicion that you’re a communist at a time when communism is taboo. It doesn’t make much of a difference. (Well, one difference is that the main fault is not with the person who fires you, but with the society being so hysterical about communism.)

          • Matt M says:

            And I don’t think “he was fired for putting his foot in his mouth not for racism” is quite right.

            Other than expressing prejudice against a protected group, could you give me an example of any other way that he might “put his foot in his mouth” that would result in immediate demands for firing?

          • John Schilling says:

            “Man, [President X]’s trade policies are killing us in the market. I don’t want to say that turnabout is fair play, but where’s Lee Harvey Oswald when we really need him?”

            Obvious hyperbole, probably just blowing off steam out of frustration, but if you say that before a live mike during a stockholder’s meeting, you probably don’t get to be CEO any more. No racism or other culture war content required.

          • Matt M says:

            Ehhhh. I don’t know. Depending on the company, I think some people might survive that – assuming President X is a white, male, Republican

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree up to your last sentence. I don’t think he was saying he should be able to use racial slurs. He was saying the board’s concerns that racial controversy would harm sales are unfounded, because whatever he said, Colonel Sanders did way worse and it didn’t harm their sales, so it’s all tempests in teapots.

        That can be a valid point, but if you’re going to say that, there’s absolutely no reason to say the word itself. You can say “the n-word” and people will probably figure out what word Colonel Sanders used.

        • 10240 says:

          there’s absolutely no reason to say the word itself. You can say “the n-word”

          What’s the reason not to mention it (as opposed to use it)? This idea that you should use a substitute even when mentioning it is weird to me as a non-American. I can’t think of this happening in my language with any word, other than swear words.
          (Edit: others have answered the question below. I think it’s stupid, but oh well.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Volumes have been written on race in America, and I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that books have been written on that one word alone. I’m certain I can’t do the issue justice here. But it all comes down to, “you just don’t say it.”

          • albatross11 says:

            I think his use of that word in that context tells us approximately nothing about the state of his mind/soul w.r.t. racism, racial hatred, etc. It would be a stupid reason to fire a janitor or a dentist or an accountant, and it’s a stupid reason to fire a CEO.

          • quanta413 says:

            @albatross11

            I agree it doesn’t tell us much if he’s racist or not or whatever.

            But it does tell us he’s a master of “open mouth, insert foot”. It’s not a subtle social rule and part of being a CEO (or chairman of the board) is public relations. And he was trying to explain the last debacle he caused. If I was in the board’s position, I’d strongly consider ejecting him if he wasn’t doing significantly better than I expected a replacement CEO to do on other CEO-things.

            Like, there better be a lot of value to this loaded gun that tends to misfire if I’m going to keep it around.

          • rlms says:

            This kind of censorship isn’t unique to that word or American English: “the f-word” is commonly used in other kinds of English too.

          • 10240 says:

            Yup, I wrote “other than swear words” because with those it’s probably common in any language.

          • 天可汗 says:

            Every ruling class has a political formula — a belief that makes the ruled accept their rulers. The political formula of the American ruling class is that their rule is legitimate because they protect Minorities from Bad White People. If not for them, the Bad White People would rise up and do Bad Things to Minorities. And the ruling class is trying to deliver on its formula. That’s why.

            This is pretty dumb, because it doesn’t give people who aren’t Minorities a reason to accept the ruling class. And people who aren’t Minorities are, by definition, a majority of the population.

            Oops! How’s minority rule working out for the Alawites?

            The ruling class’s solution to this, of course, is to promote feminism.

          • 10240 says:

            This is pretty dumb, because it doesn’t give people who aren’t Minorities a reason to accept the ruling class.

            Which is why yours is not a good explanation.

          • toastengineer says:

            @10240

            I dunno, 天可汗’s explaination sounds solid to me *on the left-wing side of things*. Do you not agree that the U.S. left believe that deep down everyone’s racist and left our their own devices we’d all turn in to the “squeal like a pig” guys from Deliverance?

            The right have completely different expectations of their rulers, mostly military protection, law enforcement, and making sure everyone has an opportunity for some kind of job and respectable place in society, and so their “ruling class” make different promises.

          • 10240 says:

            @toastengineer I agree that the left probably believes that, but I don’t think the politicians purposely push it to make people accept their rule. At least not in a coordinated, conspiratorial way that phrasing suggests. Rather, I suspect it’s an uncoordinated phenomenon where politicians, businessmen err on the side of being ever more politically correct because an accusation of racism is a convenient way to get rid of an adversary.

          • rlms says:

            Oops, I missed that. But the n-word is a swearword! I don’t understand the distinction you’re making.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this describes the beliefs of a tiny fraction of the left, and is in general a pretty dumb model of the world.

            Lots of people on the left recognize that there’s not much overt discrimination, but observe that blacks are still broadly on the bottom. They then infer from this that there are hard-to-see social forces keeping blacks on the bottom–unconscious bias against blacks in hiring and law enforcement, structural stuff that ends up screwing over blacks more than whites (corrupt governments/police and badly-run schools in poor urban areas, the crack sentencing differential, etc.), and long-term consequences of past discrimination.

            To some extent, this devolves into using “structural racism” as a kind of “God of the gaps” theory–anyplace you can’t figure out why blacks are on bottom, you can use it and it’s hard to imagine what evidence that contradicted it would look like. But this is not remotely a belief that most of the country would like to return to Jim Crow laws or something. Some people believe that, but IMO they’re both idiots and quite rare.

        • mdet says:

          I don’t actually think he was saying he could use the n-word. We admittedly don’t have enough context to know what he was trying to communicate. But my reading of his comment was “If Sanders can get away with the n-word, why should I ever censor myself?”. Actually saying the word was just corroborating evidence.

          • mdet says:

            Which is why I both agree and disagree with albatross’ “I bet I can find something at least as offensive from most people”. Everyone says offensive things sometimes, but my reading is that he was specifically making a case for why he would be able to get away with it.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems to me that:

            a. This is ambiguous–I read it as “if this dude could get away with calling blacks the n-word, then it shouldn’t be that big a deal that I’ve gone on record expressing annoyance with the whole NFL kneeling thing because it’s costing me money.” When someone makes some public statement that has many equally plausible readings, one of which is somehow offensive, I think assuming the offensive meaning is the one he intended and holding him to it is a bad way to figure anything out. (But it’s a very good way of finding a justification for being outraged or for pushing a rival out of power.)

            b. Is *making a case* that he could get away with using the n-word the way Col. Sanders did without losing a lot of black business a firing offense, too? Can you explain why? That seems like a plausible factual claim to me–maybe right, maybe wrong, but not obviously crazy and not obviously evil to note.

          • Deiseach says:

            I took the comment to mean “Your fear is that my having said something considered as mildly racist* will lose us custom especially amongst minorities, but black people are still patronising KFC despite Colonel Sanders calling them [this word] so that doesn’t necessarily follow”.

            I don’t think he was saying “If Colonel Sanders said it, I can say it” but once again, this shows how a lot of things come down to interpretation by the hearer/reader; one person can interpret this as “he wants to get away with using racist language”, another as “he was pointing out that boycotts are inconsistent”.

            *I find the whole “criticising the kneeling athletes is racist because by opposing them you are opposing BLM and therefore saying it’s okay for cops to kill black people” viewpoint tendentious, but again that’s a matter of interpretation. I think you should be able to criticise (or approve of) a political action without that being taken to mean you therefore approve/disapprove of something else which therefore means you are against Good Thing/for Bad Thing.

          • mdet says:

            I feel like it’s a very fine distinction between your interpretation (“If this dude could get away with calling blacks the n-word, then it shouldn’t be that big a deal that I’ve gone on record expressing annoyance with the whole NFL kneeling thing because it’s costing me money.”) and my interpretation (“Not saying that I *do* think this about black people, but even if I did, so what? It wouldn’t hurt sales”). I think the statement “So what? It wouldn’t hurt sales” is worth harshly criticizing someone for, even if he hadn’t said a slur out loud.

            I agree with albatross that there’s probably “Opportunistic rival exploiting this to push him out the company” factors at play, and I agree with Deiseach that criticizing kneeling for the anthem is an acceptable, if deliberately culture war, thing for a CEO to say.

          • albatross11 says:

            mdet:

            I think the statement “So what? It wouldn’t hurt sales” is worth harshly criticizing someone for, even if he hadn’t said a slur out loud.

            Can you explain why you think this? I mean, this is a discussion within the context of a business looking at its PR strategy, right? Does the CEO taking a particular political stand in public damage our sales with a particular demographic?

            That looks to me like an empirical question, not a moral one. I mean, you can make a moral argument about what the CEO’s position should be, but then you’re in a political disagreement, in which people disagree and there’s not an obvious reason why the board should prefer one side to the other.

            The relevant question for the board of Papa John’s is whether the CEO’s position is likely hurting business. For that question, pointing out historical examples where other fast-food CEOs were overtly racist and it didn’t hurt their sales to blacks seems directly relevant.

            This seems like an important point. If someone wants to say “don’t use this ethnic slur because it’s really offensive and pisses a lot of people off,” that seems like sensible guidance. If they want to say “don’t offer evidence for these factual questions, which are directly relevant to the decisions we’re making, because that’s offensive and pisses a lot of people off,” that sounds like pretty bad guidance to follow–it makes the people who follow it dumber.

