THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

Open Thread 108.25

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990 Responses to Open Thread 108.25

  1. pontifex says:

    More about Piketty.

    If I understand Piketty’s thesis correctly, he’s concerned that large differences in wealth will tend to be self-perpetuating, leading to ever-growing inequality. One way of looking at this is that it’s an inefficiency in capitalism. Alice and Bob are equally good capitalists, but Alice has $50,000 of capital, and Bob has 50 million. And therefore Alice will just keep “falling behind” in terms of income, or whatever other metric you want to use.

    It seems like the obvious experiment to do here is to give Alice a big bag of money and see what happens. And we have done this experiment over and over with lottery winners. It almost always seems to end with the lottery winners no better off than they were before. It seems like there is something else going on here besides just the mathematics of compound interest.

    Does this give us reason to be (more) skeptical about Piketty?

    • Evan Þ says:

      No real reason to be skeptical, IMO. Lottery winners aren’t the usual person of their asset level; normally, someone with 50 million dollars would be used to having that and maybe have the sort of habits that would lead him to keep accumulating money or at least keep the fortune intact – he might’ve gained those habits through earning his fortune, or maybe his also-rich parents taught them to him. A lottery winner isn’t like that. In fact, he’s much more likely to have bad monetary habits, because we know he plays the lottery.

      I’m somewhat skeptical of Piketty’s thesis, given that the US economy’s now much more volatile than most of the period he’s studied. But, lottery winners don’t give us any noticeable evidence against it.

      • Matt M says:

        This.

        We might also consider the results of say, professional athletes, child actors, young pop stars, etc.

        While I doubt they do as poorly as lottery winners, a whole lot of them make terrible financial decisions and end up broke too, precisely through the mechanism Evan describes, in that they are handled a huge quantity of money without any particular training, perspective, or experience in knowing what to do with it.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Alice and Bob are equally good capitalists, but Alice has $50,000 of capital, and Bob has 50 million. And therefore Alice will just keep “falling behind” in terms of income, or whatever other metric you want to use.

      Could you elaborate how this relates to Piketty’s thesis? It’s been some time since I read Scott’s review, but wasn’t the central thesis more like, laborers obtain their income from a salaried job or similar source, and the situation where salaries would allow the rise of middle class was a hiccup of economic history? Where the “inefficiency” viewpoint or personal qualities of Alice and Bob as investors enter the picture?

    • johnjohn says:

      a good capitalist obviously wouldn’t buy lottery tickets

    • Ketil says:

      It seems like the obvious experiment to do here is to give Alice a big bag of money and see what happens. And we have done this experiment over and over with lottery winners.

      We have done this experiment over and over with venture capital funding. Occasionally, this reduces the wealth of the Alices, other times, the successful startup increases their wealth, while simultaneously turning Bob into an Alice.

      There. Piketty refuted in two sentences. 🙂

    • onyomi says:

      Random googling came up with this paper, which made what I think are good points re. ancient and modern inequality:

      Though probably most hunter-gatherer societies were/are much more equal than most modern societies, and while pre-industrial civilizations are not dramatically less equal than modern societies across the board, there are two very important ways in which we have become much more equal since the industrial revolution as compared to probably all pre-industrial civilizations and maybe even some hunter-gatherer societies:

      1. Life expectancy
      2. The fact that modern elites don’t control a higher percentage of modern society’s wealth than premodern elites did of their society’s wealth even as total wealth has grown exponentially means that modern elites are probably actually much less rapacious than premodern elites, since the populous could continue to work and live on a smaller piece of a much bigger pie. This seems to be the exact opposite of Marx’s prediction.

      Doesn’t speak directly to the question, but I have read many refutations of Piketty from many angles, some more convincing/intelligible to me than others, but I feel like these most basic facts in capitalism’s favor are more important.

      • acrimonymous says:

        It seems to me that it’s in the nature of modern economies that they couldn’t grow the way they have if workers’ income was reduced to close-to-subsistence levels.

    • semioldguy says:

      Giving large bags of money seem like a poor way to perform this experiment as doing so doesn’t ensure that Alice treats the money as her own or treats the money the same way as the same amount of money she had earned through her own efforts.

      I live with three housemates, all of a similar age, ethnic, economic, and educational backgrounds to myself; and our incomes are all roughly equal. However, none of them are gaining any real wealth while I am saving/investing half of my income despite paying considerably more rent for having the master bedroom to myself. While I consider myself frugal, I live comfortably and don’t really monitor or feel like I significantly restrict my own spending. I am absolutely better off than I was ten years ago, they seem to be “falling behind.”

      There are lots of people who create and maintain their own wealth and others who lose the wealth they began with. There are plenty of people’s experiences that can be studied, but I’m not sure how to successfully create an experiment to evaluate this that doesn’t fail somewhere. For me it was the realization that not having money sucks and I didn’t want to ever be in that situation again.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes I agree that the largest difference in wealth between individuals is likely due to frugality. The very rich are outliers in that they likely earned or inherited large sums of money, but I think the variance of 90% of humanity (in the developed world at least) is largely based on spending, not income. This is totally based on my own experiences in watching other folks, so I have zero citations. But I’d love to see some evidence if it can be obtained somehow.

        • semioldguy says:

          This is my feeling as well. I didn’t change my spending habits much the last couple raises I got (In fact, after the most recent raise, I requested working fewer hours, which ended up slightly reducing my income), but most people seem to increase spending nearly equal to an increase in income.

          I put a large value on my free time as well and have noticed that many things people buy/do that are costly also take more time than the less costly variants I do.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        semioldguy, what are you not buying that they are buying?

        • Matt says:

          I was in a similar situation back when I was in college.

          Things you can buy that will run you out of money in a hurry:

          Credit
          Flash – designer clothes, nicer car, stuff like a bi-weekly mani-pedi?
          Travel
          Booze (or drugs, I suppose. $6 coffee every day can add up)
          Eating out
          The opposite sex
          One of my roomates paid $60/month for parking on campus – the others (and I) parked for free further away and walked to class.
          One of my roomates sent money home to his family. I’m sure they needed it more than he did.

          There are lots of other things on the margin that can be the difference between going into debt at a rate of $50/month and saving money at a rate of $100/month.

          Or whatever.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s amazing how you can go into Target, come out with $80 dollars of things you need, but never have noticed the need if you hadn’t gone in.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I know it’s fashionable to make fun of avocado toast, but some habits I see that can easily pile up:

            $1800/year (daily starbucks)
            $3000/year ($20 meals 3x week)
            $5400/year (new car at 450 per month)
            $21,600/year (rent at $1800/month in a nicer neighborhood in a nicer building)
            $2,000/year (multiple vacations in a year)
            $1,500/year (eating out for lunch every day, minus 2 weeks for vacation)

            I mean this starts adding up to some serious money that people just feel free to spend. Every time I go out for fast food by myself, I think I could’ve bought a nice steak for my wife and myself, a couple glasses of wine, and just stayed home.

            I also eats beans for lunch, so I might be one of those guys featured on r/frugaljerk

            It’s amazing how you can go into Target, come out with $80 dollars of things you need, but never have noticed the need if you hadn’t gone in.

            Definitely a habit I have learned to kick. It’s way too easy to think “hey this is only $15” and end up with 6 items that wipe out way more savings than you’d care to admit.

          • The Nybbler says:

            $1800/year (daily starbucks)

            More like twice daily.

            $2,000/year (multiple vacations in a year)

            Those would be some extremely cheap vacations.

            Keep in mind for a few of these that you need to count only the luxury premium; you may be able to reduce the rent from $1800 to $1200 but you can’t reduce it to $0; similarly for the car.

          • Eric Rall says:

            you may be able to reduce the rent from $1800 to $1200 but you can’t reduce it to $0; similarly for the car.

            Technically, you can, but “can” and “should” are two very different things.

            Come to think of it, rent and car costs are partial substitutes. In many cases (not for everyone, but for a lot of people), moving closer to work can permit you to forego your car entirely in favor of walking, biking, or public transit to work and local shopping, and ride sharing or the occasional rental for rarer trips outside your reasonable car-free transit radius. But moving to a walkable community close to work will probably raise your housing costs, possibly by more than a cheap-but-functional car would cost to own and operate.

            Or you can move to a cheaper but less convenient location and accept higher commuting costs and perhaps a nicer car to mitigate the aggravation of a long commute.

            Or you can go to silly extremes and live by the old maxim, “You can sleep in your car but you can’t drive your house.”

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Reducing your rent by $600/month adds up to $7200 per year or close to $22,000 over 3 years. Obviously there are other factors that affect the final number, but it’s not a trivial difference. Particularly when you are young and should be scrimping.

          • Randy M says:

            Having a rent that is a good ~$500 less than the going rate in my area is a rather big part of my quality of life (or more accurately, ability to save money). I almost hate to mention it, ever, lest the managers happen to somehow notice.

        • semioldguy says:

          I don’t drive when I don’t need to, walking or often taking public transit even though I own a car. Or doing any driving-required errands all in one day.

          I have never had any debt, even in college, I worked to avoid taking student loans. If I couldn’t afford something I didn’t buy it. Now that I can afford all of those things, I still don’t buy them though.

          I tend to buy expensive things that I know will last long rather than cheap, lower quality things. I suspect I also take better care of my things than most people.

          I took up cooking as a hobby and as a result don’t eat out hardly ever.

          No smartphone/data plan. I had one for ~5 years and am now much happier without it. I pay $8/mo on my flip phone plan.

          • semioldguy says:

            I guess it’s more that I buy things differently, rather than not buying things that my housemates do buy.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        These posts on how to fritter away large incomes are kinda classic.

        Bonfire of the Vanities has an even higher-income version, but I don’t have a copy handy.

      • arlie says:

        Frugality is a part of my financial success – but I also have two siblings with similar habits. Like me, they are notably better off than others in their income bands – but I nonetheless have more wealth than both of them combined. I also have more earned income than both off them combined, along with that of the spouse of the one that’s married, and believe this has been true every single year of our lives. I specify “earned income” only because it’s an even less balanced comparison if you count my unearned income.

        Bottom line: I’m not convinced it’s even primarily about frugality. Frugality certainly helps – a lot – and there are always stories of near misers who die with surprising amounts of assets. But those are still mostly surprising given their income band. They may in fact be routine wealth levels for other classes. E.g. the odd job guy who dies with a similar level of wealth to the average spendthrift senior executive.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      There’s an argument to be made that many people in the three comma club are just millionaires who won the unofficial market lottery. Gates, Ellison, Page, Musk, et al. were hard workers with great ideas and business talent and discipline, but also had timing that not everyone can have. Star entertainers seem to be especially exemplary of this. (Buffett might be an exception, by contrast.)

      In other words, maybe it’s all luck (except for Buffett and a handful of hedge managers we rarely hear about).

      OTOH, we might be putting way too much attention on the tiny sample that is billionaires and even millionaires. It might be that nearly all of them are their own unique case. There are a large number of millionaires, though, so I don’t know. Is hard work, discipline, business talent, and (let’s say) a reasonably trade-friendly infrastructure enough to make upper middle class 99% likely? Or do you need some luck as well?

      • SamChevre says:

        I would say based on observation of the one millionaire I know (my little brother) that you need some luck, but if you work hard, have good discipline, and look for a profitable niche, it’s the kind of luck that you have a good shot -say 30%–at having.

        My brother is in his 30s, and worked for a commercial electrician. When the state rules on qualifying for an electrician’s license changed the year before he would have qualified (and would have required him to get a 2-year degree, when he only has an 8th-grade education, or work as an apprentice for 4 years longer) he started working specifically on commercial chicken house equipment. A decade ago, he had a van full of parts and tools and no employees; now he has a significant business building, equipping, and repairing the equipment in chicken houses.

        He worked extremely hard, and is smart at managing employees and subs. But he needed the luck of a build-out happening at just the point where he was big enough to capitalize on it to get from a business with revenue in the high six figures to one in the high seven figures.

        ETA: a “build-out” in this context is when a complex–a slaughterhouse, and the supporting infrastructure–decides to build another set of chicken houses to increase the size of the complex.

    • INH5 says:

      Lottery winners are disproportionately likely to be the sort of person that buys a lot of lottery tickets, so it seems very plausible that they’re selected for poor financial habits.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      See Compound Interest Is The Least Powerful Force In The Universe. Yes, you should greatly increase your skepticism that you know what Piketty is claiming.

  2. Wrong Species says:

    If wages and general economic growth improves in the United States in the next two years, will voters credit Trump for that? Would they be right to? And if they did, would Trump end up winning reelection?

    • marshwiggle says:

      If the past is any guide, yes, no, yes. But I can see how one could argue that Trump has changed the rules of the game.

      • Deiseach says:

        Looking at the news just this morning, they’re saying the dollar has hit a thirteen-month high, so I’m presuming that means it’s strong. I don’t know if a strong dollar is good or bad (economics always seem to go the opposite to what I’d expect) but given that the dire predictions of what would happen when Trump was elected, crashign the economy was one of them. The economy doesn’t seem to have crashed, so I imagine if he got blamed for wrecking the economy he might as well be praised for its good performance (even if it wasn’t his doing).

        And we’re two years into his presidency, if the economy/wages grow in the next two years that will be the end of his (first) term. There’s only so long you can keep saying “it was the fault/doing of the previous administration that the economy tanked/soared!” and if it has done well by the end of the four years, you have to let the Trump administration have some credit – even if it’s “well they didn’t manage to wreck it”.

        • DeWitt says:

          Trump was president thirteen months ago, too.

          • Deiseach says:

            Which just shows that under his careful stewardship all is well with the ship of state, you see?

            If it had hit a thirteen month low, I’m sure there would be plenty to say “aha, it’s his fault!” even if as you point out he was president thirteen months ago when it was higher.

          • DeWitt says:

            Yes, you have succesfully reversed stupidity. Now what?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Generally, holders of dollar-denominated assets prefer a strong dollar. Those who rely on the export market, however, prefer a weak dollar. And tariffs reduce or eliminate the positive effect of a strong dollar; it doesn’t help you if your dollar is worth 0.25 Euros more if the extra money ends up in Trump’s pocket instead of being saved.

          • Vitor says:

            …showing the inherent absurdity of simultaneously imposing tariffs and boasting that “my currency is stronger than your currency, haha!”.

            A strong dollar just sounds better, dare I say more american, than a weak dollar.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Any thoughts about more neutral language to describe relative currency values?

        • Wrong Species says:

          The problem with that reasoning is that presidents generally have very low control of economic conditions.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I don’t know if a strong dollar is good or bad (economics always seem to go the opposite to what I’d expect)

          Describing the dollar as “strong” is a relative term. It’s relative to the overall basket of currencies available everywhere else in the world.

          “Strong” here means trades for a higher number of units of those other currencies compared to the past. If we “usually” see the Dollar trading 2 Turkish Lira and now it trades for 7, we can say that the Dollar is strong vs. the Lira (and the Lira is weak). If we see that happening for most currencies vs. the Dollar, we would say the Dollar is strong right now.

          Now that is actually a reflection of the Lira weakening, not the Dollar strengthening. The Dollar fell vs. the Euro early in Trump’s presidency, but recently rebounded. At a guess, this probably has more to with the Fed raising interest rates than anything else (increasing demand for US Bonds which are denominated in Dollars).

          So, all that said, a strong Dollar helps the US (or holders of Dollars in general) when it buys foreign goods, and hurts when it tries to sell goods to foreign customers. Whether it is “good” for the US as a whole mostly depends on how well it is able to cope with this change. It hurts exporters and helps importers. As sort of an aside, this doubly undercuts Trumps tariffs (I’m guessing not enough to really matter though).

        • Nornagest says:

          USD/EUR hit its 5-year high in December of 2016, though it had been pretty flat for two years before then — that’s only a point above its previous high in February of 2015. Its two-year low was in February of 2018, but its five-year low was in March or April of 2014.

          It doesn’t look from this like we can draw any strong partisan conclusions from exchange rates.

        • TDB says:

          if he got blamed for wrecking the economy he might as well be praised for its good performance

          There is an asymmetry, isn’t there? If the president sets out to destroy the economy, the main obstacle would be Congress. Setting out to boost the economy seems much more difficult. Sort of like building a skyscraper vs. knocking one down.

          Maybe presidents actually deserve a bit of credit when them manage not to break too much. Not as much credit as they get, probably, but some.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Yes, partially, and yes. I say “partially” because while we can argue all day about whether various Trump policies have hurt or helped, it’s certain he could have done (and may still do) something stupid enough to screw everything up. Let the trade war get beyond “annoying”, for instance.

      • Wrong Species says:

        There is some reason to think that they would be justified beyond Trump not completely screwing up the economy. Many economists believe that corporate taxes are particularly distortionary. On the other hand, the economy has been very gradually getting better over the last few years. It could easily be just a coincidence.

    • Plumber says:

      If wages and general economic growth improves in the United States in the next two years, will voters credit Trump for that

      If it’s a little bit over two years then those who voted for him in 2016 will likely credit him, but few who didn’t vote for him will.

      If the economy mproves a lot in the six months before the election then he may be credited, if the “improved economy” actually increases many peoples disposable income. 

      Would they be right to?

      I doubt it, but I’m biased by my partisanship. 

      And if they did, would Trump end up winning reelection?

      If enough did, yes.

      Note: Few will actually change their votes, very few will vote for a political party in 2020 if they voted for the other party in 2016. 

      What changes is who bothers to vote.

      Watch how median disposable income has changed, especially two to six months before the election.

        • Plumber says:

          “The “no swing voters” position is highly exaggerated”ng Species

          @Wrong Species,

          That link was extremely interesting, and makes me re-consider some of my prejudices.

          I’m going to have to digest it.

          Thanks!

          • Wrong Species says:

            No problem. Even though Vox is vilified by many on the right, they do have some really good pieces like the one that I linked, which is why I continuously follow them.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s important to be clear about this — these are small minorities of the public. Speaking loosely, if only 11 percent of fans of a movie enjoyed the sequel, a normal person might say “nobody liked the sequel.”

          Interesting. My personal theory, based on nothing more than observation, has always been something like “45% always vote Democrat, 45% always vote Republican, the war is over the remaining 10%” and based on this, it looks like I’m not far off.

          Instead, Romney-Clinton voters appear to have been concentrated in upscale suburbs of the nation’s largest cities, and a quirk of history is that at the moment, all of the country’s largest cities are in states that are either solidly blue (California, New York, Illinois) or solidly red (Texas).

          Also nice to know that the #NeverTrump people accomplished precisely nothing.

    • broblawsky says:

      Yes, yes-ish, probably. If there’s no recession before 2020, it’ll be the longest economic expansion in post-Depression US history. If that happens, it would be reasonable to credit the tax cuts for it.

      A contrary position: if a recession starts before 2020 (especially in the next year or so) will voters fault Trump for it? What about Trump’s supporters? Based on the previous history of economic expansions, this seems far more likely.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      My personal opinion is that any change in the economy can often be traced back to something the previous President or Congress did, and often even further back. And the people will nevertheless give credit to the current administration. (Which means either can do quite a bit and escape short-term repercussions such as losing an election.)

      So, Trump and Congress will get whatever the 2018 and 2020 economies throw at them.

      As for Trump being re-elected, I think it’s getting likelier. As I’ve mentioned to several people at the DC meetup, the most consistent metric I have for this is Allan Lichtman’s Keys to the White House, and I even wrote an answer to this on Quora. From the bottom:

      Trump wins on contested nomination, incumbency, and probably short- and long-term economy, foreign / military failure, and challenger charisma. That’s six. He almost certainly loses (IMO) on incumbent charisma, and a high chance of losing (again, IMO) on party mandate, scandal, and for/mil success. That’s four against.

      The three things that strike me as up in the air are sustained social unrest, third party, and policy change. Given that I estimate six keys going to him so far, I would predict that he’s much more than likely to win re-election in 2020, according to the Keys.

  3. Plumber says:

    Any thoughts on the easiest to implement and/or the best policies to make housing more affordable in San Francisco and similar areas?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      There aren’t any that offer more than marginal gain.

      We should end rent control and lower barriers to development, but no policy that is realistic to implement will have a dramatic effect. Even policies that are pretty unrealistic to implement are unlikely to have a dramatic effect.

      Housing will get cheaper in the Bay area when and if we see a prolonged tech or general economic slowdown.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Since nobody seems inclined to respond to me: let’s note that even if you magically convinced all the cities in the Bay Area to remove all height/density zoning (which is laughable), then your still have to contend with the following:

        1. The infrastructure of the Bay Area is already strained and clearly can not deal with doubling the number of residential and work units in the area.

        2. Anti-development folks will have lots of other tools that weren’t specifically designed to block density, but which can be repurposed to slow down development.

        3. There just isn’t enough construction capacity to dramatically increase the rate of development in the Bay Area above present rates, and developing more construction capacity is a slow process.

        • Ketil says:

          The cruise ship “Harmony of the seas” cost UKP 770M, approximately a billion USD. It houses over 5000 passengers and 2300 crew, comparable to 1% of SF’s 800K inhabitants. At 7.5% discounting, that’s a cost of roughly USD10K/year. A purpose-built floating suburb could probably be quite a bit cheaper.

          But I bet regulation probably prohibits buying ships, mooring them permanently, and using them for residential housing.

          • DeWitt says:

            We have people who live on permanently moored ships(the word is literally liveboat) just fine here in the Netherlands, although those are generally found in canals and the like. They could probably make it work.

          • axiomsofdominion says:

            Houseboats in the US but there are a lot of restrictions.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            If the boats are nothing more than floating mass-housing units and the occupants still have to disembark to go to work then I’m unsure how this will improve the limitations on infrastructure. Unless disembarkation is close enough to workplaces that it doesn’t cause much if any congestion.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the boats are nothing more than floating mass-housing units

            The boats are floating communities including full residential and partial commercial facilities and also fresh water, power, heating/cooling, communications, sanitation, waste disposal, and emergency-services utilities. That should cover most of the infrastructure other than onshore transportation and maybe education (if we assume anyone in SF actually wants to have children).

            And there’s no magic where having water under the keel makes this possible where it otherwise wouldn’t be, so it should be possible to produce mini-arcologies on land for an even lower cost. The bare land, at median SF prices, would add ~10% to HotS’s gigabuck construction cost, which I would assume is more than compensated for by not having to make the thing seaworthy and self-propelled.

            So either intracity transportation is the limiting factor to San Francisco’s population, or local regulation is the limiting factor to SF’s population. or there’s a huge market failure going on where cruise lines and innovative developers are all missing gigabucks in easy profits. But it isn’t fundamentally an infrastructure issue.

          • bean says:

            which I would assume is more than compensated for by not having to make the thing seaworthy and self-propelled.

            Cruise ships are seaworthy? News to me. And there are days they’re only marginally self-propelled, too.

            One major drawback to cramming that many people into that space is disease. Cruise ships are incredibly paranoid about disease outbreaks. Some of that may be because of where they tend to dock, but some of it is just the population density. And I also wonder how many people would tolerate those kind of living conditions long-term. It works at sea for short periods, or longer if you can enforce discipline among the inhabitants (like on a warship).

          • ana53294 says:

            This has already been tried. It is a terrible idea in practice.

            In Barcelona, during the Catalan crisis, the Spanish Government brought a lot of extra police forces from Spain, to ensure political loyalty. The problem was were to house them, as most hotels in Barcelona refused to house the hundreds of policemen, afraid of the boycott that would ensue (and the protests, and the image damage).

            So the Spanish government rented a cruise ship, and had it in the port of Barcelona. It only lasted a couple of months, but the police were really unhappy. Laundry was hanging everywhere, security was terrible, the food wasn’t good, etc.

            The police were paid extra, it only lasted for a couple of months, but there were still miles of ink spilled over the inhuman conditions they were subjected to.

          • bean says:

            @ana53294

            I’m not sure that’s an entirely relevant counterexample. I did some looking, and the ship in question was a Mediterranean cruiseferry, which is a rather different beast from a standard cruise ship. You’re transporting the passengers, rather then entertaining them, and the facilities are going to be designed for short-term stays. You mention laundry, but I suspect the demand for laundry is minimal when going between Genoa and Sardinia (to use one of the routes Rapsody has run). Obviously, there’s going to be trouble when you use it as an extended-stay hotel.

          • ana53294 says:

            @bean

            I wasn’t aware of the differences between the different cruise ships. I wonder why the Spanish government did not fleet a propper transatlantic cruiseship then.

            Do you think that one of those ocean-crossing ships is livable?

            In Spain, IIRC, there is a legal requirement that when you rent a house, each bedroom is supposed to have a window that goes outside (this can be to the street or to the inside patio, but access to sunlight is a legal requirement).

            Cruise ships are big, and some rooms are in lower decks with no windows, or inside, with no windows either. And I can say that, after living through a Nordic winter, sunlight is really, really important for mental health.

          • bean says:

            I wasn’t aware of the differences between the different cruise ships. I wonder why the Spanish government did not fleet a propper transatlantic cruiseship then.

            My guess would be that there wasn’t one of those available at a reasonable cost. Or even just that someone involved didn’t realize the difference, and insisted on taking the cheaper option.

            Do you think that one of those ocean-crossing ships is livable?

            It’s going to be a lot better. I don’t know all that much about cruise ships (they’re basically floating hotels, and are only of interest because they happen to be on the same sea that carries warships) but something like Harmony of the Seas is designed to keep about 5000 guests happy on a weeklong cruise. I’m sure there are a few things you’d have to beef up to make it work indefinitely, and laundry facilities might be one of them, but it’s going to be a lot better. Food in particular is usually at least decent on cruise ships, or the guests complain.

            Cruise ships are big, and some rooms are in lower decks with no windows, or inside, with no windows either. And I can say that, after living through a Nordic winter, sunlight is really, really important for mental health.

            I’ve lived through winters at fairly high latitudes, and I know what you mean. I’m not necessarily claiming that it would actually be a good idea to park a cruise ship somewhere just off downtown San Francisco. But it is a reasonable point that we do currently have the technology to build structures capable of housing several thousand humans in a relatively small space, and doing so efficiently enough that people are willing to pay a lot of money to go aboard, even though they’re incredibly ugly, a prime breeding ground for disease, and have the mechanical reliability of something made by British Leyland. (In case you didn’t notice, I don’t like cruise ships.)

          • FLWAB says:

            @bean

            Off topic, but given your disparaging comments on cruise ships: if you were given the job of designing a ship to house, feed, and entertain 5,000 people on a long voyage, would you do it any differently? Are there major design problems with cruise ships, or would any ship that has to meet those needs perform poorly?

          • bean says:

            Off topic, but given your disparaging comments on cruise ships: if you were given the job of designing a ship to house, feed, and entertain 5,000 people on a long voyage, would you do it any differently? Are there major design problems with cruise ships, or would any ship that has to meet those needs perform poorly?

            I can understand why the designers came up with the result that they did. On the aesthetic front, balconies are valuable, so you’re going to get the stupid slab sides, even if I did always feel sorry for the ships as they sailed by the prettiest one ever built. But if I was designing one, I’d make very sure that she wasn’t going to end up like Carnival Triumph, and I’d do my best to avoid Coasta Concordia’s fate, too. Iowa is right next to the LA cruise terminal, and I once took the chief engineer of one of the cruise ships down to see our engines. Based on what he said, it’s simply a matter of not having enough money or manpower to keep the thing safe.
            The one exception is the new Queen Mary, which is built to liner standards. Old ocean liners were a very different matter, because they were built to cross the North Atlantic quickly, not carry booze-soaked tourists around the Caribbean. But she also cost several times what other cruise ships do per berth. My hat is off to Cunard for building her.

          • bean says:

            I should also point out that while doing googling related to this, I found someone describing Quantum of the Seas as “the most advanced ship ever built”, and I had a strong desire to do violence to the person who had done so. Yes, your cruise liner has a surfing simulator, a vertical wind tunnel for skydiving, and bumper cars. But is it capable of tracking upwards of 200 targets in a 200-mile radius around it and shooting down ballistic missiles? No? Then don’t say stupid things.
            (What I really want to do is force them to read the entirety of the guide to World Naval Weapons. They’d never make the same mistake again.)

          • mfm32 says:

            Of course USN vessels are built to much higher standards than commercial vessels. On the other hand, the received wisdom is that other navies (perhaps excluding the royal Navy) build their vessels to normal commercial standards. Seems to work for them, I suppose unless you think small navies are basically just national vanity projects.

            bean — curious to get your thoughts on whether the point about foreign ship construction standards true. I’ve heard it many, many times from knowledgeable people but without any specific evidence or attribution.

          • Ketil says:

            Cruise ships are seaworthy? News to me.

            I just want to say, Bean, I adore your attitude. And I hope that doesn’t come across as ironic, because I totally agree that cruise ships have the aesthetics of a shopping mall, and I really enjoy your NG posts and sharing all that knowledge about Real Ships. I built a scale model of USS Missouri as a kid, and made sure to visit it when I had the opportunity.

            About disease: I think this is much more of a concern for cruise ships than for tenants. A disease outbreak on a cruise is going to ruin a lot of expensive holidays, may rob you of much needed and difficult to substitute manpower, and potentially lead to thousands of people leaving low ratings all over, as well as demanding their money back. But we already live densely in big cities, and we send our children to what we nominally refer to as day care, but which is nothing but incubators for all sorts of pathogens. A few sick days now and then is just part of life.

          • bean says:

            @mfm32

            Of course USN vessels are built to much higher standards than commercial vessels. On the other hand, the received wisdom is that other navies (perhaps excluding the royal Navy) build their vessels to normal commercial standards.

            This is a complicated issue. In some cases, “commercial standards” simply means that ships get built to a slightly different set of rules, which is presumably easier for the yard to work with (or at least sounds cheaper when you’re selling the ship to politicians). Even the USN and RN use this a fair bit on auxiliaries. In others, it means that yes, they’re cutting out a lot of redundancy and the ship is a deathtrap if anything bad happens. This is common in frigates that get sold to minor navies, which will have things like single emergency generators. Ships for bigger, more professional navies (probably anyone invited to something like RimPac, for instance) are usually designed to something approaching proper standards. (There are some differences of opinion, and the USN has somewhat more recent experience of damage than most, so our standards are probably a bit stricter.)

            Seems to work for them, I suppose unless you think small navies are basically just national vanity projects.

            Actually, yes. Most small navies are exactly that. Another common thing in the third world is not buying extra missiles. The new frigate has 8 Exocet tubes, so you buy 8 missiles, and hope they work if you need them.

            @Ketil

            I just want to say, Bean, I adore your attitude. And I hope that doesn’t come across as ironic, because I totally agree that cruise ships have the aesthetics of a shopping mall, and I really enjoy your NG posts and sharing all that knowledge about Real Ships.

            Thank you.

            I built a scale model of USS Missouri as a kid, and made sure to visit it when I had the opportunity.

            I suppose I would have picked her as the best when I was young and stupid, too. 🙂

            About disease: I think this is much more of a concern for cruise ships than for tenants. A disease outbreak on a cruise is going to ruin a lot of expensive holidays, may rob you of much needed and difficult to substitute manpower, and potentially lead to thousands of people leaving low ratings all over, as well as demanding their money back. But we already live densely in big cities, and we send our children to what we nominally refer to as day care, but which is nothing but incubators for all sorts of pathogens. A few sick days now and then is just part of life.

            I’m not so sure. Norovirus, the big threat on cruise ships, doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing you can write off with “a few sick days now and then”. That said, I can see extra risk factors for it on a cruise ship, mostly that you’ve got a bunch of people coming in from all over the world, and then going ashore in places where the hygiene standards are a bit lower than San Francisco. (Or maybe not, actually, if what I’ve heard about some of the stuff the homeless do is true.) Also, on a cruise everyone spends a bunch of time out in public, which probably wouldn’t be true on our hypothetical floating apartment complex. So I’m not sure how this one shakes out.

          • Plumber says:

            “…That said, I can see extra risk factors for it on a cruise ship, mostly that you’ve got a bunch of people coming in from all over the world, and then going ashore in places where the hygiene standards are a bit lower than San Francisco. (Or maybe not, actually, if what I’ve heard about some of the stuff the homeless do is true.)…:”

            @bean,

            I’ve been an employee of The City and County of San Francisco for over seven years and I’ve liked most of my life nearby in Oakland (where I was born), and to me San Francisco is a city with beautiful views that mostly smells like pee.

      • fion says:

        Sorry if this is a stupid question, but how would ending rent control make housing more affordable? My naive prediction would be the opposite.

        • Lambert says:

          It makes it unprofitable to make more housing that is going to be rent-controlled, so supply can never catch up with demand.
          At the same time, it incentivises non-controlled housing, driving up their costs.
          It makes it unprofitable to improve housing for rent (because you can’t raise the rents to account for that improvement).

          • fion says:

            Supply not being able to catch up with demand makes it hard to be quick enough to find a place before somebody else finds it, but it doesn’t have anything to do with affordability, as far as I can see.

            “it incentivises non-controlled housing”

            Sorry, I don’t quite follow you here. What does this mean? How do you get non-controlled housing?

            Improving housing for rent seems to me like a bit of a double-edged sword. If what we care about is affordability, then basic housing is fine. Perhaps we don’t want the basic housing to be replaced by posh housing that ordinary people can’t afford. (Is gentrification the word for what I’m describing and being critical of?) But specifically, what’s the affordability argument of your point about it not being profitable to improve housing?

          • The Nybbler says:

            If what we care about is affordability, then basic housing is fine.

            It’s never enough. In New York, various development deals required that developers set aside some apartments as “affordable”. So they’d set aside the apartments in lousier locations, put in basic finishes, not allow the “affordable” occupants to use amenities like the gym or rooftop champagne lounge, and had a separate entrance for them. What happened? Activists got up in arms about the “poor door”, and the city banned that practice. I believe they also banned the practice of restricting the “affordable” apartments from the common amenities; the developers responded by unbundling them.

          • Brad says:

            I agree that the affordable set asides are stupid in theory and execution. But by and large they aren’t random blackmail but instead quid pro quo for massively valuable tax breaks. They should get rid of the program and just use the extra tax revenue to build affordable housing in the few remaining inexpensive areas of the city.

            Of course with our current worst mayor in 30 years it would probably be wasted on union giveaways or boondoggle ferr

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          A lot of rent control ends up being a subsidy to relatively wealthy people, who then either (illegally) sublet their apartments and receive rents in the economic sense, or else who don’t move into upmarket apartments and make their previous apartments available to people who need the downmarket apartments.

          In essence, they act to restrict supply.

          Also, in a hypothetical world in which you were able to and wanted to develop housing, they provide a strong incentive for current residents to refuse to move out of an aging building so that it can be developed into more dense housing.

    • johan_larson says:

      I would go with allowing higher density construction in the areas the city is sprawling toward, and a dramatic expansion of the subway system, so commuting is more feasible. This might be achievable, since it lets the existing low-rise areas stay mostly as they are.

    • The Nybbler says:

      A 9.0 or above earthquake ought to do the job. A shift in weather patterns that makes the weather unpleasant. A change in tax or business law which makes it impractical for large companies to locate in the Bay Area. Those are demand side solutions

      Supply side would be to build the area from SF to San Jose up until prices stabilize or it looks like the Kowloon Walled City.

      • Matt M says:

        impractical for large companies to locate in the Bay Area

        Well I guess we can’t say that the local government isn’t trying!

    • entobat says:

      Current property owners will never be in favor of new developments, and can you blame them? If I took out a $1 million mortgage on a house I sure wouldn’t be happy to see the property lose half its value. Plus, they’re shielded from the typical fallout (absurd property taxes they can’t afford on their absurdly priced houses) by Prop 13.

      With that in mind, the obvious solution is a two-front initiative: a government decree that more housing be built packaged with a buyback program for any current property owners at the old prices. The government commits to selling the properties back to the private sector (presumably at a heavy loss) in the relatively near future.

      On the one hand, this feels a lot like unconditional surrender to the current dominant political interests that are responsible for the bad choices that got us to where we are now. On the other hand, unconditional surrender becomes a lot more palatable once you admit that you’ve lost.

      • Brad says:

        Upzoning increases property value, it doesn’t decrease it. You don’t want your neighbor down the street to get special dispensation to build an apartment building, but as long as it’s uniform it’s a positive price-wise.

        The idiotic property tax freeze does complicate matters by providing a huge additional cost to moving, but the basic direction of the effect remains.

        • entobat says:

          I meant this more in the sense of people who currently own plots of land with houses on them, rather than people with empty plots who want to build apartment buildings, but I appreciate that I communicated that poorly. You are of course correct that my empty plot of land becomes more valuable when upzoned (when my hypothetical apartments are competing with the hypothetical apartments down the street) than when not (when my hypothetical apartments can’t exist).

          • Brad says:

            In places SF the cost of the land dominates the total cost. So the value of your single family house on a plot of land almost certainly goes up when it gets upzoned–it’s worth more as a tear down to be replaced by an apartment building than it is as a single family home.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            That’s plausibly true in SF, but not the rest of the bay area.

          • Brad says:

            Really? What the total value of a six story elevator building in Mountain View, Palo Alto, or Cupertino in a prime location be? Construction costs are bad, but they aren’t *that* bad. Seems like a teardown would make plenty of sense.

          • actinide meta says:

            I agree with Brad. By “normal” real estate standards, pretty much everything in the Bay area should be torn down and replaced with much more expensive buildings even at current densities.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It seems to me that Brad and Actinide Meta are saying very different things.

            Brad, how many apartment buildings are you building? The value of an option depends on its scarcity. If you took a rich suburb in the northeast corridor and rezoned it for 6 stories, very few lots will exercise this option, so there is no scarcity, so the value would be worthless. The increase in supply of housing would drive down property values. Conceivably you could take Mountain View and turn it into a half-size Paris. The Bay Area could absorb that much housing. The current landowners would strike it rich. But this is a radical hypothetical. Zoning is not the limiting factor for MV turning into Paris.

            I was thinking of a more plausible hypothetical of doubling density. Roughly speaking, that would double the value of vacant lots. But that wouldn’t have much effect on the value of developed lot. Following entobat’s numbers, let’s say that a house is worth a million dollars, half the building and half the right to build the building. A vacant lot doubles in value, but tearing down the house and building two barely breaks even. An unexercised unprofitable option still has some value, but that is counterbalanced by the smaller lots and the reduced value of housing caused by the increased supply. Probably in the three towns you mention land is expensive enough that it is profitable, but probably not that much. So the value of the existing houses should go up, but probably only a little. However, Actinide Meta’s comment directly addresses this argument. He rejects its application to the Bay Area, although maybe he would accept it for the rich suburbs of the northeast corridor. If it is worth tearing down the house to build a nice house, it is worth tearing down the house to build two houses. If the value of the property is already based on the option, then giving it new options should increase the value just as much as for a vacant lot.

            AM, what do you mean by “should”? Why aren’t they being torn down? Of course Prop 13 reduces turnover, but you seem to be predicting that every every house that does turn over, at least in a rich town, is sold to a developer as a tear-down. What should we conclude from the falsification of your model? That zoning is not the limiting factor, not just for radical suggestions, but also for pretty ordinary development?

            But if zoning is not the limiting factor, I should have said that up front. Part of the problem is that most of the time people say “zoning” they don’t really mean density zones. They often mean the transaction cost of building.

          • Brad says:

            What is the limiting factor keeping MV from being a mini-Paris if not zoning? Are you saying developers wouldn’t be buying 1/4 acre plots with single family houses on them, tearing them down, and building six story apartment buildings on them if they were legally allowed to? (Also in Manhasset and Scarsdale for that matter?)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Most of the problem is that legality is opaque. Partly that is because the voters want the zoning council to do deniable things; partly that is because the voters irrationally hate developers making money, so they create arbitrary restrictions, which restricts the supply of developers who understand the system, making them even more profitable; and partly it is because there really are lots of externalities in development.

            If they announced that everything is zoned for 6 stories, I wouldn’t believe them. I wouldn’t believe that I could build such a building. And even if it were not corrupt and anyone really could build anywhere, I wouldn’t believe that people could build everywhere. I’d think that they were trying to turn 1% of the lots into apartment buildings and double the density of the town. The option to build would have no scarcity, so the developers at the front of the line would make lots of money, but the typical owner none (though the prime locations a fair amount). If they really wanted to build Paris, they would signal that by making plans for subways. And there would be external lawsuits, because the town doesn’t actually have the right to do this, regardless of the written laws.

          • Brad says:

            It sounds like you are saying zoning and close substitutes for zoning but not technically zoning. That’s an amendment I’m happy to accept.

            The underlying point remains that NIMBYism isn’t in general profit maximizing—it’s instead emotionally driven. If all the real property owners of MV wanted to make their ownership stakes as valuable as possible they’d be pushing to turn it into a mini Paris. Because they don’t we know that’s not the ultimate motivation.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            If the state of California says that the town shouldn’t dump traffic congestion on the neighboring towns, I’d call that zoning. I would not call an endangered species act lawsuit a close substitute for zoning, even if the judge tries to guess the desires of the voters with regards to development.

            I think that it is important to distinguish between small and large increases to density, rather than making sweeping statements about “upzoning.” People aren’t pursuing Paris for a lot of reasons, some rational and some irrational. It’s risky and they’re risk averse. The risk is that they build a few buildings and then freeze, in which case the existing homeowners do lose value. That could happen because of outside action, or because the voter base has changed. Owners of condos should be opposed to the creation of new livable space. Renters should favor more development, but in SF they don’t.

            Where as halving lot sizes seems to me like a free lunch, although it would not be a windfall, but doled out over decades. I think the failure to do this is a better argument that typical homeowner is doing a bad job of maximizing property value. But I wouldn’t jump from that to say that the homeowners is pursuing some other value. Opening their eyes to the opportunity may be a valuable tactic.

            [Correction: I should have been saying quarter-Paris, not half-Paris, based on land area. I could have said half-Manhattan, but that evokes skyscrapers, so I preferred Paris.]

    • LesHapablap says:

      Similar areas:
      -Restrict AirBNB for obvious reasons
      -Teleportation technology or similar (hyper tube, personal drones, self-driving cars at least on the highway)
      -Break the link between school quality and home address
      -Build another complete city somewhere else. Which makes for another question: if you had lots of money to build a city from scratch in the US, where would you build it? Are there any prime locations for cities that haven’t already developed cities?

      • Mark Atwood says:

        I’ve stayed in a BUNCH of AirBnBs in SF and in the SF Bay Area. Absolutely none of them took any regular housing off the market.

        Unless “converted back half of a garage”, “10×20 shed in the back yard” and “basement bedroom with it’s own entrance” count as regular housing stock there now.

        • Plumber says:

          “I’ve stayed in a BUNCH of AirBnBs in SF and in the SF Bay Area. Absolutely none of them took any regular housing off the market.

          Unless “converted back half of a garage”, “10×20 shed in the back yard” and “basement bedroom with it’s own entrance” count as regular housing stock there now”

          @Mark Atwood

          I well remember many monthly rentals advertised that fit those descriptions back in the 1980’s and ’90’s before there ever was AirBnB.

          I have no doubt that the existence of AirBnB is helping to bid up rents somewhat.

          • albatross11 says:

            Do people ever use AirBnB for long-term living arrangements, rather than short-term hotel-like stays?

        • Nornagest says:

          I know somebody who’s literally paying rent for a Hexayurt in somebody else’s back yard — a DIY shelter made from insulation board and tape, originally intended for use as refugee housing but in practice popular mostly among Burners.

          This is certainly illegal and off the books, but it’s happening.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I’d build this new city somewhere in the Rust Belt, on the carcass of one of the decayed cities or larger towns we already have.

        • albatross11 says:

          Rust belt cities tend to have existing pension liabilities and expensive underclass populations and a lot of old dirty industrial sites–all potentially expensive hassles. (Also a lot of broken local politics, but maybe that’s everywhere.)

      • LesHapablap says:

        Mark Atwood,

        Maybe not in SF. Where I live the “whole house” Airbnb listings constitute 14% of the total housing stock. It’s a big tourism town so not typical, but still, plenty of tourists in SF and other areas with housing crises.

      • Deiseach says:

        Break the link between school quality and home address

        If you can work out how to manage “excellent school in neglected neighbourhood where it’s all social housing, high unemployment and low literacy”, then you have a Magic Plan that every government in the world will want to purchase from you.

        • johan_larson says:

          There are places where schools that serve poor areas get extra funding because they have a tougher job on their hands. The Finns do it that way. In the US, because they fund public schools through local school districts, it tends to work the other way; schools serving poor areas get less funding. The results are what you might expect: schools in rich areas are awesome, while schools in poor areas are really terrible.

          • Beck says:

            Johan, I think you may be overestimating the funding differences between American local school districts. According to this, states already divert funding to poorer districts to some extent. You can see in Table 1 that poorer counties in Maryland have rates of per student spending as high as or higher than richer counties.
            Also, only three states are found to actually have regressive school funding.

          • John Schilling says:

            There are places where schools that serve poor areas get extra funding because they have a tougher job on their hands.

            No, they have an easier job. They just need to provide subsidized day care; the schools in rich areas have to provide day care and education.

            But, since people will insist on trying to make the poor urban schools provide an education, the problem with doing that in the United States is mostly the disruptive students that they aren’t allowed to get rid of. And that’s not a problem you can solve with more money, at least for plausible levels of more money.

          • Jaskologist says:

            When it comes to government schools, you can rest confident that the answer to “have they tried throwing more money at the problem?” is “yes.”

          • Deiseach says:

            johan_larson, you are correct and that is the larger point: you can pour resources into the school itself (including hiring top-class teachers) but when the kids walk out the door back to broken homes or crappy environments where there is no value put on education or trying to get out of the situation, then it all gets undone. Kids roaming around the streets at eleven o’clock at night instead of being at home doing their homework and studying is not going to mean that when they go into class the next day in the shiny new school they will have absorbed all that information and be able to make use of it.

            Unless you turn the schools into daycare centres, where the kids basically only go home to sleep at night and spend most of their time n schools from breakfast to going home at ten o’clock – which is not the purpose of schools and not what teachers are intended to do.

            John Schilling, subsidised day care is not that easy. Trying to keep an eye on two sisters who are high-risk of suicide when you’re not trained as a social worker or nurse or psychologist but ordinary teacher? If you think this is an “easier job” where you’re dealing with all kinds of behavioural problems and bad home environments and kids who are going to drop out and get involved in petty crime despite all your efforts, then I suggest you are mistaken.

            And yes, you do have to try and give them an education as well, because ranking and funding and inspections and the rest of it – you can’t get away with “yeah none of them can read but that doesn’t matter since all we have to do is turn up and keep them inside the building for eight hours, that’s so easy when you have violent acting out and if you so much as raise your voice that’s an accusation of assault”. (I worked a job in that kind of school, and it wasn’t even the worst of its kind; I’d hate to imagine a really bad school of that sort).

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the worst school systems in America (by test scores, graduation rate, college acceptance rate, etc.) typically spend very large amounts per pupil. I don’t think the issue is usually funding. I mean, more money is always nice, but that’s not the thing limiting success in the DC or Baltimore public school system. (Though one limit may be that those school systems are massively corrupt, so lots of dollars go into the system but few make it to repairing schools or paying teachers or buying books.)

        • ana53294 says:

          The problem isn’t opening some decent schools in poor inmigrant neighborhoods. The problem is, once they are good, avoiding gentrification.

          You can open really good, innovative schools in some poor neighborhoods. But because good teachers and schools are a finite resource, that means that people from richer (even if slightly) areas with worse schools will move in to your school district.

          The really difficult thing would be to make all schools equally good (and then which school district you are in would not make a difference). But knowing government talent for equalizing, they would probably just make all schools equally bad.

          • Garrett says:

            because good teachers … are a finite resource

            [citation needed]

            Put another way: are there any accepted, objective metrics to whether a teacher is “good” or not? Because I believe that figuring out a way to answer that question is a prerequisite to at least one possible solution.

          • ana53294 says:

            High IQ and EQ people who can choose a much more profitable and high-status career but instead go into a public school to earn a salary that is in the lowest brackets for college-educated professionals with few if any opportunities for advancement are rare, yes.

            They are less rare in Finland, because the pay is better, and the social status is better.

            EDIT: I am not sure there are metrics that can be used, but I can definitely tell you that there are great teachers who can make even the more problematic students study. Montessori or Anton Makarenko are such teachers, who worked with underprivileged students but still achieved great results.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I’ve thought more than once that if you could socially engineer a monoculture where teachers are revered, you could get uniformly good schools. It would raise monetary costs because revered teachers would willingly be handed at least average salaries for professionals with a bachelor’s, but the social engineering would be doing 90%+ of the work.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve thought more than once that if you could socially engineer a monoculture where teachers are revered, you could get uniformly good schools.

            Why would it be uniform though? Why wouldn’t the best teachers still go to the best schools?

            What sort of profession are you thinking of as a comparison? If I think of say, pro athletes, it isn’t the case that we have “uniformly” good athletes.

            Sure, the athletes who play in the NFL, NBA, and EPL are uniformly good. But for every one of those guys, there’s 500 amateurs out there who play in empty stadiums in minor leagues and will never make it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Le Maistre Chat:
            Arguably that already exists in certain countries.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It exists in the US, we just call them “Professor” instead.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jaskologist:
            Not really? Not anymore.

            For something like 40 years the people who actually teach in colleges and universities have been losing status. My father was a University Professor (Econ), and one who had a special, professional interest in educational methods and in studying better ways of educating. But even he viewed research as his “real” job.

            And we can look at how many colleges are using fairly low status adjuncts to teach the bulk of their courses and see that the job of professor isn’t actually seen that way.

            Plus, you have the issue that professors necessarily only serve a subset of the population.

          • Randy M says:

            Plus, you have the issue that professors necessarily only serve a subset of the population.

            But an ever widening subset. Which might have something to do with a diminishing status. Just a theory, I don’t know, but it seems possible that as university becomes less restricted, those who teach in it are valued less. Also, there are more of them, so the status goes down. Status is relative, after all.

          • Matt M says:

            I think Randy is spot on.

            The word “professor” once conjured up a mental image of a grey-haired expert in the ivory tower at Harvard who was the world’s foremost authority on the field he had devoted his life to studying.

            Today, we see fewer of those, and more middling younger types in state universities and community colleges.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M:

            Why would it be uniform though? Why wouldn’t the best teachers still go to the best schools?

            What sort of profession are you thinking of as a comparison? If I think of say, pro athletes, it isn’t the case that we have “uniformly” good athletes.

            Sure, the athletes who play in the NFL, NBA, and EPL are uniformly good. But for every one of those guys, there’s 500 amateurs out there who play in empty stadiums in minor leagues and will never make it.

            The best teachers might still go to the best schools, but the idea is to drag the relatively bad schools up to a high standard. HeelBearCub already posted a link to how Finland does this by forcing people who want to teach 6-year-olds to go through a “five-year Master’s program” (does this mean you need nine years of post-secondary education, or is this a language barrier thing?!) with 13 dropping out for every one who makes it.
            The more common way of handling the problem has been not forcing teachers to teach 100% of the population. Parents who are Jewish or from the Confuciusphere are famous for forcing their children to respect their teachers and get As. In early modern Britain and her colonies, all boys and girls had to go to petty school, then teaching grammar school to male pupils 7 and up was a higher status profession because it was Latin immersion and any boy not smart enough to hack the curriculum could drop out and be a farmer.

          • ana53294 says:

            The Masters they are referring to includes the Bachelor’s. In some European countries, you enrol for the 5 year Master program, and can drop out at year three or 4 with a Bachelor.

            Kind of how you can drop out of an American PhD with a masters in some cases (American PhD programmes are way too long).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @ana53294: Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. A 5-year degree selective enough that only 7% of applicants make it through sounds like an efficient deal for society.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think most of the big differences in US schools are in quality of students[1], not quality of teachers or quality of school equipment/supplies/buildings. So making all schools equal quality requires equalizing the quality of students everywhere.

            In an expensive neighborhood full of educated professionals, the parents overwhelmingly care about education and grades, and provide stable home environments. And since intelligence is largely heritable, the kids are mostly reasonably bright. So those schools turn out to be pretty good–lots of smart kids, parents who lean hard on their kids to keep their grades up and do their homework, parents who deal with their kids falling behind or exhibiting other problems by taking them to tutors or therapists, as needed.

            To the extent school quality is about quality of students/families, it’s completely a zero-sum game–to make your kid’s school better, you must make my kid’s school worse. This is guaranteed to get lots of resistance from parents who aren’t really interested in having their kids’ education screwed up for the sake of someone’s social-engineering plan.

            To the extent there’s other stuff we can do for school quality, we can equalize schools–we can equalize funding, for example, or credentials of teachers. (But probably not teacher quality, because most teachers would massively rather teach in a nice school with well-behaved, smart kids than a school with gang problems and lots of kids in the tenth grade who struggle with reading an entire book.)

            [1] Which comes down to some mix of how smart the students are, what kind of work ethic they have, and how much their parents can provide a stable home environment and lean on them to keep their grades up.

          • Matt M says:

            I think most of the big differences in US schools are in quality of students[1], not quality of teachers or quality of school equipment/supplies/buildings.

            Indeed. And bad students correlates with bad teachers to the extent that “teaching job where students are bad” will be the most undesirable, and will therefore attract the lowest quality of teachers.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The idea is to change the culture into a monoculture where parents force children to honor their teachers. To be more blunt about it, turn black children Japanese, turn them Japanese.

          • Matt M says:

            I wonder to what extent that’s really true in Japan.

            Is there truly no variation in student behavior that coincides with regional differences, or average income level, or anything like that?

            In other words, would teachers be neutral between a job at a school in an elite neighborhood in Tokyo and one in some rural village? Does Japan have anything that’s roughly equivalent to ghettos?

          • LesHapablap says:

            Le Maistre Chat,

            Requiring master’s degrees for teachers such that only 1/13 get through the program sounds like a way to make school problems worse, not better

            As an aside I visited a Japanese elementary school a couple years ago, in a fairly wealthy area 40 minutes north of Tokyo, and the place was incredibly run down by US standards. Milky old windows and cinderblock walls, all the exposed metal on the playground and fences rusted out. It looked vaguely post-apocalyptic.

            Culturally there are plenty of slacker Japanese teenagers, but almost no disruptive kids compared to the states.

          • Education Hero says:

            @Garrett

            Put another way: are there any accepted, objective metrics to whether a teacher is “good” or not? Because I believe that figuring out a way to answer that question is a prerequisite to at least one possible solution.

            A good starting point can be found here on SSC.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “For something like 40 years the people who actually teach in colleges and universities have been losing status.”

            I’m wondering what happened approximately 40 years ago.

            I read a thing (sorry, no author, no title, probably at least 30 years old) by an anthropologist who said that contact with students made professors unclean. I thought it was pretty funny, but I’m not an academic. If I turn on my empathy, it’s actually tragic.

          • Lambert says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz
            Students went from being the top decile of the population to the top half.
            Thus the average student became less intelligent.

            More students need more professors, so the same thing happened to academics.
            This lead to a loss of status.

            Hypothesis: top institutes can still select the best of the best. Thus the status of the average prof has fallen more than that of those at Harvard, Oxbridge etc.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “I think most of the big differences in US schools are in quality of students[1], not quality of teachers or quality of school equipment/supplies/buildings. So making all schools equal quality requires equalizing the quality of students everywhere.”

            For what it’s worth, I keep hearing about schools where the buildings are badly deteriorated, the books are extremely out of date, and the teachers are using their rather skimpy salaries to get minimal supplies for their students.

            The stories might simply be false, though I don’t think so.

            What I don’t have information about is what proportion of schools are very under-financed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I believe that the vast majority of schools in the US are funded through the use of property taxes where that money is primarily local. Now, I know that some states are different on this, but I think is mostly true. That means that “poor (in dollars) students” and “poor (in dollars) schools” go hand-in-hand.

          • The Nybbler says:

            For what it’s worth, I keep hearing about schools where the buildings are badly deteriorated, the books are extremely out of date, and the teachers are using their rather skimpy salaries to get minimal supplies for their students

            These stories might be true or might not. But if they are, at least in most US states, it isn’t because the poor schools aren’t funded to the levels of the wealthy ones; it’s because the funds are spent on other things.

            (And the salaries aren’t that skimpy, particularly considering the job isn’t a 12-month one.)

          • Randy M says:

            I believe that the vast majority of schools in the US are funded through the use of property taxes where that money is primarily local. Now, I know that some states are different on this, but I think is mostly true. That means that “poor (in dollars) students” and “poor (in dollars) schools” go hand-in-hand.

            It’s true that this correlation exists; it’s also true that it has been tested by vastly increasing the funding of certain poor schools without finding significant improvement.

          • Lambert says:

            There’s a difference between an RCT and suddenly throwing money at underperforming schools.
            I’m guessing the schools with extra funding tend to be ones that are already abnormally bad, possibly for reasons that are pretty intractable.
            It’s entirely possible that there are a load of mediocre schools that could be excellent with more funding.

          • Beck says:

            @ HBC

            That means that “poor (in dollars) students” and “poor (in dollars) schools” go hand-in-hand.

            I think the condition you’re describing is less common than you think. Local funding is regressive as you’ve described, but state and federal funding are progressive and offset that. State funding is roughly equal to local according to this.

          • Plumber says:

            “The idea is to change the culture into a monoculture where parents force children to honor their teachers. To be more blunt about it, turn black children Japanese, turn them Japanese.”

            @Le Maistre,

            Yeah I had the “New Clear Days” album as well.

            Anyway, anecdote isn’t evidence, but…. 

            …1982/1983 despIte my begging to go to Maybeck (a private high school) for 9th grade I attended the Berkeley High School West Campus. 

            The legend passed around in elementary and junior high school was that West Campus was a war zone filled with violence, what I found instead was toilets with no paper or doors, mostly broken water fountains, and everything clearly sized for elementary school kids and too small for high school students (it was closed the next year), but far less violence than elementary and junior high school (no games of “smear the queer” or weekly fist-fights), and unlike “main campus” in subsequent years I was never punched into unconsciousness and then told “That’s what you get for walking alone” by the teacher when I afterwards came to class bleeding.

            For English I was first assigned to the “Intermediate” track rather than the “Advanced” track (the majority of students were “Advanced”), and IIRC I was the only white boy in class, and I don’t remember any white girls, and most of my classmates every day in that class were black girls, and the teacher was a black man.

            No reading was assigned, just the occasional essay (which a couple of the girls in class would ask my advice about, so in that sense they were “disruptive”), and mostly I did homework that was assigned in my other classes or read the Larry Niven novel “A Gift From Earth” which I found on one of the mostly empty seats one day.

            The only time that I really felt uncomfortable was when the teacher would play speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and ask us to write are reactions, and I worried that I wasn’t writing a “proper” reaction (no I don’t remember much about it beyond my worry at that time).

            When my mother found that I had been assigned the non “Advanced” track she had a fit and insisted that I be moved in the middle of the semester to the “Advanced” English track, which actually had assigned reading (“Julius Caesar and “Great Expectations”), and mostly white students. 

            Every seat was taken, and I had to sit on the floor whenever a classmate wasn’t out sick, and after being yelled at enough times to “Get out of my seat”, I learned to wait for every other student to take their seats first, and wait to see if I had alternate sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall, or if I’d get a desk and chair that day.

            Both my teacher and my classmates were clear that my presence was not welcome in the “Advanced” class and despite loving to read I hated that class, and I grew to hate my fellow whites students and one day I vomited in class.

            I’d have rather have gotten the books to read from the mostly white class and had stayed with the welcoming black students (the girls), and the indifferent black students (the boys), and had a chair and desk, rather than have endured the cruelty of the “Advanced” track, and the disruptions there.

            In my sophomore year at high school I took an elective class and found that I was the only student in that class from “the flats” and not the Berkeley hills, and some of my classmates quizzed me about the location of some damn ski shop in Berkeley (which I had no clue of) and loudly proclaimed that “Your not really from Berkeley” despite my living with my mother in Berkeley since I was four years old (I still find I have to fight myself not to show my bitterness towards “UMC” people and their children to this day).

            I tested out early in the hopes that I could go to community college instead, but that’s another tale.

            I really don’t know if the fists of some of my classmates who also came from “the flats” or the disdain towards me I felt from some of the “hills kids” was more disruptive of my “education”.

            I learned more with a library card, sneaking into the University libraries and reading there, and from the math my union apprenticeship taught me than from Berkeley High School.

            A big part of me wants all my fellows who grew up in the flats to get to skip the indignity of high school and just go into trade apprenticeships.

            And the kids from the hills?

            Close the University, send the books to public libraries, have the professors teach junior high school students,  and have the hills kids pick tomatoes in the fields between Gilroy and Hollister. 

            No new Lawyers, Physicians, and Marketing?

            Have nurses be the doctors and have paralegals be the lawyers. 

            Or let me and my fellow flatlanders spend time in the palaces you call Universities.

            If you tell me “Compared to Stanford U.C. has more students from lower and ‘middle’ class backgrounds”, fine the Stanford students go to the Gilroy fields first (good lord I think I just turned myself into an American Pol Pot. I wear glasses and live in a city, the Khmer Rouge would kill me!).

            Oh well.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If you can work out how to manage “excellent school in neglected neighbourhood where it’s all social housing, high unemployment and low literacy”, then you have a Magic Plan that every government in the world will want to purchase from you.

          Allow me to introduce you to the Bronx High School of Science.

          OK, they cheated. They do it by not drawing students from the neighborhood, but rather from high scorers on a test called the SHSAT, administered New York City-wide. Though the mayor is trying to screw this up.

          • Deiseach says:

            They do it by not drawing students from the neighborhood, but rather from high scorers on a test

            Which then means that “good school” has not been decoupled from “home address”; the kids who get to go to the good school are specially selected, so it makes no difference if its in the tough part of town or the good part. Meanwhile, the kids who didn’t score as high on that test and come from the same neighbourhood are stuck with the crappy local school (or middling local school, let’s be fair: the cream of the crop schools are limited by the very fact that you can only have a few ‘best of the best’ by definition).

          • JulieK says:

            You can decouple school quality from home address. What you can’t do is decouple school quality from average quality of the families sending kids to the school.

          • JulieK says:

            @Deiseach:
            It helps to the extent that if you are a middle-class family in Manhattan and your child qualifies for such a school, you can avoid having to leave the city to move to a suburb with good schools.

          • Deiseach says:

            if you are a middle-class family in Manhattan

            Which is not much help to the “bright working-class kids disadvantaged by living in neighbourhoods with crappy schools” which the “decouple good school from home address” is trying to solve; if the middle-class kids are taking places in the school located in Tough Street, then there are fewer places for the Tough Street smart kids and the possibility is that they will be displaced altogether by those middle class kids whose parents don’t or can’t move to the suburbs so now you have a centre of excellence school in bad part of town that’s filled with the kids of middle class parents not living in Tough Street and the Tough Street kids are stuck with the old crappy local school.

            It’s the problem of “this school has a really great reputation, so every parent wants and is trying to get their kid into it”, and it would be great if you could make it that “every school in every area is equally fantastic” but that is not going to realistically happen if, as I originally started out to say, the kids are poor, have no support at home, are hungry tired and badly dressed coming to school, and there’s not even a pencil in the house if they need to write their homework.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Dieseach,

            It won’t help the poor kids, but that isn’t the goal here. The goal is to lower the cost of housing by removing the incentive for rich families to move to specific neighborhoods for schools. Lots of private schools around accomplishes that, especially if they are in cheaper areas.

            That also benefits lower-middle class parents, since they can decide to live in a cheap area and invest the savings in private education. The cost for private school should be a good filter for caring about education, so poor students shouldn’t lower the quality of the school too much.

        • Brad says:

          then you have a Magic Plan that every government in the world will want to purchase from you.

          It’s called busing and it’s been around since the ‘50s.

          • albatross11 says:

            Fortunately, there’s never any outcry or resistance to bussing, so we’re good.

          • Brad says:

            Racists gonna racist. Can’t let that get in the way of sound policy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Because calling the opponents to one’s preferred policies ‘racists’ is such a killshot, here.

          • Brad says:

            Because calling the opponents to one’s preferred policies ‘racists’ is such a killshot, here.

            I’m obviously not posting here because I’m desperate to collect virtual high fives. If you want to spend your time figuring out and posting “killshot[s], here”–I cede the field entirely to your hands.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, when you want to take the nice, functional school my kids go to and ship in a bunch of underclass kids who will reliably make it work less well, and maybe ship my kids to some crappy nonfunctional school where they’ll get beat up all the time, my opposition to that plan is obviously racism. What else could it even be, really?

          • quanta413 says:

            Would you like to give some evidence that busing improves student academics Brad? As far as I can tell, once you remove irritating the racists as a positive good, it’s not going to do much either way. Serious funding problem are now rare, and differences in teacher quality seem to barely matter whenever a large, controlled study is run. Really crappy schools are rare too, so I hardly expect it to have much effect on somehow educating anyone much worse either.

            At least for elementary and high school (middle school may be a bit different; children seem the most cruel and psychotic then), I think the fight to get into good schools is really overrated in most of the U.S. because deeply dysfunctional schools are actually pretty rare. I went to a majority-minority public high school and had an approximately comparable education to kids who went to rich private schools in LA. A little worse, but hardly a devastating long term difference. On the other hand, the overall student body at my school was pretty far behind the rich school. Our dropout rate was something like 20-30% after all.

            Of course, my school engaged in pretty standard honors/AP (read: tracking) and had discipline mostly under control. It definitely wouldn’t have been a comparable education to the elite private schools if it didn’t have reasonably well taught honors and AP classes or if discipline had been nonexistent.

          • Aapje says:

            @Brad

            Did you read the story about busing I posted recently? It debunks your claim that all resistance was racist, for example by noting that:

            With Jim Crow, black America lived under an onerous, top-down system that told them where their children could and could not go to school. Now, with busing, black America lived under … an onerous, top-down system that told them where their children could and could not go to school. A 1972 Gallup poll showed that 77 percent of whites were against busing. The same poll showed 47 percent of blacks were against it as well.
            […]
            Resentment festered on both sides of the racial divide. In the end, once all the blacks and whites with the means to bail on busing did bail on busing, all you were left with was an ever-diminishing pool of lower income black kids and white kids being shuffled around the map in order for America to pretend it was solving a problem.

            Furthermore, white people felt so strongly about not sending their kids to black schools* that they fled to suburban enclaves and private schools, increasing segregation rather than reducing it (note that it is hardly only conservative people who do/did this, progressives do it as well or perhaps even more so**).

            How does your claim that busing is sound policy account for it strongly incentivizing segregation and thus not achieving it’s goal?

            * If the black schools tended to have issues with violence and poor achievement, is it racist to not want to take part in that? Do you think that these parents would be content to send their children to a ‘white trash’ school? My impression is that white parents also try fairly hard to get their children into the better white schools rather than the worse white schools.

            ** Given that progressives more often live in cities where violent and bad black schools are more of an issue.

          • Deiseach says:

            Racists gonna racist. Can’t let that get in the way of sound policy.

            And for countries that don’t have a substantial non-white minority population, this works – how?

            Classists gonna classist, as well. Sending bright poor kids to better middle-class schools does happen, but is stringently monitored. Try bringing a busload of the local comprehensive to the nice school and you will have the parents crying blue murder, no matter if the kids are all white or not.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11

            What else could it even be, really?

            It’s funny–everyone recognizes that most four year olds have serious sociopathy problems and need to be socialized into being members of a community instead of out only for themselves. But no one seems to look at parents and what happens to even heretofore quite decent people when they have kids.

            Luckily it tends to get attenuated as the kids age.

            @quanta413

            Would you like to give some evidence that busing improves student academics Brad?

            It seems you’ve handed me an impossible challenge. The rest of the comment implies that you accept that the busing of the desegregation error worked, but that you don’t think it would anymore. But since it isn’t happening anymore it’d be impossible to show that it would still work.

            @Deiseach

            Classists gonna classist, as well.

            They can also go screw themselves. Public schools are for the benefit of the public not a gift of what might as well be private school tuition to enormously entitled upper middle class parents.

            @Aapje

            Did you read the story about busing I posted recently?

            No, of course not.

          • Aapje says:

            “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
            – Atwood H. Townsend

          • Brad says:

            I read plenty, but I exercise care about whose recommendations I accept as to what to read.

          • Matt M says:

            They can also go screw themselves. Public schools are for the benefit of the public not a gift of what might as well be private school tuition to enormously entitled upper middle class parents.

            “Enormously entitled upper middle class parents” are also part of “the public” and might very well resent being told that observable and obvious harm must be done against their children in the name of making things better for the collective, particularly when the evidence that this policy actually does make things better than the collective is shaky at best…

          • Brad says:

            They are free to forgo welfare if they don’t like how it is delivered.

          • Matt M says:

            They are free to forgo welfare if they don’t like how it is delivered.

            They’re also free to vote for Trump. Or someone worse.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            They can also go screw themselves. Public schools are for the benefit of the public not a gift of what might as well be private school tuition to enormously entitled upper middle class parents.

            Most UMC parents are in agreement with this and pay quite a lot of tax money to support various state-equalization payments. Busing is a big step beyond that, however, and a lot of UMC parents are going to flee any school district that’s trying to create equality of outcome between schools.

            We’d probably just axe funding for public schools down to nothing and send all the kids to private schools instead.

          • John Schilling says:

            If they forgo “welfare”, by sending their kids to private school, they’ll also stop paying for welfare. They won’t pay a premium to buy houses in districts with good schools, and if they happen to live in expensive districts they’ll vote for low property taxes because those mostly pay for schools they aren’t using.

            The good public schools that they pay for and that you want to put poor kids into, will become poor public schools just like the ones poor kids go to now. And the good private schools that replace them, won’t accept poor kids.

            The only way for you to get your desired outcome, is if the rich don’t forgo “welfare”, or if they can’t.

          • Brad says:

            They won’t pay a premium to buy houses in districts with good schools, and if they happen to live in expensive districts they’ll vote for low property taxes because those mostly pay for schools they aren’t using.

            Mission accomplished?

            The original post was about bringing down insane housing prices and the immediate post after that suggested one way would be: “Break the link between school quality and home address”.

          • Brad says:

            They’re also free to vote for Trump. Or someone worse.

            When you claim Trump is a direct result of every last one of hundreds of things you are resentful about, without any evidence natch, the argument rather loses its force.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            It seems you’ve handed me an impossible challenge. The rest of the comment implies that you accept that the busing of the desegregation error worked, but that you don’t think it would anymore. But since it isn’t happening anymore it’d be impossible to show that it would still work.

            Hardly. There are many parts of desegregation. Desegregation as in black and white people in the same geographic area get assigned to the same school is a good idea and very important. Desegregation as in shipping black people and white people further from home in order to force them to mingle as children I think isn’t really that important in most places either way. I think that all the things that the Civil Rights Act achieved probably mattered a lot more than busing. Once schools were equalized, busing ceased to matter much. Busing may have been useful to put pressure to equalize schools. But there isn’t a whole lot of danger of school funding per pupil being that deeply unequal again.

            All the graphs I’ve seen of student funding vs performance are best described as flat. And I don’t see any convincing evidence that putting people of different shades next to each other is super effective in an of itself; people tend to self-segregate in various ways even at the college level. I don’t think the effect is 0, but I think the effect on academics is 0.

            But hey, maybe a more detailed analysis breaking things down by graphing each socioeconomic and ethnic subgroup of students performance vs funding isn’t flat or something. Or maybe there’s good evidence that white kids who go to majority minority public schools in a city instead of Sidwell Friends or Phillips Exeter are less racist. I doubt the second statement is true, but the first could be although it would imply something interesting about how funding is distributed.

            I really am open to a lot of evidence here, because I currently don’t think that busing would be harmful either. Just inconvenient and kind of tedious for the poor kids getting shipped around spending an extra hour or two each day traveling in the extreme case.

            Hell, my preferred solution would be to let parents choose to send their kids to pretty much whatever public school (or private) and fund and mandate transportation where needed. Possible exception for a few schools with test based admissions. Say 5-10% of the total student population maximum. No exceptions for any sort of subjective admissions. Each test must be released after the year it’s used, and subject matter must be consistent year to year. The whole deal needs to be 100% transparent if there’s going to be any breaking of the possibility of sending your kid to any school. It might be best not to allow it at all and just stick to tracking within schools. There would probably need to be a lottery to ration spots, and it might be a good idea to gradually grow any schools that constantly have many more lottery entrants per seat. If anyone wants to send their kids to the rich white school, that’s fine with me. I don’t care if it displaces some rich white kid who lost the school lottery. But I don’t see the point in mandating who goes to what school.