          • mdet says:

            I’d like to think that dis-affiliating your company from white supremacists should be something you do on principle, not as a pragmatic profit-maximizing move. But his comments (which we do only have a brief excerpt from) suggest to me “I’m not too concerned about being affiliated with bigotry if it doesn’t hurt sales, and this anecdote suggests that it doesn’t”. Maybe it’ll turn out that his full statement was “Here’s my plan for fixing our company’s image and we should go forward with it no matter what sales look like, but just as an interesting factoid did you know that Col Sanders used to say the n-word?*”, in which case I’ll relax my judgement some. But a sales-first approach to caring about racism feels very amoral.

            *I googled it, and it seems like Col. Sanders only used the word Negro back when it was the norm, and stopped using it once it wasn’t. I don’t morally fault John for being misinformed.

    • dick says:

      Is there any hope of teaching the general public what the use-mention distinction is? Because seriously.

      Whom do you believe was confused by Schnatter’s usage? You didn’t actually make an argument, just put two related thoughts next to each other, so it’s not clear what you’re actually saying here. Do you think it’s axiomatic that someone who understood Schnatter’s comment in context would not call for him to resign?

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        I feel like you know this, but to make it explicit:

        – if you see a black person and say “Get off my lawn, *slur*”, you’ve done a hurtful, obviously bad thing. I’m a little dubious words should be banned, and worry turning them into totems does more harm than good, but for the moment, I’ll take it as read that right thinking people should punish you.

        – if you say “A slur for black person is *slur*”…this is not in any sense meaningfully harming anyone. But as you can see from the fact that I’m not fucking writing it here, our society has lost that distinction. If you mention the N word, as opposed to using it, you go down.

        That seems, to me, messed up.

        In larger context is the Papa John guy a great person? Probably not. But he did not *use* a racial slur, he *mentioned* one.

        • Well... says:

          He might have been *mentioning* the slur and simultaneously making a statement to the effect of “I don’t think uttering this word, or at least *mentioning* it, ought to carry a social penalty.”

          That is fine, but there is a common conflation of: 1) those who voice that opinion because of a pragmatic attitude about language, and 2) those who voice that opinion because they’d like the *use* of the slur to become more acceptable. The commonness of this conflation is no secret, and I think basically everyone knows it exists and avoids any use of the slur so as not to be misconstrued as belonging to category 2. Those who don’t are automatically suspect.

        • mdet says:

          I agree that mentioning a racial slur different from directing it at a specific person or group of people. But I don’t see a failure in society to make that distinction. Can you name actual examples? As I said above, I don’t think shifting a discussion to the tangentially related topic of racial slurs without prompting counts as an innocent “just mentioning it”. Like it’s not “just mentioning it” if I end this sentence with “by the way, Iain is an asshole”. (I pick Iain because he agreed with me above and so will understand)

          When I think of innocently mentioning a racial slur, I think “I’m reading a speech by civil rights activists in the 1950s in which they used this term”, or “We’re having a historical discussion about slaveowners and the Confederacy during the Civil War”. I think most people would consider those usages defensible, although I do know some people who might take issue. On the other hand, I’ve had a white guy try to casually use the word around me because he had a black girlfriend and so wasn’t racist. While I didn’t think he was an actual bigot, I still found it unacceptable.

          • Well... says:

            I think the “failure to make a distinction” thing does come into play a bit, because the very sound of the word being uttered trips a kind of social fire alarm. It bypasses the normal language processing part of the brain and goes straight to the “Danger! Danger!” part. There are understandable and, at the end of the day, likely adaptive reasons why so many people have installed that particular firmware update, but deliberately not installing it then becomes a kind of statement. Increasingly these days, that statement is related to tribal identity. So, when a white guy utters the word, even in the context of, say, a historical discussion, there are several layers of things going on:

            1 (surface layer). He is using “unabridged” language.
            2. He putting on a display of what might be considered something like either bravery in the face of controlled speech or aggression in the face of the civility and sensitivity we normally expect from decent people who share our society.
            3 (base layer). He is aligning himself with others who do or would do the same as #2.

            #3 is where he gets into trouble because even if his intentions are benign, someone else who hears him use the term doesn’t know that and has various reasons/incentives to assume his intentions are not benign. To be fair, this typically isn’t some kind of measured judgment on behalf of the listener; the conflation is being made in that “Danger! Danger!” part of the brain that acts first and asks questions afterward.

            Sorta a tangent, but in my experience having a black girlfriend gets you something like 15 “benefit-of-the-doubt you’re not a racist” points, especially if you don’t even live together. To collect all 100 you have to marry her, have a kid or two together and a reasonably healthy home life. You also need a real relationship with her family (your in-laws), plus at least two black friends who are close enough to you they are or could be groomsmen in your wedding.

            Black friends you only talk to at work or school or church events or some such arrangement counts for very little, maybe 2 or 3 points, so they won’t get you off the hook. Same for sympathy with popular black causes.

            So, if your friend marries his girlfriend while his black friends stand next to him in matching tuxes, and he develops a special closeness with her father, and a few years later he’s a family man happily hugging his mixed kids, then he might be able to get away with uttering certain words, in an appropriate context, without a reasonable listener having reasons to wonder whether he might secretly harbor racist beliefs. And even then, the word will still be radioactive in any context to many people, especially black people.

          • The Nybbler says:

            To collect all 100 you have to marry her, have a kid or two together and a reasonably healthy home life. You also need a real relationship with her family (your in-laws), plus at least two black friends who are close enough to you they are or could be groomsmen in your wedding.

            And none of that helps if you like and write the wrong SF.

          • Well... says:

            @Nybbler:

            Comments below the tweet tell more of the story. (I.e. Chu’s statement triggers a firestorm in the form of a rather odd mix of Left-Eating-Its-Own-Tail and — possibly? — All Trite trolling.)

          • Anatoly says:

            @mdet

            >I agree that mentioning a racial slur different from directing it at a specific person or group of people. But I don’t see a failure in society to make that distinction. Can you name actual examples?

            https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/jonathan-friedland-exits-netflix-1122675

            In this case the mere mention of the n-word by the hapless exec, in a discussion about “sensitive words”, brought about a severe reprimand; and his mentioning it a second time during the discussion of what he’d done wrong the first time brought about his firing.

          • J Mann says:

            The current rule is pretty clear that non-Black people shouldn’t use the word descriptively, with some limited exceptions. One example of the norm against descriptive use is Kendrick Lamar inviting fans to rap one of his songs laden with the word. It seems like he honestly expected non-Black fans to rap clean. (I don’t think he was unkind about it, frankly – he just explained that’s what he expected.)

            There are probably some exceptions where you can use the word, like an actor in a play or movie portraying a racist, but really, the safest thing is never to use it.

          • mdet says:

            @Anatoly
            Thanks. Agree that the first use is strictly a reference, and the second use probably was too. I would’ve excused it and I think he should’ve kept his job.

            @Well…
            It wasn’t so much that I thought he was racist, as “I’m actually not comfortable with a white guy I barely know calling me by this word, even if your black girlfriend is decent evidence for you not being racist”.

            Relevant though, is that it just came out that the husband of a youtube vlog family (white husband, Nigerian wife, biracial daughters) has years-old tweets about how ghetto black people are. Some seem to have been made before he met his wife, others made after his daughters were already born. Not unforgivable, but still the kind of comments that you’d think he wouldn’t condone if others were saying them about his wife / daughters.

          • Well... says:

            If things I said on the internet years ago were dug up and widely publicized, I’m sure I’d be lynched. Is there anyone out there for whom this is not the case??

            Anyway, being a non-racist but fairly independent-minded, non-PC white guy with a black wife creates some situations in which a nuanced familiarity with me (and in many cases with my sense of humor) is necessary to avoid misunderstandings. I try to keep that in mind when hearing about stuff like what you mentioned.

          • mdet says:

            I definitely agree. I’m sure everyone has said worse if you comb their social media. But I thought it was an interesting coincidence that I heard a friend talk about “one of my youtubers just got called for saying low-level racist things about black women, despite currently having a black wife & daughters” and less than ten minutes later read Well… saying that you collect 100 probably-not-racist points by marrying and starting a family with someone of a different race.

          • Well... says:

            I didn’t want to, but at this point I think I have to ask what “low-level racist” means. Also:

            What did this guy say, exactly? Who was he saying it to? Are there any clues about how he meant it? Etc.

            If marriage to a black person and all it entails doesn’t make a white person demonstrably not racist, then either the situation is far more complicated than we are likely to understand or else being racist isn’t actually something we can reasonably expect anyone to avoid.

          • mdet says:

            His comments were twitter jokes to no particular audience along the lines of “Haha aren’t black people so ghetto? Meanwhile white men like me are so ‘normal’, educated, don’t act in ways that signal being lower-class”.

            I’d say this is racist and should be frowned upon, but also not that uncommon a joke, even among black people, and it’s easy enough to grow out of it that having said it years ago doesn’t mean much today. If I had a friend say this, I’d criticize it but wouldn’t stop being friends with them.