            I don’t actually expect my policy preference to have a significant effect on most metrics even if it was used. But I do expect that some poor people would appreciate having more control over where their kids went to school. It provides a bit of a safety valve if a local school really sucks. Some richer people might appreciate choice too. Of course, the obsessive people who need to send their kids to all the “best” things would hate that they can no longer control things by buying a house but can’t let them get in the way of sound policy.

          • BBA says:

            I’m mostly on Brad’s side. If we want to equalize school quality, not only do we need busing, we need it at the metropolitan area level, and to ban private schools so parents can’t just self-segregate.

            But the difficulty involved in doing this and the natural pushback there’d be against daily 90-minute bus rides, as well as the religious freedom aspects, mean that this is never going to happen anywhere on earth, even setting aside how thoroughly racist the general population is.

          • quanta413 says:

            Poorer districts don’t have less funding because state and federal funding cancels out the differences in local funding. See https://randomcriticalanalysis.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/no-us-school-funding-is-actually-somewhat-progressive/

            At the very least, look at the top graph from the Brookings Institute (a center-left think tank) showing that poor districts typically have slightly higher per pupil funding.

            There is no evidence that busing is going to even out “school quality” anymore. Spending is equal already. Teacher quality is equal. We’re just not in the same situation as when black people were forced to use worse everything. Terrible schools exist, but are pretty rare and likely the fault of the local government screwing up. Better to just lottery off school slots (or better, use a matching algorithm) so we can see which schools parents try to flee en masse, and then slowly wind those down while growing better schools. Also maybe some more serious thought to taking the kids with severe behavioral problems and handing them off to psychiatrists or reform schools or drill instructors or something so they don’t interfere with their classmate’s education.

            Honestly, the best case scenario I can summon up is that somehow the cost of busing in time and money is not enough to consume whatever savings somehow exist at the “not-poor” schools compared to “poor” schools so we somehow save a little money on net through mechanisms I don’t understand. The worst case scenario is that it’s just really inconvenient, and a lot of time and money are consumed for nothing and metrics get very slightly worse. I’m seeing significant but not horrible downside, but no real upside.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            time for the wokest take of this entire thread

            just kidding, in truth I feel that school quality doesn’t matter much (this blog was mostly what convinced me of this!!!) but on the other hand I have trouble understanding how any adult can be illiterate. Then again, in an age of texting and social media, this will probably start happening even in the worst schools, though some of that will just be emoji-literacy as well

            frankly I think there needs to be some wholesale reform of failing schools but I’m not confident that this won’t have problems of its own. Honestly though, busing seems like one of the worst solutions to the actual problem, not least because…look, if you want more money, you want more money and busing is orthogonal. If you want color integration…uh, not sure if it was posted to SSC or not, but there was a 3-part piece in Slate basically explaining that integration had failed. For my part, I went to a very multiracial and multicultural school…in classes the races mixed just fine and I made friends from all groups. At lunchtime and such though it was pretty homogenous. Partly that can be explained by different languages but not fully. Anyways, busing isn’t going to magically cause integration, but the truth is it probably exists anyways regardless of busing. In reality this is probably just an attempt to get good peer effects, but that’s…well, vaguely racist, but also a tacit admission that your kid is going to be around peers worse than him (or they wouldn’t need him) and so you shouldn’t put him there.

            also to brad: don’t you think the racists who are gonna racist are going to become much more likely to support Trump as part of that backlash? or did I just drain this slogan of its power once again like a wastrel? Sad!

          • Education Hero says:

            @Brad

            Mission accomplished?

            The original post was about bringing down insane housing prices and the immediate post after that suggested one way would be: “Break the link between school quality and home address”.

            Are you actually taking the position here that busing is a good way to bring down insane housing prices because it would devastate the public school system?

            And if this is just merely snark produced by this topic testing your patience (which seems more likely), would you care to clarify your underlying position?

          • albatross11 says:

            BBA:

            So, just to clarify, your policy is to force-feed parents and kids a free service that’s so awful, parents would willingly pay lots of their own money to avoid it? While wrecking a bunch of actually working, successful public schools and private schools that educate lots of kids to the point that they’re ready for college or the military or a trade?

            I can certainly see why you don’t think this would be politically feasible.

          • quanta413 says:

            Not a serious comment, but peer effects remind me of this comic.

          • johan_larson says:

            I don’t accept the notion that if a school system is broadly uniform in quality, that quality is necessarily low. It can’t be of the very highest quality, sure, because dramatic excellence is hard and relies on a confluence of factors that only rarely combine. But fairly high quality, quality high enough that those who want more generally focus on augmenting rather than substituting, seems amply feasible.

            We are certainly able to create metro-wide systems for water and electrical power good enough that basically no one opts out. Some finicky people add water filters or uninterruptible power supplies, but those are still plugged into the common services, augmenting rather than substituting. Any particular reason education has to be different?

            And if you created a system of broadly equal and fairly high quality, there wouldn’t be any reason to select where you live based on the quality of education available.

          • quanta413 says:

            Most people don’t opt out though right? Or at least not all the time. I think American schools actually perform reasonably overall. Maybe a little bit overpriced on average though.

          • johan_larson says:

            Most people don’t opt out though right?

            I think the answer depends a lot on how you think of a family that is unhappy with the education offered by, say, the LA Unified School District and relocates to one of the more distant suburbs that isn’t part of it. They are still sending their kids to public schools. Have they “opted out”?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            They are still sending their kids to public schools. Have they “opted out”?

            Yes, they are opting out of the LA school system and opting into the Glendale system. They are re-organizing their entire lives to escape the LA school system.

            My thought: the (assumed) reason why home prices are so insanely high in “good areas” is because UMC parents are shilling out a lot of money to get into really, really, really good school districts. Not good school districts. REALLY good school districts. They might complain about the price, but the revealed preference is that they would rather spend an insane amount of money and go to premium districts than save money and go to mediocre districts.

            Your proposal to equalize school district funding doesn’t really help these people.

          • Brad says:

            @quanta413
            Assuming that transportation is covered I’d be relatively content with your universal lottery program (pending some quibbles about private schools, particularly parochial). But it would have to be across jurisdictions in order to break the link between housing and schools, which is the entire point of this exercise. The northern version of white only schools was the nano-catchment area. That’s what need to be eliminated. In NYC they are under a 1/4 a mile in many cases. In cases like that the “neighborhood school” arguments don’t even pass the straight face test.

            @Education Hero

            Are you actually taking the position here that busing is a good way to bring down insane housing prices because it would devastate the public school system?

            And if this is just merely snark produced by this topic testing your patience (which seems more likely), would you care to clarify your underlying position?

            I don’t think it will “devastate” the public school system, but it would eliminate the private-school-in-all-but-name that exists in wealthy enclaves around the country, but especially in places like SV, the North Shore of Chicago, and the Gold Coast of Long Island — A Definite Beta Guy’s “REALLY good school districts.”

            There are two sides to that coin. I think the impact on real estate prices of such schools disappearing would wholly and unambiguously good. On the educational side there is something that would be lost, but I think those kids with those parents are going to be fine regardless.

            And to counter an argument–if they send their kids to private school instead, so what? We still get the real estate benefits and we save some state and federal money in not having to pay for their private-school-in-all-but-name since they’d now have to pay for actual private school.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t accept the notion that if a school system is broadly uniform in quality, that quality is necessarily low.

            If the presence of two disruptive students largely destroys the educational value of a classroom, and your society averages four disruptive students per class’s worth of school-age children, then a broadly uniform distribution will result in pretty much all your schools offering low-quality education. If you isolate the disruptive students, you get some schools that are of low quality and some that aren’t.

            If you isolate just the disruptive students, in “reform” schools that don’t reform and are of low educational quality (or if you just expel them altogether), then your other schools can be uniformly good, but we’re not allowed to do that in the United States any more because racism.

            There are a few teachers with an extraordinary knack for dealing with disruptive students, but we don’t know how to bottle that and give a dose to everyone. Given our track record in formally teaching social skills in every other context, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

            We have observed that disruptive students are not uniformly distributed in the population, and that a school which caters to e.g. middle-class Asians, UMC whites, and/or parents who make an extraordinary effort to get their students into good schools, can reasonably expect <2 disruptive students per class.

            So, what's your plan?

          • engleberg says:

            If the presence of two disruptive students destroys the educational value of the classroom, and you have parents invested in the educational value of that classroom, you can shake down the parents for more money by threatening to send in a couple of disruptive students. Busing wasn’t entirely a shakedown, but it wasn’t done by ethereal god-bureaucrats who always meant well either.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t see the problem with local communities deciding to fund their schools to private school levels. The state guarantees $X/pupil of funding. Local communities can choose to spend more on top of that. Some local communities might choose to spend more than other communities.

            What’s the issue? I see no reason why any objection to this cannot be extended to road quality, police quality, firefighter quality, healthcare quality, or the quality of any other government service. I don’t see why it would stop at local funding objections either: certainly New York should not be allowed to spend its money on roads when Alabama roads are in such a poor state?

            Letting local communities spend more on services they value (including education) seems to be the sort of reason we have home rule in the first place.

          • Brad says:

            ADBG

            I’m unsure at what level your objection is being made. I don’t recognize a principle of the importance of hyperlocal independence that would convince me to forgo what I otherwise thought was good policy in order to honor. Are you suggesting I should?

          • John Schilling says:

            you can shake down the parents for more money by threatening to send in a couple of disruptive students.

            That won’t work for long unless, when the parents pay up, you actually don’t put disruptive students in their childrens’ classrooms. And don’t otherwise destroy the educational value of their schools.

            Now you’ve got a literal two-class system. One set of classrooms with the students of the parents you’ve shaken down for money, which are necessarily free of disruptive students and otherwise provide high educational value, or the parents will stop giving you money. And another set of classes wherein you put the disruptive students, which are necessarily bad and provide minimal education even if you do lavishly fund them.

            The problem of not enough money and the problem of too many disruptive students, are two different problems. They are not fungible. Fixing one, even to the level of gross overkill, does nothing about the other. And I think it is fairly clear that the problems with underperforming schools in the contemporary USA, are almost entirely on the disruptive-student axis.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            I agree. Transport must be paid for up to some largish limit. So no flying kids from LA to San Diego, but we’ll pay to bus kids 50-100 miles in the countryside and maybe half that in a city with high traffic. A 1/4 mile nano-catchment is not only bad but also ridiculous. Carving up cities into little tiny wards is insane. I don’t think it’s much of a problem outside of a few cities though.

            I think that lotteries should have a scale of something like reachable by bus or train in 1-2 hours if there was any decision to assign a scale at all. It’s not clear to me that assigning a scale is needed though. Almost everyone (99.9%) is going to pick a school much closer than that. If someone wants to put their kids at grandmas during the school week to reach a school 200 miles away seems fine to me.

          • BBA says:

            I suggested banning private schools would be necessary because the only way anything will get fixed is if the doctors’ children in Scarsdale have to suffer as much as everyone else. And I say that as a child of doctors from Scarsdale.

            If we’re only talking about real estate prices in isolation and don’t care about further educational stratification, then I guess just busing can do it.

          • quanta413 says:

            @BBA

            But what part of educational stratification is bad?

            Having AP/honors, regular, and special education classes in one school is a good thing. Different children learn at different speeds but we can’t teach every single child separately. Private schools really aren’t much better than an average public school’s honors and AP track as far as education goes. At least in a lot of California. And California is one of the more poorly performing states on educational assessments. My high school was more Mexican than white, and it was pretty ok for most of the people there- Mexican or white. Really.

            Maybe NYC is some sort of dystopian racially segregated hellhole where the rich wall themselves off from a vast decaying underclass? Because I don’t understand where half the people in this thread are coming from. Like, I’ve never been in NYC longer than a week, and it’s one of my least favorite places but obviously that has nothing to do with the schools.

          • johan_larson says:

            So, what’s your plan?

            Design a disciplinary system that will survive racial-disparity challenge in court. As I understand it, these legal doctrines don’t make racial disparities kill-shots, they make them uphill battles; the defendant has to be able to prove what they are doing is for good reason and ideally that there is no realistic alternative. Prisons, for example, are disproportionately black, but they’re not getting shut down for it.

            To that end, first shrink the problem by pushing the worst misbehavior to the justice system. Skipping class or yelling at a teacher are the business of school disciplinary work; hitting a teacher or bringing a weapon to school is the business of the justice system.

            Second, take a strict by-the-book no-excuses approach with everyone. We want to be able to point to plenty of middle-class white kids that tried to push the envelope and got the book thrown at them, which bolsters the case that we’re not just beating on poor black kids.

            Third, have a graduated approach to discipline, from detentions, to suspensions, to high-discipline classes to flat out reform schools. And keep meticulous records of these actions and the reasons for them in each case.

            Fourth, offer a way back. If you behave yourself for a year in reform school, you’re back in your own school. Behave yourself for another year in the high-discipline classes, you’re back in regular classes.

            Fifth, record as much video as you can. At this point it should be possible to get everything that happens in the reform schools and high-discipline classes on video, which will be useful in court. Extend that to regular classes too, budget permitting.

            Sixth, amass a defense fund for the court challenges that are coming.

            Having done all this, it should be possible to defend the disciplinary system by showing that a) the system doesn’t just beat on poor blacks, b) every single student in the high-discipline classes and reform schools has a long history of misbehavior, c) for every single student in those cases lighter methods were tried and did not work, d) every single one of those students has a way back, if they’ll just behave, and e) many of the students’ misdeeds are available for review on video. And the system has the funds available to make this case, rather than just rolling over.

            I would expect this to work. If it doesn’t, the court system is just broken.

          • ana53294 says:

            I would expect this to work. If it doesn’t, the court system is just broken.

            My understanding of the system is that it is already broken. Public defense attorneys are incredibly overworked and underpaid (at least by the standards of private law). Same for prosecutors.

            Most cases nowadays don’t go to court. Defendants plead guilty. So even if schools throw the book even-handedly at both white and black kids, there will be plenty of cases where poor black kids will plead guilty (because they are too poor to afford an attorney, but not poor enough to get a public defendant; or because their public defendant is too busy getting people out of jail to bother getting kids out of correction school).

            Rich kids (a lot of whom will be white) will get good attorneys, they will drag the cases through the courts endlessly, and fewer rich white kids who deserve to go to the correction schools will go to those schools.

            I think that throwing the American criminal justice system, which, by many accounts, is even worse than the education system, at solving public school discipline issues is one of those things that could work well in theory but will be disastrous in practice.

          • theredsheep says:

            In my extensive substitute-teaching experience, middle-class kids seldom misbehave anywhere near as badly as lower-class kids. They know their parents will rain down hell if they hear they’ve been misbehaving, so you have to be pretty unreasonable or inept to provoke them into acting up. Your poor kids (who, yes, are mostly minority in a lot of places) tend to have serious issues as a result of a kind of crappy upbringing–parents are often absent for various reasons, whether work or drugs or jail or whatever. If you throw the book consistently, you’ll mostly hit poor black kids, with your occasional poor hispanic kid.

            And then there’s the opposite problem, where administration is so antsy about appearing to single out minority students that a kid with behavior issues is rendered essentially bulletproof. He quickly figures that out, and reigns supreme as moron lord of the classroom. I’ve been in multiple classrooms where one kid endlessly and aggressively disrupted class, and the teacher had to simply work around his yelling of off-topic questions, bad jokes, and rude remarks, because she’d learned from experience that trying to enforce order would only put her through a lot of hassle and highlight her own impotence.

            Now, I worked in mostly-white districts, and I assume the latter case is uncommon in majority-black schools. Anyway, I’m very glad I don’t sub anymore, and yes, there’s a strong correlation between being poor and being a behavior problem in my experience.

            Also, I went to “magnet” schools growing up, where there was a core group of thirty to fifty mostly white gifted kids in each age group, going to completely separate classes and generally failing to mingle in any significant way with the broader mass of poor minority kids. Mostly it taught us to look down on those “idiot” kids. If the real value was to hold parents’ money hostage … maybe it worked somehow, but your gifted classes are always going to be a school within a school, and the best teachers are going to do whatever they can to get those classes, and new equipment and books and such are not going to fix poor children’s behavior problems.

          • johan_larson says:

            I think that throwing the American criminal justice system, which, by many accounts, is even worse than the education system, at solving public school discipline issues is one of those things that could work well in theory but will be disastrous in practice.

            Well, in fairness, the plan isn’t to have the criminal justice system deal with all disciplinary problems. It just has to deal with the worst of them, such as flat-out violence, particularly by the older kids.

          • John Schilling says:

            [The criminal justice system] just has to deal with the worst of them, such as flat-out violence, particularly by the older kids.

            Perhaps theredsheep can offer more informed commentary, but I’m pretty sure that actual criminal violence and the like are a fairly minor part of the problem in most schools, even most bad schools. And if you do consistently turn the violent kids over to the criminal justice system, that just means they learn to stop short of violence or other actual criminal behavior, but still leaves them the full range of non-criminal disruptive behavior. This doesn’t address the real problem.

          • Brad says:

            Maybe NYC is some sort of dystopian racially segregated hellhole where the rich wall themselves off from a vast decaying underclass?

            Maybe? But I’d say what we are talking about are metro area issues not NYC proper. That’s 20 million people. My brother is in Chicagoland and the dynamic there seems very similar. That’s another 10 million people. I have weaker knowledge of DC, Philly, Boston, etc. but at least the impression that they are more similar than not.

            If the situation in SoCal, and California / the west coast more generally, is completely different that’s great to hear.

          • johan_larson says:

            This doesn’t address the real problem.

            Read points two through six of what I wrote above, and the paragraph describing the legal defense strategy they enable.

          • Nick says:

            How in the world is that proposed policy going to avoid disparate impact challenges? (ETA: Lawyer people, if this is a dumb question, feel free to tell me so. 😛 )

          • quanta413 says:

            @Brad

            Maybe LA or San Diego proper is like that, but that’s not my impression of North County (basically suburbs of San Diego). I don’t think it was an intentional policy choice though. There are really poor areas, and some people who wall themselves off of course, but that’s only some subset of rich people. By and large the schools near me were fairly racially integrated. The exact demographic mixture varied, but it doesn’t fit the profile I’m hearing about the NYC metro. We’re not known for our abysmal schools although they aren’t great either. Because we’re so near the border, the main difficulty is that a big chunk of students even in high school don’t speak English. There aren’t enough really rich white people that if you redistributed the small subset that go to fancy schools it would shift the dynamics much. This may be a significant difference from cities which tend to have more really rich people.

            Maybe it’s just due to a difference in density. North County is not that dense so schools have large areas they draw students from. People self segregate on a neighborhood level, but not as many try to move miles away.

            Or maybe the difference is just that there aren’t that many black people in the entire San Diego area. Black people don’t look like a majority in any area in San Diego on the census either. They aren’t clustered but spread out in other majority minority areas even in the city itself which definitely has White, Asian, and Latino areas.

          • John Schilling says:

            Read points two through six of what I wrote above,

            Did that. TL,DR, it looks like your plan reduces to “We will be Tough but Fair in removing disruptive students from the classroom, and because people see us being Fair, we’ll be allowed to do this”. And that won’t work, because what is in fact Fair will look an awful lot like Racist.

            but if you want the point-by-point response:

            #2 doesn’t work because there aren’t “plenty of middle-class white kids” to throw the book at. Disruptive behavior is driven by class and cultural issues that correlate strongly with protected-group status. For any uniform standard, you’ll wind up sending disproportionately many Students of Color, and disproportionately few White/Asian/Jewish ones, to reform school. And using “by the book zero tolerance” as your uniform standard, just means sprinkling that with all the obvious injustices that fall out of any zero-tolerance policy, as a focus for dissent.

            #2b, where you make sure there are proportionate numbers of white/colored/whatever students in reform school by way of disproportionate punishment, has all the problems associated with disproportionate collective punishment but you’re aiming it at the children of people with status and money.

            #3, we’ve already got and it doesn’t much help because the disruptive students don’t much care about the lesser punishments.

            #4, helps keep the most disruptive students out of the regular classrooms but makes the disparate-effect problem look worse, because the middle-class white(ish) students will the the ones working hardest to get back on track.

            #5, might help if the problem was one of physical violence, but again it mostly isn’t. Too much of it won’t show up on video at all. What does, will mostly pass for youthful highjinks at the individual-incident level, and nobody is going to willingly sit through forty hours of video to see that the accumulated “youthful highjinks” meant the teacher couldn’t get five uninterrupted minutes of teaching in a week.

            #6, and your “and the paragraph describing the legal defense strategy they enable”, misses the point because the legal challenges won’t be argued at the level of one disadvantaged student claiming that he personally wasn’t treated fairly. They will be arguing disparate impact of policy-level decisions against an entire class of students. To defend against that, you need to start with proving a negative, that no matter how much documented misbehavior you show underprivileged students engaging in, you aren’t unfairly turning a blind eye to far more of the same from privileged students. And it will get harder from there. And it won’t end there, because if we’re talking about public schools the battle will also be waged in the court of public opinion, and in local school board elections and in the state and federal legislature.

            So, go ahead, “amass a defense fund”. Lack of money may guarantee that you lose any legal or political battle, but as has been discussed here before, the presence of money does surprisingly little to ensure victory. And if your goal is to do useful productive work, while the adversary’s goal is to stop you and/or maintain the status quo, that’s a huge advantage to them. If you start out looking like a bunch of racists, that’s another huge advantage to the enemy.

            You’ll be Tough and you’ll be Fair, and the courts for their part will be mostly fair, and you’ll still be Losers.

          • albatross11 says:

            Just as a datapoint, my younger son goes to a magnet middle school within a larger pretty lousy school. His first year, he had a generic 6th grade science class (his magnet classes are in humanities). One girl in that class rendered the class completely nonfunctional. From his description, I strongly suspect it wasn’t really her fault–she obviously had some serious problems. But they went through a couple long-term subs who eventually gave up on teaching the class. They finally got an experienced teacher who could kinda-sorta keep order, but even then, she was running a denial-of-service attack on the rest of the class. He learned nothing in that class (though he got a good grade).

            Not being able to prevent her disrupting class constantly meant that like 30 other kids didn’t get a 6th grade science class. It’s hard to imagine what actual social good was accomplished by the school being unwilling to put a stop to the disruptions, which makes up for that. The best model of this that I can put together: probably everyone understands that kicking this girl out of the class and putting her in some unpleasant detention room where her disruptions weren’t a problem for the kids trying to learn something would have been a net win for mankind, but likely it would have imposed some risk of lawsuit, or perhaps simply some risk of being judged badly on some state-collected numbers somewhere. Not giving 30 6th graders a science class is cheaper, in some sense, that accepting those costs.

          • LesHapablap says:

            John Schilling,

            Assuming that disruptive students are the problem, and this is strongly related to class/culture, (which sounds very reasonable) then a solution (to the link between school quality and home address) could be private schools, correct? If so, why hasn’t this already happened? Or has it?

            Is the whole assumption that UMC flock to certain areas for the good schools and drive up house prices actually true?

          • Plumber says:

            “John Schilling,

            Assuming that disruptive students are the problem, and this is strongly related to class/culture, (which sounds very reasonable) then a solution (to the link between school quality and home address) could be private schools, correct? If so, why hasn’t this already happened? Or has it?

            Is the whole assumption that UMC flock to certain areas for the good schools and drive up house prices actually true?”

            LesHapablap,

             In my area it is.

            Equivalent houses in Albany, California consistantly sell for no less then $100,000 more than Berkeley and El Cerrito houses a few feet away just over city limits on the same block.

            And that difference in price has been true for at least 15 years.

          • albatross11 says:

            Are disparate impact legal challenges actually a substantial threat to school districts? I heard that the Justice dept. under Obama was making noises about the higher rate of blacks than whites getting various kinds of in-school discipline, but did it go further than that?

            Similarly, does tracking that gets bad racial numbers commonly end up with legal action or enforcement action by the Justice Dept.?

          • albatross11 says:

            LesHaplablap:

            It’s very true where I live–house prices can differ by 30-40% depending on which side of a school-districting line they’re on.

            Some of this is probably parents overestimating the importance of which school their kid goes to, but there are also some very rough schools even in relatively nice suburbs around here, and most parents aren’t so interested in sending their kids to a high school where there are well-known gang problems and a kid got shot in the parking lot in a gang dispute a couple years ago.

          • albatross11 says:

            If the goal is to break the house/school link, vouchers would probably work quite well. They also allow for a much smaller degree of centralized control over what’s taught and how it’s taught and behavior standards and such[1]. This sounds like a win to me, but I gather a lot of people dislike the idea, since they figure this will just let the wrong sorts of people make the wrong sorts of decisions.

            [1] There’s pretty-much got to be a mechanism for the state to make sure the schools are somehow or other doing their job, lest people set up voucher-accepting “schools” that do nothing. On the other hand, the more of this you do, the less chance there is for schools to come up with any innovations, or really to do anything differently than the public schools did.

            Ideally, you’d use some kind of standardized testing or something to test the performance of the school and let it be as long as the kids basically know the stuff they’re supposed to know. Also, make sure that kids with special needs have a bigger voucher associated with them, and allow schools substantial freedom in how they choose students and how they operate.

          • Matt M says:

            Are disparate impact legal challenges actually a substantial threat to school districts?

            A legal challenge isn’t necessary.

            Once the local population finds out about the disparate impact, they’ll scream and holler and vote for new school board members who promise to do something about the horrible racism that has somehow infested our dear local schools.

            Or, more likely, they won’t even need to. The mere threat of such a thing will get the existing school board to immediately issue marching orders to the principals to make this horrible disparate impact stop immediately, which, in a practical sense, means “stop punishing minority students no matter how egregiously awful their behavior is.”

            ETA: To clarify, the schools won’t issue a policy of “never suspend minorities,” because that would be obviously racist. So instead, they’ll just stop suspending anybody.

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11

            Are disparate impact legal challenges actually a substantial threat to school districts?

            No. Far and away the most common reason k-12 schools get sued is for failure to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education to disabled children. Usually with the aim of compelling the district to pay for a private school.

            As with employment discrimination (Griggs!!!!!) that doesn’t stop self declared experts with zero actual knowledge or experience from confidently asserting broad conclusions.

            Edit: lol

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Is the whole assumption that UMC flock to certain areas for the good schools and drive up house prices actually true?

            Yes. Zillow rates schools on a 1-10 basis: Our house is in a 10/10/9 (as in elementary school 10, middle school 10, high school 9). Our house was something like $315k. A similar home in the 10/10/10 school district would have been $380-400k. And it’s also in a less desirable neighborhood: our current house is walkable to a relatively lively suburban downtown, whereas the 10/10/10 houses are just typical suburban living.
            So you’re talking about a 25% premium on top of what is already a premium so your kids can go to really, really good schools instead of just really good schools.

            For the same price as ours, we could probably get a house almost twice as large with an extra bathroom, bedroom, bigger yard, yadda yadda, in a school district that’s rated 5/6/9, so you’re talking a big, big, house premium just to get into my school district.

            Similarly, does tracking that gets bad racial numbers commonly end up with legal action or enforcement action by the Justice Dept.?

            Based on the conversations with my education friends, no. However, tracking getting bad racial numbers has convinced a large number of younger progressives that tracking is bad.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is the whole assumption that UMC flock to certain areas for the good schools and drive up house prices actually true?

            I believe it was Megan McArdle who said, “we have lots of good private schools in the United States – they just come bundled with granite countertops”.

            And, yes, this is definitely a thing. A thing which prevents the complete defection of the middle class from public(ish) education, which in turn means nobody on either side is fighting the sort of hypothetical legal or political battles we are talking about. We have a system that provides good-quality schools for some, and the “some” are mostly the children whose parents can afford to pay and would raise an effective fuss if thire schools weren’t good.

            But if you “break the link between school quality and home prices”, as the OP asked, then the current system fails and we’ll need something else. If the link is broken by people who are trying to drag down the rich defectors and their children in hopes that this will elevate the rest, then we do get very ugly political battles. And if it’s done for some other reason and by some other plan, I’d still like to know what that plan is.

          • LesHapablap says:

            So it’s clear that the housing prices go up due to UMC’s flocking around good schools, and it’s pretty clear that ‘good school’ is mostly defined by a lack of lower class kids. And it looks likely that most private schools have a business model (granite countertops) that caters to the UMC+ instead of the middle class, because otherwise the middle class wouldn’t care so much about school districts.

            Given all the difference in house prices, there should be a market for private schools in the middle-class price range, so that parents don’t have to fork out extra to live on one side of a district line. I’m thinking there are overheads and startup costs involved in private school operations that prevent these middle-class private schools from being built. These overheads could be regulatory or something else, but the politically easiest way to fix it seems to be school vouchers.

            Once again we have solved all the world’s problems. Good work team!

          • Education Hero says:

            @Brad

            There are two sides to that coin. I think the impact on real estate prices of such schools disappearing would wholly and unambiguously good. On the educational side there is something that would be lost, but I think those kids with those parents are going to be fine regardless.

            As someone who works with these kids, I think it’s worth breaking down that category. Some of these families do have functionally limitless resources that they can expend to ensure strong educational outcomes for their kids. Others, not so much.* There are many working and middle-class families (often immigrants) that dedicate all of their resources to sending their kids to good public school districts precisely because they cannot afford private schools. Sometimes that’s renting out the cheapest rooms/apartments/houses within the district boundaries, sometimes it’s sending your kids to live with relatives within the boundaries, sometimes it’s applying to selective magnet programs, etc. These are the kids whose opportunities will be lost. As is often the case, those with means can insulate themselves from equalizing policies, resulting in the middle and working classes bearing the costs.

            *Full disclosure: I might have a bias here because such families constitute a portion of my educational consulting clients (often pro bono clients whom I must help secure scholarships for college to be a possibility).

            And to counter an argument–if they send their kids to private school instead, so what? We still get the real estate benefits and we save some state and federal money in not having to pay for their private-school-in-all-but-name since they’d now have to pay for actual private school.

            When the wealthy vote to lower property taxes that fund their local public schools, it’s the high-achieving middle/working class that can afford good public schools but not private schools who will take the hit.

            Similarly, it’s the the middle/working class students that get left behind (in terms of both education and inter-class networking) when the wealthy students are replaced by underclass students.

          • Education Hero says:

            @johan_larson

            To corroborate what John Schilling has pointed out above, consider the policies criticized as contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline.

            Note that all of your recommendations have been implemented to varying degrees with the result that they are blamed for disparate impact in both education and criminal justice. Then they were scaled back under the previous Presidential administration.

            Disparate impact, (de facto) segregated schools, and functional public education. Pick two.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Given all the difference in house prices, there should be a market for private schools in the middle-class price range, so that parents don’t have to fork out extra to live on one side of a district line. I’m thinking there are overheads and startup costs involved in private school operations that prevent these middle-class private schools from being built. These overheads could be regulatory or something else, but the politically easiest way to fix it seems to be school vouchers.

            In some cases this category is mostly covered by parochial (religious) schools. But the market is smaller than you might think for several reasons. One, even if the schools in your district are bad, you’re stuck paying for them through property tax or rent, unless they’re really, really bad. So better to head to a nicer district and pay only once. Two, the districts with the bad schools, especially the really, really bad schools, differ in other ways, like having high crime and poor housing stock. It’s not like there are many cases of neighborhoods which are essentially similar aside from one having medium-quality middle-class schools and one having terrible schools.

          • Brad says:

            @Educational Hero

            There are many working and middle-class families (often immigrants) that dedicate all of their resources to sending their kids to good public school districts precisely because they cannot afford private schools.

            There’s are scholarship kids in private schools, I know because I was one.

            But leave that aside, I wasn’t saying those kids would be fine because they’d all land in good schools. I was saying they’d be fine wherever they landed. The bright and hardworking kid from a crappy school does fine in college admissions. And even if he didn’t you can do fine in life out of a state school.

            Look I’m not a utilitarian, but one thing they absolutely get right is that money really does matter. If we collectively waste trillions of dollars on zero sum positional games that opportunity cost can be measured in lives or QALYs or other things that we care deeply about. The cost of housing isn’t just “oh well” to me, it’s a slow moving but gigantic tragedy that is harming entire generations in a very real way.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But leave that aside, I wasn’t saying those kids would be fine because they’d all land in good schools. I was saying they’d be fine wherever they landed. The bright and hardworking kid from a crappy school does fine in college admissions.

            There are limits. A bright and hardworking kid who goes to a school where essentially no learning is happening is going to be screwed unless they’re getting their learning some other place. It’s true that paying twice as much for a house in a prestige district compared to a regular district (which is easy to do in NJ) probably isn’t worth it, but staying out of the worst districts is certainly worth it. Unless you contend that primary and secondary education are completely unimportant, in which case the real tragedy is we’re wasting everyone’s time with it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            A bright and hardworking kid who goes to a school where essentially no learning is happening is going to be screwed unless they’re getting their learning some other place

            Maybe I’m misrembering, but aren’t you one of the “it’s all explained by IQ” guys?

            If so, then this position is illogical…

          • Brad says:

            I went to college with a guy from Arkansas. And not Little Rock either. Based on his stories, his schools were total crap. He’s doing just fine now. I work with people that ended up in mid tier state schools, and not in California. They are doing just fine.

            They may be some school so crappy going there would ruin your life. But lower middle class parents that are currently figuring out a way to get their kids into Scarsdale public schools aren’t going to end up there if Scarsdale public schools essentially disappear. Nor do I accept that busing is going to turn everywhere into that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Maybe I’m misrembering, but aren’t you one of the “it’s all explained by IQ” guys?

            If so, then this position is illogical…

            If it’s all explained by IQ, then my alternative of “primary and secondary education is totally useless” holds and we’ve been wasting everyone’s childhood for some time now.

            I doubt that. As with height, it’s probably not “all” genetic IQ, however; genetic IQ sets an upper limit. If the school isn’t teaching the material, even a high-IQ student isn’t going to learn it unless they have some other source. Maybe some super-high-IQ students will always manage to seek out sources of learning (in which case keeping them in a zero-learning school is STILL hurting them, by depriving them of time to seek out such opportunities), but I’m not convinced your merely intelligent 120 IQ students will do so.

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe I’m misrembering, but aren’t you one of the “it’s all explained by IQ” guys?

            “It’s all explained by IQ” always comes with a footnote that says “…assuming environment no more than a standard deviation or so below the mean; obviously severe abuse and the like can mess up even genius babies”.

            Which raises the question, in the 21st century United States, do average (or -1SD) parents pay extra for houses in good or at least not-horrid school districts? I’m not sure we’re quite there yet, but we’re close enough that it’s legitimately debatable.

          • albatross11 says:

            I rather suspect that grade, middle, and most of high school aren’t actually teaching you all that much[1], so if you get a lousy school instead of a good one, probably you start college a little behind and it takes you a year or two to catch up. That might suck if you’re trying to get into medical school or something (so getting some bad freshman grades is costly), but for most people, probably not all that much.

            I suspect that’s different to some extent if you have a really good high school, but I’m not sure of that. My oldest son is in a highly-ranked high school, and he does seem to be learning a lot, but I’m not sure how much more he’s learning than someone at a normal high school down the road. (The AP classes do seem to be pretty serious matters, very much like the college introductory lecture-hall classes I remember from college in terms of content and time demands. But lots of schools offer AP classes.)

            [1] Some classes do teach you a lot–math, some writing classes, maybe some programming classes, some science classes. But a lot don’t, and most people don’t retain much even of the classes they had.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that if you are trying to make a school show up as very good, you have broadly two paths to do that:

            a. Do a better job teaching / running the school. (That might involve innovative new ways of teaching, or just doing the stuff Grandma knew how to do.)

            b. Select your entering kids so that their native abilities and home environment and behavior will be conducive to getting whatever good outcomes are used to measure quality of your school.

            My guess is that (b) is way easier than (a). That is, if you can somehow get an entering class of kids with few behavior problems, in the top 20% of intelligence, you’re going to look like a great school even if your school is nothing at all special. And if you get stuck with lots of kids with behavior problems, and mostly kids in the bottom 20% of intelligence, you’re going to look like a lousy school no matter what you do.

            This probably makes it hard for vouchers to lead to a lot of innovation–if I’m running a school and want to look good, finding a way to get more of the smart, well-behaved kids is a much more reliable way of reaching my goal than finding some clever new way to educate kids more efficiently.

          • Education Hero says:

            @Brad

            There’s are scholarship kids in private schools, I know because I was one.

            Definitely, but I don’t believe that a flight to private schools will bring a sufficient supply of money for scholarships to exceed the new demand from middle/working class students who can’t afford to flee.

            But leave that aside, I wasn’t saying those kids would be fine because they’d all land in good schools. I was saying they’d be fine wherever they landed. The bright and hardworking kid from a crappy school does fine in college admissions. And even if he didn’t you can do fine in life out of a state school.

            As with all policy considerations, the losers will be at the margins.

            Look I’m not a utilitarian, but one thing they absolutely get right is that money really does matter. If we collectively waste trillions of dollars on zero sum positional games that opportunity cost can be measured in lives or QALYs or other things that we care deeply about. The cost of housing isn’t just “oh well” to me, it’s a slow moving but gigantic tragedy that is harming entire generations in a very real way.

            I agree that zero sum positional games are tragic, but I’m not so certain that breaking the link between school quality and home address is the way to do it, given the harm to the few bright examples of public education.

            The underlying (and CW-intensive) problem that needs to be addressed is that people will segregate themselves to protect their interests, using large sums of money to do so if other options are not available due to government policy. There’s no easy answers to that, either, but it’s better to consider the problem at its source than throw innocent bodies into the leaky dam further downstream.

          • Plumber says:

            “…..The cost of housing isn’t just “oh well” to me, it’s a slow moving but gigantic tragedy that is harming entire generations in a very real way”

            @Brad,

            Thank you so very much for that sentence.

            In just a generation (during my adulthood) I’ve seen owning their own home go from being something that median wage households can hope for turn into something only a small minority can achieve, while in just a decade the number of people living in tents within city limits has exploded, but somehow this isn’t topic #1?

      • Plumber says:

        “….Build another complete city somewhere else. Which makes for another question: if you had lots of money to build a city from scratch in the US, where would you build it? Are there any prime locations for cities that haven’t already developed cities?”

        @LesHapablap,

        Since the temperatures are seldom warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit (and seldom colder than 50), unlike next to the bay, it may not be considered “prime”, but I recall lot’s of land next to the Pacific ocean between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, and other than the small town of Pacifica it’s relatively undeveloped, and I really don’t know why not.

        • johan_larson says:

          There is a lot of protected land on the coastal range. Check out all the green areas on this map:

          https://www.google.ca/maps/@37.5235217,-122.4754423,11.18z

          If you wanted to build up Moss Beach, say, it would really help to be able to drive a commuter highway east to Burlingame. But such a highway would have to go through a huge chunk of protected land. I’m sure there’s a process for doing so, but you’re going to have to offer the environmentalists something huge to get them onside.

          • Plumber says:

            @johan_larson,

            Thanks!

            I can’t read the link on my phone (it just shows me a world map), but I think what you mean, and it explains a lot.

      • AG says:

        Build another complete city somewhere else.

        I kind of wonder: is it possible to do this in this globalized age? There have been some cities in the rural areas that have become hotbed of manufacturing thanks to tax/cost incentives, but no one actually wants to live there because there’s no culture. I’ve known people who work at said plants who willingly take a 3-5 hour one-way commute in order to live in the “nearest” big city because there’s no culture development in the cities they work at. (Examples of “culture” in this context: no exciting upcoming music concerts, theater productions, sports teams, or interesting restaurant developments at any given time. None of the big name established acts are going to tour there, either. Not enough community buy-in for a good local festival event, podunk theme park, little to no tourist stuff. No arts scene. Not really much to do outside the house during your free time, limited set of date activities available.)

        So this has destroyed the traditional way America’s big cities were formed: either having a rich resource to be gathered, or existing at an ideal trade hub location. But in a world where the white collar jobs are networked, then it’s all dependent on how lazy the elite feel like, which means prospective new starts have to go where they are to pitch.

        For example, all entertainment industry roads lead to LA/NYC. At best, you build the infrastructure to attract some dollars coming in from those places, but Atlanta/Toronto/etc. will never become their own entities. Which means that as per the above about the lack of culture being a huge issue, there really will never be another city that can become a draw for funds-providing elites to live. The promise of Amazon HQ2 going somewhere podunk instead of an existing big city is laughable.

        Then again, I’ve seen the theory that America’s big city development is an anomaly, and the “everything slowly is absorbed into Tokyo” model is more to be expected. So James C’s overflow plan below is about the best we can hope for.

        • ana53294 says:

          China has built entire cities in the middle of nowhere. They just delineated some zones, called them free economic zones, and there you have, a city in the middle of nowhere. I am pretty sure that you could do that anywhere in the US, too.

          • AG says:

            @ana53294: Do we really not have anything like that in the US? Despite far better costs, the Silicon Prairie still dried up.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t know exactly what a “free economic zone” means in China, but if it means anything like loosening the sort of economic restrictions that most communist countries have, then we can’t in fact do that. We don’t have most of those restrictions in the first place, and the federal government can’t declare specific areas free from the ones we do have (on 10th and/or 14th Amendment grounds, depending on what we’re talking about).

            Individual states could try to set themselves up as business-friendly, and local areas can fiddle around with taxes on the margins, but they both do that all the time already, and if it was going to solve the problem it would have.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think you have a problem here in that step 1:

            called them free economic zones

            doesn’t actually lead to step2:

            there you have, a city in the middle of nowhere

            In particular, it’s my understanding that the Chinese Government is actually footing the bill for the creation of these “cities in the middle of nowhere”. This is command economy stuff. The US isn’t going to be doing that anytime soon.

            We do do things like prospectively build lots of infrastructure out to/in a particular area, maybe change some tax treatments, and call those a “Global Industrial Park” or an “Economic Activity Zone”. Those aren’t really the same thing.

          • Guy in TN says:

            The US government built the city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the 1940’s out of essentially nothing. Population of 3,000 in 1942 to 72,000 in 1945.

            Granted that’s not huge, and it was a little while ago, but well past the traditional “natural resource gets discovered- new city develops” method of early US history.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Implement an actual free economic zone: No licensing, no direct taxation, no labor regulations, no zoning. Some sort of environmental regulation will be necessary.

            See what happens. I am pretty sure you’d get a city. Whether I would want to live there is another question entirely.

          • AG says:

            I’m pretty sure geographic location is still going to be very important. There are many many stories of people trying to move away from the Bay Area to a cheaper place, and then they just can’t stand the different temperature (too cold/too hot), the lack of greenery, the lack of things to do, and then they move back.

            See also my initial post about how we have places that exist now where low regulation is why companies are putting their manufacturing plants there, but no one wants to live there because of the lack of things to do in their free time.

            So they’re cities but they’re not really “cities,” and have no potential to become a new urban area.

        • Matt M says:

          If you’re willing to invest enough, you can… well, you’ll never compete with New York, but you can at least make it passable.

          Doesn’t Bentonville actually have some decent museums and stuff, paid for entirely by the Walton family? I think the small town in Indiana that’s home to Cummins has tried something similar (albeit on a smaller scale).

          • Nick says:

            This shouldn’t be necessary! A lot of Rust Belt cities still have nice stuff from back when they weren’t, you know, rusted. Cleveland has a great art museum, a great orchestra, Playhouse Square, world class hospitals, and we’re growing our healthcare information technology field. Pittsburgh has a lot of the same to draw on. Toledo too. Detroit even. Paul Graham has argued Pittsburgh could become a startup hub; Matt Yglesias has pleaded Silicon Valley to move stuff to Cleveland.

        • FLWAB says:

          I’ve never understood complaints about small towns not having culture. I think that’s on me: I don’t go to bars, I don’t go to concerts, I don’t go to the theater, I go to a museum once every two years maybe. I don’t really know what an “art scene” is: galleries? I can look at the most famous pieces of art online from the comfort of my home, free of charge.

          Of course I’m a cheapskate who grew up in the woods with a penny pinching family. Who can afford the theater? That’s for rich people! You want culture, go to the public library and check out some books.

          • AG says:

            Thinking about this further, it seems to me that “culture” is largely about the means of making communities.
            The big complaint about aforementioned towns that have a lot of jobs but no one wanting to live there is along the lines of “there’s nothing to do.” The people who do have things to do in such towns are usually about having fun with friends and family, at their places of residence. So, okay, how does someone new build their social network? In a small town, the answer is usually parent networks via kids, or church. But if you’re not into either of those things, or the “fun” activities associated with church and/or school, good luck.
            Larger cities offer many more of both means of doing things you enjoy by yourself, and finding people with your interests, by servicing a wider variety of interests. And they offer more things to do outside of the residence.

          • Matt M says:

            Somewhat in accordance with AG’s comment, best I can tell, an “art scene” means a bunch of nonprofit committees to “promote the arts” that the wives of wealthy and influential businessmen can join to network with other high-class individuals.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Might be because you are a cheapskate. Also, keep in mind that a city that has everything you DO want probably has a bunch of things you don’t care about, either. I am not particularly interested in the art scene, but any city that combines good bars, a bunch of breweries, nearby nature preserves, an amusment park, weekly music festivals, and a riverwalk…probably has an art museum that I don’t give a damn about.

            The other thing is the people. I like people like me: 20 and 30 something yuppies. Those people live in towns and cities. Rural places tend not to have a bunch of those.

          • AG says:

            @Matt M:

            My definition of arts scene encompasses most parts of art-related activities and labor. Professional musicians, from orchestras to small ensembles doing club gigs to street musician. Amateur musicians who nonetheless do public performances, like community ensembles. Park statues, galleries, wall murals, home decoration. Painters, photographers, jewelry makers, custom clothing makers, the people who hawk their wares at street fairs. Acting troupes, comedy troupes. The strength of an arts scene is defined by how easily you can find the nearest art produced by a local artist, professional or amateur.

          • arlie says:

            *thoughtful* I live in the SF bay area. I don’t live in San Francisco; given the traffic and other annoyances there, even though the weather there was more pleasant (than where I do live) 20 years ago when I moved here. But at least half the young, unmarried people in my workplace would rather live in San Francisco, and my emplorer lays on free busses to get those who do to and from work each day.

            Other companies locate in San Francisco to attract these people, in spite of the expense. I know one that has two offices – one in SF and one in Sunnyvale – with employees generally given a choice of where to work from. Teams are routinely split between thee two, and managers do a lott of comuting. Employees are usually stuck visiting the building with fewer of their team about once a week.(Blessedly, when I worked there most of my team were based outside of SF, so I visited that site maybe 4 times a year.)

            The reasons for living in SF generally amount to “culture”.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Sounds like a missed opportunity to me– why not tour to places where people are desperate for entertainment?

          • Aapje says:

            The problem is that many of the people who care have already left, never came in the first place or they structured their lives differently.

            Also, many people who desire more entertainment are still picky. They may complain about a lack of concerts, but they may not actually enjoy band X, a jazz concert or such.

            So touring in these places doesn’t tend to draw big enough audiences. This is especially true in sparse areas, where you simply lack the numbers.

          • AG says:

            Yep, basically just a ticket sales issue. They’re not going to tour in places where they won’t recoup their costs, so it’s way easier to make small-town fans travel to the nearest big city to attend a performance.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I was thinking that lack of venues might be a problem.

            I’m still a little surprised that such places aren’t used by performers who are starting out.

          • AG says:

            Still a ticket sales issue, and one of the things I talk about when I say lack of an arts scene as a huge indicator of a town lacking “culture.” Lots of aspiring actors or music performers can’t muster the local engagement to make performances or productions worth it. So you’re basically stuck with kids’ extracurricular recitals only, and sometimes a town can’t even muster that much participation (because it’s all going into sports, for example). Or church skits.
            Taking the midnight train isn’t actually okay with “anywhere,” it has to be to a city with a notable entertainment industry presence, so they can not just make a living, but have upwards mobility potential.

            You get secondary business effects from this, too. Music gigs or community event engagement can be the thing driving customers to a local club or restaurant, so a town culture where no one goes out means that you have fewer restaurants or clubs that are financially viable, or entertainment places like laser tag/mini golf/go-karts/arcades/etc. There really is nothing but the local plant(s), residential neighborhoods, schools, churches, and retail, because everyone in town willingly drives 40+minutes to the city over there that has all of the entertainment stuff to do things.

            Ironically, Japan is trying to combat this with “local idols.” I wonder if that’s at all a viable strategy in the US? Probably not since the Adpocalypse.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Nancy: The rock band Van Halen made a point of including smaller communities on some of their tours, and reportedly had to take extreme measures to ensure that the available venues could support their act. Including the literal definition of “support”. So, yes, it looks like this could be a constraint generally.

          • AG says:

            And while you can do some basic recording in your garage, any aspiring music artist eventually needs to find a proper recording studio with high-grade mixing and mastering equipment, and those only exist in certain places.

    • James C says:

      Probably the best bet is to build another city near-by to handle the over-spill. I’m always a fan of arcologies.

      • engleberg says:

        I’m a fan of Oath of Fealty, where they put the arcology in a city so all the stuff the designer forgot could be easily acquired. I think the merit of using cruise ships would be that you can just have the ones that go rancid sail away and keep the successes.

    • AG says:

      Wreck SF’s economy so all of the job-creators move somewhere else. (EDIT: The Nybbler beat me to that one)
      Also harshly restrict immigration to the area. (Both in cracking down on illegal immigration, but also in hiring US citizens from out of state)

    • Nornagest says:

      Piss off Kim Jong Un. This would have the side effect of lowering property values in San Diego, Honolulu, Shreveport, and Washington, DC first, though.

    • eighty-six twenty-three says:

      I believe (based on not a ton of evidence) that the main obstacle to redevelopment is that the people who live there don’t want to be displaced.

      I would like to see a rule: if you do redevelopment, you have to make sure that everyone who used to live in that area, continues to do as well or better for housing. That means you find nearby housing for them while you’re doing the construction. And when you’re done with construction, they get an apartment (if necessary, multiple apartments) in your new apartment building. If they were renting, their rent does not go up; if they were homeowners, they now own their new apartment.

      Once we have that rule, I think resistance to redevelopment would decrease.

      • AG says:

        I’ve been thinking about posting “make an area wealthier without displacing the existing residents” challenge, because my suspicion is that it’s not really possible in the way people would like it to be, that gentrification is inevitable.

        There are two main factors:
        1a) Cash has to move from elsewhere into the region, or
        1b) Cash has to be generated within the region
        AND
        2) Cash has to be prevented from leaving

        1b is implausible for urban areas, with the existing residents, by dint of they would have done it already if they could.
        Combination of 1a and 2 is a tourism model, which then makes them reliant on continuing to attract outside cash flowing in continually just to prevent backsliding, and can never wean themselves off of it.

        The theoretical formulation of 1a and 2 is that somehow multiple parties decide to hire the existing residents to do jobs paying more than they do now, in conjunction with living quality stores opening locally (non-franchise), so the new money stays in local circulation. So, UBI plus stringent anti-trade policy.

    • Plumber says:

      I’m going to copy and paste my first SSC post:

      “There’s been a shift among some of my YIMBY friends to being more willing to acknowledge that building more housing may not decrease housing costs very quickly, effectively, or at all (short of implausibly massive amounts of new housing). Devon Zuegel presents one of the arguments.”

      – Scott Alexander

      Amusing article.

      People really didn’t understand why people want to live in The City, and that demand compounds?
      Besides, I’ve spent a couple of years working for The Port and The Department of Public Works for The City and County of San Francisco, and note something that the “Just build more” types don’t explain away is the real physical infrastructure limits as well as the political ones to housing more people in San Francisco.
      First) In an already crowded city, people don’t want to lose their parks, so you can’t build there.
      Second) Treasure Island, and by the old Hunters Point Shipyards are toxic places to build, cleanup will be extremely expensive, that’s why there isn’t more new housing already!
      Third) During heavy rains the sewage treatment plants are overloaded already and Federal limits on high much untreated sewage can go into the Bay are exceeded.
      Hope for more droughts if you want to pack more people in here!
      Expand the sewage treatment plants?
      On what land, and with what money?
      Plus the pipes under the streets are already way past due for replacement (many are more than a century old).

      -Me

      So land and money is needed.

      From where?

  4. Scott Alexander says:

    Last week I asked people to predict how the blog’s traffic has been doing over the past year.

    The answer is that it was getting better until about March, and has been getting gradually worse since then. Here’s a table (only measures hits to the front page, but is basically representative): http://slatestarcodex.com/blog_images/blogstats.png

    Everyone who predicted this said it was because there’s been less political stuff. The numbers don’t quite work out for that, but since everyone agreed on that, I’m going to guess I’m bad at understanding the numbers and they would work out if I were better at it.

    • tayfie says:

      Am I missing something? That picture doesn’t look like “getting better until March”, unless that is just a difference between the picture and the actual hits. At best I only see a gentle downward slope since last August. (Two culture warish topics right on the first)

      The data is too noisy for me to trust my eyeballs, but the yearly averages are still obviously going up steadily. You can probably credit @johan_larson with first post, best post.

      As for politics, any look at the media landscape of any time in history shows controversy = hits, but lest you itch for attention, be wary of inviting too many strangers into the secret club.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Mmm, I think if you plotted that and did some regression, you’d see an inflection point. He had been on a steady growth trend with some spikes, peaking at 11M (I’m assuming), then several over 10k, but sliding since then.

        But that’s just eyeballing it.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      First, graph it.
      (date = year + month/12, which demonstrates the value of 0-indexing)

    • bean says:

      I guess I get to claim credit for being the first to predict that traffic would be down. I find it interesting that there wasn’t a correlation with politics/the “regret” tag, but I suppose it’s possible that there’s something else going on.

      • yodelyak says:

        I don’t get to claim credit for being the first to predict traffic would be down. It appears to me I can claim credit as the first person to link to that prediction thread here.

        I did offer a thesis for *why* it would be down, which, if I’d bothered to put a specific time for “peak SSC”, I think would have been Feb or March 2017, particularly since I was aware that Crying Wolf was widely popular, so I wouldn’t have put it in December 16 or January 17, but would basically put it with Trump taking office. I went on to note that my confidence in that thesis was so low as to be near-zero, and that I ought to have first gone and gotten some data before acting like I know a thing. I still think I shouldn’t trust my thesis as anything other than grabbing a handy metaphor for changes in the national psyche (Jane’s law) tossing it at the question at hand, and embracing the result with the overconfidence that comes from metaphorical thinking.

        The thing I was claiming to know was basically that I understand the left well enough to expect they’d be reading less SSC when Trump is president because SSC is effortful and lefties are depressed. If lefty discouragement is behind lowered readership, what other patters would we expect in the data?

    • Perico says:

      I have run a quick regression, and there is a trend change for monthly views at the start of 2018. However, I then looked at the data for monthly posts, and I think that may be a significant factor in this change. If you normalize the monthly views dividing them by (non-OT) monthly posts, you have an increasing trend until mid-2016, and it remains stable after that.

      Links to plots:
      https://drive.google.com/open?id=1lKWfJ4GHJMkqDIDMPuS7XImsI_aiVrMe
      https://drive.google.com/open?id=1O7CiIzQT9CtyIxtpkDgdhU52Hb6_3HAF
      https://drive.google.com/open?id=1jCJw-GfrRV_a5L6O9dqiC88Oe6JaPTKJ

    • phisheep says:

      Scott, I wonder whether some of the increase in traffic before March was driven by referrals from UNSONG. Judging by ratings given on Goodreads it had a fairly healthy following up to about March this year, with more of a trickle afterwards.

      Can you see where your traffic is getting directed from?

    • theredsheep says:

      I think March is around the time I started posting here. I’m sorry.

    • dick says:

      By “hits” do you mean pageviews or visitors or unique visitors or something like that? A “hit” in web analytics parlance means a request for a file, but I’m guessing that’s not what those numbers you posted are because they’re not high enough. Generally if you’re just trying to understand how popular the site is you want the number of visitors or monthly unique visitors. You can better understand how the visitors are using the site (e.g. how much of the traffic is “a person reads an article” vs “a person posts in the forum”, how many articles the typical new visitor reads in their first month, etc) by looking at pages reports but how easy that is and what info you get depends on what analytics tool you’re using.

      Also: what are you trying to optimize for? New users? Ad revenue? Something else? Are those numbers you posted the thing you want to increase, or a proxy for it?

  5. johan_larson says:

    From the perspective of the West, what is the model Muslim country? Presumably this would be a country that is prosperous or getting there, orderly and non-corrupt, generally respectful of economic and personal freedom within Muslim views of such things, and on good terms with the West as a whole.

    Beirut? Turkey?

    • Toby Bartels says:

      Surely Indonesia, the country so nice that people forget that it's majority Muslim. Or Bosnia, is that majority Muslim? (ETA: Wikipedia says plurality but not quite majority.)

      ETA: Or Kosovo, if you count it. It was practically founded by the European Union; you don't get much more Western-oriented than that. Majority Muslim, although not to the degree that the official census suggests; not widely recognized, but de-facto independent for some time now.

      • tayfie says:

        I sometimes forget Indonesia exists (and is quite populous too). What are they known for? There is nothing else in my head to connect them to besides general location in the world and being made up of many islands.

        This is not a bad thing and I wish there were more countries like that. What’s the secret sauce?

        • marshwiggle says:

          Definitely Indonesia.

          The secret sauce, so far as I can tell, is that both governmentally and culturally, they have been chill about lots of stuff. Islam included. About the one thing they weren’t chill about was communism – the government tried pretty hard to stamp that out a while back.

          What are they known for? Tongue in cheek answer: Java, java, Bali.

          • mikk14 says:

            “Weren’t chill” is a bit of an understatement :-), given that some estimates speak of almost 1% of the population as killed. There are a couple of very nice documentaries about it, try “The Act of Killing”.

        • Yakimi says:

          The vigorous suppression of separatism. Supposedly the ongoing West Papau conflict has claimed 100,000 to 400,000 lives, but no one’s heard of it.

        • Toby Bartels says:

          Yes, the most populous majority-Muslim country. With a lot of islands, there are a lot of separatist movements, but like Yakimi says, you never seem to hear about them. The separatists do sometimes claim religious oppression; and Christians are oppressed in Aceh, which has special laws. Also, the separatists in East Timor won, more than 10 years ago now, but who knows what will happen in the future?

          • nestorr says:

            East Timor went from being a Portuguese colony to being invaded by their huge neighbour. Repression and genocide followed. I suppose “separatists” is an accurate term as they separated from Portugal and then Indonesia, but it rather dignifies the invasion’s fait accompli. Is Manchuria a separatist Japanese province? Algeria a separatist French dèpartament? France a separatist Länder?

          • Toby Bartels says:

            @ nestor :

            I don't take my political cues from Star Wars, so I don't view ‘separatists’ as an insult. (In fact, I am by default sympathetic to all separatist movements.) And I don't think that recognizing the facts on the ground dignifies them. (Again, I rather assume that all regimes are illegitimate by default.) But I'll try to remember to say ‘rebels’ instead.

          • Kestrellius says:

            @Toby Bartels

            I don’t view ‘separatists’ as an insult

            Die, CIS scum!

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Indonesia exists (and is quite populous too). What are they known for?

          Gamelan, surely?
          At least, that’s the first cultural export of Indonesia that I ever heard of.

        • Machine Interface says:

          “I sometimes forget Indonesia exists (and is quite populous too). What are they known for?”

          Facetious answer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Malay_origin

      • Martin says:

        Surely Indonesia, the country so nice that people forget that it’s majority Muslim.

        Not really:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1998_riots_of_Indonesia

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_Indonesian_beheadings_of_Christian_girls

      • 10240 says:

        Malaysia is probably the least bad trade-off between the state of democracy, society and economy, if we want the country to be at least mediocre on each count. Its economy seems to be doing significantly better than Indonesia.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Indonesia, though it’s quite corrupt. Turkey seems to be moving the wrong way, and Lebanon… uh, yeah, forget about it.

    • fion says:

      Indonesia, Turkey and Jordan all score quite highly on the Human Freedom Index.

      • beleester says:

        Jordan seems like a good candidate, both on the “orderly and prosperous” measure and on the “on good terms with the West” measure. They’ve pretty much given up on the “destroy Israel” thing at this point and tacitly accepted their help in the Black September crisis. They managed to survive the Arab Spring with relative ease. And they’re doing pretty well on political freedom and have political and economic ties to the West.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Let’s see which muslim countries have reached a level similar to western countries by different metrics:

      HDI > Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kowait, Brunei, Barhain
      GDP per capita > Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kowait, Brunei, Barhain, Oman
      Corruption Perception > Barhain, UAE, Brunei
      Human Freedom Index > Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jordan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan [all still relatively low, around the level of Greece or Macedonia]
      Democracy Index > Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia [all weakly, on the level of Romania or Poland]
      Fragile State Index > Oman, UAE, Qatar, Kowait

      Seems you either get “rich and stable but poor human right and political freedom record” or “relatively free and nice but poor, corrupt and politically unstable”.

      I had made myself the reflexion that any discussion about “muslim countries” as a category will run into the issue that this is a much more heterogeneous category than “western countries”. Between two randomly selected muslim countries, one is likely to find much more significant cultural, linguistic, economic, political, secularistic and racial gaps than between two randomly selected western countries.

      It makes hard to take any Muslim countries as representative of anything, and western perception are pretty skewed in that matter – for instance we tend to see the prototypical muslim as Arabic because of the Middle East being the frequent focus of political turmoil, and because of migrations and refugees to Europe, but all Arabic ethnicities combined are about 20% of the world muslim population (compared to 30% being of various Indian/South Asian ethnicities).

      • Aapje says:

        Note that the rich Muslim nations have minimal industry and such. Their wealth mostly comes from selling natural resources.

        I would argue that being a Muslim is being orthogonal to having oil to sell.

        • Machine Interface says:

          I was gonna argue that Brunei was an exception, since they’re not one of the Gulf states, but quickly checking revealed that their wealth also comes from oil; so much for that then.

      • AG says:

        I wonder if it’s a “necessary time to develop” thing? It’s not like the US was in an ideal state for a long time after formation, either, but had the convenience of geographic isolation to get its shit together without interference. Aren’t most of these countries relatively recent, without much of a through-line to the Islamic Empires? Especially the oil nations.

        • Simulated Knave says:

          I mean, it depends. They may not have much of a through-line to the Islamic empires, but colonial administration or being a protectorate doesn’t necessarily prevent you from developing decent government.

    • Deiseach says:

      Probably Turkey before Erdogan started losing the run of himself, but right now it’s not looking great as a secular state – cracking down on alleged militant Islam by making yourself into what’s damn near Dictator For Life is out of the frying pan into the fire.

      Possibly Indonesia? Which is not too great on some fronts, but seems not to be gearing up for jihad either internal or external?

      EDIT: Ooh, forgot about Tunisia, thanks Machine Interface! Some of the North African countries might also be possibilities?

    • yodelyak says:

      Indonesia was then-candidate Obama’s model-Muslim-nation of choice for his book “The Audacity of Hope.”

      • Matt M says:

        Well he might be a bit biased, having spent most of his own formative years living there…

        • yodelyak says:

          He was only there for (going from Wikipedia) 3 or 4 years, all under the age of 10, so I don’t know how much bias that’d likely create. And it seems like the bias might be just as likely to cut against Indonesia as for it, unless you are assuming politics/what-not in 1967ish Indonesia is sufficiently similar to politics there now to create a bias.

          IIRC, his arguments weren’t that Indonesia was a great place to be a 10-year-old, or anything like that. Rather that the problems and challenges it faces in the next few decades have very little to do with it being a majority-Islam nation, and that it has a lot more common ground with the U.S. than you might assume if you use a religious lens instead of thinking about trade, energy, and regional politics. (IIRC, his argument was along the lines that Indonesia and the U.S. are not natural rivals, but the opposite. Like the U.S., it is a diverse country. Like the U.S., it is a a major energy / crude oil producer, but is on net an oil importer. As a country with a big dependence on exports, it’s interests in regional stability are pretty significant. And there are plenty of reasons to think U.S. soft power and shared economic interest could see the U.S. and Indonesia getting along. Anyway, it really wasn’t the stuff you’d expect from someone who is just nostalgic for grade school.)

  6. Cariyaga says:

    Any single player board game recommendations?

    Ones I’ve seen recommended:

    * Friday
    * Mage Knights
    * Spirit Island

    I enjoyed Friday, and have made note of the other two (haven’t yet gotten around to reading their rules too thoroughly)

    I particularly enjoy deckbuilders and games with strong strategy elements, though not to the point of determinism.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      While I don’t play single player games, I have heard good things about the solo mode in Terraforming Mars.

      You might also want to look at Scythe and most other Stonemaier games, which have an “automa” deck of cards designed to simulate an opponent. Euphoria is the main exception, and I think one is in the works for that.

      Finally, the computer or tablet version of Ascension is a fun deckbuilder which works well against AI opponents.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Terraforming Mars solo is quite good, and I think it got even better now with the Prelude expansion.

        Scythe solo feels like too different a game to me, but I have to admit that there are things I could stand to learn from playing it, that would help me in MP, which I care about more.

    • AKL says:

      Pandemic works well as a single player game, even though it is not advertised that way.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I second the “Friday” recommendation, good game. I was told “Onirim” is very good, but haven’t tried it yet. “The Lost Expedition” is another one I’ve heard praise for but haven’t tried.

      As a rule, most cooperative games can be played solo, even if it’s not explicitely indicated in the rules – “Pandemic” works well like this, if you take 4 characters for yourself.

      Many “multiplayer solitaire” games (eg: racing to get the most points without much if any player interraction) obviously work well – it becomes an exercise in beating your high score, basically. I quite enjoy playing “Jump Drive” this way. Many roll-and-write games will work well this way.

      Most games by Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, Le Havre, Caverna…) include a few rules for solo play (tough it’s usually with a “beat your highscore” objective).

      The “Tiny Epic” series of games generally include solo modes.

      The expansion “German Railroads” for the game “Russian Railroads” adds a solo variant, among other things.

      An upcoming small expansion for “Raiders of the North Sea” will add a solo mode.

      The upcoming “Architects of the West Kingdom” will also include a solo mode.

      If you still want more, you can use the “advanced search” tool on Board Game Geek:

      https://boardgamegeek.com/advsearch/boardgame

      Scroll down to “# of Players Range”, set the first drop-down menu to “1” and tick exact, then click submit at the bottom, then on the result page you get, click on “board game rank” in the upper left to sort the list from best to worst. That should give you plenty of titles to investigate.

      If you want games that are *exclusively* solitaire, you can also put “1” in the second drop-down meny at “# of Players Range”. You can also search specifically for solo games with a deck-building mechanism (by opening the “Board Game Mechanic” category and ticking “deck/pool building”). With this criteria, it suggests “Arkham Horror: The Card Game” and “Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game”, among other games.

      When you start digging a bit on Board Game Geek, you can also find player-made solo variants for many popular games (usually in the “files” or “forum” section of said game’s page).

    • Aqua says:

      I’ve heard Gloomhaven is great when played single player

    • RDNinja says:

      Have you tried One-Deck Dungeon? It’s a dice rolling/allocation kind of game, with an old+school Rogue-like feel. Also has a multiplayer option.

    • zoozoc says:

      Pandemic Legacy (season 1 or 2) seems like it would work well as a single player game. You would basically play as 2 or more characters (up to 4). The legacy part of the game makes it a more exciting experience since you are discovering new stuff every game.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      Agent Decker is a free to print deck-building game that I enjoy. It has “stealth” elements inspired by the Metal Gear series, though it’s not overtly derivative.

    • ing says:

      If you’re playing a single player game anyway, you may as well switch to something computerized. It’s faster to set up, the mechanics are automated, and it’s more portable.

      Here are some adaptations of board games to phone format, in descending order of awesomeness: Galaxy Trucker, Race for the Galaxy, Androminion, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Onirim, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride.

      • Cariyaga says:

        I’m intending to play it on Tabletop Simulator, so setup time isn’t an issue. I’ve played plenty of video games, and am interested in the mechanics of board games. There’s plenty more on TTS than there are video game adaptations.

  7. tayfie says:

    Filed under “where do I get these ideas”:

    Combining observations of the kinds of adults who enjoy animation with some personal introspection, I wonder if people on the autism spectrum like cartoons because the exaggerated emotional reactions are easier to interpret than other forms of media or real humans. This is pure conjecture and my observation could be explained by any number of other reasons, assuming I’ve identified a general pattern, but this feels like a major reason I, personally, am drawn to cartoons even though I don’t feel I have any problems picking up on emotional cues in other contexts.

    • Aqua says:

      Definitely not true for me. If anything, exaggerated emotional things / really tropy or surface level conflict is my biggest gripe with anime.

      Personally I think I enjoy the humor the most. You can do things in animation that is very hard in live action.

    • AG says:

      Well, there are cartoons and there are cartoons, though. I was drawn to the ones with more narrative, and am repulsed by the really broad-expressioned ones with grostesque designs that normals seem to prefer. (Not into the Groening style, Spongebob, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Ed Edd Eddy, etc. Not even that into the Adventure Time/Regular Show/Gumball aesthetic.)
      A lot of people were drawn to anime because it was relatively more realistic in the designs, and told stories about humans instead of creatures, even if said anime humans weren’t actually all that human due to shoddy writing.

    • BeefSnakStikR says:

      For me, I think it has more to do with the patterns and repeated in-jokes. Homestar Runner’s line “where my hat is at?” still runs through my head every time I’m looking for something I’ve misplaced.

    • Baeraad says:

      I don’t think I have a problem with picking up emotions. I like cartoons more because they’re visibly easy to process – everything has definite boundaries, the colours are sharp, and one character does not look like another. In real life, I have a problem recognising faces and just generally interpreting images.

      • rubberduck says:

        Seconding this, as someone with face troubles. I like anime and cartoons because I never have to spend time trying to remember which character is which, since the character designs are usually quite distinct. You can tell who’s who by the hair color alone, quite often. Plus, in cartoons especially, the designs often tie into the characters’ roles in the story nicely. It’s pretty easy to pick out the villains, nerds, love interest, meaningless extras, etc. just from the character design.

        In contrast, today I saw the new Mission:Impossible movie and while I had a good time, I couldn’t keep track of which of the two generically-attractive white women with long dark hair and a past with Ethan Hunt was which. Their faces were nearly identical to me (though I had no problem keeping track of the men).

        • JulieK says:

          I had the same problem with Dead Poets Society- the students all looked the same. (Okay, you had a tall kid and a redheaded kid, but they weren’t the main parts.)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Speaking as another person who has some trouble recognizing faces (and voices), military movies are a problem.

        • CatCube says:

          I have trouble telling Matt Damon and Leonardo DeCaprio apart. My first two viewings of The Departed were very confusing.

        • BBA says:

          Atomic Blonde is full of generic white dudes spying on each other. I had enough trouble figuring out who was supposed to be betraying who among the recognizable characters and my face blindness just added to it.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I’m a huge fan of musical theater and very mildly spectral. There are a million reasons I like musicals, but I have wondered if one of them is that they lend themselves to huge, obvious emotional reactions that are easy to interpret.

  8. bean says:

    Today, Naval Gazing begins discussion of how battleships were protected from underwater damage.

    Also, a question. Does anyone still use the SSC notice of the latest Naval Gazing post? It’s been a while since I got more than a post or maybe two out of the announcement here, and I don’t want to clutter the OTs unnecessarily.

  9. entobat says:

    For Scott, related to the recent ADHD post:

    If you would like to make a credible precommitment to follow a given analysis strategy without putting a banner on top of your survey saying “BTW GUYS I AM INVESTIGATING SOME CLAIMS BY DR. SO-AND-SO ABOUT ADHD” you could publicly post the SHA-2 hash of a paragraph describing your intended strategy, which readers could later verify by hashing it themselves. This could be in the survey post itself, in a separate tweet / tumblr post, etc. This is a form of pre-registering your experiment without having an official board to pre-register it with.