            In the handful cases I’ve known of white people who dated / had children with black people but were still racist, it’s usually stuff along these lines. Stuff like “Oh but you speak well, and you don’t ‘act black’. Not like those other people.” I knew a white woman who had married a black man and had a child, but didn’t want to give the child black any black toys or picture books with black people because “then she’d start thinking she’s black”. Saw a similar story online once where the black dad had braided the child’s hair into cornrows, and the mom freaked out that he had given her a “ghetto” hairstyle, made them look like one of “those people”. (Braiding is an important part of taking care of Afro hair. Not simply a stylistic choice)

            I think close personal relationships with people of a different race are strong evidence for “not racist”, but there are a some people who are dating / close friends with someone and still have something of a “But you’re one of the good ones” attitude. A handful of those relationships apparently make it to the “Married with children” stage before it gets brought up.

          • Matt M says:

            but there are a some people who are dating / close friends with someone and still have something of a “But you’re one of the good ones” attitude.

            Isn’t the very admission that “good ones” exist a strong implication that the person is not, in fact, racist by traditional definition?

            I thought the reason we were supposed to fear racism is because it teaches that there is no variance or individuality among members of a certain race. We aren’t supposed to joke about black people eating fried chicken or Chinese people being good at math because some black people dislike fried chicken and some Chinese are bad at math, and it isn’t fair to paint them all with the same brush, right?

            Would “My black wife doesn’t enjoy fried chicken – pretty weird huh?” still be a racist statement? Even though it explicitly admits that the stereotype is not always correct?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Would “My black wife doesn’t enjoy fried chicken – pretty weird huh?” still be a racist statement?

            Yep. You don’t mention fried chicken or watermelon in connection with black people full stop. There’s no good reason for this, though there’s plenty of rationalization. Mainly it’s just a culture war weapon, a mine, to be used to justify calling incautious white people “racists”.

          • 10240 says:

            @Matt M That would be a very narrow definition of racist, and I don’t think I’m someone who uses an overbroad definition. The attitude that “But you’re one of the good ones” presumably refers to someone who, by default, assumes that a black person is bad.

          • Matt M says:

            The attitude that “But you’re one of the good ones” presumably refers to someone who, by default, assumes that a black person is bad.

            What if you substitute “one of the good ones” with “one of the different ones” based on a neutral-value stereotype such as food preferences?

            Or, what if the “assumption group X is bad” only goes as far as noticing factual statistics about said group? Like, “Japanese are mostly shorter compared to the Dutch, but my wife (a tall Japanese woman) is one of the different ones”

          • mdet says:

            With 10240. The things I was describing weren’t value-neutral “Many X people are a certain way, but not all of them”. The examples I used were “If our daughter grows up wearing Afro hairstyles, or playing with black toys, then she won’t learn the right behavior and values”, as if Afro hairstyles were inherently undesirable, or playing with a dark-skinned Barbie will turn you ghetto.

            You know how some people will talk about black kids who refuse to study or try hard in school, because “putting effort into your education” == “acting/being white”? I’m talking about that same kind of sentiment, but spoken by a white person. The implication is that being well educated isn’t just less common among black people, it’s inherently un-black, as if each degree you receive lessens your membership in the group.

            Would “My black wife doesn’t enjoy fried chicken – pretty weird huh?” still be a racist statement?

            Personally, I find that everybody likes fried chicken and watermelon. I don’t know anybody who looks down on these foods, so the stereotype hasn’t been relevant in my lifetime. I’d think it’s weird that you specified race in your statement, but otherwise wouldn’t care.

          • carvenvisage says:

            If it’s your wife then I don’t think it’s a clear-cut example. Looking at someone as odd/”other” is not the same as being hostile (i.e. racist), but your spouse is the exact last person in the world you should find weird for “defying stereotypes”.

            Maybe it’s e.g. 1. blundering word choice, reflects nothing 2. the pair finds it funny 3. husband clumsily honouring wife’s preference against ‘colour-blindness’ 4. He really likes fried chicken, and is processing the upsetting fact that she doesn’t.

            But still, on its face, “looking at even one’s wife as x first and individual second”, seems a decent indication that the person finds x very alien. and sadly in my experience humans are quite prone to equivocate between “uncomfortable” and “hostile”. Probably everyone has witnessed some red faced guy lose his temper at a nervous kid that won’t look them in the eye, or somesuch emblematic instance of the cursed habit, so I’m skeptical that it’s a calculated culture war weapon when this uncomfortable/hostile equivocation is so common.

            edit:

            I do think the stereotype reflects reality.

            personal observations: 1. Local KFC last placed I lived was always full of black people 2. Have eaten noticeably more fried chicken when in black people’s homes than I’d expect without acknowledging stereotype 3. snobbery and health-concern against such food in own culture.

          • 10240 says:

            @Matt M It’s hard to determine. A claim about a factual question may be true, or false and a mistake made without any malice, or it may be a mistake caused by bias motivated by hostility (or some other bias). It’s often discernible from the phrasing of a claim which one it is. (It may even be a true claim, but it’s obvious from the context that it’s motivated by hostility.) It’s not a claim about facts that means one is racist, but the hostility.

            Claiming that most black people are bad is not even really a claim about facts. One could define certain attributes as bad, and then make claims about them, but it’s very likely that someone who is honestly just trying to make a claim about facts without hostility wouldn’t phrase it like that.

            As far as claims about the dietary habits of a group go, it’s generally not malicious, but sometimes it’s used to mock a group, and it’s widely understood as such. AFAIK black people and watermelon falls in the latter category, dunno about chicken. Assuming that an American probably likes hamburgers would most likely not be hostile.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Matt M

            Someone can definitely still hold “one of the good ones” attitude and be a racist, etc. Like, maybe not the most theoretically racism possible, but still, plenty racist.

          • albatross11 says:

            I can’t help thinking that this discussion is all tangled up in overlapping definitions of racism/racist. Someone who thinks

            P(likes fried chicken | black) > P(likes fried chicken | white)

            may or may not be correct[1]. But I am pretty skeptical that this correlates strongly with some actually evil belief–say, that blacks should be second-class citizens under the law. Or some actually evil actions–say, refusing to hire blacks in his business.

            [1] As far as I can tell, just about everyone likes it, so it’s a kind-of silly stereotype. It’s just Southern cooking, which tends to be tasty and hearty and unhealthy.

          • Matt M says:

            albatross,

            I think my larger point is getting lost here. Let’s try this again.

            1. Do you agree that one of the major reasons racism is evil is because it involves judging people based on group characteristics, while not entertaining the possibility of individual differences?

            2. If someone is able to distinguish between the “good” and “bad” members of a particular race, have they not proven that they will, in fact, entertain the possibility of individual differences?

            Which isn’t to say that believing false and/or negative things about black people isn’t still bad. It’s bad to be misinformed, and it’s certainly not nice or polite to assume the worst about any group of people. But clearly, someone who meets the criteria of #2 has proven that they are unlikely to say, favor a policy of “all black people should be treated poorly” or some such thing.

          • 10240 says:

            I think very few people today think there are no differences within a group at all. I’d define racism as hatred of members of a certain race, or perhaps more generally bias against a certain race. I agree that the biggest problem with racism is ill-treatment of people because of their race, without (enough) regard to their individual attributes. Bias against a race may manifest as assuming bigger differences between races, and smaller individual differences, than reality. (This may be a simple mistake or ignorance, too, but it may also be a result of animosity.) Another way it may manifest is that one is, on a theoretical level, aware of individual differences, but in practice, makes prejudicial assumptions about people based on their race. And it’s also perfectly possible that one knows that some people of a certain race are good people, but just doesn’t care, and supports collective poor treatment of that race.

          • dndnrsn says:

            But clearly, someone who meets the criteria of #2 has proven that they are unlikely to say, favor a policy of “all black people should be treated poorly” or some such thing.

            Well, they might except those they think to be “good ones” but that does not mean that they are against the vast majority of that group being treated badly, to say the least.

          • mdet says:

            @Matt M

            If my starting assumption is that every white person is a disgusting racist until proven otherwise, but every black person is a sympathetic and morally upstanding person until proven otherwise, then I am technically acknowledging that not every member of a group is the same, but doing so in a way that holds black people in a much higher regard by default. I think this is very obviously racist.

            That’s what “one of the good ones” implies. “I think you are worse / lesser, until you prove otherwise”.

            I think this is distinct from something like the more abstract “Black people are, on average, less educated than white people” — There’s a difference between meeting a black person with a PhD and thinking “This is statistically uncommon” vs “I guess you’re acceptable to me, unlike those other ones”.

        • dick says:

          > If you mention the N word, as opposed to using it, you go down. That seems, to me, messed up.

          It may well be, but it doesn’t follow that the people who disagree with you don’t understand the difference between using a word and mentioning it. The charitable (in the “Principle of Charity” sense – ironically, another phrase that gets mentioned a lot more than it gets used) assumption is that they understand the difference but think that the way he mentioned-but-not-used it was still quite bad.

    • J Mann says:

      If our paramount goal is to completely exterminate the use of the word in question by people other than African-Americans and Quentin Tarantino, then we might not want to honor the use-mention distinction.

      Education won’t be harmed by much (seriously) if future editions of Huckleberry Finn have a footnote in place of the word explaining that in universe, the characters are speaking the actual word and not the substitute in the text.

      • 10240 says:

        What is the benefit of completely exterminating the use of the word in question?

        • albatross11 says:

          Doesn’t it seem a little pathological to have this kind of reaction to a word–including wanting it scrubbed from literary works, banned from use in public, to have its very mention become a major scandal? Because this seems nuts to me.