    There are a variety of online tools to generate these hashes, e.g. here is the first one I found on Google.

    SHA-2 is one of the standard hash functions and is pretty well respected; based on current public knowledge it would be implausible for you to have two or more paragraph-length texts that generated the same hash, let alone that were all plausible English descriptions of analysis strategies for the same dataset. And if you had discovered some fundamental SHA-2 vulnerability you would probably use it to mine all the bitcoins before cheating at science on your blog.

    You could do a similar thing by encrypting the methods paragraph with your RSA private key (this is called “signing”), but my guess is you don’t have one of those and it would be kind of a hassle to set one up.

  10. Brad says:

    Other than Georgist land taxes are there any other proposed strategies for reducing the deadweight losses caused by land rents? Leave to one side proposals that amount to undoing policies that make the situation worse, here I’m asking about positive interventions.

    • SamChevre says:

      I don’t know if it’s a proposed strategy in the US, but land reform has been a key policy world-wide, and when done well (Taiwan or South Korea) can be very effective.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Really? Because when I think of “land reform”, I usually think of either “Kleptocrats taking land from wealthy farmers (who they shoot) and parcelling it out to their buddies, then everyone starves” or “Communists taking land from farmers (who they shoot), organizing it into collectives, forcing people to work them, and everyone starves”.

        • Neil Strickland says:

          Yes, really. The book “How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region” by Joe Studwell discusses this in detail. It’s a few years since I read it, but I found it very interesting. The claim is that there was extensive and successful land reform as part of the unification of Germany, and this was consciously and deliberately copied by Meiji Japan, and later by Taiwan and South Korea, again with success. There were less successful (but not disastrous) programmes in Malaysia and the Philippines, and Studwell discusses the reasons for these differences. As far as I remember, he does not really talk about experiences in Latin America or Africa, which are also less positive.

        • Eric Rall says:

          In addition to Neil’s examples, there was a substantial de facto land reform in the US after the American Revolution (confiscation of loyalist estates and abolition of proprietary colonial governments) and in Revolutionary France.

          From what I gather, one-time land reform seems to work pretty well (or at least to be mostly harmless) when it’s done as part of a replacement of a feudal-ish political and social structure with something resembling a liberal democracy with a market economy. Both parts are critical. The reformers have to credibly commit to it being a one-time deal, that the feudal holdings they’re “reforming” are fundamentally different from property under the new regime, and that property rights are going to be secure going forward; without this, land reform destablises property rights, causes tragedy-of-the-commons issues, and disincentivizes investment in land improvements or in repurposing land to higher-valued uses.

          “Liberal democracy with a market economy” (or at least a relatively liberal constitutional monarchy) is also important, both for its own sake and because the common alternatives (communists and autocratic military strongmen) tend to be really bad at property rights and have strong political economy incentives to fall into the failure modes you brought up. But there are historical examples of successful one-time land reforms done by authoritarian revolutionary governments that didn’t liberalize until later (Taiwan, South Korea, Revolutionary France) or by foreign conquerors (Napoleon in his client states, Prussia in the territories they acquired in the Austro-Prussian war), so the important part here seems to be a sustainable trajectory towards liberalization rather than actually being there at the time of the land reform.

          Of course, it could be that the process of liberalization is doing all of the work here, and that a one-time land reform during a transition period doesn’t really help, but a credible commitment to being a one-time deal minimizes the harm, and a general transition to a liberal government with a market economy provides enough offsetting benefits to hide the damage from the land reform.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Well, in that case, I don’t think land reform in the SF Bay Area is going to work too well. Dispossessing a whole bunch of small homeowners in order to give that land to people who will build dense housing doesn’t meet those criteria. There’s no current feudal system (though the proposed Google company town might be considered a move in that direction), there’s definitely no commitment to doing it only once, there’s no fundamental difference in the property, and the SF Bay governments are not likely to move towards liberalization.

          • ana53294 says:

            there’s definitely no commitment to doing it only once

            Exactly. You start with tearing some buildings, and then you end up with destroying the whole concept of private property. In Moscow, they have this project where they are going to destroy supposedly unsafe buildings (somehow only centrally located 5 storey buildings that are close to public transportation are unsafe), and are going to increase density. Property owners will be given a take-it-or-leave-it deal, and if they don’t accept the provided alternative housing after eviction, they may get nothing (and they will not be allowed to sue).

            This is going to be the destruction of the whole concept of private property in Russia. People are already used to the fact that money in the bank can become useless paper at any time, and that foreign currency ownership can be declared illegal (as was done during the Soviet Union).

            Construction business is one of the most corrupt businesses (almost all corruption cases in Spain are related to construction). You don’t want to have construction businesses using the government to kick out unwilling house owners and providing whatever compensation the government sets. You will just get regulatory capture.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Well, in that case, I don’t think land reform in the SF Bay Area is going to work too well

            Ah, I forgot the thread was originally talking about the Bay Area. In that case, I absolutely agree with you.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      What would be an example of such a deadweight loss? It’s not clear to me that there are any.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        Also interested to see more about this.

        • Guy in TN says:

          Name a source of deadweight loss you are interested in, and I’ll tell you how land ownership causes it. Too many ways to know where to begin.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I mean, I guess we should start with the biggest one: Taxes

          • Guy in TN says:

            Private landowners certainly have powers identical to that of taxation. Granted, we don’t call it “taxation” because the word has state-action built into the definition. But if you look at the fundamental actions that encompass the deadweight loss of a “sales tax” (Person A and Person B want to trade, and Person C demands that the trade must not take place without taking a cut for themselves), this is essentially identical to the the fairground example I gave in response to Paul Zrimsek below.

          • Lambert says:

            If there’s no cost to using land, what’s going to ensure that it gets used in the most productive way?

            Letting someone else use my land costs me the ability to use it myself for the purposes of frolicking, or shooting at grouse, or whatever it is landowners do.

            And it’s a lot easier to move to a cheaper or better plot of land than it is to move an entire business overseas.

          • Guy in TN says:

            If there’s no cost to using land, what’s going to ensure that it gets used in the most productive way?

            This is one reason why most societies are willing to accept a lot of deadweight loss in the forms of taxation and private ownership. Its a trade-off that to produces better outcomes than a hopeless quest to minimize deadweight loss would.

            Letting someone else use my land costs me the ability to use it myself for the purposes of frolicking, or shooting at grouse, or whatever it is landowners do.

            Its true that if other people are allowed to use your land, it diminishes the potential gains in value you could derive from an alternative scenario where you had exclusive access to the land. This doesn’t make your ownership any less of a deadweight loss. The state would argue much in the same vein, in response to those who wish to lower taxation (“lowering taxes costs us the ability to use that money”).

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @GuyinTn

            How do you account for things such as the Coase theorem in this instance? Because lets presume (as you seem to do) that multiple people want to use the land, how do you, outside ensure the most efficient use?

            Because if I grow corn on my farm, that necessarily precludes you from growing wheat there. But if wheat were the better crop, I would switch to wheat, or you could offer to buy my land for a value greater than the value I can get from the land for growing corn, and then grow wheat.

          • Lambert says:

            Addendum: The other difference between private land ownership and national sovereignty is that states tend not to buy and sell land in the same way that landowners do.
            I can’t go and buy a bit of France off the Fifth Republic as my own microstate. There is no market in sovereign land, therefore no efficient market.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @idontknow131647093
            If the most economically efficient outcome from Coasean bargaining is that it is privately owned, then you get to charge usage fees. Likewise, if the most efficient outcome from Coasean bargaining is that it is under authority of the state, then they get to charge taxation.

            Although both Coasean bargaining outcomes are “economically efficient”, both outcomes still create deadweight loss. I don’t think it could even be said that the Coasean bargaining outcome necessarily minimizes deadweight loss, since deadweight loss could just be a small part of each party’s valuation.

            Maybe I’m not understanding your question?

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Lambert

            The other difference between private land ownership and national sovereignty is that states tend not to buy and sell land in the same way that landowners do.
            I can’t go and buy a bit of France off the Fifth Republic as my own microstate. There is no market in sovereign land, therefore no efficient market.

            Deadweight loss is where Person A wants to trade with Person B, and Person C (who is in some sort of authority position) says no. The “market” for being in the position of power is not the market where the deadweight loss occurs. The deadweight loss refers to the loss of potential value for Persons A and B. That is, if it wasn’t for person Person C, they would trade. The market (or lack thereof) for “who will be the authority figure” is a wholly separate thing.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @guy

            You aren’t understanding my question because you don’t appear to have the right definition of deadweight loss.

            Deadweight loss is where Person A wants to trade with Person B, and Person C (who is in some sort of authority position) says no. The “market” for being in the position of power is not the market where the deadweight loss occurs. The deadweight loss refers to the loss of potential value for Persons A and B. That is, if it wasn’t for person Person C, they would trade. The market (or lack thereof) for “who will be the authority figure” is a wholly separate thing.

            It is missing a critical step: Person C must be incorrect in determining that doing the thing is a positive good.

            I’ll go back to my simple example: I am growing corn on my field. B wants to grow wheat on my field and C wants to buy that wheat. D wants to buy my corn. The deadweight loss, if any, is the difference in the price C would pay for B’s wheat over what D pays for my corn. If wheat is far superior to corn, then I will switch to wheat and sell to C, or B can buy my property, grow wheat, and sell to C. The only deadweight loss in either scenario is transaction costs, which no system can totally avoid.

            Turning now to your slightly more complex example: The Festival

            The buyers and sellers are anyone who is conducting business on his property. An example would be a festival, where the merchants are only allowed to do business if they give the landowner a certain percentage of the profits.

            Lets assume, for simplicity, the owner of the land is also the organizer of this festival with many merchants. Each vendor is actually quite meaningless, and could be replaced with a similar vendor, the value is from the organization and staging of the festival which creates the crowds of people buying things. The organizer charging a fee to vendors is not creating a deadweight loss, he is merely being recompensed for his efforts that created the festival, which would not exist without his efforts.

            Combining the examples, if I disallow a festival on my cornfield, this is again not a deadweight loss if my corn would be destroyed by the festival, or the soil would be spoiled (ruining all future harvests), provided that the value of those things is more than the festival’s value. And if its not, I can agree to host the fest and be compensated for my destroyed corn (or not in Coase’s mind, but whether I am compensated or not does not create a deadweight loss).

          • Guy in TN says:

            The definition I was using was looking at the loss incurred by A and B from lack of potential trades. You are aggregating into this the gains C received from stopping those trades, and saying that if the gains made by C are greater than A and B’s losses, then its no longer deadweight loss, for society as a whole.

            Which is okay, but quite different from how I’ve seen it formulated. Under this definition, how do you even know taxation causes deadweight loss? Here’s the example you provided:

            if I disallow a festival on my cornfield, this is again not a deadweight loss if my corn would be destroyed by the festival, or the soil would be spoiled (ruining all future harvests), provided that the value of those things is more than the festival’s value. And if its not, I can agree to host the fest and be compensated for my destroyed corn (or not in Coase’s mind, but whether I am compensated or not does not create a deadweight loss).

            Switching out private power for state power: If the state disallows people to conduct business without paying a sales tax, this is no longer a deadweight loss, provided that the value the state gains in the sales tax is more than the value its citizens lose in potential tax-free trades (considering the state uses the sales tax to pay for the military, I would say they value it quite a bit!). We know this is the most efficient outcome, because Coase theorem tells us that if you valued not paying a sales tax more than the state valued collecting a sales tax, you would simply buy the power of taxation (you don’t do this because the state values it so much, that no one has enough money for the state to even consider giving it up). That no one does this, tells us that no one values the power of taxation more than the state.

            It seems that, under this formulation, a sales tax is efficient and creates no aggregate deadweight loss. Where did I go wrong?

          • Guy in TN says:

            I want to mention that I can’t seem to find a definition of deadweight loss that incorporates “Person C’s” gains; using it in that manner seems atypical, and seems like its simply a re-definition of transaction costs in Coase theorem. From the first couple of google hits
            here,here,here

            The last site helpfully says:

            The deadweight loss from the tax measures the sum of the buyer’s lost surplus and the seller’s lost surplus in the equilibrium with the tax.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            IMO your definition is just highlighting a narrow, micro econ only definition of DWL.

            If the government with its taxes creates more value than the transaction they prohibited, then the net DWL will be positive. This is why Coase exists. He says that DWL cannot be treated as you treat it. If we did, the corn farmer can result in a DWL for the wheat farmer while the wheat farmer simultaneously creates a DWL for the corn farmer. This is obviously incorrect (given current agricultural technology).

            What Coase says is that all you have to do is create a stable system (and the taxation or other means for creating it is not a DWL) and then you will get efficiency. The DWL system you are talking about ignores externalities such as the destruction of the cornfield. This, of course, means that DWL alone does not refute taxation, but means that each incremental tax must survive an analysis akin to the wheat vs. corn analysis.

          • Jiro says:

            It seems that, under this formulation, a sales tax is efficient and creates no aggregate deadweight loss. Where did I go wrong?

            The economic transactions here are transactions between two willing parties. Buying the right to tax a third party doesn’t count. Buying the right to tax you and having you be taxed if you fail to make the purchase (in which case you are an unwilling party) doesn’t count either.

          • Guy in TN says:

            @Jiro

            The economic transactions here are transactions between two willing parties. Buying the right to tax a third party doesn’t count. Buying the right to tax you and having you be taxed if you fail to make the purchase (in which case you are an unwilling party) doesn’t count either.

            Buying property is buying the right to “tax” third parties, even unwilling ones. That’s what the fairground example was about. Person A wants to trade with Person B, and unwillingly, involuntarily, and without their consent, Person C demands a cut of it. It it wasn’t for the existence of Person C, then the trade would have taken place. Person C adds nothing to the equation, except as the legal “gatekeeper” for access to his trading grounds.

            Even if Person A trades with no one, his very existence on the fairground may require an involuntary fee (a private tax).

            What is your bright line between private ownership and state authority?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            I thought it was pretty well established that the delineation between State and Private individuals is the monopoly on aggressive force.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Can you elaborate?

            With Stand Your Ground laws, private property owners are legally allowed to initiate bodily violence, i.e. aggression against people who disrespect their authority over property. So the state doesn’t actually monopolize its aggression, in the traditional sense of the word. [Edit: The phrase was used by Max Weber to simply describe the state as the highest rung in the social hierarchy.]

            But that’s a tangent. I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t think there is a difference between the state and property owners. There is, but its about where you fall on the social hierarchy, more so than the fundamental powers granted to you. Specifically, they both have the power to coerce people who fall under thier jurisdiction, in the form of demanding a cut of the profits from trades (i.e. sales tax), and demanding money from people who are simply occupying space (i.e. property tax). You can even ban commerce over your jurisdiction all together.

            The notable differences are, the state’s power to restrict movement across borders, and wage war. But deadweight loss covers a lot more ground than just immigration and warfare, so focusing on these differences is a distraction.

            So in regards to deadweight loss, what is the difference when Person C goes by the name of “statesman” vs. “landowner”, in regards to the loss in value from potential trades between Person A and Person B? I see none.

      • Guy in TN says:

        To be more specific: The power a landowner has over activity that occurs on his property is quite vast, and encompasses most (if not all) of the powers that a state has over its domain. So whatever actions the state does that causes a deadweight loss, the landowner can probably do the same for his own property.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          But state actions that create a deadweight loss do so by coming between buyers and sellers, usually in the form of a price control or some sort of tax on their transactions. If the landowner managing his own property is in the position of a state, who’s in the position of the buyers and sellers?

          • Guy in TN says:

            If the landowner managing his own property is in the position of a state, who’s in the position of the buyers and sellers?

            The buyers and sellers are anyone who is conducting business on his property. An example would be a festival, where the merchants are only allowed to do business if they give the landowner a certain percentage of the profits.

            Or, the landowner could ban you from setting up a business on his property in the first place (very common). Lots of deadweight loss there, from loss of potential trade activity.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Good answer, but one which I think ultimately proves too much, since the sellers also have to pay the people from whom they get all the other things they need to do business, and fingering those as a source of deadweight loss as well stretches the idea to the point of absurdity. We can all agree that the result is inefficient compared to a baseline where all those things are available free of cost, but the comparison ain’t realistic. I don’t think this objection depends on any particular assumption about the propriety of private ownership of land, either: owned or unowned, turning a piece of land necessarily means denying it to all other possible uses and there’s a cost to that, which is why I don’t allow festivals in my front yard, deadweight losses be damned.

            Note also that if we accept land-rent as a source of deadweight loss then a Georgist tax does not do away with it: all it changes is who collects the rent.

            In partial defense of the way you use the term, I have heard economists speak of the deadweight loss from taxation in a way which implies a baseline where government is either unnecessary or cost-free.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It’s true, the implication of private land being a source of deadweight loss implies that all ownership of capital is a source. If this is absurd, well, I agree. I think the deadweight loss concept is rather absurd itself, and a plain reading of it does not lead to the conclusions the econ folk often purport it to.

        • actinide meta says:

          The power of a landlord or state to create deadweight loss is limited by competition. In practice landlords face a lot more competition. I agree that we should be careful of changes (like, say, the anti-georgist ideas I play with downthread) that could greatly reduce this competition.

          (States also have much more direct power to do harm; it’s hyperbole to say that a landlord’s power is comparable. Landlords, at least in the modern world, can’t wage wars or genocides, force people into military slavery, etc.)

          • Guy in TN says:

            States also have much more direct power to do harm; it’s hyperbole to say that a landlord’s power is comparable. Landlords, at least in the modern world, can’t wage wars or genocides, force people into military slavery, etc.

            Warfare and military slavery isn’t usually what people are referring about when they talk about deadweight loss, but I’ll agree that that they qualify, and agree that in our current arrangement, the state has more power to create deadweight loss than private entities. (This is only so, because the state has mitigated the power of private ownership. In anarcho-capitalist scenarios, where private owners gain full state-like power, this wouldn’t be the case.)

    • actinide meta says:

      Other than Georgist land taxes are there any other proposed strategies for reducing the deadweight losses caused by land rents?

      (Epistemic status: quite unsure.)

      The usual argument for Georgist taxes is that land is not being produced, so taxing away its value has no deadweight loss.

      But I think this is just wrong in reality. The value of an acre of land in Antarctica is very low. “Unimproved” land is mostly valuable either because of fertility (which can be created, maintained, or destroyed as much as any building) or proximity to human creations. If you successfully taxed away all profit from land ownership, farmland would be quickly destroyed and investment in construction in cities would fall. A “land tax” set to the rental price of Antarctic tundra would in fact be optimal but far below present property taxes and probably not even worth collecting.

      In this model, the problem is the opposite: people who build (bits of) cities capture the rental value of their own property but not the positive externality of increased rental value of other nearby properties. So, like any positive externality, cities are underproduced, and therefore too expensive. Moreover cash rents are too high because the landlord can’t capture the positive externalities created by their tenants.

      This isn’t a solution, and it would probably be tough to reward land owners more without giving them destructive monopoly powers, but it’s a very different view of problem space. Thoughts?

      • Guy in TN says:

        The usual argument for Georgist taxes is that land is not being produced, so taxing away its value has no deadweight loss. But I think this is just wrong in reality.

        I think Georgists readily recognize that human labor contributes to the value of land. Their argument is that, in addition to value added from human labor, land has significant value in of itself. The soil, the water, the air, the space. In the theory of desert advocated by Georgists, since less than 100% of the value is from human labor, the initial claimant cannot be entitled to 100% ownership.

        If you successfully taxed away all profit from land ownership, farmland would be quickly destroyed and investment in construction in cities would fall.

        The important thing about the Land Value Tax is that it disregards improvements to the land in its calculation. This includes buildings, crops, and proximity to other humans. If the farmland is in an arid region, for example, the land value tax would be very low, considering how much value irrigation is adding. The idea is to capture the value added only by the land itself.

        I am not a Georgist myself.

      • The Nybbler says:

        A Georgist system — a 100% tax on the imputed ground rent — is equivalent to no land ownership at all. I believe it’s equivalent to a system where the government owns all the land and leases it out to the highest bidder, with a right of first refusal to the current leaseholder should a higher bidder come along. It’s an utterly alien model.

        • actinide meta says:

          Right, and if the government leases farmland to the highest bidder, the highest bidder will be someone who intends to farm it destructively, consuming all the nutrients from the soil without replacement, or letting it erode, or whatever. In a few years you have a desert.

      • Eric Rall says:

        In this model, the problem is the opposite: people who build (bits of) cities capture the rental value of their own property but not the positive externality of increased rental value of other nearby properties.

        I think Georgists would mostly agree with you but think you’re looking at the wrong side of the argument. Specifically, the potential rental income of your apartment block comes from two sources: the value of the location (almost entirely positive externalities from nearby houses, businesses, etc and the supporting infrastructure, as well as natural features e.g. a pleasant climate), and the value added by the capital improvements you (or previous owners you bought from) made to the land, specifically building the actual apartment complex in this example.

        The Georgist’s answer to this is to tax only the value of the location, but not the value of the improvements. So the vacant lot next to your apartment complex is taxed on the same assessed basis as your property is. The idea is that the government (as the maintainer of the city’s infrastructure and public services and the custodian of the interests of “the people”) has a better claim to the benefits of the externalities your property benefits from than you do as an individual property owner, but you have the best claim to the internal benefits of your improvement.

        There are several tricky bits here. One of the biggies is assessing the value of improvements separately from the unimproved value of the land. Another is the question of the rightful recipients of the land tax revenues: Georgists usually stop at the government AFAIK, but the case for that is a lot stronger for value that comes from infrastructure and public services or from nature than for value that comes from other private activity (residents and property owners). I think you’re right that the Georgist argument taken to its logical conclusion implies some kind of subsidy for creating positive externalities, but fairly assessing and apportioning this is difficult (and probably intractable), and I don’t think Georgists make the attempt (partly due to difficulty, and partly because they’ve got a long list of other things they’d like to spend the money on).

        • actinide meta says:

          Collectively, landowners in a city capture much of the positive network externality of the city. That’s what gets people cranky in the first place.

          If there were just one landowner in the city, but she is subject to perfect competition because there are 1,000 other identical spherical cows cities to live in, then she internalizes the full network externality. She ideally therefore wants to invest the optimal amount (in capital investments and subsidies for tenants) to create the efficient amount of economic value in the city.

          Now when you replace her with a million small landlords, they face a tragedy of the commons. Together they still capture the externality fairly well. But they can no longer coordinate as well to invest in network effects. So too little city gets built. Maybe far too little.

          The georgist tax seems to just make this worse in efficiency terms. Currently landlords can buy relatively large properties and build integrated mini cities, capturing more (though still just a fraction) of the externality for other land owners, and it seems like this model is important in places where construction actually happens. This won’t work with a land value tax.

          Of course this doesn’t answer any particular theory of desert. But usually land taxes are presented as an efficiency free lunch as well.

          • Eric Rall says:

            A regular property tax (taxing the entire value of the property, including buildings and other improvements) does provide a disincentive to construction, but a Georgist tax (which only taxes the estimated value of a hypothetical vacant lot in the same location) shouldn’t if it’s anything like properly implemented. If anything, it inventizes development slightly by imposing a negative cash flow on land that’s underdeveloped relative to its tax assessment comps (e.g. a few acres of farmland in the middle of a Bay Area suburb gets taxed on a valuation of several million dollars per acre based on the surrounding residential and commercial properties).

            Put another way, in a Georgist system, improving your property in a way that raises property values for the neighborhood will raise your neighbors’ taxes, but shouldn’t raise your taxes at all. The only way that should deter you from building is if you fear retaliation by your neighbors or you’re inclined to hold back out of an altruistic concern for their tax bills. But those should only be concerns if the net effect of externalties-minus-taxes on your neighbors is negative, rather than zero or slightly positive as most Georgists would set the tax rate.

          • actinide meta says:

            improving your property in a way that raises property values for the neighborhood will raise your neighbors’ taxes, but shouldn’t raise your taxes at all

            So for the sake of argument, what happens if a single developer buys cheap land in the desert and builds an entire city?

            I am assuming that the government would decide that now the “unimproved” value of the property is much higher, and taxes them accordingly. Or if not, the true “unimproved” value of all land is very low.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I think that’s our core disagreement. I’m assuming that in that case, the developer will be paying the Land Value Tax on an unimproved land valuation of almost nothing, based on the logic that the only reason that patch of land is more desirable to own or rent than any other random patch of desert in the middle of nowhere is the improvements the developer put into the land and the presence of the developer’s tenants (made possible and desirable by the improvements) on the land.

            And that’s not necessarily unworkable, since in this scenario the developer is assumed to be providing all the infrastructure, services, and amenities that a local government would normally provide. And there are no externalities to correct, since the developer has already internalized them.

            My model does predict some weirdness, in that if the developer later splits up the city into parcels and sells them separately, then the “unimproved” value of each parcel would be much more than the “unimproved” value of the entire city as a single parcel, since the act of dividing the parcel exposes externalities that had previously been internalized.

            It’s like if I sold the bathrooms in my house to investors, who would then charge me a fee per use: the bathrooms by virtue of being inside my house would be more valuable than a random bathroom sitting on an otherwise-vacant lot, and my house (although significantly less valuable than a comparable house that came with ownership of the bathrooms bundled in) would be more valuable than an otherwise-comparable house with no bathrooms at all. If the house is a single unit, then the bathrooms are an improvement, but if it’s parceled up, then the parcels each contribute to the “unimproved” value of one another.

      • Guy in TN says:

        Another is the question of the rightful recipients of the land tax revenues: Georgists usually stop at the government AFAIK, but the case for that is a lot stronger for value that comes from infrastructure and public services or from nature than for value that comes from other private activity (residents and property owners).

        Yeah, this is a pretty serious issue with the Georgists. If your problem is that you don’t like capturing unearned value, then taxing that value is just kicking the can down the road. Because somebody is going to end up receiving that value, even if it is just sent to the government via taxation. Seems like the only solution is to make peace with capturing unearned value, since we can’t declare all of nature off-limits.

  11. Orpheus says:

    So…what are you reading now? (And don’t give me any cheeky “The SSC open thread” comments; I mean what book are you currently reading).

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Now? I’ve got three right now I’ve been switching between every chapter or so.

      * Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
      * Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley
      * Alt-Hero

    • CatCube says:

      I’m rereading The Goblin Emperor by Kathrine Addison. It was recommended by somebody here in one of the OTs a while back. I can’t say that the story is great or that the writing is exceptional, but I’m rereading it for the same reason I read The Martian multiple times: I like spending time with this character.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Semiosis by Sue Burke.

      Science fiction novel about an isolated colony on a planet with intelligent plants.

      I think of it as somewhat old style, since a lot of the fun is watching the implications of an idea. Also, it’s restful because the author’s politics aren’t obvious.

      • rahien.din says:

        Just finished Semiosis, and I really enjoyed it. It’s apparently going to be a duology.

      • engleberg says:

        Just bought Semiosis on your recommendation.

      • theredsheep says:

        Counterpoint: I struggled to get through it, and eventually tossed it aside when I got to the chapter about Higgins and realized I was supposed to view him sympathetically.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve been reading the Killbot Diaries novellas, which are quite good–well-written, interesting worldbuilding, etc.

        I also recently read Downbelow Station, which was worth reading even though the tone throughout most of the book is damned dark.

        • engleberg says:

          I read a bunch of CJ Cherryh in the Navy, and she was really good at describing people under tension in a tin can. Not a real fun read though. I wish she’d publish her Latin for Lazy People thing- the parts I read on her website were excellent, and a real fun read.

    • JulieK says:

      I recently caught up one the three latest Vorkosigan novels. I found them a mixed bag; Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was quite good, but Cryoburn was blah and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen had no plot.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The last Bujold I read was “Cryoburn” and it felt “phoned in”. I’ve not read the most recent two.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I just reread The Curse of Chalion– it holds up very nicely.

      • John Schilling says:

        Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was quite good, but Cryoburn was blah and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen had no plot.

        That was my assessment as well. I think Bujold has run out of stories she wants to tell about Miles, and is winding down that saga. Ivan(*) is such a natural fit for that universe that writing a novel-length epilogue for him brought out the best in her Vorkisigan-style writing and enthusiasm, Granny Cordelia very much less so.

        * Don’t say it!

      • Aevylmar says:

        (Bujold spoilers)

        I loved the first half of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (everything up to the “Divorce” scene), but it felt as though Barrayar was going to be a brief, homey rest before rushing off to go slay dragons, the way it was in Mirror Dance, and then… no?

        It feels as though sometime around 2004 she forgotten how to write adventure plots, or how to write villains, or one of these things. All her early things are very good, but her later things are… less so.

        • JulieK says:

          Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance has a lot in common with A Civil Campaign; in both, the focus is on the romance/humor, and the action is a minor element. (In Jole, the action is totally absent.)

          • Aevylmar says:

            [more spoilers]

            Yes… but I thought that the second half of A Civil Campaign worked but the second half of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance didn’t.

            In Civil Campaign, there was tension that wasn’t based on “will they or won’t they,” in addition to the tension that was based on “will they or won’t they.” The two district elections are, if not the A-plot, at least very close, and the question of who’s going to win there remains tense up until the climax of the story.

            In Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, though, I thought that the only real tension for the second half of the story was ‘will they or won’t they’, which… they will. Of course they will. They’re both already at the ‘I love [him/her], but [he/she] doesn’t love me stage.’

            So I thought that Civil Campaign was one of her best and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance wasn’t.

          • JulieK says:

            In CVA you have the “problem with moles” subplot in the second half. (Of which the best parts are undoubtedly the opening and closing scenes- “What is that building?” and “Has our building always looked like that?”)

        • JulieK says:

          All her early things are very good, but her later things are… less so.

          I really liked her old method of telling the whole story from one character’s point of view (in the 3rd person), rather than skipping from one viewpoint to another.

      • theredsheep says:

        I felt like Ivan in CVA was sort of a replacement Miles, now that Miles has settled down and can’t go off doing harebrained things for our amusement anymore. Still amusing. Gentleman Jole was just Cordelia being insufferably Cordelian about her superior progressive values for a whole book. Or so I gather from my wife, who actually finished it. I thought I was strong enough to make it through; I was wrong.

        (Mirror Dance really was her best, yes)

        EDIT: IIRC she has another one out now, about the butter-bug scientist and Miles’s wife. I don’t know details since it hasn’t shown up at the library yet.

        • theredsheep says:

          Okay, it’s “the Flowers of Vashnoi,” currently only available as an e-book on Amazon. It says it’s a novella.

        • Aevylmar says:

          It’s not bad, but I didn’t think it was up to her pre-2004 standard.

          • albatross11 says:

            I liked it pretty well–about as worthwhile as “Mountains of Mourning,” and in fact I kind-of thought of it as Ekaterin’s version of “Mountains of Mourning.”

        • albatross11 says:

          I enjoyed Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance quite a bit.

          My problem with Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen was that there wasn’t any real tension. The problems were too small for the characters. Jole’s midlife crisis career decision wasn’t enough to drive the plot, and Miles’ arrival didn’t actually accomplish anything interesting either. I felt like it was Bujold’s way of trying to tie up the loose ends of the characters so she could stop writing about them.

          There are a lot of interesting stories to write in that universe, but most don’t involve Cordelia or Miles as major characters unless things go massively pear-shaped for the Barrayarran Empire. Miles now has a stature only a little less imposing than Aral did during, say, _The Warrior’s Apprentice_. Barring a civil war or Cetagandan invasion, they’re the powers on the sidelines/in the background while the new set of characters play. IMO, _Gentleman Jole_ would have been way better, if it had been written from the perspective of the Womens’ Auxillary officer who was his aide. *She* faced some interesting problems, including maybe ending up paired off with a Cetagandan defector. That story from her side, with a few overheard bits/interactions with Jole and Cordelia, might have been pretty entertaining.

        • JulieK says:

          Gentleman Jole was just Cordelia being insufferably Cordelian about her superior progressive values for a whole book.

          It was interesting to see the progressive Cordelia refer to embryos as people, though.

    • a reader says:

      “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari.

      But I read it quite intermittently, I’m too much Internet addicted and the book, although thought-provoking, didn’t captivate me enough to overcome my net addiction.

    • sty_silver says:

      Waking Up; Searching for spirituality without religion by Sam Harris

      • lazydragonboy says:

        How is that? I had it recommended by a guy I went on retreat with, but I never wound up giving it ago. I saw public spat of his, and he didn’t look like the kinda guy I would want to learn from.

    • marshwiggle says:

      The Lagoon. It’s an account of the biology of Aristotle.

    • sfoil says:

      I just finished reading Jack Vance’s Araminta Station. It’s the first part of a trilogy, though I’ve heard that next two books aren’t as good. Araminta itself is set in the same universe as the better-known Demon Princes. Overall: an experienced novelist with a distinct style putting his tricks to good use.

    • Aapje says:

      Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk

      The Stormlight Archive (listening as audio book during commute)

    • Anonymous says:

      * Mother of Learning by Domagoj Kurmaic
      * Harry Potter and the Natural 20 by Sir Poley
      * Stone Age Diet by Walter L. Voegtlin

    • fion says:

      Judas Unchained, the second part of The Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton. It’s a sci-fi epic, and one that I’m finding very entertaining and gripping. I’d also say it’s very strong on world building and character development. My only criticism is it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on, when there’s so many characters and so many story threads. It’s one of those books where I sometimes wish I’d been taking notes. 😛

    • rahien.din says:

      To Sell Is Human : The Surprising Truth About Moving Others

      Cautious Aggression : Defending Modern Football

    • bean says:

      Let’s see. Limiting myself to books I’ve actually read in the past week or so, and intend to read all the way through (as opposed to ones I’m reading specific sections of, or ones I consulted for reference):
      The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
      British Battleships of the Victorian Era by Norman Friedman
      Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance by Donald MacKenzie
      The Atlantic Battle Won by Samuel Eliot Morison
      Fireworks by George Plimpton
      The Glorious Cause by Robert Middlekauff

      Yes, this is actually how I read books.

      • albatross11 says:

        In those term, I’m slowly working my way through _The Secret of Our Success_ and _Arms and Influence_, and rereading _Knowledge and Decisions_. All three very much worth the time to read and think about them.

    • Eugene Dawn says:

      A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I also started and haven’t yet finished The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger, but I didn’t like his writing style very much and am not sure I will actually finish it, and hence whether I can be counted as still reading it.

    • Plumber says:

      “So…what are you reading now? (And don’t give me any cheeky “The SSC open thread” comments; I mean what book are you currently reading”

      @Orpheus,

      Building Outdoor Structures by Scott McBride (my wife wanted a fence to keep the neighbors from parking close to our house), 

      How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman,

      The Time Traveler’s Guide to Restoration England by Ian Mortimer (I really liked his previous books on the Elizabethan era, and the 14th century), and

      Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe (I’m kinda on what I guess is some weird kick on learning about the origins of capitalist employer-employee relations, and on how education was handled in the past. One interesting thing to me is the two parallel apprenticeship systems in Tudor times, one for teens who’s parents pay a fee to start the training that last until the apprentice is in their early 20’s, which reminds my of parents paying for private schools and colleges, and another in which local governments paid households to take pre-teen orphans as “apprentices” which resembles are modern fostercare system).

      I also had tried to read some of Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, which I saw recommendations of, but I just couldn’t get into it right now.

      • SamChevre says:

        I would love to hear more about the Wage Labor and Guilds book once you finish: I’m somewhat familiar with the topic, and tend to think of the modern effective trades unions as their descendants–but generally find the topic interesting.

      • albatross11 says:

        Have you read Kropotkin’s _Mutual Aid_? You might find it interesting–he talks some about guilds in middle-ages Europe, among other things.

    • smocc says:

      Hild by Nicola Griffith, a historical fiction novel about the youth of St Hilda.
      The Wise Man’s Fear

    • SamChevre says:

      Just got a copy of Jo Walton’s Starling (collected short stories) at the library. I tend to prefer short stories and multi-book epics, so I’m looking forward to this.

    • toastengineer says:

      I have a copy of This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible on my kitchen counter, but I haven’t had a chance to actually read it yet.

    • Beck says:

      I’m just finishing The Quarry by Ian Banks (didn’t care for it) and starting Burton’s First Footsteps in East Africa (high hopes).

    • drunkfish says:

      Unsong (I’m a late arrival here, I’m in awe of this book, it’s legitimately incredible, I seriously hope Scott has more long-form fiction planned), and I just finished The Dark Forest/about to start Death’s End.

    • John Schilling says:

      Just finished The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States; good but not great. It has the usual range of first-novel weaknesses, and exhibits a bit more Trump Derangement Syndrome than is really necessary, but he definitely has the technical chops to do the story justice (disclaimer: I’ve co-authored technical articles with him).

    • Aevylmar says:

      “Conquest: Cortez, Montezuma, and the Fall of Old Mexico.” I love studying history and I knew almost nothing about the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and this was the least-bad book I could find on the topic.

      Also rereading “Borders of Infinity,” which remains amazing as always.

    • theredsheep says:

      Keay’s history of China. It’s the first readable one I’ve found, and I’m liking it so far.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Nothing exciting. I am reading Bryan Caplan’s Case Against Education. Late-comer to that, obviously.

      I am naturally sympathetic to the central thesis, but as I read a couple red flags keep coming up to me. But I’ll finisht the book and read other criticisms before forming an opinion.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I’d be curious in your thoughts about it. I thought it was pretty good, but he is preaching to the choir with me.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Major differences in the return between different majors are brieflydiscussed, but it’s just assumed that foreign language is soft and biology is hard. Economics is assumed to be soft: Caplan says he teaches no useful skills at all. I don’t think that’s true at all, because most of the people I know that graduated with a degree in economics think slightly differently than people with more general business majors. That’s probably selection bias to a big extent, but my economic coursework helped me out a lot more than my other coursework, IMO, because it really did teach you “how to think” in a way my other business courses simply did not.

          Also, the part about how people learn “on the job” is just hand-waved. It’s, what, a page long? I think if we’re going to criticize the education system, we should have some sort of model of how people learn, and how employers teach. I have my own thoughts on the manner, and they aren’t really supportive of the education system, but it also implies a lot of things about what people can even learn “OJT.”

          There are complaints about not being able to transfer knowledge, but I think in a job environment, things might play out differently. So, Caplan complains about geometry. But geometry isn’t useful because it teaches you how to prove that thing in front of you is a triangle, it’s useful because it teaches you how to prove ANYTHING. And you might not IMMEDIATELY think of using that in your sudoku puzzle, and I have to remind you to do that. Caplan thinks this proves that knowledge doesn’t transfer. But that’s not true. If you show up to work and can’t remember how to apply your geometry proofs, that’s fine. I just tell you to apply your geometry proof process once, and now you know to apply it. This is not a failure of the schooling system.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Okay, you’re right that Caplan does do hand waving in various places. I liked those areas where he did provide good data, and kind of skimmed over the areas where he didn’t. It’s written in a pretty folksy manner, instead how he’d presumably write for an economics journal, so he’s bound to make lots of unsupported comments.

            It is interesting though that I disagree with many of your specific examples. But I am extremely skeptical of those who claim that college teaches one to think — I think you are much less skeptical of that. It is my position that college often teaches one how a particular profession thinks. SO Economics teaches one how to make arguments that economists will find convincing, and History teaches how to convince Historians. But I think this doesn’t teach how to think in a general case.

            I am a little surprised Economic courses helped you with anything in your life. I enjoy Economics theory, and seriously considered going to grad school in Econ, but I don’t see how it helped me at all in my day-to day life. I think you work in the Finance area like me — have these courses helped you in your professional life? And yes, I believe the difference in Econ majors and Business majors are 100% selection bias.

            Yes, Geometry is not about teaching you stuff about squares and triangles, but teaching the skill of doing proofs. I actually enjoyed that part of Geometry, probably because I am pretty good at it, but I cannot think of a single benefit to my life that has resulted. I don’t think my arguments in SSC are any better because I could prove that 2 triangles are congruent.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But I am extremely skeptical of those who claim that college teaches one to think

            College forces you to practice thinking, and offers assessment and correction. Practice, assess, correct is the basic loop of any skill development.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s not clear to me that it’s meaningful to talk about college in general teaching thinking by forcing practicing at thinking. It’s more like college gives you good options to practice a lot of thinking. A lazy yet determined student can avoid most thinking more strenuous than the thought required to assemble a wal-mart pantry (which is non-zero! you have to interpret the instructions correctly and may even need to do a few mental rotations) although they’ll have to temporarily memorize a lot. An eager student can become a master of abstruse topics and modes of thought in mathematics/physics/economics/history/etc. I’m not sure how well each type of thinking generalizes, but it’s definitely learning thinking.

            I definitely took easy to even somewhat difficult classes that were essentially rote memorization. And this happened in both the sciences and humanities. Not that rote memorization is bad in and of itself. But it’s not very useful if you aren’t going to use what you’re memorizing any time after the class.

            I also took classes in various departments that did require thinking. Some classes took a lot of thinking, but often very specialized. For example, my mathematics training was very specialized. Almost two years of real analysis didn’t really improve my skill at anything besides real analysis and closely related things like numerical analysis. Or doing mathematical proofs. But I lost that skill once I ceased to need to do proofs for years. A small fraction of the analysis knowledge itself sort of stuck. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever matter after graduate school. I don’t think it improved my thought patterns for non mathematical topics either.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @heelbearcub

            Its not clear to me that university does what you say, rather it appears that it simply demonstrates to other persons your capability to practice thinking. As you would describe it.

            In other words, its an accreditation of preexisting conditions.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            at best what a lot of college does is teach you other skills in addition to teaching you useless knowledge

            Proofs are in fact a phenomenal example of this; you have to memorize a bunch of useless axioms in order to even start on the whole logic bit, and most of the axioms are in fact useless, plus many of them are just outright dumb. This also means that you can learn “how to solve proofs” without necessarily involving logic; I never noticed proofs were about logic per se and I did great in that class because I’m great at memorization. If you really think teaching logic is so god-damn important then why not just teach a class on it? It’s not like most people will use geometry anyways, and those that will will surely benefit greatly from learning logic straight-up.

            Also, “thinking” and “assessment” and “feedback”. Can’t all of these happen in a job, too? You’re given a task, you think about how to do it, you’re assessed and if you fail, you failed. OK, you probably do more thinking in college (and have more room to fail), but honestly even in college you can sort of just, say, learn the material, not something you can do when solving a real-life problem. This is all important considering that college is expensive and you don’t produce anything while you’re there; there needs to be a great benefit and I don’t see it.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @quanta413:
            An eager student can become a master of abstruse topics and modes of thought in mathematics/physics/economics/history/etc. I’m not sure how well each type of thinking generalizes, but it’s definitely learning thinking.

            I’m trying to figure out what you mean by this. I might understand, but let’s see:

            Consider the following concepts:

            * a limit in calculus
            * quantum entanglement
            * comparative advantage
            * decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics
            * allegories and hidden ideas in poetry

            If I gave a short college course covering nothing but the above, would it strike you as a very concentrated version of learning to think?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Mark,

            I’m really skeptical of the value of institutional education and still don’t understand why I spent so much time making dioramas when I was younger. A dodecahedron with each side representing a character or theme from some book: what was the point of that? Not sure, but I failed that project because I refused to do it.

            Anyways, if your supposition is “college is about signaling,” and 5 of your 6 top-performing majors are clearly vocational, you have an issue. If your assumption about the 6th major is immediately that it is not useful, you also have an issue. I am skeptical we can make that assumption, and would think we might try examining the subject a little more since the job market got the other 5 right.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I’m trying to figure out what you mean by this. I might understand, but let’s see:

            Consider the following concepts:

            * a limit in calculus
            * quantum entanglement
            * comparative advantage
            * decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics
            * allegories and hidden ideas in poetry

            If I gave a short college course covering nothing but the above, would it strike you as a very concentrated version of learning to think?

            I was actually thinking in the opposite direction. Like you choose one or two of the broad subjects I mention and spend years doing problems in them. You need to both memorize some number of facts or axioms to work with and learn how to engage in the process of problem solving in your field. You successfully (and unsuccessfully) apply various approaches in your field to a multitude of problems. Then you’ve learned how to think about that subject, and there are probably some cases where that mode of thinking will transfer.

            That’s basically what I did. Mathematics and physics were my choice, and I spent roughly 50-60 hours a week doing those for 4 years. I am definitely more competent at problem solving in those subjects than before college.

            It’s an interesting question though to think about how much you can compress things if you only want to teach a minimal set of facts and processes necessary to teach a mode of thinking itself. I think practice problems ranging from easy to hard are still required to get anything to stick though. And some spaced repetition. But maybe given a good teacher and well designed resources, you could spend 10 hours a week for 2 or 3 years and learn enough to think like an engineer or a historian even if your range of knowledge is narrow.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @HBC

            College forces you to practice thinking, and offers assessment and correction. Practice, assess, correct is the basic loop of any skill development.

            That sounds very good in theory, but that’s certainly not how I remember college. My tests and papers were assessed to verify that I had the right answers. Yes my skill in understanding how that profession thought was increased by each class I took, so that I understood how accountants thought by the time I finished my 4 year accounting degree. I also took several Econ and Psych courses, so I had a much better idea how those folks thought by the time my degree was done. But I didn’t learn to think in general.

            Maybe feedback like you discuss could work if a smart teacher worked intensively with no more than a half dozen students over a period of time. But of course even that could only work if the teacher was indeed very skilled in the art of thinking. I don’t remember any such professors when I was in college.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @ADBG

            Anyways, if your supposition is “college is about signaling,” and 5 of your 6 top-performing majors are clearly vocational, you have an issue. If your assumption about the 6th major is immediately that it is not useful, you also have an issue. I am skeptical we can make that assumption, and would think we might try examining the subject a little more since the job market got the other 5 right.

            I really don’t understand most of what you are saying here, and I would like to since it is directed at me.

            I do think that most of the value of college to students and employers is signalling, not from skill acquisition. I also think that from the student’s point of view it is a good idea to take a vocational degree, if the reason for college is to get a job, which is the case for 95% of students. Even a vocational degree is mostly signalling, but usually more useful skills are picked up than in a purely academic degree. But I don’t understand what you mean by top performing majors.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. It was mentioned in a recent open thread and finally having bothered to learn how to use the Brooklyn library’s e-books it was free. I’m wishing I hadn’t listened to the detractors and instead picked it up after Crypotnomicon. Reports that it has no plot to speak of are accurate, but I’m having fun just the same.

      • add_lhr says:

        I’m just now on the last 150 pages of the trilogy, after an epic but enjoyable six months of fitting it in around the rest of my life. Don’t worry, the next book, The Confusion, definitely has a plot, and quite a fun one at that.

    • Nornagest says:

      Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, and one of the Expanse books but I can’t keep the titles straight.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’ve had my eye on this trilogy of Helprin’s. Have you read it?

        • Nornagest says:

          Afraid not; Winter’s Tale is the first thing I’ve read of his. I’m enjoying it so far, though.

      • BeefSnakStikR says:

        I’ve read Bend Sinister (not too deeply, and at least eight years ago, so I probably can’t comment on it) but I’m interested to hear your thoughts on it if you care to share.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m only a bit more than halfway through, so my take might change as I get deeper into it, but I like Krug’s relationship to the background politics. Another book would probably have foregrounded that, as a political tragedy or cautionary tale or morality play; but Krug’s life is totally dominated by personal tragedy, and he treats the secret police almost as an annoyance. He’s less pissed off that they’re threatening him and oppressing his friends and more pissed off that they’re getting in the way of his grief. It’s very human.

          He’s also blatantly kind of a jerk, where a worse writer would have either made him all sweetness and light or made excuses in narration for the petty or cruel stuff he does.

          Nabokov spends a lot of time dissing George Orwell in the introduction to my copy, so some of this is probably a deliberate reaction to e.g. Nineteen Eighty-Four.

    • Eric Rall says:

      1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. It’s interesting, but not what I expected.Rather than giving a narrative of events as the author has reconstructed them (the way most popular history books I’ve read are structured), 1177 goes pretty deep into the weeds about “Here’s this document or artifact we found, here’s what we understand about its context, and here’s what we think it tells us about events”.

      I think the issue is that the Bronze Age Collapse (like much of the ancient world in general, especially the pre-Classical world) is incredibly poorly documented, and we don’t know enough about it with any degree of confidence to present anything like a detailed narrative that’s anything other than speculative. The actual concrete stuff we know is sparse enough that the book can afford to go down into the weeds of specific pieces of evidence and still be a relative short book.

      Contrasting with Against the Grain, which I read last year and which has more of a conventional narrative feel to it despite also covering a very sparsely documented period of time, but AtG has a much wider scope than 1177 and is looking at patterns across multiple civilizations over thousands of years rather than a single cluster of civilizations around a single event, so the same density of evidence over space and time produces a much larger absolute volume of evidence over the scope of the book.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      The Essential Gandhi. I am planning to do a post about Gandhi soon on SSC.

      The Innocent. Usually I read SF for my fiction, but this isn’t bad so far as a very light-weight book.

      Rethinking Economics of Housing. I got this book because I am interested in housing issues. Most housing books are by political advocates of some kind of housing and appear to me as political screeds. I have been pleasantly surprised by this one that has a very good grounding in economics.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      just finished “The Wheel of the Infinite” by Martha Wells, for the second time

      pretty good book I think, fantasy about a fairly powerful priestess who has to deal with some problems and, well, let’s not spoil anything here

    • James says:

      Dataclysm by that OKCupid guy. Middlebrow nonfiction for my lunch hour. Some nice finds.

      Baudelaire in the Penguin Classics edition with an accompanying literal prose translation. Also to some extent the Penguin Book of French Poetry 1820-1950, same deal. These take me a very long time because I, erm, don’t know French.

      Decadent Poetry from Wilde To Naidu, another Penguin Classics anthology of 1890s-ish, English decadent poets, ripping off the French guys above plenty. Really like this one.

      Kinda-not-really reading, but still on my pile: Beyond Good and Evil, Eugene Onegin (James Falen translation).

      On my really-want-to-read-but-just-don’t-have-time-to-slot-novels-into-my-life-right-now pile: The Drowned World, an early Ballard from before he went off the deep end of experimentalism and ‘merely’ wrote atmospheric, pessimistic sci-fi.

    • lazydragonboy says:

      Make it Stick, by Peter C Brown*
      Still, Flowing Water, by Ajahn Jayasaro
      Meditation: a Way of Wakening, by Ajahn Succito
      Siddartha, by Hermann Hesse* **

      I may drop the last one. I am mostly listening to it to improve my German and as a subhect to start a conversation with someone I have been out of contact with for a while—but I am getting bored fast.

      *I am techically lstening to these on audible rather than reading them.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Finished Siddartha, threw it away. One of the few books I have ever thrown away.

        It isn’t that it was offensive, so much as that, at the end of it, it just felt like a massive waste of time. I am unfulfilled, it must be that I need X. X didn’t work, I am still unfulfilled, it must be that I need Y. Repeat, except take forever to describe how X or Y are acquired, and to detail how they never make the protagonist happy.

        I mean, it sort of offers an answer to nihilism, if you squint hard enough. I think that is supposed to be what the book is about? Struggling with nihilism? Or some other incomprehensible philosophical ailment.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ll bet the repeated “I need X, I’ll go find X, I’ve got X, whoops, still unfulfilled” is the point. Buddhism’s big idea — or, at least, the big idea of the semi-revisionist Buddhism that usually reaches Westerners like Hesse — is that achievements will never fulfill you, because the hope for achievement is what causes the feeling of unfulfillment in the first place.

          It’s been forever since I read Siddhartha, though, so I’m not sure how well Hesse managed to communicate this.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Oh, it absolutely was the point – it just didn’t do it well.

            In the end, something something you can’t be fulfilled when you desire fulfillment because, basically, bootstrapping problems, you can’t finish a list that has “finish this list” on it. So to be fulfilled you have to let go of the desire to be fulfilled. Sort of. That part is kind of a Disney Acid Trip of half-baked metaphors being written as literal events, and isn’t particularly clear, and also it has been a few years since I read it, but I think that was the gist.

            And that’s… not actually a very helpful message? “You can’t finish a to-do list if it includes “Finish this list”” on it? If that is your big philosophical problem, your philosophy needs a little more rework than rewriting the list.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Anyone here tried a carnivorous (meat, organs, animal products like eggs) diet?

    • lazydragonboy says:

      I ate very close to that for a while. Upwards of 95% of my calories came from animal products, and the rest was almost entirely vegetables. It worked pretty well health and mood wise. It’s very hard to gain body fat on this diet though, so if you’re skinny enough that that itself causes mood problems, the positive mood effects will be somewhat reduced.

      • Anonymous says:

        Interesting. I am sorta lean now, for the first time in my life, but I’m not skinny, and never were. If anything, not being fat is a great morale boost.

        I’m trying that out after being convinced of the carnivorous nature of human digestion. The major problem I encountered is cravings for carbs. I wonder if my gut flora is throwing a revolt due to being forcibly downsized with the elimination of starches.

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          I’m interested to hear about the carnivorous nature of human digestion. I mostly saw claims that humans are built like herbivores, although I guessed they weren’t to be trusted.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m interested to hear about the carnivorous nature of human digestion. I mostly saw claims that humans are built like herbivores, although I guessed they weren’t to be trusted.

            Yeah, that’s wrong. AFAIK, when we split from our primate cousins at the time of Proconsul, they went the herbivore-omnivore route, and we – our pre-human ancestors – took the carnivore route.

            You may have heard that we can’t digest cellulose, which passes all the way to the large intestine before anyone profits from it (mostly our gut flora, and the lining of the large intestine absorbs some of the short-chain fatty acids they produce, but this amounts to some 2-9% of total gained calories – our large intestine is just too short for the process to be significantly nourishing). You may not have heard that we can’t digest phytic acid or its mineral salts, making plant foods poor sources of a bunch of minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Plant foods are also very poor in vitamin B12, a severe deficiency in which leads to neural degeneration and death (but the body has a long term supply in the liver, so you might exist in a state of mild to moderate deficiency for years on end before major problems manifest). We make pretty crappy herbivores.

            Actual specialized herbivores (ruminants) can and do digest cellulose – in a complicated process involving multiple stomachs and loads of gut microbes. These same microbes also provide protein, vitamin B12 and break down phytic acid and its salts, so they can usually subsist on nothing but poor-quality plant matter. There are other nominal herbivores that have simpler digestive systems, but they can’t digest plant matter nearly as well, and can’t subsist only on scrub; their method for extracting nourishment from plants is to have a much longer large intestine, giving the bacteria there much more time to ferment the incoming material, and absorb the resulting short-chain fatty acids. One example of such a creature is the gorilla.

            Here’s a handy comparison table between the digestive systems of a sheep (a ruminant), a large dog (a carnivore) and a human (nominally omnivorous). You will note that from that comparison, humans are even more specialized to eat meat than dogs are. What I found most fascinating that we can survive with little more than the small intestine intact – colectomies and gastrectomies don’t consign you to an IV drip for the rest of your life.

            Now, the de facto state of affairs is that we do eat both plant and animal matter… but then so do nominally herbivorous and carnivorous animals. By that standard, nearly every higher order critter is an omnivore. But they’re not all specialized to eat the same sort of food – even if they ingest it from time to time.

            As for us, we cheat. The vast majority of plant foods we eat today are almost entirely indigestible except if they are processed in some way – notably, through the use of heat and moisture, ie. cooking. This ruptures the plant cells which we can’t normally digest, and reduces a whole host of plant defense systems against being eaten – such as goitrogens, oxalates, tannins, lectins and protease inhibitors. (But phytic acid is heat resistant, unfortunately.) What we can usefully eat without preparation consists mostly of fruits, particularly those we have greatly genetically modified using crude selection, mostly for sugar content.

      • lazydragonboy says:

        I think rare meat helped me, but not exactly with carb cravings. Rare meat always felt like it transitioned into blood sugar quickly. I have heard it digests easily, and that certainly was how it felt when I ate it.

  13. ana53294 says:

    Why have MOOCs failed to disrupt higher education?

    Most students of MOOCs are already highly educated and middle class. They won’t come to substitute universities, they seem to mostly be used by people who already have a job to improve job performance. So they are mostly helping people who already have a lot.

    Unlike some predictions, they haven’t managed to produce that many people with a college diploma.

    • Matt M says:

      Didn’t you just answer your own question?

      To slightly rephrase, my answer would be something like “Because it turns out that the main value provided by universities is not, in fact, subject-level knowledge.”

      They simply aren’t offering the same product. It’s like asking why McDonalds hasn’t disrupted fine dining, given that their calories/dollar ratio is significantly better.

      • ana53294 says:

        But there are ways where MOOCs by leading universities could be used, such as the flipped classroom model, where students watch a recording at home, and them spend valuable class time with their teacher to discuss issues they had, ask questions and solve problems.

        • Matt M says:

          You don’t need a “MOOC” for that. That’s just “homework” and universities have already been doing it for years.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            So, an aside to this: electronic modules are way more useful than homework, if paired correctly with classwork. They provide immediate feedback and can target education towards actual gaps.

            Like, our 7th grade classroom model was:
            1. Teacher introduces concept.
            2. Classroom exercise to review. Teacher hovers around classroom to identify struggling students.
            3. Homework to reinforce.
            4. Come back the next day to review the homework and close any gaps.
            5. Introduce next concept.

            Electronic modules allow students to proceed at their own pace on multiple topics. The module records the answers and can identify when you are struggling with a specific concept. Then the teacher can step in, and the teacher can move between different students and concepts rather than slowing down the entire class just to teach one thing.

            In practice this is probably difficult in a classroom environment, but as a tutor this was pretty helpful.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Electronic modules allow students to proceed at their own pace on multiple topics.

            I think proponents of MOOCs as replacement for existing teaching models misunderstand how much of a detriment (as opposed to the touted benefit) this can be in practice.

            Akrasia is something I consistently see people posting about here. There is a certain universality to this. If it is not universal at it still so highly prevalent as to be the norm.

          • Matt M says:

            I think proponents of MOOCs as replacement for existing teaching models misunderstand how much of a detriment (as opposed to the touted benefit) this can be in practice.

            This is also a detriment if you only have a finite amount of material to cover, along with a minimum standard that everyone much reach by a specific time (end of the term).

            The slower students fall behind and can’t catch up, the quick ones finish everything and have nothing to do for the last 5 weeks.

            “Everyone moves at the same pace” is a feature, not a bug, of most educational systems.

          • quanta413 says:

            Akrasia can be prevented for many students by just having students take quizzes in class and having many homework deadlines. The people who won’t study for the quiz or do the homework on time probably wouldn’t have paid attention in an in-class lecture either and so can be safely ignored.

            This still works only really works for most people if you have teachers physically present rather than online because it’s easier to berate or guilt people into working if there is real social pressure, but you don’t have to teach by lecturing at least.

            Of course, students hate having lots of quizzes and tight homework deadlines, so it tends not to happen except when it really has to.

        • Aapje says:

          @ana53294

          But there are ways where MOOCs by leading universities could be used, such as the flipped classroom model, where students don’t watch a recording at home, and then spend valuable class time with their teacher to have her explain what the recording said.

          Fixed.

          Lots of people have akrasia, especially young people. A major feature of schools is to force engagement with the material. Increasing the amount of self-study almost inevitably decreases the policing of akrasia.

          A truly disruptive educational technology would be an anti-akrasia method or technology that doesn’t require intervention by humans.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          I think you fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of college diplomas. The vast majority of the value is in the accreditation and the scarcity. MOOCs are not scarce so they have no value. Expanding education actually lowers the value of the education, because education (at least after High School, and possibly even lower down the pipeline) is a signaling mechanism, not about learning in the least.

    • John Schilling says:

      1. Most people aren’t motivated, disciplined autodidacts who will learn entire fields of study just from the textbooks, even if “books” now means “Fancy multimedia presentations on the intertubes”.

      2. MOOCs don’t facilitate hanging around in a community of college students with infrastructure optimized to support the things college students like to do with other college students.

      2a. Almost nobody can convince their parents to cough up ~5 years’ living/partying expenses and otherwise get off their back by sayning “But Mom, I’m doing my MOOCs, it’s important

      3. MOOCs don’t give you a network of classmates and professors to help build your career

      4. A college diploma still signals general intelligence, skill, knowledge, and conscientiousness at a high level. A MOOC “diploma” as yet only signals narrow skill plus the fact that you couldn’t manage college.

      5. The bit where you have a bunch of students sitting in a lecture hall listening to a professor was always the least important aspect of college education, so inventing a clever cheap substitute doesn’t really get you very far and it certainly doesn’t make universities obsolete.

      6. Predictions that [X] will make [Y] obsolete Real Soon Now, are almost always grossly overhyped and should be laughed at.

    • Argos says:

      Regarding the finer subpoint as to why universities have not adapted more to the MOOC model, like offering inverted classrooms:

      This comes from my experience both as a student, when a professor with a temporary contract tried to teach a inverted classroom style introductory programming course, and as a teacher for foreign languages when I tried to introduce spaced repetition systems for vocabulary learning (they are based on science, how can it fail!)

      Discussions about innovation in fields like education or Healthcare are usually suffering from applying a framework that is way too general. “moocs are technologically better” vs “universities have no incentives to change”. I think that in this case the problem might be that moocs are not sufficiently better to overcome inertia in organizations.

      In particular, the implementation of a good idea is just as important as the idea itself. This is common knowledge in the tech world but is somehow forgotten when discussing organizational changes. It is quite unlikely that a sweeping change in the classroom will work out reasonably on the first attempt. With moocs it was my experience that my professor provided material that was too difficult to understand on its own ;in class he would probably talk about it more, give examples or take questions, but you cannot do that online. Anticipating that the professor provided an online forum, however he did not anticipate that the students found it very hard to ask technical questions on an online forum. This leads us to the second problem :
      Very long feedback loops :in tech you can just quickly iterate over an idea, however it took months before the professor started to notice that the students were just not picking up the knowledge (first exam)

      These points make it quite likely that you fail. No problem, you can just try next time right? What makes it worse is that the incentives are very much in favor of not trying to get blamed in educational settings. The flack teachers get for underperforming students is usually larger than the praise they get if students overperform. Even worse it’s the young teachers without any clout that try to introduce new technology. Also, somewhat understandably, people don’t appreciate that they and their future are essentially sociological lab rats. Thus my professor had to end the inverted classroom experiment after the first semester due to several complaints and disappointing end of year exams. No second iteration was allowed.

      On the other side of the (non-inverted) classroom, I thought it would be a slam dunk to get my students to use an app like anki for learning vocabulary. It’s based on the simple principle of spaced repetition, meaning that vocab is being shown to you repeatedly, but with progressively longer gaps. It also takes advantage of the testing effect, quizzing you on items and making your recollection of them stronger as a result. Most people in the self study language learning community use it, and it’s thus a proven tool.

      Obviously my experiment also failed, because the students were just not using the app that I wholeheartedly recommended to them. They surely did have an incentive to learn the language, they were paying for courses in order to pass an exam allowing them to study abroad, not just for a certificate’s sake. Yet the problem was much more mundane : during my demonstration of the app I failed to explain it very clearly and it looked hard to use. Also I was just an assistant teacher in this school, and why should they trust my assertions that it will surely help them? No other teachers were pushing it and I could not make using the app mandatory even if I wanted to use the app even if I wanted. So probably two thirds of the hundred students I presented the app to did not even download it. Those who did, stopped using it after some time because it looked like additional work. Usually they would just learn new vocabulary on one day, repeat it the next day and consider them learned. With Anki and Spaced Repetition Systems you have to relearn the vocabulary many times! It probably takes a month until you can finally see the benefit of not forgetting 80 percent of the words you learned, but I was unable to inspire the students enough to give it that much time. Also many were happy doing things the way they are used to do them.

      However, it’s not all bleak. I have more and more coursework in my final year of university that follows an inverted classroom concept. It just took them some time to get it right. Instead of just written material, they usually have both written content and videos so students can choose what they prefer. The videos usually have animations or other “cool” stuff so after watching it you feel like somebody put an effort into them instead of just recording what they would usually say in class, which raises acceptance of the new methods. There are also mandatory tests after each lesson that feel difficult enough to actually have to watch the video but easy enough that you don’t feel annoyed. New, young professors enter the university and try to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

      Based on that I am fairly optimistic that universities will change for the better it will just take much much longer time than one would originally expect. Particularly I give inverted classroom style learning a higher than 70 percent chance of being used in most university courses in the US by 2033 (at least as supplementary course material) . Professors have a certain freedom to innovate and do not need permission for every change, it can b fun when done right students will appreciate not having to spend their time in classrooms.

      I am more skeptical about SRS style learning in schools. Teachers have much less status than a professor, and it’s much more difficult to iterate over an app, counterintuitively. The teachers closest to the process have no way to change the app, and the programmers are too removed from the actual users. On the other hand, telling children to use a learning app at home is not particularly risky so some schools may actually try it. I give give a 50 percent chance that every major city will have at least one school advertising that they enforce use of Spaced repetition apps.

      Sorry for grammar mistakes and typos, don’t know what drove me to write such a wall of text on my phone.

    • Jesse E says:

      Because the truth is, along with everything else people have pointed out, most people aren’t self starters and need some sort of consequence for not doing things, even with something like college. Yes, MOOC’s work great if you’re a foreign born worker trying to get the required piece of paper so you can get a job that will pay you far more than you can make in your home country.

      For your average college student, not really. They’ll treat it like employed adults treat training they have to go through at their own pace at their job, that they’re being paid for.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      Because the value of higher education is not education, but scarcity.

    • mdet says:

      I find it interesting that the responses are split between “Education is actually mostly signaling rather than learning, so taking online classes doesn’t really matter” and “Most students need to be physically present with teachers and classmates to stay motivated enough to learn, so meeting people in the classroom is the only thing that matters”.

      Am I right to frame those as mostly-contradictory answers? Either way, I think the overlap between both of those answers is “MOOCs are just fancy multimedia textbooks, and we’ve already had textbooks since forever”

      • Nornagest says:

        I don’t think so. Even if you’re actually learning stuff, most of the value of a college education could be signaling — all that requires is that the stuff you’re learning not be very pertinent to the stuff you eventually do outside academia, relative to a credential saying you’re reasonably bright, conscientious, and conformant. This is probably more true for a degree in, say, philosophy than it is for a degree in, say, chemical engineering.

        I think both explanations are probably true to some degree, and that means that MOOCs have two big problems.

    • arlie says:

      I’m not sure if anyone has said this already, but in my experience MOOCs have failed to disrupt higher education for the same reason that The Great Courses failed to disrupt education. Their “college level courses” are low quality, and because the assessment methods are inadequate, people generally interact with them as auditors, rather than as if they were taking real courses, so they learn less than they otherwise would.

      A few individual MOOCs are excellent, but usually only in their first or second time running, and only if the instructors are enthusiastic educational experimenters.

      One problem is that they don’t send students off to write papers – what “research” they assign is of the general category of “read this specific thing on the internet” not “find an interesting question, get it approved as appropriate scaled, and write about it”. When they do assign work of that kind, it tends to be peer graded – and the peers mostly aren’t perceived as competent, especially if they don’t like the student’s work.

      Now perhaps I’m dead wrong. I attended a college generally regarded as excellent/world class, and did so 40 years ago. Perhaps all these flaws are normal for an also-ran college teaching below average students, particularly a for profit college, or one run on behalf of a government desperate to cut costs.

      But this is my experience, for what its worth. Both Great Courses and random MOOCs have been excellent for giving me a basic grounding in a totally unfamiliar area. (Clasical music appreciation, rudiments of climate change science.) To learn something new that’s related to what I already know, I’m better off with a selection of good books, whether the topic is STEM or humanities. And some things require practical work, preferably suprvised – without that, I at least will get nowhere trying to learn them. (Chemistry comes to mind, or programming, or carpentry. Of those, only programming can be provided in MOOC format, though without the helpful supervision.) And even with areas totally new to me, I find I need to consume multiple courses ostensibly covering the same material, to get much of anywhere with it. Also, FWIW, I found Great Courses much more pleasant than MOOCs overall – the interactions with classmates on discussion boards ferquently had all the usual flaws of internet discussion. Also, Great Courses come with decent reading lists, which have been helpful to follow up on.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      Several years ago I tried some MOOCs, and in my anecdotal experience they are often simply inferior way to learn.

      1. When I tried Coursera MOOCs, then-prevalent MOOC formula was often at odds with my idea of efficient learning: all courses would have video lectures of highly varying quality; yet some courses would have no written materials at all, so you had to watch the videos, which could easily be a distilled version of the worst aspects of attending a live lecture. (You have to listen to attentively but can not ask questions; and on the other side of the podium, the lecturer can’t observe audience reactions and adjust their pace accordingly.) Also, I view text as vastly superior to videos (much easier to adjust the speed so that it is exactly right for you; no need to fiddle with play/pause buttons if you want to stop and contemplate on something difficult or cross-reference an earlier point), but writing good materials is also a lot of work and many MOOC organizers apparently did not bother. Solutions to submitting and evaluating homework were sometimes outright clumsy. I don’t know if this has changed, maybe MOOC platforms today provide a better experience today.

      2. After I entered a traditional higher education institution, I suddenly had almost zero interest to complete “MOOC courses” in comparison to taking real classes. And if I want supplementary material for self-study, almost everything else (traditional textbooks or internet textbooks / tutorials, StackExchange and other forums, the occasional YouTube video) works much better because they don’t force a paced internet course format on you. Enrolling on a MOOC course on a site like Coursera or EdX to access the materials is an extra hassle.

      I hypothesize the above points combined are a reason why more people who could be disciplined autodidacts don’t overwhelmingly embrace MOOCs: if you are already the sort of person who can self-educate yourself, you will take a MOOC (instead of say, reading a textbook) only if it appears to be truly the best option to learn the thing you want to learn, and there are not many MOOCs that are superior to studying from a textbook. Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning MOOC is kinda famous and very popular, I assume it could be one of those online courses which is that good.

      3. And yeah, there’s also the akrasia and social network related reasons others pointed out upthread. Often the people who could be successful autodidacts will appreciate / can benefit from such features of traditional academia.

      So there’s a couple of explanations why people don’t flock to MOOCs more than they already do based on the contents of MOOC learning format, but in addition there’s also 4., that completing a MOOC is an inadequate credential compared to obtaining a traditional degree, and I don’t belive that is only because of the pure “empty” signaling reasons. I would give also some weight on the fact that MOOC provider can not attest to that it was you who completed the homework you submitted on the website. Cheating is already a problem to some extent in established institutions, but at least if you need to be physically present to get your degree, it’s easier for the potential employer to believe that you probably have done something. Has anyone heard about a reputable degree-granting university where the students don’t need to take any exams in controlled environment at all?

      So that’s a bunch of plausible explanations why MOOCs have not transformed higher education more than they have done. However, I also have had some professors who experimented with various flipped / inverted classroom ideas, and sometimes it worked quite well. I second Argos’ opinion that the successful MOOC-like educational innovations will be adopted and become increasingly widespread, but doing it well requires a lot more work and thought than putting some videos online, so the process will look more like a series of evolutionary improvements than a overnight revolution.

      • ana53294 says:

        Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning MOOC is kinda famous and very popular, I assume it could be one of those online courses which is that good.

        The thing about MOOCs is, the number of students who can take the course is unlimited. So even if 99.5% of MOOC courses are worse than physical courses, there will be an 0.5% of MOOC that are better than courses at universities, provide great written and audiovisual materials, and are much cheaper. And they will be really, really easy to scale.

        At the moment, it seems to me that the really good MOOCs, the ones that give good audiovisual materials, good exercises and feedback, seem to be mostly programming courses (because you can automate a program to check whether the assignment is up to spec). My guess is you can also make some really outstanding physics and math courses, but you cannot make humanities courses, because somebody with more experience than your fellow students should be grading essays.

        Except for Spain (where they are too cheap to hire assistants for professors and professors do all the grading themselves), in most countries* professors do not do all the grading of all the coursework. They rely on graduate students to help grade assignments and exams (partly or fully).

        So you could still offer decent MOOCs for humanities, but you would have to charge a bit more, for the hiring of graduate students to provide the feedback. The courses would still be much cheaper, though, because there would be much less overhead (buildings, libraries, etc. are expensive).