          Don’t toss around the n-word because you’ll offend and hurt people and that’s a rotten thing to do. But also don’t pretend that it’s something written in the language of Mordor, and speaking it will darken the sun and cause the Elves to stop their ears.

          • Matt M says:

            Doesn’t it seem a little pathological to have this kind of reaction to a word–including wanting it scrubbed from literary works, banned from use in public, to have its very mention become a major scandal? Because this seems nuts to me.

            And even that isn’t really what they want.

            They want it banned from use in public with its very mention becoming a major scandal for some people, but for it to remain a regular, inoffensive, every-day word for certain other people, including famous artists, athletes, and other people with profound cultural influence on both the people who are allowed to say it and the people who are not allowed to say it.

          • mdet says:

            As a black person, I rarely use it myself (and definitely never within earshot of non-black people) because I think the “black people can use it amongst themselves, but no one else” standard is coherent but impractical when global celebrities are frequently using it in their songs, jokes, etc.

            Also, @J-Mann, scrubbing it from books that are already written is unnecessary.

          • J Mann says:

            @mdet – thanks! To clarify, I wasn’t saying that it was necessary, just that even in that most extreme case, I didn’t think the cost to clear communication was substantial.

            I think the worst downside is that it contributes to offense culture, in that other groups are encouraged to create their own forbidden lists, and the list of things people are forbidden to say to avoid harming African Americans increases over time. Probably we need a limiting principle somewhere, and hopefully we’ll find one.

        • J Mann says:

          I can’t say what the benefits are exactly, but many African Americans report a lot of emotional pain when someone is allowed to say it without reprisals. Alternatively, maybe eliminating the word is just a fairly inexpensive sign of respect.

    • ana53294 says:

      There was a big controversy this year about H&M making a hoodie for kids that had the slogan “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”, and had the terrible sense to have a black kid model for it. Now, my best guess is that the people who designed the advertising were not aware that “monkey”, when applied to a black person, is a racial slur. I do think that this was a completely innocent mistake; even the mother of the child didn’t think much at the time, and she didn’t think it was racist, probably because nobody uses the word monkey as a racial slur in Sweden.

      In Spain, for example, the word for monkey, “mono” also means cute, so we regularly call kids of all races monkeys, because they are cute. So if a black kid get called “Que mono” in Spain, nobody will be offended. In Russia though, monkey, or “obezyana”, is a racial slur.

      Most people around the world have basically learnt that the n word is very bad. It is a different thing to explain to people the history of racism in America and why some things are so offensive. But I think that once you are aware of the history of using the word monkey to insult a particular set of people, this should stop.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Most people around the world have basically learnt that the n word is very bad. It is a different thing to explain to people the history of racism in America and why some things are so offensive. But I think that once you are aware of the history of using the word monkey to insult a particular set of people, this should stop.

        Most people appear to accept it as contextually bad, not commenting when a person with one background uses it, but objecting when another does, but also it can be used by people (without complete hysteria, though with some objection) of the latter background (NSFW) at times.

        • ana53294 says:

          This goes beyond the n word, though.
          For example, a person telling jokes about Jews will be perceived as anti-semitic, unless she happens to be a Jew. It’s the same for every category used for jokes: lesbians, Englishmen, Scots, blacks, blondes, etc. Most people understand it, and are OK with it (this is a video that shows how comedians understand this).
          I think most people don’t object to the limited use of humor, so the questions is, why do they object about not being allowed to use racial slurs in inapproppriate contexts?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Right, so all words have contexts and the n word is the same. Some people in some situations can say it, some can’t.

          • Randy M says:

            Reminds me of when I was a young, idealistic naive teacher and told a student not to say that in my class. The dumbfounded look I got back.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are a lot of words where using them in certain contexts is impolite. But only a very few where someone mentioning them to illustrate a non-offensive point is taken as evidence of such evil beliefs that anyone thinks they ought to be fired from an important job.

            I won’t go tossing around this word since I don’t like hurting or offending people, but I absolutely do not agree that a white person using that word in the way the CEO of Papa Johns used it in that quote is doing anything wrong or should face any consequences more than maybe someone quietly asking him to tone down the language.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Johnston was giving his introductory lecture to Social Sciences 1140: “Self, Culture and Society,” when he explained to the nearly 500 students that the course was going to focus on texts, not opinions, and despite what they may have heard elsewhere, everyone is not entitled to their opinion.

      “All Jews should be sterilized” would be an example of an unacceptable and dangerous opinion, Johnston told the students.

      “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”

      https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/09/14/jewish_prof_forced_to_defend_himself_against_antisemitism_claims.html

      • toastengineer says:

        “The student was later found to be a particularly complex regular expression that had achieved partial sapience.”

        EDIT:

        “The student was immediately banned from campus for saying the words ‘jews should be sterilized.'”

      • Deiseach says:

        I really, really hope there is much more to this than that story reports, because otherwise:

        (1) Re: the student – okay, I thought it might be a first year, but she’s in her final year? How can someone that thick even remember how to breathe, let alone get into uni in the first place?

        (2) Whatever about inattentive students, what really takes the cake is the president of “an Israel advocacy group on campus who then sent a press release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for Johnston to be fired”. Talk about being Professionally Aggrieved! On the bare word of this student rushing in breathlessly to say that one of their lecturers had just been RACIST AND ANTI-SEMITIC IN PUBLIC IN CLASS, instead of doing the bare minimum of professional diligence – ‘hmm, can it really be that a Jewish professor teaching here for thirty years without any previous complaints of this nature was anti-Semitic in public like that? Maybe I should get some corroboration on that’ – they just ran with the opportunity to GET PUBLICITY AND FUNDING FOR OUR GROUP BY HYSTERIA-MONGERING JUST LIKE THE SPLC CALL OUT THIS SHOCKING RACISM FOR THE GOOD OF THE DELICATE LITTLE SNOWFLAKES WE CALL STUDENTS.

        What the heck was going on there? I hope Ms Professionally Aggrieved and her organisation get sued six ways from Sunday, and I think Ms Can’t Be Bothered To Pay Attention In Class has just rendered herself unemployable, if this is how she’s going to take instruction from her boss. “What do you mean you burned down the building?” “You said ‘set it on fire’!” “No, I said ‘we’re going to have a fire drill so you all know what to do if the building goes on fire’!”

        The end is even more head-desk inducing:

        Grunfeld also expressed skepticism that Johnston was in fact Jewish.

        Asked directly by a reporter whether she believes Johnston is lying, she was unclear.

        “Whether he is or is not, no one will know,” she said. “. . . Maybe he thought because he is Jewish he can talk smack about other Jews.”

        ‘He’s probably not even really Jewish’ is the best defence she can come up with? Really?

        • Matt M says:

          You’re thinking about this way too hard. What happened here is simple. This is conflict theory, in action, tuned up to 11.

          The student, for whatever reason, became convinced that the professor was of the enemy tribe, and thus, was a fair target to be destroyed through whatever means might be the most effective. And “he said something that might indicate he secretly loves Hitler” is among the most effective. So she went with that.

          I don’t think she’s dumb at all – in the context of achieving her goals, she’s actually quite smart. She’s at no real risk of being unemployable. At the correct-thinking corporations, this is probably a point in her favor. She successfully unmasked and punished a Nazi. What’s not to love?

          • 10240 says:

            Not sure about that. I suspect corporations pretend to be “correct thinking” in large part because they are afraid of lawsuits. Someone like this is a walking harassment lawsuit.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Not sure about that. I suspect corporations pretend to be “correct thinking” in large part because they are afraid of lawsuits. Someone like this is a walking harassment lawsuit.

            This is exactly correct.

          • albatross11 says:

            So imagine you’re considering hiring various people, and you’ve gotten to the point that you do a quick Google search on your candidates to see if any red flags come up. One of them is this woman.

            You are a manager who wants very little workplace drama and really, really doesn’t want either lawsuits or social media controversies, because those are bad for your career and your blood pressure. There are ten other equally-appealing applicants who didn’t stir up a massive social-media controversy to try to get rid of a professor they didn’t like. Which applications are going into the trash can today?

          • Matt M says:

            I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s quite possible that individual managers might be judged based on their “diversity” recruitment (i.e. what percentage of people you hired fall into the preferred/protected classes), while individual managers would not be blamed for crazy actions taken by any particular individual.

            In other words, if you never hire any women, you’re going to get in trouble for being a sexist. But if you hire a crazy woman who creates workplace drama, she will be blamed for it, not you.

            Just a theory, can’t prove it, etc.

          • 10240 says:

            @Matt M Even if they are not judged about specific stuff going on in their department, I guess they are judged by the overall performance of their department, which is affected by drama going on there (e.g. the company having to fire someone else to avoid a lawsuit). Likewise if there is a lawsuit, the manager of the department where it happened could be considered responsible.

      • John Schilling says:

        Meh, as long as he didn’t say Jehovah

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Why an IP instead of a URL? The only link on the page is to a log-in so there is no identifying information about the source.

      Hell, you being an established commenter is the only thing that (barely) brought the odds of it being malware low enough to risk the click.

      • rlms says:

        The homepage answers your question.

        (I think it’s mainly interesting as an object — i.e. the medium of a URL-less unnavigable unformatted site — rather than for the content, but others may disagree).

        • Well... says:

          I agree this is interesting but I need someone else’s analysis to bring it out of my head.

        • toastengineer says:

          I like it aesthetically but it’s not actually very practical.