        *This is the case in at least Sweden, the UK, and the US.

  14. MrApophenia says:

    What are the feelings of folks around here on the topic of conspiracy theories?

    I have always enjoyed them as entertainment – I grew up watching the X-Files and my parents got me those Time Life books about the paranormal and I’ve been hooked ever since. The weirder the better – lizard people, the Denver International Airport, No Trees On Flat Earth, I love that shit.

    But sort of despite myself, if you read enough of these things you start to come across a few that actually sound pretty convincing. Partly this is because you come across ones that definitely did happen and have made the jump from “crazy conspiracy theory” to “history” – the Gulf of Tonkin attack, MK Ultra, that kind of thing. But there are others still firmly in the realm of tinfoil hats that I have found it tough to dismiss.

    The RFK assassination theories are probably the best example of this – when you get right down to it, it is really tough to explain how the autopsy can show he was killed by a point blank shot to the back of the head when Sirhan Sirhan was several feet in front of him. (There is also some interesting possible evidence that more gunshots were fired than bullets Sirhan’s gun could hold.)

    What do folks around here think of this stuff? All faulty pattern recognition and cognitive biases? Or are They really out to get me?

    • Aapje says:

      Even Robert F. Kennedy Jr. seems to not believe that Sirhan did it. I haven’t done enough analysis to argue one way or the other.

      • Protagoras says:

        RFK Jr. also believes vaccines cause autism, so I don’t think much of his ability to evaluate evidence.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The conspiracy theories that include a nigh-omnipotent capital-t “They” are faulty pattern recognition and cognitive bias. The really intense conspiracy theorists are, in the end, optimists – they believe the bad guys are running the world, but the obvious corollary of that is that it’s possible for someone to run the world. In reality, incompetence tends to be more powerful than malice – for example, in both Kennedy assassinations, the most parsimonious conspiracy theory would be one in which the authorities failed to capture a second shooter, and the conspiracy is dedicated to covering up their failure to protect an important person and failure to get everyone involved.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t understand this explanation at all. Bad guys running the world is so much worse than nobody running the world. It just sounds like something one guy made up, and people have been running with because it makes conspiracy theorists look bad, regardless of its accuracy.

        • Matt M says:

          Assuming you think the world generally sucks, bad guys running the world (and the world sucking) presents an easier problem to solve than nobody running the world (and the world sucking) though.

          If the former is true, all you have to do is defeat the bad guys and put good guys in place. This is what people think they’re accomplishing when they vote. If the later is true, there’s basically not much you can do.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t think that’s easier. Does it make it easier for any North Korean who hates their government to know that all they have to do is a complete overthrow of that government to be free? If there is no single organization that has complete control, then I can make a little difference in my own corner of the world. With the conspiracy theory, everything sucks unless we can overpower this ridiculously strong organization.

          • beleester says:

            Fictional conspiracies tend to simultaneously be competent enough to run the world and incompetent enough that the average joe at his computer can uncover them over a cup of coffee.

            (The QAnon thing is one of the more blatant examples of this in recent memory – Trump and his crew are running a beyond-top-secret black op to overthrow the all-powerful Deep State, so obviously they’re going to drop hints about their plans on freaking 4chan)

            The fictional conspiracy is also simultaneously as influential or non-influential as it needs to be – they have enough power to avoid getting reported on or investigated by the mainstream, but they don’t have enough power that if they were exposed (wake up, sheeple!) they could avoid getting arrested and thrown in jail. Soft power, not hard power.

            It helps that the US is not anywhere near as overtly controlling as North Korea, so you can reasonably believe that, although the conspiracy has a lot of influence, they don’t have their eyes on Joe Random Conspirator right now. Conspiracy theories often claim that it will have total control Any Day Now (TM) – the Illuminati will engineer a crisis, seize power overtly, and put us all in FEMA death camps – but that hasn’t happened yet and we still have a chance to stop them.

          • toastengineer says:

            (The QAnon thing is one of the more blatant examples of this in recent memory – Trump and his crew are running a beyond-top-secret black op to overthrow the all-powerful Deep State, so obviously they’re going to drop hints about their plans on freaking 4chan)

            I dunno, maybe Taylor Swift is one of the conspirators?

        • dndnrsn says:

          If the bad guys are running the world, it’s possible in theory to replace them with good guys. If nobody’s running the world, the world is ultimately uncontrollable. This isn’t about how things are right now; it’s about the ultimate nature of the world.

        • toastengineer says:

          Even if you can’t replace the “bad guys,” the fact that there’s a self-interested party in charge has advantages; even the evilest secret dictator isn’t going to let the world get nuked or let society completely rot cos, after all, he has to have somewhere to live and some nice plaes to visit in his free time.

          If there were really a person in control of the world whose only interest was increasing his own wealth while remaining hidden, honestly, the world would probably be a way better place. (Didn’t Scott talk about this once; something about how an evil alien comes down and fixes all our problems so he can skim off the top?)

          • Nornagest says:

            Didn’t Scott talk about this once; something about how an evil alien comes down and fixes all our problems so he can skim off the top?

            Fnargl. He’s one of the Dark Lord Mencius Moldbug’s thought experiments, originally, but Scott references him in Meditations on Moloch, and also in his pieces on Death Eater thought here and here.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            even the evilest secret dictator isn’t going to let the world get nuked or let society completely rot cos, after all, he has to have somewhere to live and some nice plaes to visit in his free time.

            I don't know, I've heard that the Illuminati want to immanentize the eschaton.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Fnargl. He’s one of the Dark Lord Mencius Moldbug’s thought experiments,

            Yeesh, “the Dark Lord Mencius Moldbug” sounds more like a Potterverse name than most of the canon ones.

          • Nornagest says:

            Let’s see if there’s a significant anagram!

            “Muscling mob due”?
            “Demonic bum slug”?
            “Bud lung commies”?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It’s gotta be “Muscling mob due.” Bum slugs aren’t one of his major concerns, and while he definitely cares about Commie buds, I don’t see how “lung” figures.

          • Nornagest says:

            I was thinking of trees. Grass. Hash. Reefer. Pot.

            Although I don’t think he’s ever objected to that particularly, at least that I’ve read.

          • Nick says:

            I’m late to this party, but—the anagram was of the form “I am Lord [name]”, so we should be using “I am Lord Moldbug” instead.

            The best I could come up with is “Immoral dud blog.”

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m guessing that at least one of the “crazy” conspiracy theories is true, we just don’t know which one.

    • John Schilling says:

      Any conspiracy involving more than about forty people doing things that unambiguously violate the laws or norms society they live in, will be unambiguously known to exist and its basic nature will be understood by every reporter and policeman with a relevant beat. Humans suck at keeping secrets, and if it is sometimes possible to keep something like the Manhattan Project under wraps it is by all of society’s institutions to punish rather than signal-boost the ones who talk.

      Any conspiracy involving less than about forty people, is highly unlikely to be able to produce the effects demanded by the typical conspiracy theory.

      That leaves you with faulty pattern-recognition and a demand for more order than the universe actually provides. The conspiracies are either false patterns extracted from noise, or gross exaggerations of an underwhelming reality (e.g. the conspiracy-theory version of MK-Ultra compared to the reality).

      • MrApophenia says:

        I’m curious what you think the underwhelming version of MK Ultra was. It definitely did exist. We have the surviving files, and we know some of the specifics. But we didn’t get them until about 20 years after the thing started.

        That was a conspiracy involving hundreds of people in the United States government, as well as at least 80 civilian institutions (some of whom were aware of what they were doing), with expressly illegal aims (conducting experiments on unknowing civilian test subjects) in which people died.

        Knowledge of the program(s) went all the way up to the head of the CIA, who ordered all the records of the program to be destroyed after it was shut down. The only reason we ever found out about any of it is due to two unlikely events occurring in sequence – first, the CIA misfiled a bunch of the records in the wrong storage facility, and so missed them when they carried out the order to destroy said records. Second, that Congress actually engaged in a period of really rigorous oversight of the CIA’s illegal activities, and dug up the existence of the program thanks to that first error.

        Now, you might say, “But we know about MK Ultra!” Sure, but we definitely didn’t find out while it was going on. It started in 1953, was shut down in 1973, and came to light in 1975.

        • John Schilling says:

          The underwhelming version is the one where none of these mind control techniques worked, and the whole thing was never a major CIA priority even before they gave up on it for all the not-workingness. The standard conspiracy-theory version is that MK-Ultra went underground when threatened with exposure, and even now continues to use its working and fearfully effective mind-control techniques for assorted villainy up to and including ruling the world as a shadow government.

          The underwhelming version is the real one. And it might have made for a semi-decent conspiracy theory if anyone had brought it up at the time. But not even the conspiracy theorists had any inkling of MK Ultra’s existence until it was over, and “these naughty people did a bad thing but it didn’t work and they stopped” is too lame to be worth bothering with as conspiracy theories go. Particularly if everybody else already knows that thanks to the front-page coverage in the New York Times. To make a useful conspiracy theory, it had to be grossly exaggerated.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Oh, right, I get you. Yeah, MK Ultra gets trotted out sometimes as if it was real world HYDRA, when in fact it was merely the CIA spending millions of dollars on failed mind control and hurting/killing some people in the process.

            I do think it belies the whole ‘No conspiracy involving the government/lots of people is possible’ idea, though. MK Ultra involved hundreds of government research sub-projects doing messed up, illegal stuff for decades, and getting away with it.

          • John Schilling says:

            “that unambiguously violate the laws or norms of the society they live in”

            MK Ultra was only a bit farther down the slippery slope than were the Tuskegee experiments, and at about the same time. Note that the Tuskegee experiments were openly discussed at medical conferences, with the (correct) expectation that nobody would complain and if they did nobody else would care. “Informed consent” didn’t even exist as a term of art until 1957, wasn’t legally mandatory until well after that, and the laws and norms we had in its place were decidedly malleable. Especially where the underclasses were concerned.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I can sort of see your point there, but applying even that standard still opens the door on a lot of your more famous conspiracy theories.

            Like, we know for a fact the CIA have conspired to assassinate world leaders, and covered that up until the files get declassified decades later – are the Kennedies really so much farther beyond the pale?

            I mean, sure, it does invalidate the really batshit ones, no argument there. Bush didn’t do 9-11. Sandy Hook wasn’t a government hoax staged with crisis actors. But “within the normal moral/legal bounds for the 20th century CIA” still allows for a lot.

          • John Schilling says:

            Like, we know for a fact the CIA have conspired to assassinate world leaders, and covered that up until the files get declassified decades later – are the Kennedys really so much farther beyond the pale?

            “Government X sent its assassins to kill the President of Y”, is definitely a type of conspiracy that can happen. Because for most values of X, that’s almost certainly legal or at worst the sort of illegal that gets a nod and a wink, and so when someone inevitably starts talking the local institutions will all tell them to shut up rather than signal-boosting their accusations.

            “…and Government Y knows about it but is covering it up because reasons, wake up sheeple!”, is rarely if ever plausible, because Y’s average enforcers and institutions won’t be silencing the inevitable blabbermouths wherever they appear.

            That’s the standard that matters. If J. Random Beat Cop, or even reporter, hears a blabbermouth talking about a conspiracy, will they A: see the blabbermouth as a defector who needs to be silenced, or B: see the alleged conspirators as criminals who need to be uncovered? In the USSR, it’s the blabbermouth talking about KGB assassins that needs to be silenced, in the US it’s the KGB assassins that need to be uncovered, and if for some weird political reason it would be expedient for the US government to keep the whole thing under wraps there’s still no practical way to get that message out to half a million beat cops without generating five thousand uniformed blabbermouths in the process.

            And that’s where the KGB-killed-Kennedy assassination theories start looking weak. Not that the KGB couldn’t do that sort of thing and maybe keep it secret. That is plausible (albeit very risky and so not likely). But the conspiracy theorists have to include the bit where the CIA and FBI also know about it and are covering it up, and that’s much less plausible.

            There’s possibly room for a conspiracy theory where the KGB killed Kennedy and the CIA, etc, don’t know about it, but I don’t think I’ve heard that one and it would take chutzpah plus ultra to claim that the tinfoil-hat brigade has out-investigated the CIA and FBI combined. Also the implausibility of any conspiracy theorist not including the CIA on the bad-guys roster of his pet theory.

          • Randy M says:

            I have no reason to doubt the accepted Kennedy explanation, but there are plausible reasons for the CIA to not be forthcoming about KGB ties other than that they wanted Kennedy dead too; it could be that the hit was in retaliation for a botched CIA job that isn’t public, or they want to look ignorant of the true culprit while they plan their own response.
            Of course these ideas are less plausibly kept secret the further away we get from the act.

          • John Schilling says:

            but there are plausible reasons for the CIA to not be forthcoming about KGB ties other than that they wanted Kennedy dead too;

            The issue isn’t whether it is plausible for the CIA to want this, but whether it is plausible for the CIA to achieve this. The false belief that whatever a Super Secret Intelligence Agency wants, a Super Secret Intelligence Agency gets, is the root of almost every nonsense conspiracy theory in circulation.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            MK Ultra sounds like a real conspiracy that no one had a theory about.

            It was atrocious (not “these naughty people did a bad thing”) and so crazy that I’m not surprised no one thought of it.

            It also only got proven by some unlikely chances, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the CIA and other intelligence agencies were still doing the same sort of thing. This isn’t evidence of any particular abuses, but I think MK Ultra is baysian evidence that such mistreatment of random people in possible.

          • MrApophenia says:

            And that’s where the KGB-killed-Kennedy assassination theories start looking weak.

            Sure, but my understanding is that one is less popular than one of the following –

            * The CIA killed Kennedy themselves, and tried to make it look like the KGB did it.

            * A lone nut killed Kennedy, and then the CIA then tried to make it look like the KGB did it, as a way to create a cassus belli for a full-fledged war against the Soviet Union.

            We know that this last one is, at least, the line of argument that LBJ used to convince Earl Warren to run the Warren Commission, because we have that conversation on tape.

          • engleberg says:

            From the evidence JFK was killed by a lone nut communist in Texas. You can emphasize Lone Nut, Communist, or Texas, and blow off the ones you don’t like to the point where you are building a conspiracy theory.

          • MrApophenia says:

            MK Ultra sounds like a real conspiracy that no one had a theory about.

            Yeah, as far as I know there was no one who knew about it before the NY Times broke the story in 1973. But yeah, you have nailed my general view of it – that it is a strong refutation of the idea that the government could not possibly commit a large, elaborate criminal conspiracy and keep it secret.

      • 天可汗 says:

        Was the Afrikaner Broederbond real?

      • Jaskologist says:

        I used to think this, but the latest massive sex & cover-up scandal involving the Catholic Church seems like a substantial counter-example. And this isn’t even unique anymore; institutions ranging from Hollywood to ABC News have been recently caught facilitating and covering up rampant sexual abuse.

        In one sense, yes, “everyone knew,” but in another sense broader society sure as hell did not know. Or maybe I’ve just been mistaken as to the actual norms of those societies.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Yeah, the PA report has explicit evidence of hundreds of members of the clergy conspiring to conceal sexual abuse conducted over a period of decades, in six dioceses across the state. It also seems unlikely that Pennsylvania was utterly unique in this regard.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. Although one can easily make the argument that the catholic church is much more closed, tightly bonded to each other, and committed to shared norms/values systems than secular organizations such as the government.

            When we say things like “A sufficiently large conspiracy would have a few whistleblowers” that probably varies significantly based on the structure and discipline of the organization alleged to do the conspiring.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Priests and bishops maybe, but what about all the victims and their families?

            Much the same went on in Rotherham, no?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah, one brand of conspiracy theory I tend to not dismiss out of hand are those about pedo rings. I mean, it happens, in lots of places, like the Church, the UK government, Hollywood, the grooming gangs, etc. And there do exist people trafficking in children, and that seems like a rich man’s hobby. I don’t think poor people can afford child sex slaves.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think poor people can afford child sex slaves.

            Perhaps participating in a child sex ring is seen as a status symbol (I’m so rich/powerful I can get away with the most taboo thing in society). It certainly seems to me like the supply in terms of what we catch far exceeds what I would expect the demand to be just based on the prevalence of pedophilia.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Perhaps participating in a child sex ring is seen as a status symbol (I’m so rich/powerful I can get away with the most taboo thing in society).

            That seems a pretty strong claim. There’s a spectrum, where so far as we know a Hollywood director like James Gunn would joke about pederasty as a status symbol but never touched a child inappropriately let alone kidnapped one. Hollywood let the more-respected Roman Polanski get away with pederasty, but “child sex ring” may be overselling what exists.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think “status symbol” is not quite the right phrase. It’s not “oh that guy’s a pedo how cool”(???) it’s more “haha, I’m so powerful I and my friends can get away with the totally taboo and the plebes are clueless!”

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, not exactly a status symbol in that they don’t brag about it.

            I guess my theory is more that it draws certain people in primarily due to its forbidden nature, rather than for a desire to have sex with children in and of itself…

          • DeWitt says:

            Isn’t seeking out extreme behavior the exact sorts of behavior you’d expect from people in power?

          • Lillian says:

            Yeah, one brand of conspiracy theory I tend to not dismiss out of hand are those about pedo rings. I mean, it happens, in lots of places, like the Church, the UK government, Hollywood, the grooming gangs, etc. And there do exist people trafficking in children, and that seems like a rich man’s hobby. I don’t think poor people can afford child sex slaves.

            On the other hand, there don’t seem to be many instances of children being outright kidnapped for abuse, and even less of organized groups doing it. In the vast majority of instances of abuse, whether they be organized or isolated abusers, the children maintained contact and continued to live with their families. This is interesting because the number one fear seems to be of shadowy kidnappers stealing children from parking lots or whatever, and that is precisely the form that the pedophile rings don’t take.

        • John Schilling says:

          Hollywood et al aren’t counterexamples; the existence and basic nature of the casting couch had been known all along, and for that matter the fact that Harvey Weinstein was an active player was somewhere between an open secret and a laughing matter, But more generally, not knowing the details or not caring enough to stop it, doesn’t make something a Conspiracy Theory(tm), not even retroactively when you are shocked, shocked to find out what has been going on and decide to do something about it.

          And for that matter, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t understand that Catholic priests frequently diddled altarboys etc, and I certainly don’t recall any revelation that did more than add details and scope to what I already knew. But I don’t know when or how that came to be common-ish knowledge, so the Vatican may have been pulling off a rare successful Grand Conspiracy for a while.

          • Nick says:

            And for that matter, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t understand that Catholic priests frequently diddled altarboys etc, and I certainly don’t recall any revelation that did more than add details and scope to what I already knew.

            Yeah, that sort of thing has circulated forever. At the same time, if you read some of the victim statements, you’ll find numerous examples of mom and dad hitting the kid for saying such terrible things about father. So there were evidently a lot of negligently credulous parents.

            One of the most baffling things to me to come out of the current scandal is this, from Lincoln:

            Schulte says that when Father Benton was sent away in 2000, his parish at the time, St. John’s, was told that it was for health issues. This was the same rationale the diocese gave last year to the people of St. Peter’s parish in Lincoln, to explain the sudden disappearance of its pastor, Father Charles Townsend. We now know that Father Townsend had actually been sent for treatment after the assistant pastor, Father Tim Danek, reported him for an incident involving alcohol and inappropriate behavior with a 19-year-old man in the parish.

            UPDATE: I just received a report on the big meeting that Lincoln Bishop James Conley had with parishioners in Wahoo, Nebraska, last night, in the wake of his removing Father Charles Townsend from active ministry. Townsend had spent a decade as the pastor in that town before moving to a parish in Lincoln, from which he was just removed after an incident involving alcohol and an underage drinker came to light.

            My source said the crowd at the church last night was big and very hostile to the bishop — for what he did to poor Father Townsend! I’m told that the crowd’s overwhelming sentiment was that Bishop Conley unfairly attacked a good priest for what they consider to be a minor incident. Source says that Father Townsend has written privately to some of his former parishioners saying he did nothing wrong.

          • Matt M says:

            So there were evidently a lot of negligently credulous parents.

            It’s tough to blame them that much. Children making up lies about authority figures is hardly unknown…

          • toastengineer says:

            @Matt M
            Are there solid scientific figures on how often children actually do that unprompted?

          • Toby Bartels says:

            Lincoln [Nebraska]

            It's nice to see my hometown mentioned in SSC, although I wish that it were about something else. I notice that they're still bragging about their moral purity, apparently unique among all of the other Catholic dioceses. Somehow mass-excommunicating the people who wanted to allow married and female priests (which really was unique) didn't prevent the celibate male priests from sexually abusing their parishioners! But what more could they have done, really?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Rabelais (1500s) mentioned sex between priests and altar boys, but as I recall he was mocking the hypocrisy without a concept that it might be bad for the altar boys

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nancy: Rabelais was tolerant of homosexuality, which meant he had to be tolerant of pederasty, because “homosexuality” didn’t have its contemporary connotation… nor did “tolerance”, be warned!
            The colloquial definition of “pedophilia” assumes a legal framework where childhood has been extended into our 18th year and the sexes are treated the same, rather than a state where 13-year-old girls who have had their first period are recognized as nubile because they didn’t go to school and bright boys would enter university at like 15. In that world, you’d either take the orthodox position or see a grown man diddling a 13-year-old altar boy as similar to diddling Juliet.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Catholic-priest sex scandals are a good example of what a real conspiracy looks like:

          1. Father so-and-so molests some children.
          2. Local Church authorities realize he’s a diddler, but decide for reasons of keeping up appearances and not wanting secular authorities on their turf that they will keep it quiet.
          3. They get the guy to say he’ll never do it again, maybe put him through some in-house counselling or something, and move him to a new assignment.
          4. He diddles some more children.
          5. Repeat.

          A “crazy conspiracy theory” version of it would be about how the Catholic church sets out to molest children.

          • John Schilling says:

            The one where the Catholic church says, “OK, we didn’t set out to molest children, but now it’s obvious we’re going to be getting lots of molesters turning up in our ranks so clearly we need an established protocol on how to cover these up”, is an interesting middle ground.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      To begin with, let me complain about the term ‘conspiracy theory’. It seems to designed to make one's opponent wrong by definition. As you've noted, conspiracies do happen in real life, so just because someone has a theory (or hypothesis) about a conspiracy does not make them wrong. The anti-conspiracy-theory people will say that actually ‘conspiracy theory’ is a term of art referring to a *false* hypothesis about a conspiracy or even a hypothesis *with no evidence* (sometimes even defined so that there doesn't have to be a conspiracy in it anywhere). But if that's what you mean, then just say ‘false theory’ or ‘unsupported theory’. (This is particularly ridiculous when people criticize conspiracy theories about 9/11, which totally was a conspiracy by anybody's account.) And in practice, they'll note that someone has hypothesized a conspiracy, call it a conspiracy theory, and conclude that it's false, which is obvious bullshit.

      Still, that doesn't make any of these conspiracy theories *true*. I don't know much about RFK, but for a long time I believed in a conspiracy about his brother JFK. Largely this was because I had a social-studies teacher who totally believed in it and told us about all of the evidence in favour but none of the evidence against. Still, having a shooter on the grassy knoll coordinating with Oswald makes it a conspiracy, without getting into any of the crazy stuff about the deep state (as we now call it).

      I am firmly of the opinion that the government is not competent to cover up wide-ranging conspiracies for long. I did think that they would be able to prevent Trump from winning the presidency, but they couldn't even manage that, so they sure as hell aren't competent to cover up a presidential assassination for decades. (Unless they only let Trump win because that's what they *want* me to think …)

      With JFK, the acoustic evidence seems to be against a second shooter, but for a while it seemed to be in favour. And given that Kennedy did try to assassinate Castro, it would hardly be crazy for him to return the favour. We now know that Oswald was trying to recruit some Cubans in Mexico to join him on a mission shortly before the assassination, so it's not out of the question for one of them to have joined up, even if Castro himself stayed out of it and didn't even know. It doesn't look as if anybody did in fact join Oswald, but it would hardly be Earth-shattering if it turned out otherwise.

      tl;dr: Crazy wide-ranging conspiracies requiring huge cover-ups either don't happen or are quickly found out, but small-scale conspiracies involving a second perp who gets away are reasonable and probably happen from time to time without being discovered. Either way, whether a conspiracy occurred must be determined by the evidence and cannot be decided a priori.

      • MrApophenia says:

        I don’t want to go all tinfoil hat myself (unless people are interested) but the much more interesting stuff with the JFK conspiracy these days is based on files that came out back in the 90s due to the JFK records act – basically, it’s less about a second shooter, and more about odd connections between Oswald himself and the CIA.

        • Aapje says:

          The connection between Oswald and Cuba is also interesting. Before the assassination, Oswald traveled to Mexico where he attended an event at the Cuban consulate. The consulate chief was part of the Cuban intelligence apparatus and was know to complain about the assassination attempts by the US against Fidel Castro (which failed because the Cubans had a double spy, who was told about each attempt).

          JFK was very much into such covert operations and it is quite possible that his death was blow back from his own policies. The assassin assassinated, as it were.

          This doesn’t mean that Oswald was instructed by Cuba/Russia. The Walker assassination attempt suggests that Oswald was willing to choose targets himself.

          The Warren committee didn’t investigate the Mexico trip very hard and the CIA seems to have tried to cover it up, which can be for multiple reasons. Perhaps it was feared that if a Cuban/Russian connection existed, it would result in nuclear war. Perhaps the CIA was embarrassed because they thought Oswald was still working for them, even though he was actually doing pro-commie things. Perhaps the CIA had used Oswald for illegal domestic programs. Perhaps some combination of these.

          The actual shooting itself seems to have gone almost exactly as the Warren commission believed it had. Most conspiracy theories seem based on incorrect data, like the magic bullet theory that ignores that the car was a special parade model, with a higher back seat.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The fun thing about the Cuban Embassy/Mexico trip is that there seems to be some doubt if some of it was actually Oswald.

            There’s a good article about the stuff that was released on this topic due to the JFK Records Act from Frontline –

            https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/oswald-the-cia-and-mexico-city/

            The short version:

            – During the Mexico trip someone claiming to be Oswald made contact with a KGB assassin.

            – After the assassination the FBI developed some doubts about whether the transcripts they were seeing of these calls were actually Oswald, and asked to get copies of the original tapes. The CIA then declared that all the tapes had been erased.

            – The FBI became convinced the CIA concocted the whole story, and Hoover demoted or punished everyone at the FBI who had been taken in. (I read in a different book that one guy was literally stationed in Alaska as punishment.)

            But the part of all of this I find really striking, personally, is the bit where (the real) Oswald visits the Cuban embassy, and the Mexico City CIA station asks for information on who this guy is.

            The higher ups sent back that they had no idea who that was – but some of the files now released show that the specific individuals who sent that response had been reading detailed files on Oswald shortly before that.

            That is pretty low key compared to some of this other stuff, until you realize that was how the CIA was responding to Oswald before the assassination.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      All conspiracy theories are false, except one. The rest are just cover.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Does “Many Catholic priests abuse children in their parishes, but local bishops work to keep revelations out of the public eye and ensure said abusive priests are relocated out of state. These priests are frequently allowed to work with kids again, often while the new community doesn’t know the priest’s history, allowing them to re-offend and start the whole cycle up again” qualify as a conspiracy? If you said this happened once or even twice maybe it doesn’t, but at some point it becomes systemic enough to be a full-blown conspiracy, right? 25 years ago, you would have been considered a lunatic for suggesting such a thing was going on.

      • MrApophenia says:

        Yeah, the scope of the PA stuff is actually pretty mind boggling even to me and I’m the guy who’s talking about actually kind of buying some conspiracy theories. Apart from all the actual horrific abuse, the extent of the organizational involvement in the cover up is what was really striking to me. This wasn’t just ‘a few bad apples,’ this really was an institution-wide effort. Also striking was the fact that one of the bishops involved (Wuerl) was specifically one of the ones the Church deployed as an anti-abuse mouthpiece after the Boston scandal.

        There’s a point where this starts to look so prevalent that the thing that kept coming to my mind reading about the PA report was the old line that if you look at how it spends its time and effort, the US government is basically an insurance company with an army; it appears that in Pennsylvania, for the past 70 years or so, the Catholic Church was a pedophile ring that also happened to offer religious services.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        25 years ago, you would have been considered a lunatic for suggesting such a thing was going on.

        25 seconds before the perps went to trial, you would have been considered a bigot for suggesting such a thing was being done by Muslims in the United Kingdom. And even after the central gov’t ended the Rotherham conspiracy with criminal charges, “bigots” were thrown in jail for trying to uncover evidence outside the courthouse.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Also, be sure not to notice the vast majority of abuse victims in the Catholic Church are post-pubescent boys and young men. That might make it seem like the problem has to do with homosexuality rather than pedophilia.

          • MrApophenia says:

            The PA report is full of reports of actual pedophilia involving pre-pubescent kids (although there is plenty of abuse of older kids mixed in as well).

            But frankly, the bigger problem is the fact that in exactly no instance in the hundreds of identified cases, did the Church, upon learning that one of their priests was raping children, take any action other than to hide it, and also make sure they are able to continue doing it.

            The usual deflections on this topic really do fail in the face of the scope of what this report actually reveals. This wasn’t a few bad eggs taking advantage of institutional authority; it was a specific set of organizational practices to enable sexual abuse of children, applied consistently across multiple dioceses for decades.

          • Nick says:

            The PA report details cases going back to the 1940s; most of it is child sexual abuse because it was pre-2002, after which some measures were put in place and prelates like Wuerl and O’Malley started building their careers on being zero tolerance on child sexual abuse. Post-2002, the big concern is predation on young men, especially on seminarians and young priests, and on abuses by, or complicity of, bishops—since both the responsibility to report crimes involving young men and the applicability of the law to bishops were specifically skirted by those writing the Dallas Charter.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            it was a specific set of organizational practices to enable sexual abuse of children, applied consistently across multiple dioceses for decades.

            Yes. I’d been hearing for a long time through the grapevine, from posts on Catholic forums/blogs, about a Pink Mafia. Seminarian learns two other seminarians are having a gay relationship. Troubled, informs Bishop. Bishop punishes reporter and protects gay seminarians. Repeat over and over again for decades, throughout the power structure.

            I didn’t necessarily think this was that big a deal. The priesthood sounded like a decent option for gay Catholics. If you’re not going to get married and have a family and need to be celibate anyway, the priesthood sounds like a pretty good deal. But it turns out these are the same people doing the abuse and cover-ups, also.

            I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, or how it’s going to end, but there’s a reckoning coming.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            But it turns out these are the same people doing the abuse But it turns out these are the same people doing the abuse and cover-ups, also. cover-ups, also.

            Yeah, from a liberal individualist perspective, it's easy to say that seminarians engaging in consensual gay sex should be supported and not persecuted, even in defiance of Church doctrine; while priests taking advantage of the children in their care are completely different. But from a conservative Catholic perspective, they're not that different at all, and a bishop who covers up one is liable to cover up the other.

      • mtl1882 says:

        I have been reading books from the 1800s and early 1900s, and several of them mention clergy sexual abuse scandals, some involving young boys. It has always been a thing, and it was well known. It was not beyond imagination. Of course, a large portion of people are in fact pretty credulous, especially when they know someone and the person has authority. Many didn’t imagine it could happen. But enough did (and wrote warnings about it) that we should acknowledge that ignorance isn’t a blanket excuse for society in general. And obviously the sexual aspect of it involves shame that prevents people from acting or inquiring even when they do know, and then they tend to claim ignorance. People knew, but I don’t blame them for being in denial when faced with so much social pressure and shame. The extent of the coverup is somewhat notable, but I think that is largely because of increased prosecution and media coverage. Before the 60s or whenever this ramped up, it was easy to get away with, and easy to keep quiet. And even easier to move elsewhere without needing a cover story from the authorities. So higher ups just didn’t have to worry about keeping it under control. Individual cases got publicity, but it wasn’t so wide-ranging. And I suppose Catholicism gained ground in certain places, and it is a far more organized religion than most. It is very common with clergy in general, but they’re harder to lump together.

        It certainly is a disturbing conspiracy, but I don’t find it as jaw-dropping as many seem to. People looking the other way of shame and denial when confronted with authority is entirely expected, and happens often at the family level. It’s just that most abusers aren’t connected to such a large and tight-knit organization that would be informed about their activities.

    • Matt M says:

      Something that occurs to me is that one necessary ingredient for a conspiracy theory to exist is silence (or at least the perception of silence) or reluctance on the part of the mainstream official media sources.

      Right now, my social media feeds are cluttered with people howling about the situation in New Mexico. I haven’t done any research at all, but as far as I can tell, the claim is something to the effect of:

      1. A Muslim guy was operating a terrorist training camp for school shooters
      2. This included child slavery and abuse
      3. A “liberal judge” released all of the offenders without bail
      4. The site is already being bulldozed for “cleanup”
      5. The media won’t cover this story

      I have no idea of the accuracy of points 1-4, but 5 seems fairly correct. Or at least, the coverage is minimal as compared to what one would expect, given the shocking and sensational nature of claims 1-4. It would seem to me that if you addressed 5, it would shed a whole lot of light on the validity of points 1-4, but the fact that 5 is firmly in place creates a breeding ground for 1-4 to go unchallenged.

      I think this works for left-wing conspiracies too. Something like “Monsanto is poisoning our kids with GMOs that cause cancer and destroy the crops of innocent farmers who they then sue for unlawfully using their GMO seeds.” If true, that would warrant a whole ton of media interest. But there’s no interest at all. Now that could be because all of those things are untrue, but the media hasn’t really bothered to convincingly argue that point to the general public at all. They just kind of shrug it off and expect everyone to go along. And unsurprisingly, a lot of people don’t go along.

      • The Nybbler says:

        There’s certainly allegations of a school shooter training camp, but there haven’t been any charges related to that — the charges for now are child abuse. There were five defendants; two are being held for other reasons and three are eligible for release on “signature bond” (which means they don’t need to put up any money).

        I think there’s definitely less coverage than there would be if a bunch of good-old-boys were arrested for the same thing, but it hasn’t been covered up in any way.

        • Matt M says:

          To be clear, there are certainly degrees of “covered up.”

          Is it true that the media absolutely will not talk about this incident at all? No. Does it seem to be true that they’re giving it far less attention than they might if a few minor details were changed? Absolutely.

          And it’s not just about the identity of the perpetrator.

          There are similar accusations about the Vegas shooting. A lot of weird stuff that doesn’t add up, horrific outcome numbers-wise, media uninterested in pursuing the various “weird stuff.” Parkland was much more straightforward and less interesting, yet got 100x more attention.

          • CatCube says:

            There’s less rhyme or reason to what gets covered than people think.

            Do you remember seeing the national news cover the guy who blew through the gate of a US military installation, back out another one, then fired an AK-47 at the cops while leading them on a high-speed chase down an Interstate?

            Or how about when a train derailed next to a (different) military installation that resulted in the evacuation of a town and part of the military base and forced everybody to drive several hours out of their way for several weeks? During the cleanup, they apparently didn’t take enough care and it exploded when they were cutting it up, leaving a huge fire right next to another car full of hydrogen flouride.

            These were both covered locally, but never made it to the national media despite them both seeming to me to have pretty good narrative hooks. Now, neither had the most obvious narrative hook because nobody died; however, there are all kinds of things where nobody died that end up at least getting a puff piece. It also depends on what else is going on. That second story occurred right around Hurricane Sandy.

            It’s really weird what will capture the imagination of national media and what won’t.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s fair.

            To be clear, my point is not “any time the media ignores a story you might suspect would interest them the conspiracy theories are true” but rather “any time the media ignores a story you might suspect would interest them, conspiracy theories are sure to follow.”

            Conspiracy theories are, at their core, people attempting to connect the dots and fill in the blanks on things that don’t make sense. All of polite society turning the other way and ignoring a Muslim school shooter training camp doesn’t make sense to most people, therefore, a conspiracy theory must be formed in order to explain the otherwise unexplainable.