          As for the content itself, I dunno, didn’t we cover this in 12th grade English? These are standard rhetorical tricks everyone uses.

          “This site is run from a DHCP connection so the address is subject to change”? “enki”? Oh man, if I actually liked this guy’s content this would be my favorite thing ever. HTTPpunk as fuck. Putting Tux in a Knights Templar outfit is clever but bad signaling.

  26. Mark V Anderson says:

    So it is France vs Croatia in the World Cup. How does such a small country find enough good players to get this high? I understand that in basketball you only need one or two superstars to make a championship team, which could happen by chance in a small country. But don’t you need several good soccer players to make a top team?

    I looked at the 2017 SSC survey and found 4 Croatians. Maybe one of them will answer and tell me how their team can be so good.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Weirder: the first time Croatia reaches semi-final was 1998; this was also the first time France reached final, and the first (and so far only) time France won. Croatia ended up 3rd place this year.

      • neciampater says:

        That was also their first World Cup as modern Croatia. Both in 1998 and now, Croatia has had very good players and teams.

        Croatia is the second smallest nation to make it to the final after Uruguay. I think Uruguay would be in the final if Cavani had not gotten injured.

        France has been in 3 finals in 20 years.

    • BBA says:

      The other example I can think of is the Dominican Republic’s domination in baseball. But there are less than half as many people in Croatia as in the DR, and obviously there are far fewer baseball countries than soccer countries.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Croatia also has a ton of NBA players. Something in the water there.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The 4 most populous contries in the world (China, India, US, Indonesia) have basically no (men’s) world cup success between them, with a 3rd place finish in 1930 and an 8th place finish in 2002 by the US as the high water marks. If you want to add in the Soviet Union’s results its gets a bit better but they never finished higher than 4th. So at the very top there is no correlation between size and success in the World Cup.

      However the current 5th most populous country, Brazil, is the most successful ever with 5 titles and 6 other top 4 finishes. On the current list of population there are 10 countries between Brazil (200+ million) and the next largest winner Germany (80+ million). After that winners of France, England and Italy are nicely clumped around 60 million and West Germany was around 60 million prior to reunification and has two wins, then Spain and Argentina together around 45 million, and then Urugay and their pair of titles is currently at 3 million.

      These numbers are just from current populations, for a more rigorous look you would want relative population at the time of the win, and probably include the countries that preformed the best without winning.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      Putanumonit actually wrote about this.

      TL:DR, if soccer ability is normally distributed then average soccer ability for the nation matters much, much more than the total pool of players since the tails of the bell curve drop off so quickly.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Even if soccer “ability” was normally distributed, its almost irrelevant to being good at the game. One problem I think Americans have in understanding soccer (and some other sports more popular abroad) is that it is a much more skill based sport than American Football and Basketball.

        Football is a huge outlier in this respect. Outside of the QB position, just about every major position has multiple examples of high performing players that never played before they were 18. Even for QBs there are many who never played prior to high school.

        Basketball is marginally more skilled, but there are dozens of converted soccer players that realized they were going to be 6’6” instead of 6’0” and switched at age 14+. Hakeem Olajuwon famously didn’t touch a basketball till age 17 and became a top 15 player of all time.

        On the other hand, there are no examples of elite soccer players that didn’t start playing as children, and almost none I can think of that were not intensely training by the age of 12. It is the quality and quantity of this childhood play, and teenage training that makes or breaks a soccer player. I will tell you from experience that the American soccer culture is shit for making kids better players. The focus even for 8 year old kids is often on winning, and parents who are coaches always end up relying on older kids (who appear more skilled because of size and speed and coordination advantages from being 10 months ahead). I saw this with my younger brother who had a terrible coach that made him play the same 3 boring positions every game even when they were winning 5-0.

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          That’s very interesting about the ages players started. “Ability” for the purposes in that post was defined to include anything from training programs to weather though. It was just about answering the population question Mark V Anderson raised.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I don’t think these examples prove very much about ‘skill’. First is that Soccer is wildly more popular than Basketball, and is generally more conducive to being played in poor areas. The odds of an elite athlete playing soccer but not basketball growing up are likely much higher than playing basketball and never touching a soccer ball. There is also the question of transfer-ability of skills, Soccer is the only major sport where you control a ball primarily with your feet. Basketball, football, baseball, cricket, rugby, volleyball, tennis, hockey all use hands or sticks held by hands. If you didn’t play basketball growing up you still probably played a game that required hand eye coordination in a way that will transfer to some extent to basketball. If you didn’t play soccer growing up you probably didn’t play a variation of volleyball where you used your feet. If there was (a significantly popular) such a sport I would lay odds there would be some high end soccer players who started out there and moved over to soccer. Finally soccer also tends towards the unique end in terms of size of its participants for team sports. Professional football has 180lb players up through 400 lbs, basketball 160+ to 300+, but soccer players don’t fit these wide ranges. This is primarily because soccer has evolved heavily into an endurance based game, with few stoppages and few subs at the professional level. Soccer players run 7+ miles a game, carrying an extra 10-20 lbs would put you at a serious disadvantage in keeping up with the level of endurance required. Basketball players tend to run about 2 miles a game (and the game is half as long, and the average starter plays a lower percentage of that time). People who happened to learn a lot about balance and coordination playing soccer who then grew to be 6’10 had limited options there, but had more options in basketball. Attributing these differences to skills on their own is superficial.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I disagree with a significant part of this because, although it is true that there is a great amount of variability in weight in the NFL/NBA, much of that is a result of the choices of the athletes whether to bulk up is advantageous (lineman) or to be lean (wide receiver). However, there is almost no variability is the much more genetically determined height. NBA and NFL players are basically selected from the top 1/6th of the height curve, and in the NBA 4 out of 5 players on the court are generally selected from the top 2.5% of the height curve.

            Soccer does skew tall, with an average height of 6”, but this is less than 1 STD above the mean of 5’10”. There are also notable exceptions such as Messi at 5”7′, and there is little evidence that tall teams perform better (if any). So its likely that any height in the top 66% or so of men is acceptable if you have the proper skill, stamina, and speed.
            https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41818468

          • baconbits9 says:

            I disagree with a significant part of this because, although it is true that there is a great amount of variability in weight in the NFL/NBA, much of that is a result of the choices of the athletes whether to bulk up is advantageous (lineman) or to be lean (wide receiver). However, there is almost no variability is the much more genetically determined height

            This is not true, modern running backs in the NFL average under 6′, and go as short as 5’6.

            Corner backs skew shorter than WRs by about 2″, should we conclude that corners are more skilled than WRs? NFL Quarterbacks average 6’3 or 6’4… are they less skill based than WRs, RBs, CBs, and safeties?

            NBA players have gone as low as 5’3 (not just
            a few games either, Bogues played 900 NBA games), and all-star caliber players have gone as short as 5’9. They do draw heavily from the top end of the spectrum but this doesn’t mean the game is less skill based than soccer, it just has different other pressures.

            The average height of men’s Wimbledon champions over the last 30 years is 6’1+, and since 2010 is 6’2. Should we conclude that tennis is less skill based than soccer?

            Long story short: every sport, or for some sports every individual position, selects for different traits. Soccer selects heavily for endurance + speed combinations, the NFL selects for a lot of strength and leverage at some positions, low center of gravity and speed at other positions, speed and height at others. Basketball selects a lot for length as its starting point. Leaping from here to skill is a stretch.

    • Matt M says:

      Perhaps just dumb luck?

      Aside from the fact that Croatia won via penalty kicks (which are basically a coin flip) in both the Round of 16 AND in the Quarterfinals to even get this far, there’s the concept of the “golden generation” that has been referred to at length for both Croatia and Belgium (who reached the semifinals last year), which refers directly to the idea that these nations are both at a unique time wherein they have a lot of good players coming of age at the same time. And in both cases, this is not expected to last.

      Basically, this is a statistical outlier, nothing more, nothing less.

      • j1000000 says:

        Yes, this is part of what must be considered. Croatia’s place in the final overstates their results. (Still obviously very impressive for a small country though, and pretty cool I think.)

    • Jon S says:

      I think Iceland is an even bigger outlier. Their population is under 335K people – it’s like Wichita, Kansas or Bakersfield, California fielding a team that could qualify for the World Cup.

  27. hyperboloid says:

    Is anybody else surprised that the Republicans in congress haven’t done more to restrict Trump’s powers on tariffs?

    Because the trade war is one of the few pieces of Trumpism that is not only inept policy, but also likely very damaging to key demographics the Republicans need to turn out in November. The fact that they persist in allowing this is proof that they will have to be made to feel direct personal pain before they change course against trump.

    In the immortal words of Charlemagne Sean Connery: “let my armies be the rocks, and the trees, and the very chucks of the wood.

    • Well... says:

      …so really, Paul Ryan should blame Charlemagne?

    • MrApophenia says:

      On a practical level, I am not surprised at all. They have a hard election coming up and if they go against Trump they probably lose their own seat. They will take no action against Trump until after the Republican base turns on him.

      If tariffs do that, then maybe after that you’ll see what you’re talking about, but not before.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Trying to bully other countries into lowering their tariffs is no more inept then trying to bully NK into limiting it’s nuclear program. Both could backfire horribly.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Trying to bully other countries into lowering their tariffs is no more inept then trying to bully NK into limiting it’s nuclear program. Both could backfire horribly.

        Backfire on tariffs: Economy (in both sides) goes to hell until cooler heads prevail. Which will happen because the economy going to hell tends to result in political change.

        Backfire on bulling NK: Nuclear war.

        So I’m going to have to say there’s a huge difference between the two

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I wouldn’t disagree. But imagine saying “He’s crazy [or inept] trying to get lower foreign tariffs” after having just returned from talks with NK that in a worst case scenario end with both leaders being more polite to each other but no change in nuclear policy.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      1) Where did you get the idea that fighting back in a trade war that has cost the US trillions of dollars is “bad policy?” You’re begging the question here.

      2) What can Congress do about tariffs? That’s all executive branch stuff. If Congress passed a law saying “the president can’t do tariff stuff anymore” it would have to be signed by the President, and I don’t know why he would do that.

      • Iain says:

        2) What can Congress do about tariffs? That’s all executive branch stuff. If Congress passed a law saying “the president can’t do tariff stuff anymore” it would have to be signed by the President, and I don’t know why he would do that.

        Constitutionally speaking, this is false. Vox has a good rundown:

        The Constitution is pretty clear: It’s in Congress’s power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States,” and regulate trade between the US and other countries. But over the past century, Congress has shifted many of the powers to raise and lower tariffs to the executive branch (a concentration of power that conservatives now decry). There are many ways the president can impose tariffs without congressional approval. To name a few:

        * Through the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917, the president can impose a tariff during a time of war. But the country doesn’t need to be at war with a specific country — just generally somewhere where the tariffs would apply. (This is how Richard Nixon imposed a 10 percent tariff in 1971, citing the Korean War.)
        * The Trade Act of 1974 allows the president to implement a 15 percent tariff for 150 days if there is “an adverse impact on national security from imports.” After 150 days, the trade policy would need congressional approval.
        * There’s the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, which would allow the president to implement tariffs during a national emergency.

        The executive’s control over tariffs is at the discretion of Congress, and is mostly limited to national security stuff. That’s why Trump had to make such self-evidently bogus claims about Canadian aluminum being a national security threat to the US. If Congress wanted to stop Trump, they could do so tomorrow, and override Trump’s veto. (They did it to Obama once, Clinton twice, and Bush four times.)

        More broadly: can you explain how you think this multi-trillion-dollar trade war works, and how tariffs solve anything?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I wasn’t speaking constitutionally I was speaking literally. Congress passed laws giving the executive branch control over trade regulation, and if they want to deny the President those powers, they need to pass laws the President would have to sign. This is not going to happen, so no, Congress can’t do anything about Trump’s tariffs.

          It’s not the Canadian steel itself (that largely being pass-through Chinese steel they’re dumping on the market anyway) that is a national security issue. It’s that the lack of steel and aluminum production in the US is a national security issue. The Arsenal of Democracy is in China now. That US steel production is significantly down is undoubtedly true, and it takes willful blindness on the part of the media to twist the issue to make it about Canada instead of a lack of healthy US production.

          More broadly: can you explain how you think this multi-trillion-dollar trade war works, and how tariffs solve anything?

          Other nations have both high tariffs on imported US goods and non-tariff barriers to entry. They sell us their goods but do not buy ours. The result is wealth leaving the US. This is good for traders who get a piece of that stream but very bad for American manufacturing workers. By imposing tariffs like those other nations impose on our goods, we level the playing field. The result is either they reduce their tariffs, or production in the US increases to meet demand, increasing American employment and wages. Since America is the largest market in the world, the US holds all the leverage here. The threat of China charging “retaliatory” tariffs on US goods is laughable, because they don’t buy our stuff anyway. They are the ones with everything to lose, not us.

          • Randy M says:

            Congress passed laws giving the executive branch control over trade regulation, and if they want to deny the President those powers, they need to pass laws the President would have to sign. This is not going to happen, so no, Congress can’t do anything about Trump’s tariffs.

            Without knowing specifically what you are talking about, couldn’t they challenge those laws in court (yes, despite being the people that wrote them)? Because otherwise it seems like amending the constitution on easy mode.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Does Congress (or individual congressmen) have standing to challenge executive actions?

            I’m honestly asking here, I don’t know. I think you would have to have a lawsuit from someone harmed by the tariffs. And I think that would go precisely nowhere because if the president is lawfully exercising power granted by the legislature to regulate trade…what’s the argument? “This is unconstitutional because I don’t like it?”

          • Iain says:

            It’s not the Canadian steel itself (that largely being pass-through Chinese steel they’re dumping on the market anyway) that is a national security issue.

            Uh, what? Link? I promise you that Hamilton is a real place that makes real steel out of iron ore mined in Canada.

            It’s that the lack of steel and aluminum production in the US is a national security issue. The Arsenal of Democracy is in China now. That US steel production is significantly down is undoubtedly true, and it takes willful blindness on the part of the media to twist the issue to make it about Canada instead of a lack of healthy US production.

            A) The US military requirements for aluminum and steel represent about 3% of domestic production. (Don’t just take my word for it — ask General Mattis! Seriously, that memo is a masterclass in technically agreeing with the position you’ve been ordered to support while carefully laying out all the reasons that it’s dumb.)
            B) Pissing off your closest allies and trading partners by imposing stupid tariffs is also a national security issue.

            Other nations have both high tariffs on imported US goods and non-tariff barriers to entry. They sell us their goods but do not buy ours. The result is wealth leaving the US.

            A) The US has a net trade surplus (goods and services) with Canada, so by your definition there’s no reason to impose tariffs on Canada.
            B) When you buy steel from China, money goes in one direction and steel goes in the other. That steel doesn’t just vanish into the ether; it is used to build things that any reasonable assessment would count as American wealth. It certainly affects the distribution of wealth in the US — steel manufacturers are worse off, and people building things out of steel or buying those things are better off — but net American wealth doesn’t decrease.

            The result is either they reduce their tariffs, or production in the US increases to meet demand, increasing American employment and wages. Since America is the largest market in the world, the US holds all the leverage here. The threat of China charging “retaliatory” tariffs on US goods is laughable, because they don’t buy our stuff anyway. They are the ones with everything to lose, not us.

            Tell that to Iowa’s soybean farmers. And Harley Davidson employees. And Texas oil. And Kentucky bourbon.

            Does Congress (or individual congressmen) have standing to challenge executive actions?

            All they have to do is pass a law saying “we want to get rid of these tariffs, and you have to ask permission to impose new ones.” It’s already been written. There are no legal obstacles; if they had the votes, they could pass the legislation tomorrow. The executive only has authority on this matter to the extent that Congress has delegated that authority, and they have every right to take it away.

            Trump can try to veto the legislation all he wants; if two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate want to get rid of his tariffs, there is nothing he can do to stop it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It certainly affects the distribution of wealth in the US

            Yes, that is the problem. The distribution of wealth. The working class used to get a piece of the wealth, and they no longer do. That wealth now goes to the financial class, and then trickles down to the people working for or orbiting around the financial class. Tariffs shift some of that wealth back to the working class who now get a hand in the production of the wealth. The US keeps going up in inequality while all the other nations that impose tariffs on our goods aren’t as bad off.

            You would think this would be dead simple to understand, but the people on TV are utterly dumbfounded. I understand that, though. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

          • 10240 says:

            Tariffs shift some of that wealth back to the working class

            Another way to shift wealth from the rich to the working class is redistributive taxation. It’s interesting that Republicans typically oppose the latter, and care relatively little about inequality, but now some of them support tariffs.
            Both are distortionary (and I oppose both), but it’s likely that tariffs are worse.
            Retaliatory tariffs may sometimes be useful though, if they are the only way to convince other countries to remove their tariffs.

            The US keeps going up in inequality while all the other nations that impose tariffs on our goods aren’t as bad off.

            In countries with a higher proportion of high-skilled workers than the countries they trade with, trade barriers reduce inequality: within the country, the supply of low-skilled work is proportionately lower than if the entire world (or a large part of it) was a single market, so it’s price is higher if trade is limited. Conversely, in a country with a lower proportion of high-skilled people than the countries it trades with, trade barriers increase inequality. Trade barriers between countries with similar characteristics have little effect on inequality (but make both countries worse off). Since the US is a developed country, workers in other countries don’t gain anything from having tariffs against the US (except perhaps if the aim of the tariffs is to induce the US to reduce its tariffs).

          • Iain says:

            The working class used to get a piece of the wealth, and they no longer do. That wealth now goes to the financial class, and then trickles down to the people working for or orbiting around the financial class.

            If you ever buy a car, you benefit from cheaper Chinese steel. If you work for an American auto manufacturer, you benefit from people buying more of your cars, because they are cheaper. Those are working class people, getting a piece of the wealth.

            Look at the examples I gave of people who are being hurt by the current trade war. Are farmers part of the financial class? Are Harley-Davidson employees?

            To be clear: the best estimates I’ve seen say that the likely net impact of a major trade war will be significant, but not devastating: on the order of 2-3% of GDP. But that’s the net impact. The bigger problem — the reason that you should be concerned — is the disruption.

            When the US opened up its markets to Chinese steel, that hurt US steelmakers and helped US consumers of steel. The overall result was positive, but that is cold comfort to steelworkers who found themselves unemployed. In the abstract it is good to know that more jobs were created in, say, the automotive industry, but at the end of the day you’ve got to feed your family.