            ETA: And in cases like the ones you mention, the “conspiracy” may be as simple as something like “We ignored this story because we’d rather focus on something that fits our narrative better.” The notion that news media outlets are deliberately ignoring “politically neutral” news in favor of round the clock interviews with Stormy Daniels’ lawyer fits in nicely with right-wing conspiracy think. In that case, it’s not the crazy dude with the AK-47 that’s the center of the conspiracy, he’s just a side-effect of the deep state conspiracy to overthrow Trump in a coup.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I find the Muhammad al-Durrah incident an interestingly atypical conspiracy theory scenario.

  15. ana53294 says:

    How likely is an accident similar to the one in Genoa to happen in the US?

    I have heard of the US’ infrastructure problems for the last few years, but nothing of this scale has happened. What would happen if it happens? Would they finally start fixing all the infrastructure? Maintenance can be as expensive as building stuff, but it is always much less sexy.

    • Plumber says:

      How likely is an accident similar to the one in Genoa to happen in the US?

      @ana53294,

      Do you mean happen again
      in the U.S.A.?

      I’ve personally seen and walked on a collapsed freeway in Oakland, California and I well remember the bay bridge losing a section, lives were lost.

      I have heard of the US’ infrastructure problems for the last few years, but nothing of this scale has happened. What would happen if it happens? Would they finally start fixing all the infrastructure? Maintenance can be as expensive as building stuff, but it is always much less sexy.

       As an employee of a municipality doing building repair who tries to maintain public buildings with the resources available I’m extremely doubtful of any return to sane infrastructure policies.. 

      The structures that were built during my parents and especially my grandparents lifetimes are marvels that are rotting away, and I see no signs of any return to mid 20th style taxes and spending, so no I don’t expect any respite, at least not until my tiny generation and the cheapskate baby boomers die off.

      Hopefully the millennials will do better, but they seem distracted by the this “culture war” nonsense.

      • Matt M says:

        What “taxes and spending” policies are you referring to?

        Government spending as a percentage of GDP continues to rise. The fact that we’re choosing to spend it on things other than basic infrastructure is a political issue completely aside from taxes and spending…

        • Plumber says:

          @MATT M,
          While tax receipts are down compared a bit compared to just a few years ago, as a percentage of GDP tax receipts haven’t changed that much for generations.

          What’s more of an issue is were spending goes, and the causes of that change (my favorite Scott Alexander post).

          Also important is who and what is paying those taxes, which is linked to  more Americans being too poor to pay taxes.

          Taxes are effective in controlling inflation as was known and used as a tool in the 20th century.

          Framed in the Port of San Francisco plumber’s break room at Pier 50 there’s a newspaper article from the early 1960’s with a headline of a plumbers union victory, and with it there’s other stories on that front page there’s a story of Robert Byrd predicting  proposed income tax cuts would lead to inflation.

          He was right.

          The prices of education, housing, and medical care relative to wages have exploded since I was a child in the 1970’s (see my favorite Scott Alexander post), something changed to cause that, and I’m guessing it was the reduction in top marginal income tax rates (but I’m open to other ideas).

          Recently I learned of a new slur “SJW” and have learned that it largely concerns stupid on-line and collegiate fights by youngsters arguing back and forth over cultural changes that happened before they were born, while people ignore what to this American who was born in 1968 see’s as the biggest problem:

          The “Hoovervilles” of the 1930″s that my grandparents spoke of are back. They’re now increasingly tents over sidewalks, vacant lots, and by freeways all over now, and that only happened this last decade.

          The term “the homeless” only started in the 1980’s (my grandparents remember them in the 1930’s, but not in the 1940’s through the 1970’s).

          Whatever was done in the mid 20th century, I want to try again.

          And I’m also sick of seeing buildings and roads rot away without getting near enough repair.

          • Deiseach says:

            Recently I learned of a new slur “SJW”

            I find it interesting that you frame the term in that manner. For someone supposedly all “I’m a middle-aged blue collar working stiff who don’t know nuthin’ about all this carry-on, where is it happening, me and the guys just have a brewski and laugh at all this PC nonsense”, you seem to have very quickly become au fait with the “slur” usage as I’ve seen used by – surprise, surprise – the SJW lot.

            Maybe you’re more influenced than you realise?

          • Matt M says:

            Whatever was done in the mid 20th century, I want to try again.

            Cool. Let’s start by returning to the gold standard. We can repeal food stamps next. Deal?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Deiseach – Alternatively, given the speed with which this individual went from “What’s this word all about” to “This is a slur” without any real reasoning behind it, I suspect the former post was feigning ignorance to try to prove a point. But, eh, could be yet another “I am not experiencing the problems other people are reporting, and therefore they’re just making things up”; doesn’t really matter either way.

            Plumber –

            Well, given the world situation in the 50’s, the clear answer is to bomb Europe’s industry to shreds (we’ll have to hit Asia this time too) so that the US is the only serious industrial power, then spend the next few decades rebuilding their industry from scratch.

            Although maybe a better plan, looking at our infrastructure, would be to bomb -ourselves- to rubble, and then rebuild. A large part of the problem is that maintenance is more politically viable than replacement, even when replacement is clearly necessary.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            Cool. Let’s start by returning to the gold standard. We can repeal food stamps next. Deal?

            Having let somewhere between 5 and 10 of these go, …

            I know you can actually have a decent conversation. I’ve seen it. Try to #BeBest or something.

            I’m striking all of this because Scott already said something, but I’m not deleting the post (although maybe I should, not sure).

          • Plumber says:

            I find it interesting that you frame the term in that manner. For someone supposedly all “I’m a middle-aged blue collar working stiff who don’t know nuthin’ about all this carry-on, where is it happening, me and the guys just have a brewski and laugh at all this PC nonsense”, you seem to have very quickly become au fait with the “slur” usage as I’ve seen used by – surprise, surprise – the SJW lot.

            Maybe you’re more influenced than you realise?

            @Deiseach,  

            That’s quite possible. Someone posted that I “live in the heart of it”, which may be why this “culture war” stuff seems to me to be eithet re-fights of stuff from the 1970’s by people too young to remember them, or (more often) white collar management pablum that you try not to fall asleep while they drone on about it (couldn’t they bring donuts at least?).

            Cool. Let’s start by returning to the gold standard. We can repeal food stamps next. Deal?

            @Matt M If thats means more jobs with union wages and median income workers can buy homes like my working-class parents could in the 1970’s then I absolutely would take that deal, but before you eliminate food stamps, please bring back the other welfare programs that were eliminated in the 1980’s and ’90’s, as there are already too many street beggers (full disclosure my dad handed me food stamps to by groceries with when I was 12 and 13 years old. 

            Alternatively, given the speed with which this individual went from “What’s this word all about” to “This is a slur” without any real reasoning behind it, I suspect the former post was feigning ignorance to try to prove a point. 

            @Thegnskald,

            I googled “SJW” and 

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice_warrior Wikipedia said it was a “pejorative”, but I was lazy and used the word “slur” instead (less letters), and yes “SJW” is a new term to me, and how both pro and anti adherents seem to be using it is annoying to me.

            Part of what bugs me is that “social justice” is what the C.I.O. fought for in the 1930’s, and the whole United States of America fought for in the 1940’s (I actually listened to my grandparents!) and I just don’t like punk kids mangling meanings.

            …But, eh, could be yet another “I am not experiencing the problems other people are reporting, and therefore they’re just making things up”; doesn’t really matter either way.

             That’s a fair point, I just plain don’t care about all this “culture war” stuff.

            At this point I’m strongly pro-devolution and want more self-government of metropolitan areas and counties, but the States may be okay, I know the argument against it – Jim Crow, but if Dixieland wants to ban abortion and insist on saying prayers in school for Jefferson Davis, I don’t care I just want the Federal government to stop busting unions and closing post offices. 

            I don’t know if the small States could, but if California gets to govern itself I have no problems with Texas doing the same.

            Berkeley and Barstow are never going to have exactly the culture, why not live and let live?

            Plumber –

            Well, given the world situation in the 50’s, the clear answer is to bomb Europe’s industry to shreds (we’ll have to hit Asia this time too) so that the US is the only serious industrial power, then spend the next few decades rebuilding their industry from scratch.

            Although maybe a better plan, looking at our infrastructure, would be to bomb -ourselves- to rubble, and then rebuild. A large part of the problem is that maintenance is more politically viable than replacement, even when replacement is clearly necessary.

            Come to the old shipyards in San Francisco, they look pretty bombed out already. 

            I hope that I’m not misunderstood, but while I didn’t vote for Trump (he seemed odious with his “Your fired” shtick when I briefly tried to watch “The Apprentice” long before his campaign) that people seemed suprised that the “Make America Great Again” slogan would appeal to those who have memories, unfortunately the man lies and I’ve seen nothing indicating any re-building. 

            At least Obama’s stimulus got us a library branch (originally built in FDR’s time) fixed up, small potatoes but at least something.

          • gbdub says:

            Don’t read anything into this question, I’m honestly curious:

            How does one come upon SSC without being at least passingly familiar with the terms “SJW” and “Twitter Mob”? That’s a very weird slice of a Venn diagram.

          • Deiseach says:

            Thegnskald, I was trying to be tactful given I’ve already had fights with two people previously over “I very much doubt you are telling the truth about who and what you are”, a third row of that nature would be skating on very thin ice and I might be permabanned and nuked from orbit! 😀

          • Plumber says:

            “Don’t read anything into this question, I’m honestly curious:

            How does one come upon SSC without being at least passingly familiar with the terms “SJW” and “Twitter Mob”? That’s a very weird slice of a Venn diagram”

            @gbdub,

            To be clear, “Twitter Mob” was indeed something this Forum taught me this week, “SJW” I had seen at a Dungeons & Dragons Forum that nominally bans political topics about a year ago, where someone helpfully explained “They don’t mean your grandfather, it’s ironic”.

            I found Scott’s blog just over a week ago when The Atlantic Monthly linked one of his essays: http://slatestarcodex.com/2018/05/23/can-things-be-both-popular-and-silenced/ which was good reading, and I wanted more!

          • Thegnskald says:

            Plumber –

            SJW is a pejorative in the same sense that “racist” is a pejorative; it is describing a cluster of bad behaviors, which means that, yes, being called one is a bad thing. I would say, at it’s most specific, it refers to assholes (who may or may not be [ETA] interacting in the real world) who find social justice rhetoric to be a source of personal power, and utilize it to attack other people. Whether or not their motives are good is entirely in the imagination of the people who pretend bad behaviors are okay when we agree with the broad objectives of the actors.

            And on that note, Wikipedia is utterly unreliable as a source of information on any culturally touchy issue. One side or the other has already won by the time you look at the page.

            ETA:

            They aren’t a fake phenomenon, but I have a hypothesis that they are much more common in right-wing areas than left, in much the way apparently zealous racists rarely show up outside of left wing areas, because both are really the same group: Trollish assholes who are really about offending people / pissing people off. Ultra-counterculture, basically. So a person in one context is a SJW, and in another, a loud and outspoken racist.

            Because I have lived in many places, and the only places I actually encountered real-life Racists – not just the person who quietly holds a few stereotypes – were left-wing bastions. And the SJWs I have dealt with have been in the more right-wing areas of the country.

            My current group has three SJWs, and zero racists. Of the SJWs, one yelled at a woman in a parking lot at night because he didn’t like the way she moderated a game – and he’s the guy who tried to force “safe spaces” on the group. He isn’t the worst – that would be the “lesbian” who sexted a guy in a relationship, deleted all her texts initiating the exchange from her phone, then showed the “evidence” to the guy’s girlfriend when he wouldn’t have sex with her.

            The third SJW hasn’t done anything interesting to speak of; she is just offensive and annoying and aggressive in a passive aggressive way.

            All three share the central characteristic, however, of Believing in Social Justice. All three also have a mental disorder, and one claims to be disabled, which I won’t get into except to note that it only seems to be a thing when it is beneficial to them. And they all attack other people on the basis of a perceived moral superiority, and, amusingly enough, have done more to make our majority-woman group unwelcoming than the fucking carnie who tries to have sex with every woman who walks in, and steals from the ones he succeeds with. (And I’d love to get him kicked out, but I don’t want to spend the social resources on it, since he’s protected by his ex girlfriend, who keeps him around as a backup between relationships and has nearly as much social power as I could muster.)

            So… yes. They are a problem.

          • Plumber says:

            “SJW is a pejorative in the same sense that….”

            Thanks @Thegnskald that clarifies things quite a bit.

            I’d prefer then that people would put quotation marks around “SJW” to distinguish them from actual warriors for real social justice (like my grandfather in World War 2), but that makes me a language scold so I’m going to try to let it go.

            One plus side for me in learning about this stuff is that I’m a little less envious of those of you who went to college if you had to go through such petty tyranny. 

            The Twitter thing just seems weird to me and I don’t know what to think about that beyond continuing to avoid Twitter. 

          • gbdub says:

            ” to distinguish them from actual warriors for real social justice (like my grandfather in World War 2)”

            The irony that the “social justice” being fought for is more like “zero-sum identity politics” than the traditional meaning, and that the “warriors” aren’t actual fighting a war (just using accusations that offensive words are “violence” to justify any-means-necessary responses) is, as they say, the joke.

            SJW may not be more pejorative than racist, but it is more mocking.

            @Thegnskald: “They aren’t a fake phenomenon, but I have a hypothesis that they are much more common in right-wing areas than left, in much the way apparently zealous racists rarely show up outside of left wing areas, because both are really the same group: Trollish assholes who are really about offending people / pissing people off. Ultra-counterculture, basically. So a person in one context is a SJW, and in another, a loud and outspoken racist.”

            I disagree. On the one hand, I think it’s fair to label the white supremacy wing of the current all-trite as trolls… witness their fizzled march on Washington. They go into town looking to start shit because they know they will be poorly received. But I don’t think those trolls are the central example of “people who actually hold racist views”.

            SJWs, on the other hand, seem to operate mostly in places where their politics (or gentler versions of them) are largely accepted / tolerated, and it’s just their extremist tactics that make them stand out. Like college campuses, or SJ-friendly tech giants.

            @Plumber – you may not be interested in Twitter, but Twitter is interested in you… Seriously if Twitter mobs stayed confined to Twitter no one would care, the bigger concern is the ability of Twitter virality to bleed over into the real world and make a bunch of people protest your pizza shop or whatever.

            In your case I could see, for example, a client overhearing you say something that could be construed as a microaggression against some protected class, complaining about it on Twitter, and it randomly going viral and having a million people calling for your job and your union card.

            It’s extremely unlikely, but totally random, which makes it kind of scary.

          • AG says:

            You tend to be left alone on social media if you’re just shamelessly and happily degenerate, signalling that you genuinely wouldn’t give a shit if someone tried to chide you for your shit tastes.

            The ones who get hauled out to the carpet are the ones with chips on their shoulders, who are already engaging with the other side by making snide comments about how their own tastes contrast with their outgroups’.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Anyone know whether SJW is a slur at the moment?

            I was surprised to find out it started out as an insult because I knew people who were proudly claiming it as an identify.

            I haven’t been seeing so much of that lately.

          • toastengineer says:

            If “nazi” or “communist” or “alt-right” or “hippie” are slurs, then “SJW” is too. It’s an insult as much as any term for the enemy is, even if it is or used to be their term for itself. Still, throwing it around like some people do is bad signaling.

          • howdoiworkthisthing says:

            Yeah, I have trouble with a lot of terminology I read, which doesn’t appear to mean what it appears to. A lot of it appears to be just signaling, among them SJW (wait, are we fighting for social injustice now?), Feminism (I’m pretty sure we all want women to be treated equally with men), Identity politics (?). Calling things “Cultural Marxism” seems to be big now too. Along with the usual calling people you don’t like “racist” or “nazis”.

            The other thing I see from both red and blue is taking the most extreme positions from the other side and attributing it to everybody they don’t like, which allows what used to be unoffensive descriptive names like liberal or conservative to now become insults.

            As somebody who is trying not to live in a bubble, and read ideas from across the political spectrum, it’s pretty discouraging. Can’t we talk about ideas, instead of just slapping a label on something and deciding that ends the discussion?

          • toastengineer says:

            Can’t we talk about ideas, instead of just slapping a label on something and deciding that ends the discussion?

            And when we need to talk about common bundles of ideas?

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve personally seen and walked on a collapsed freeway in Oakland, California and I well remember the bay bridge losing a section, lives were lost.

        I seem to remember an earthquake being involved. Arguably Bay Area infrastructure should have been better hardened against large quakes by the Eighties, but it’s still not in the same ballpark as a bridge that just collapsed from age, neglect, or poor design.

        The 2007 bridge collapse in Minneapolis is a better analogy.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I have heard of the US’ infrastructure problems for the last few years, but nothing of this scale has happened.

      Unfortunately, it has.

      Would they finally start fixing all the infrastructure?

      Infrastructure starts degrading as soon as it is built and is constantly being fixed. Will another disaster cause governments to pick up and keep up the pace so this never happens again? Probably not. Instead they’ll temporarily pour some energy into taking care of the backlog, institute new requirements which make things even more expensive, and eventually start delaying things for “lack of money” again (as they waste money on all sorts of other things).

    • ana53294 says:

      It does seem like the catastrophe has served to mobilise European governments to fix the infrastructure. I just hope it doesn’t fizzle out. The only good thing is that there is a very corrupt and self interested lobby that will make sure it doesn’t.

  16. Paul Brinkley says:

    The Oatmeal has a cartoon about belief systems and the backfire effect.

    • Nootropic cormorant says:

      How robust is the “backfire effect” even? I’ve stopped taking psychology seriously unless clobbered with a pile of replication studies. (Sure makes it easy to believe whatever I want)

        • Nootropic cormorant says:

          Thanks for feeding my confirmation bias.

          Here’s a quote from a Flynn-Nyhan article citing that Wood-Porter one.

          By contrast, studies conducted on other issues that often feature less well-known misperceptions and more one-sided information treatments have typically not observed backfire effects […], suggesting that highly polarized responses and backfire effects may be more likely for highly salient misperceptions when people receive conflicting cues.

          I think I’ll rather default to my prior that belief perseverance is a lot about the mistrust of the source (perhaps rational?) rather than any inherent defense mechanisms.

          • Deiseach says:

            Backfire, if there is such a thing, may be more likely if you mistrust the person feeding you the facts: if you have reason to believe (even if you’re wrong) that “This guy is The Other Side and he’s going to try to persuade me Our Side is wrong for partisan reasons of his own”, then yeah you’re going to doubt the neutrality and reliability of any facts he quotes you.

            If someone is giving you sixty pages of “this is why and how the moon landing was faked”, it’s entirely possible your reaction might be to hold even more firmly that no, men really did walk on the moon! Is that backfire?

    • Deiseach says:

      My God, the smuggery in that was tough to wade through. Whatever about the backfire effect, the examples he chose to use were iffy* and I think the MRI stuff is dubious because you stick most people into a confined metal tube with loud banging noises that they can’t easily get out of and they have to hold their breath at times, their brain is going to be firing off physical panic signals no matter if you’re reading them “mary had a little lamb” or “this is gonna rustle your jimmies by challenging a cherished political belief”.

      But the cream of the jest was the rainbow brain “I am so woke, so much woker than thou” ending. Where can I get a caveman with a rock to brain this guy?

      *People are really going to get bent out of shape about the date of Christmas? Well, maybe in America with the whole War On Christmas thing, and even that is not about “this is 100% the confirmed genuine birth day of Christ and you have to believe that or else!” as it is about perceived forced secularisation. But for someone spraining his arm patting himself on the back about how tuned in he is to ‘it’s a big wonderful beautiful world out there’, he should remember: the USA is not the entire world and some of us – even on the Internet! – are not Americans.

      • toastengineer says:

        I think it’s just another instance of “lifetime city-boy leftie has no idea how right-wingers actually think.” I can see how someone who has literally never talked to a Christian might imagine Christians finding that statement offensive instead of “everyone over the age of 10 knows this already.”

        • Randy M says:

          “everyone over the age of 10 knows this already.”

          I read it in a Beverly Cleary book and managed to have my naive worldview unshaken.

    • theredsheep says:

      I saw it when it came out. I would have found it more impressive if he’d included any examples that challenged his own beliefs, or those of any of his likely readers (the Oatmeal is not exactly friendly to religious social conservatives). As it is, it got shared a lot by secular progressives as a kind of covert wankfest at the expense of the kind of narrow-minded people who’d be offended by George Washington owning slave-dentures. The readers themselves, of course, were perfectly fine with the idea, and therefore found this comic about such an impulse quite fun to read. Kind of like the old SSC post about white people who bemoan white privilege because it’s a way to criticize conservatives while feigning broad-mindedness. Yuk.

      • Matt M says:

        The Oatmeal is beloved by the SJ circle for being pro-SJ without being blatant about it.

        His piece on Columbus is almost as vomit-inducing as this one.

        • theredsheep says:

          I didn’t mind that’n so much because Columbus really was a quite terrible person who succeeded almost entirely due to incompetence. There’s nothing really partisan about “child sex slavery is bad,” and it’s more than I expected that he made a priest like BDLC the hero of it. I don’t really buy it when he goes in for an inspirational tone, but then his particular set of beliefs is quite different from mine. If you can get past the part where he hates children and seems to have anger issues it can be fun to read, for example, The Bobcats.

          • Nick says:

            Every time I want to give The Oatmeal a little slack, I’m reminded of comics like this and decide that nah, it can wait.

          • theredsheep says:

            I don’t think of it as “giving him slack.” I think of it as “Inman releases some funny material, some stupid material, and some obnoxious material. I can either ignore him entirely out of principle, or enjoy the funny material while rolling my eyes at the stupid and obnoxious.” I can ignore the occasional idiot comic like his religion one. YMMV.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Do you validate your beliefs by constantly trying to persuade others to believe the same thing?”

            This pearl of unawareness in a long comic strip all about “religion is dumb, I’m going to quote incorrect and ignorant things about what I presume they believe, and the end towards which all this is intended is to persuade you to adopt my beliefs about materialism and not being religious”.

            Maybe the question should be “do you draw long boring stick-figure panels trying to persuade others to believe as you do?”, Mr Oatmeal?

      • toastengineer says:

        I would have found it more impressive if he’d included any examples that challenged his own beliefs, or those of any of his likely readers (the Oatmeal is not exactly friendly to religious social conservatives).

        I’m pretty sure the 2nd example where he said “republicans supported Roe V. Wade” is supposed to be this.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah but it’s fairly clear he considers Roe vs Wade to be Unambiguously Good Thing so that’s more like “Evil bigots did one good thing once”, whereas the Date of Christmas bit comes across as completely misunderstanding why the people who get their knickers in a twist over the War on Christmas are fighting; “imagine, these dum-dums really think it’s the actual legit official birthday of Jesus! if they only got educated like I am they’d stop this nonsense!”

          No, Oatmeal Man, you are the dum-dum here since that is not the casus belli and the arguments over why was that date picked have been well thrashed out.

          Also, that bird whispering into the ear of the other bird is just creepy.

          • DeWitt says:

            Yeah but it’s fairly clear he considers Roe vs Wade to be Unambiguously Good Thing

            Yes, the author holds a view opposed to yours. The horror. For all the supposed smugginess you accuse him of, you’re being a good deal less respectful than he is.

          • Deiseach says:

            DeWitt, a long list of “things Smart People like me know versus things Dumb People like you think they know” is smug no matter what side the guy is on.

            If you want to be “no that’s not smug”, that’s your perogative. I’m sticking with “smug and creepy”.

          • DeWitt says:

            DeWitt, a long list of “things Smart People like me know versus things Dumb People like you think they know” is smug no matter what side the guy is on.

            He’s listing a bunch of stuff people may or may not have heard of. If the author really wanted to pick sides, there’s approximately three dozen ‘fun facts’ he could’ve went for to drive the point home. The horse you’re on is higher than his; the bias you’re showing is stronger than his, too.

            I don’t see the creepy thing but you do you.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Got bored and gave up without finishing. The bunch of panels in the beginning telling me to read to the end triggered my “spam/chain letter detector” anyway. Checked into the slave dentures thing; looks like Washington may have indeed used them (as well as his own teeth), but he merely purchased them, he didn’t force them out of his or any other slaves. I mean, if you’re looking for human teeth to sell in the 1700s, I can think of a much easier way than taking them from live slaves.

      • Randy M says:

        I mean, if you’re looking for human teeth to sell in the 1700s, I can think of a much easier way than taking them from live slaves.

        Origin of the Tooth Fairy?

        • Deiseach says:

          Origin of the Tooth Fairy?

          DEAD MEN’S TEETH.

          Which is way more metal than ordinary dentures and is one more demonstration that the Founding Fathers were more goth than you could ever be 🙂

      • John Schilling says:

        The bunch of panels in the beginning telling me to read to the end triggered my “spam/chain letter detector” anyway.

        That plus Inman’s track record for being at least thoughtful put it in “you’ve earned a bit of trust, but please don’t waste my time”. And, sure enough, he wasted my time.

        That 18th-century Virginia dentists sourced raw material from deceased slaves as a matter of course was the obvious explanation for the false-teeth story, a morbid curiosity being distorted into an implied scandal in a decidedly eyeroll-inducing manner. Pull enough of that sort of thing and, yes, my blood will start to boil, but in a very different sort of “backfire effect” than the one Inman is asserting.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Thanks for the comments.

      The examples he chose struck me as easy targets for progressives, too. It bugs me more than a little bit, since it ends up making these mental biases (assuming they’re replicable) sound like Things Those Other People Have. Tools for outgrouping. When what they should be, if they’re honest, are calls to awareness, hopefully with solutions if possible.

      One of the most *fundamental* reasons I’m drawn to sites like LW and SSC is because / to the extent they force people to genuinely question their own biases, and explore that. I see enough bias-prone comments there and here that I get to say this is quite non-trivial. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some real blunders myself, that I don’t even know about.

    • Jaskologist says:

      It’s not 0.5, so I can ask: what example would y’all have preferred to strike at the other tribe instead? Or maybe even be even-handed?

      • theredsheep says:

        Well, there’s pretty unambiguous evidence that single parenting yields inferior results; abortion-restricting laws do seem to actually decrease the incidence of abortion (when it’s off the table, women tend to take fewer risks); there’s no statistical evidence to back up the coat-hanger stories; Margaret Sanger was kinda racist and opposed to abortion; Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings was even creepier than is commonly known (she was 14, and his dead wife’s similar-looking half-sister), and in general he was a really terrible person (political coward, tried to nail his best friend’s wife); “assault weapon” as applied by the expired ban is a meaningless category having nothing to do with a firearm’s lethality; Locke originally thought freedom of religion should not apply to atheists or Catholics, though he eventually changed his mind about the atheists. You could probably whip up more inconvenient facts about firearms and economic issues, but that’s some ideas off the top of my head.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Also probably any strongly scientifically backed statements related to the Horrible Banned Discourse. Or “James Damore was pretty much right.”

        • theredsheep says:

          The stuff about MLK philandering is pretty well-known, but that would also qualify.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Good list. It jogged my memory enough to come up with these:

          * Gregor Mendel likely faked his data
          * MLKj plagiarized much of his doctoral thesis
          * Sweden has less purchasing power parity than 46 US states
          * only about 2% of climatologists believe in CAGW
          * enforced minimum wage hikes lead to lower demand for min-wage labor

          • Deiseach says:

            Gregor Mendel likely faked his data

            Yeah, I really want to see something solid on that; I’ve seen it floating around recently and the most explanation given is “his results were so suspiciously good they can’t have been real”. I’d like some solid info rather than the currently trendy debunking of all science and formerly held “everyone knows that” opinions (to be replaced by new “everyone knows that” opinions). If I believe Wikipedia “After his death, the succeeding abbot burned all papers in Mendel’s collection, to mark an end to the disputes over taxation”, so what we’re left with may look cherry-picked but it was probably the finished work that selected the best results and the rough drafts and notes got destroyed. And this guy back in 2004 wrote a paper opposing the guy saying the work was too good to be true, so it seems at least to be an open question, not the settled “he faked the data” that is becoming the popular view.

            The fact that Fr Mendel was an Augustinian prior has nothing to do with it, I assure you! 😉

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The fact that Fr Mendel was an Augustinian prior has nothing to do with it, I assure you!

            I still need to know the Augustinian prior’s Bayesian priors.

          • ana53294 says:

            When I imagine somebody faking their data, I see the following possible scenarios 1) a scientist wants to get a result and just makes up data 2) a scientist makes lots and lots of experiments, ignores all the ones that give non-significant results, and goes for the one that shows some kind of spurious correlation (p-hacking).

            Usually, there has to be an economic or ideological incentive to do it. Why would Mendel fake his data? Nobody really knew what to make of it then, what genes meant, or how the traits of dominance and recessivenes could be explained and used. He didn’t get anything out of it; from what I gather, he only gained fame after his death.

            His data looks very neat nowadays, when we know about genes, dominance, recessiveness, and other genetic effects. Some point out that he was lucky that his work was in peas, because other crops may have traits that are multigenic and thus more difficult to explain. But I don’t think there is any reason to think he faked his data, since the results are true (round shape is dominant and wrinkled is recessive).

          • engleberg says:

            A few years ago someone tried to repeat the original Brown experiments proving Brownian motion using the same equipment- no luck. No claim that it was fake, just that Brown was better at handling the equipment.

          • Nornagest says:

            only about 2% of climatologists believe in CAGW

            Is the “C” “catastrophic”?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: No, “C” is for Cookie. Cookie-Activated Global Warming is a pretty fringe position.

          • BBA says:

            I still need to know the Augustinian prior’s Bayesian priors.

            I doubt he had any – Bayes was a Presbyterian minister.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Yes, ‘C’ stands for “catastrophic”.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems quite likely to me that Mendel figured out what the pattern was, and then expected to see it. It’s pretty easy for that to start affecting things if, say, you start saying “yep, that looks like 1/4 again” instead of carefully counting each one. Or even if you assume you must have made a mistake if you get far off your expectations, and keep counting till you get a right-looking answer.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Deiseach,

            It’s very likely he faked his data, and this case is much different to most trendy science-debunking since we actually know the true values of the probabilities he was estimating, and he adjusted his data to be closer to those true values.

            Most science isn’t like that because you are looking for an effect: you fake your data a little bit to increase the effect size, you might get a p-value of .03 so you reject the null hypothesis in favor that the effect or difference is real.

            Mendel was trying to demonstrate that a certain proportion of outcomes was true, and we know it was true. His data lined up so well with the true proportions that the p-value for rejecting the true proportions was .99993.

            To give you an idea of how weird having a p-value of .99993 is, imagine you want to test a coin for fairness. You’re pretty sure the coin is fair, but you tell someone please go flip the coin 15,000 times. They come back the next day with the result that they had exactly 7,500 heads. Well that is certainly a fair coin, but it is a bit suspicious that the result was exactly 7,500. (the chance of this given that it is a fair coin is .0065) So you ask them to do it again, another 15,000 flips, and they return the next day and say that again, they flipped the coin and had exactly 7,500 heads. (chances of this happening twice in a row, .000045)

            At that point you can be almost sure that the coin-flipper is lying, since that the results are spectacularly unlikely if he actually flipped the coins. It may also be worth noting that Mendel had 28,000 pea plants: if it was just a guy puttering around in an abbey with a few pots there would be nowhere near enough data to show that he faked anything.

      • albatross11 says:

        Most political leaders of both parties are massively overpromoted, in way over their heads, and making decisions about matters they don’t understand very well. At the very top, even the advisors and their advisors are primarily political types whose expertise has decayed during the decade or two they’ve spent climbing the greased pole. (Reasonable certainty–I have some limited experience here.)

        This is probably also true of most top-tier corporate leaders. (Less certainty.)

        Tech company entrepreneurs are actually very smart and driven as a class, but the biggest successes are at least as much the result of lucky timing / everything lining up perfectly as they are the incredible brilliance of the entrepreneurs. Lots of people are as smart and otherwise capable as the big winners, but were only moderately successful. (High certainty.)

        • yodelyak says:

          Re: political leaders… Yes.

          Less so in professions that resemble crafts than in professions that trade on relationships or resemble I-have-status-therefore-I-deserve-status. Most lawyers are workhorse lawyers–lawyers who are usually decent to very good at some subset of the skills that make a good lawyer. (E.g., maybe they suck at trial advocacy, or long-slog litigation, or in-the-trenches-brief-due-by-5-memo-drafting–but they’re very good at one of these, along with maybe an area of law or two or three where they excel.) Some subset of lawyers are primarily relationship lawyers, and these are often wildly incompetent if they aren’t functionally partnered with workhorses (see Giuliani lately).

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      What I learned from it is that motivated reasoning on political subjects is rampant, and it is therefore rational to bring some extra skepticism when someone brings you a purported fact that has a political valence to it.

    • DeWitt says:

      ITT: local comic writer makes comic about tribalism, includes a bit about slaves’ teeth and abortion that are rather sensitive on his own side, gets chewed out by people on the other side for daring to in fact be on the other side.

      • theredsheep says:

        How are the slaves’ teeth and abortion bits controversial/sensitive for blues?

        • DeWitt says:

          Anything related to slavery is; the abortion thing comes across as ‘this victory you once won was actually the other side doing what was right.’

          • theredsheep says:

            But blues are significantly less prone to FF worship than reds, while I read the Roe thing as “even your beloved GOP supported abortion once.” If my side won a victory while the court was held by the opposite party, I’d be baffled but gratified. Actually, I’d almost prefer that; I’d derive tremendous (unworthy) satisfaction from Ruth Bader Ginsberg writing an opinion for a hard-left court that no, you can’t force someone to bake your gay wedding cake. The head explosions would be visible from space.

    • Plumber says:

      I was a little disappointed that I’d already heard three of the “shocking” facts cited, I wanted more.

  17. readingmule says:

    Hi I’m a new reader here – but i’ve become obsessed. Other than the top 10 posts in the archive, where do I even begin? what are some posts from other blog roll / related websites that are good reads? I am sitting here at information paralysis, and would love a guidepost.

    • bean says:

      Pick the tag that’s most interesting. Scott’s tags are pretty well-hidden, but they’re at the bottom of the post, in the fine print. Maybe start with the ones on whatever post you like best.

    • drunkfish says:

      I’m a big fan of the old version of the top posts page http://slatestarcodex.com/top-posts/ (if there was a reason this was taken down other than Scott having a new favorite set, let me know and I’ll delete this comment)

    • fion says:

      I was going to suggest a few of my favourites* but then I saw drunkfish’s comment. I’m also a big fan of that page, and there’s some real gems on there (and two of my favourites are on there anyway).

      Edit: If all else fails, one commenter made this rather fun page, that gives you a random slatestarcodex post when you click the button.

      *oh, what the hell I’ll do it anyway.

    • Reasoner says:

      I think http://lesswrong.com/ has some Scott Alexander sequences. You could also try googling for “the library of scott alexandria” and related discussion

  18. Wrong Species says:

    If I do the right thing because my conscience bugs me to do it, aren’t I just as selfish as the guy who doesn’t care?

    • Randy M says:

      That’s between you and God. Everyone else here is just happy you did the right thing.

    • Deiseach says:

      If I do the right thing because my conscience bugs me to do it, aren’t I just as selfish as the guy who doesn’t care?

      No.

      • Nick says:

        This. The selfish thing to do would be to rationalize not doing it, then keep doing so until your conscience stops bugging you about anything.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t think it’s that simple. Sometimes you can’t just rationalize something away, even if you wanted to. I can imagine someone who is particularly bad at self-delusion but isn’t really a good person. Imagine that we had a machine that could essentially “cure” you of your guilt. Someone who wanted to do a bad thing but without the guilt might choose to use it. That would make them similar to the people who simply use rationalizations. But surely they aren’t better people because just because the technology doesn’t exist right?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is what your conscience is for.

    • theredsheep says:

      What alternative would you suggest? Doing the right thing without any motivation whatever? If you’re motivated to perform an action–whatever the nature of that motive may be–you’re going to feel good from obeying that motivating impulse. There’s really no escaping that.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Sometimes you feel compelled to do something without ever mulling it over. Think of the difference between a poor guy who contemplates murdering his parents for the life insurance but decides not to because he knows he couldn’t live with it versus the guy who never even considers it. Isn’t the latter a better person than the former?

        • Matt M says:

          I would say no. Considering something is not an action, and is therefore morally neutral. We should be judged on our actions, not our thoughts.

          The latter person may just be a simpleton who hasn’t put together the logical connection of “