            But slapping more tariffs into place doesn’t help. It’s like running somebody over with your truck, noticing that they’re hurt, and then putting the truck in reverse to run them over again in the hopes that you can cancel it out. This time, it’s the new steelworkers who win, and the people whose jobs depended on cheaper steel who lose — but you’re still putting people out of work.

            What is the mechanism by which you think tariffs put more money in the pockets of the working class?

          • John Schilling says:

            Another way to shift wealth from the rich to the working class is redistributive taxation.

            Redistributive taxation is most commonly seen as shifting wealth to the non-working class.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What is the mechanism by which you think tariffs put more money in the pockets of the working class?

            Because now the money paid for the steel for the cars goes to the American steelworkers instead of the Chinese. You can’t just consume your way to prosperity. You have to produce. The more wealth we create, the more wealth we keep.

          • Lillian says:

            You do realize that steel is an intermediate good, right? US companies buy steel to make various finished goods, that is to say to produce, not consume. It’s unclear to me how making the price of steel go up for these producers is helping the US economy, since if anything it only serves to make our finished goods less competitive in the world market. If steelmakers are hiring, but producers of steel goods are laying off, what precisely is the net gain here?

            What’s more, over the past two hundred years countries that export finished goods have outperformed those that export raw materials, so attempting to shore up intermediate goods manufacturers at the cost of finished goods manufacturers doesn’t strike me as a path to prosperity.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Lillian, I don’t know what you do for a living, but imagine the goal is to keep more money in the Lillian class. We have the option of paying Lillian $1.00 for that service, or paying Lillian $0.00 and paying $0.99 to somebody in China.

            Which option keeps more money in the Lillian class?

            Also, what does it matter how “competitive” our finished goods are if everyone we’re “trading” with has tariffs against those goods? There is no free market. It’s all mercantalists, except us, which is why we’re taking it in the shorts.

          • Lillian says:

            Trade happens because its beneficial to both parties, so if American companies are importing foreign steel, it’s because it’s because makes their goods more competitive. This in turn benefits their employees and leads to growth. By placing tariffs on imports, you are harming them, with knock on effects on the whole economy. American finished goods get less competitive which means production drops, which means that the steel market you were hoping to feed with American steel actually shrinks. In the end, American steel producers are little better off, and producers of steel goods are worse off. This how tariffs hurt the economy.

            Now i do see value in tariffs employed in the manner of the military. It’s a direct financial drain that produces little of value and actively hinders the normal functioning of the economy, but still useful and necessary for safeguarding the interests of the nation. Trade barriers are good when used to counter foreign trade barriers, just like armies are good to counter foreign armies. Just don’t decieve yourself into thinking that they have any economic value in and of themselves.

            The problem i have with Trump’s trade war is that there seems to be no clear goal or win condition. He didn’t make any specific demands and then start imposing retaliatory tariffs when the were not met, he just marched of to war with some vague motion of beating the enemy, and now the enemy doesn’t even know what concessions they’re expected to make for the war to end. It’s all very confused, pointless, and counterproductive. That said i will cheer and say Trump has done well if we somehow get more free trade out of it in the end. Its just that at present it looks like it’s doing quite a bit of harm and very little good.

          • beleester says:

            @Conrad Honcho: If your goal is to keep money in the Lillian class, then it’s a good idea to protect Lillians with tariffs. But why is the “Lillian class” something that we’re trying to keep money in? What makes steelworkers worthy of protection and people who make things out of steel (like, say, Harley-Davidson factory workers) unworthy? I don’t see how that category carves reality at the joints, as they say around here.

            I’d be happy if Congress passed a bill to give a million dollars to each person whose name starts with a “B,” but I can’t justify that just by saying “Well, if your goal is to support the B’s in our country…”

          • @Conrad:

            We have the option of paying Lillian $1.00 for that service, or paying Lillian $0.00 and paying $0.99 to somebody in China.

            You are stopping your analysis too soon.

            Someone in China now has $.99 in U.S. money. Unless he decides to hide it under his mattress, he uses it to buy something from America or trades it to someone else in China who does so. What they buy is either American goods for export or American capital assets–T-bills, Apple stock, or whatever. Either that $.99 is going to buy American goods or to invest in America or to fund part of the budget deficit which would otherwise be funded by Americans with money they would either have invested or spent.

            In order for an American to buy something from China he has to sell dollars for Chinese money, directly or through an intermediate. In order for him to sell dollars someone else has to buy them.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            David, how does that do anything to keep the working class employed? I get it, “people who trade in dollars” are better off, but that tends to concentrate wealth among people who buy foreign labor while never hitting Americans who don’t provide the sorts of services people who trade in foreign labor consume.

            beleester, is the purpose of the people to serve the economy or the economy to serve the people? Why do we have environmental regulations? Who decided “the environment” was something worth protecting? Why do we have worker safety laws? The 40 hour week week? Child labor laws? Who decided workers were something worth protecting? These things all make the price of labor and the cost of doing business in the US more expensive. And yet we have them.

            Lillian, yes, I get it, it’s cheaper to buy foreign stuff.

            I’m completely aware that tariffs raise the cost of labor and make stuff a little more expensive. But the entire reason labor is more expensive in the US is because, at the request of the people, the government enacted all kinds of laws and regulations to protect workers, consumers, and the environment. I’ll take a free trade argument “no tariffs no OSHA no minimum wage no EPA yes child slavery (if the child consents!)” from an AnCap. But from anybody else it sounds like a parody.

            “Fight for $15! Workers’ rights! Mandatory family leave! Unions! Job training! Save the yellow-bellied snarf eel! Tax everything! Regulate everything else!”

            “You know that’s going to kill jobs and make it more expensive to do everything, right?”

            “It doesn’t matter, because it’s the right thing to do!”

            “Okay, but we’re going to need some tariffs to stay in business.”

            “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL no way if it means I can’t buy stuff 3 cents cheaper made by diseased Malaysian child slaves FREE MARKET!”

            There is no free market. We enact the regulations to wall off Moloch. We need the tariffs to keep Moloch from oozing around the wall.

          • 10240 says:

            @Conrad Honcho That the other tribe supports bad policies, too, that’s not a reason to support a bad policy yourself. Is your goal to prove that your tribe is not bigger hypocrites than the other tribe, or to get the other tribe to shut up so they don’t have to admit that their policies are bad too, or to determine the truth (in this case, whether a policy is good or bad)? If it’s the last, then arguments from other policies are irrelevant.

          • Lillian says:

            All possible policy proposals have trade offs of some sort or another, the question is which trade off are worthwhile. In the case of tariffs i can only ever see them being useful as a weapon whose purpose is ultimately to knock down trade barriers. Even that is question by the resident Actual Economist, who on the basis of his expertice insists they’re pretty much never good.

            Now in the specific case of steel tariffs, i decided to look up some specific numbers rather than talking in abstract terms. According to MarketWatch: “There are about 140,000 steelworkers in the U.S., according to the American Iron & Steel Institute, and about 6.5 million workers in steel-consuming manufacturers, Moody’s analysts wrote in reports published Friday.”

            So Trump’s steel tariffs are at a bare minimum, hurting 46 times more workers than it is attempting to help, workers who are mostly white working class. That’s before taking into account all the knock on efeects from steel and steel goods also being more expensive, which i expect largely mostly hurt working class people in general. In short, if you want to help these people, if you want them to have more money in their pockets, you really ought to be opposing the tariff.

          • David, how does that do anything to keep the working class employed?

            Foreigners buy dollars in order to spend them in the U.S., that being what dollars are mostly useful for. If the money that left the U.S. to buy Chinese goods comes back to buy American goods, that keeps the people who produce those good employed.

            As I like to put it, we have two technologies for producing automobiles–we can build them in Detroit or grow them in Iowa. The first is familiar. The way to grow an automobile is to grow the raw material it is made out of, called “wheat.” Load it on a ship, send it into the Pacific, and it comes back with Hondas on it.

            That is a technique for producing automobiles, just it would be if there were really a machine out in the Pacific that you poured wheat into and got cars out of.

            So an auto tariff isn’t protecting American workers from the competition of Japanese workers. It’s protecting American workers from the competition of American farmers. It’s a way of making sure we build cares in Detroit even when it is cheaper to grow them in Iowa.

            The cases where the dollars are used to invest in capital assets get more complicated.

            Hope that helps.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Someone in China now has $.99 in U.S. money. Unless he decides to hide it under his mattress, he uses it to buy something from America or trades it to someone else in China who does so.

            Does this imply that the protectionist argument would have more merit if we were on a gold standard or something other than fiat money? It sounds like a key element here is that they are American Dollars, not something that can forever after be exchanged outside of the country.

            Or, to use a more relevant example, would the argument change if we are talking about US interstate commerce, where we might move from paying an Iowan $1.00 to instead pay an Arkansan $0.90 and there is no need for that $0.90 to every make its way back to Iowa.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But David, why is it cheaper to grow the cars in Iowa instead of manufacture them in Detroit?

            Is “cheapness of production” a terminal value, or are there other qualitative things we should be evaluating when deciding on economic policies?

            I completely agree with what you say from a “cheapness of production” standpoint. But in the real world no one thinks or acts that way. I agree it is cheaper to buy foreign goods. But it would also be cheaper to buy American goods if we did away with all those environmental and employment regulations.

            Maybe there’s a way we could have a policy that allows us to have the “converts grain to cars” machine in Detroit, so the Detroit…ian…ers don’t get cut out of the economic loop?

            ETA: Also, Detroit seems like a poor example to use to illustrate the wonders of free trade. I would use the same example in my arguments against free trade, showing pictures of Detroit before “free trade” and after “free trade.” An atom bomb would have been more a more humane thing to do to Detroit than inflict “free trade” upon it.

            @10240:

            I’m not making an argument from hypocrisy. I agree that minimum standards for environmental and occupational safety are good things. I’m saying that in order to keep the workers protected while keeping the workers employed, tariffs are in order. The only arguments I get back are “but things will be slightly more expensive!” which is the argument I get from all the talking heads on TV, and I’ve already rejected all of those arguments because my goal is not “produce cheapest junk.”

          • 10240 says:

            To remain competitive while having environmental regulations etc., we can always take lower salaries. We have to pay the cost of such regulations either way, by taking lower salaries, or paying higher prices.

            (By lower salaries I mean lower than if we didn’t have environmental regulations, not lower than Chinese salaries. The primary reason our salaries are higher than Chinese ones is that our economy is organized more efficiently, we produce more with a given amount of work. We have much higher salaries than the Chinese even if we have those regulations and no tariffs.)

            As for Detroit, we shouldn’t want to preserve the glory of a specific city or industry. Detroiters can move to Iowa and become farmers if that happens to be a more efficient way to produce cars. More realistically, their children can become farmers rather than Detroit auto workers. There might be a reason to phase out tariffs gradually rather than immediately so that people have time to adapt, but that’s not a reason to maintain them forever, or to introduce new tariffs. But the decline of Detroit begun more than a generation ago, and most of the adaptation has probably already happened.

          • Does this imply that the protectionist argument would have more merit if we were on a gold standard or something other than fiat money? It sounds like a key element here is that they are American Dollars, not something that can forever after be exchanged outside of the country.

            In a gold standard, the thing the foreigner is buying from the American is gold.

            This is the specie flow mechanism. If Americans import more than they export, that means that gold is flowing out of America, into China. That results in prices in America (measured in gold) going down, in China up. That results in American goods being more attractive to the Chinese, Chinese less attractive to the Americans. The process continues until the trade deficit is eliminated.

            With floating exchange rates, the mechanism that equates demand for dollars to supply of dollars on the foreign exchange market is the shift in the exchange rate between the currencies.

          • But it would also be cheaper to buy American goods if we did away with all those environmental and employment regulations.

            Only if those regulations raise the cost of building cars by more than they raise the cost of growing cars. Both of which are being done in the U.S.

            I think you are making the very common mistake of imagining some universal unit of cost, such that if costs go down in the U.S. Americans will stop importing so much. But costs in the U.S. are in dollars, in foreign countries in their currency, and there isn’t a fixed rate between the two.

            Suppose the elimination of various foolish regulations makes both American farmers and American auto workers twice as productive as before. If it was cheaper to grow cars than to build them before the change, it is still cheaper after.

      • mdet says:

        Where did you get the idea that fighting back in a trade war that has cost the US trillions of dollars is “bad policy?” You’re begging the question here.

        Aren’t Republicans usually supportive of free trade? He might be begging the question, but he’s begging the question specifically in a way that I thought congressional Republicans would agree with. Were Republicans not as supportive of free trade as I thought they were, or have they changed their minds / the free traders aged out of office, or is hyperboloid right that they do think this is bad policy but are holding their tongues for some other reason?

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think it’s as simple as they believe that going against Trump on this will hurt them politically.

          • mdet says:

            That’s what I thought, in which case hyperboloid is right to call it “inept policy”, at least in the minds of Republican congresspeople.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The GOP establishment is supportive of “free trade.” The GOP base is either skeptical of free trade, or believes free trade is a sham. There is no free trade when other nations have tariffs against our goods.

          • Lillian says:

            Found an article discussing how American tariffs compare to those faced by the rest of the world:

            Data from the World Economic Forum show that US goods face tariffs that are slightly higher than most other nations, at 4.9%. But that’s down from 6.1% in 2012, and roughly on par with the tariffs faced by exports from China, Japan, Russia and Brazil.
            European Union members face lower average tariffs of 3.5% on their exports.

            It would seem that Trump isn’t so much wrong about American goods facing higher tariffs than those of other industrial powers, as he is working on outdated information. Which frankly, feels like an ongoing theme with a lot of his policy positions.

            That said, it would seem there is room to have a serious discussion with our trading partners on the matter of how come the EU gets a better deal than we do. Would be nice if Trump were having it, instead of just imposing tariffs left and right with no clear goal or endgame.

          • Lillian says:

            Oh, turns out there was more article after the bit i quoted, no wonder it seemes so short. It goes on to say:

            Experts say the disparity with the United States is a result of multiple factors, including the fact that European countries do a lot of trading with one another. EU membership benefits include zero tariffs, no border issues and coordinated internal regulations.

            So, accounting for the fact that average EU tariffs do include the 0% tariffs that members have with each other, an advantage comparable to that enjoyed by the states of the Union given the similar sizes of the US and EU economies, it seems that America is actually in a pretty good position tariffs wise. Trump is fighting a war that Obama already won.

            That said, since we are fighting a war, i would like it if he managed to pull off a victory and knock down a few more trade barriers. It’s just that it doesn’t seem very likely given the haphazard way he’s waging it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Measurements of average tariffs faced don’t account for the trade-discouraging effect of tariffs, especially extremely high protectionist tariffs. For instance, Canada has that 250% tariff on dairy products. That will cut dairy exports to Canada enormously, so it won’t affect the average tariff much.

          • mdet says:

            My point was that, if we ask “Why haven’t Republicans in Congress restrained Trump from passing these terrible and inept tariffs?”, then it doesn’t matter whether the tariffs are actually terrible, it only matters whether congressional Republicans believe they’re terrible. If the GOP establishment supports “free trade”, then McConnell & Ryan must be not-restraining Trump for some other reason, such as “would rather play along than criticize their own voters”. Your other answer, “They don’t have the institutional power to stop him”, was good, and thanks for the explanation about why Canadian steel matters for national security.

          • My point was that, if we ask “Why haven’t Republicans in Congress restrained Trump from passing these terrible and inept tariffs?”

            In order to do that they would have to get a bill through the House and Senate amending the law under which the president can impose a tariff when it is needed for national security reasons. Some significant number of Republicans would oppose that, either because they are Trump supporters or because they are afraid of offending him and being opposed in the primaries by a Trump supporter or because the believe that, even if Trump is abusing the power, it is a power the president should have.

            So passing it would require support from a fair number of Democrats in both the House and the Senate. I don’t know if they could get it.

            Have the Democrats introduced such a bill? I expect some Republicans would support it.

        • Aren’t Republicans usually supportive of free trade?

          My memory is that early in the 20th century the Democrats were the free traders and the Republicans the protectionists, and sometime around mid-century it reversed.

      • 1) Where did you get the idea that fighting back in a trade war that has cost the US trillions of dollars is “bad policy?” You’re begging the question here.

        What does “cost the US trillions of dollars” mean and what is the reason to believe it is true?

        2) What can Congress do about tariffs? That’s all executive branch stuff. If Congress passed a law saying “the president can’t do tariff stuff anymore” it would have to be signed by the President, and I don’t know why he would do that.

        On the contrary. Tariffs are Congress stuff. The reason Trump is raising tariffs without congressional action is a law saying that the President can impose tariffs when it is necessary for national security—an emergency measure, not normal business. Trump is claiming that protecting American producers from Canadian producers is necessary for national security, which is obviously not true, as a way of getting around the fact that tariffs normally require congressional legislation.

        Where did you get the idea that it was normally the other way around?

    • John Schilling says:

      Because the trade war is one of the few pieces of Trumpism that is not only inept policy, but also likely very damaging to key demographics the Republicans need to turn out in November.

      If by this you mean the mostly-white working-class voters who stand to lose their jobs in a trade war, they didn’t vote for Trump because their economic calculation convinced them that Trump’s economic policies would be more likely than Hillary’s to get them a good job. They voted for Trump because he was the enemy of their enemy and he told them what they wanted to hear. They have mostly abandoned any hope of getting a better job, or of the job they have lasting until retirement, but it still feels real good to hurt the people they blame for that, and Trump can do that much for them.

      All of this will still be true in November of 2018, and again in November 2020. Nobody but Trump or the Trump-aligned faction of the GOP will tell the WWC what they actually want to hear, and nobody but Trump or the Trump-aligned faction of the GOP will credibly promise to hurt the people the WWC perceives as its enemies.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        @John Schilling
        He told WWC that he’d bring back jobs by, among other things, bullying foreign countries into lowering their tariffs. That’s not how he would have described it, he probably would have called it getting better deals, but that’s what it amounts to. All of it was basically a dumbed down version of identical statements he had made in the 80s and 90s.

        obviously It didn’t help that the rustbelt states were treated as locked-down by HRC’s campaign until the 11th hour, or that HRC sympathetic media openly relished in the demise of the WWC.

        His campaign included repeated complaints about specific instances of countries placing high tariffs [or maybe import quotas] on foreign imports (which would include US exports)
        It could all be based on factual inaccuracies and deception but that’s the line he sold.

        The “better dealmaker” line was DJT’s, the “Better policies” line was HRC’s

      • Iain says: